Matt Nippert - not-so-great, but unwashed, Auckland

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Biting, Eating, and Kissing Babies

The election cycle is well and truly apon us. If National can hold together long enough, it might prove an interesting race. However it appears Don Brash has contracted political leprosy, losing spokespeople with each thundered word. By the time the election-debate worm comes around it's possible the little invertebrate will be eating his shedded remains - along with any hope of of a victory for the right.

A pity, since this makes things far less interesting for the political junkies and habitual gamblers. Anyone putting money on anyone other than Helen Clark being Prime Minister in 2005 is either eagerly expecting a cheque from Nigeria, or is planning something with an axe that's more than symbolic.

So, junkies, it's down to who plays bridesmaid. Either New Zealand First, United Future, or the Maori Party. Where's your money at?

In my humble opinion, United are likely to have their Christian vote split with Destiny, and will also suffer having given support to a minority government. This ancient curse almost killed Winston, and Peter Dunne has been seen in daylight. The man from Belmont can be killed by normal means. He might soon be joining Jim Anderton in solitary.

Not knowing the moods of the Maori electorates, I'm steering clear of divining the fate of the Maori Party. (Unlike NZP, I think professional journalists will always have an edge over bloggers in that they can provide eye-witness reporting. Sure, lazy journalists who don't get out of the office can get shown up by their electronic stalking-horses - hell, they both have access to the same sources. But foreign correspondents, and actually seeing things on the ground? The internet has yet to offer globe-spanning webcams. Or editors who grill pieces before publication.)

Winston Peters, (depicted on the cover of last weeks Listener as the smiling groom to a reluctant but obliging Clark), can't be written off. He's almost guaranteed to win the televised debates, all hair-dye, smiling teeth and one-liners. (I remember Finlay MacDonald giving Peters the win in 2002 on TV3. John Campbell said he was surpised a left-leaning editor would give support to NZF, to which Finlay responded "Given the age of our readership, you shouldn't be so surprised.") So, another marriage of convience?

Or the Greens? I've got a few contacts here. Not as many as David Farrar has with National (whose blog I'm picking will be the one to take electronic commentary of politics to the mainstream), but a few nevertheless. Interestingly, I've noticed the Green Party have started getting a bit more canny in the House. Whether they're cashing in their credibility, or just realising that if you don't play the game you get played, there's recently been a little bite that's been formerly lacking.

First it was Jeanette Fitzsimons engaging in amusing, and partisan, namecalling at her State of the Planet speech: "Act are an endangered species, but not one that we'll be trying to save." Then it was this speech by Rob Donald (admittedly described David W. Young as "apolitician's politician"):

"Without doubt, Winston Peters stole the show in yesterday’s opening salvos. He is a modern-day court jester."

"It is not surprising that the ACT MPs gave Don Brash’s speech a standing ovation. After all, they did once claim him as their tenth MP and his policies are so backward and punitive even some members of his own caucus don’t support them."

"Sacking Nick Smith as his deputy was inept, getting rid of Georgina Te Heu Heu was intolerant and demoting Katherine Rich was just plain nasty. As are his welfare policies. Under Don Brash’s autocratic leadership, National’s depleted front bench now includes a leader, a deputy leader, a deposed leader, a sacked deputy leader, a man who declined to be deputy leader, and a man who wants to be National’s next leader. There’s not a women in sight. And no unity either."

This subtle change in tack (also known as "bringing the SmackDown") might have something to do with one Michael Appleton, my former partner in crime with the student papers, taking a spot in their media office. And, speaking of politics with bite, and also the issue-of-the-news-cycle "Benefit Dependency", here's a piece Appleton and I ran in Salient during 2003. Following publication I got my first ever hate mail. An anonymous caller swore at me and threatened to refer me to the Race Relations Office. Satire and some people, eh?

So enjoy, with a mountain of salt:

Ending Benefit Dependency

By Jonathan Swift (with some help from Matt Nippert)
A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people in New Zealand from being a burden to their parents or the welfare state, and for making them beneficial to the public.
It is melancholy to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with bludgers of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for a Domestic Purposes Benefit.

These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in bludging sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn criminal for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Iraq, or sell themselves to the sweatshops of Sydney.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers is, in the present deplorable state of the nation, a very great grievance. Whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the New Zealand economy would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed bludgers. It is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born to parents as little able to support them as those who demand our charity in the streets.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation.

It is true a child just dropped from its mother may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; for at most three hundred and sixty-five dollars, which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of bludging.

It is exactly at one-year-old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the nanny state, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousand.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, sacrificing poor, innocent, babies; more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child, well nursed is at a year-old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, burgered, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, sushi, or a ragout.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children born this year, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males. A figure which is more than we allow for sheep, cattle or swine, and my reason is: these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by the great unwashed, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females.

That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune throughout the nation; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table.

A child will make two dishes at a barbeque for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind-quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Pakeha, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in September, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolific diet there are more children born in Western countries about nine months after Christmas than at any other season.

Therefore reckoning a year after Christmas the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of brown infants is at least one to one in this nation: and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Maori and Polynesians among us.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar’s child (in which list I reckon all flatters, labourers and four-fifth of farmers) to be about one dollar a day, rags included. I believe no gentleman would repine to give five hundred dollars for the carcass of a good fat child, which will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend or his only family to dine with him.

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and leisure suits for fine gentlemen.

As to our city of Wellington, butchers we may be assured will not be wanting, although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

We cannot, unfortunately, eat children above the tender age of one. The males, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, that their flesh was general tough and lean, their taste disagreeable; and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would I think, with humble submission be a loss to the public, because they would soon become breeders themselves.

And besides, it is not improbably that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice as a little bordering on cruelty; which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, however well intended.

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed. I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, and diabetes and cancer, as fast as can be reasonably expected.

And as to the young labourers, they are now in as hopeful a condition: they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour they have not strength to perform it and either are sacked or become an OSH statistic. Thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come.

I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of Maori and Polynesians, with whom we are overrun, being the principal breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous enemies; and who stay in Godzone on purpose with a design to deliver the nation to financial ruin, hoping to take advantage of the absence of so many good Pakeha, who have chosen rather to embark on OEs than stay at home and pay taxes against their conscience to a socialist witch-queen.

Secondly, the poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to distress and help to pay their landlord’s rent, their land and assets being already seized, and money a thing unknown.

Thirdly, the economy will be thereby increased by fourteen million dollars per annum, besides the profit of a new dish introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the nation who have any refinement in taste. The financial knees of the state will no longer creak beneath the burden of welfare payments, and the money will circulate among ourselves making our dollar stronger, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.
Fourthly, the constant breeders, beside the gain of one hundred and thirty-five dollars by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year.

Fifthly, this food would likewise bring great custom to restaurants of quality; where entrepreneurs will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best recipes for dressing it to perfection, and consequently have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating: and a skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they please.

Sixthly, this would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and penalties. It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers toward their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the public, to their annual profit instead of expense.

We should see an honest competition among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, their sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

Supposing that one thousand families in this city would be constant customers for infant’s flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly weddings and christenings: I compute that Wellington would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses, Auckland the remaining eighty thousand.

I can think of nothing that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be that the number of people will thereby be much lessened in this fair country. This I freely own, and it was indeed one principle design in offering it to the world. I desire, the reader will observe, that I calculated my remedy for this one individual country of New Zealand, and for no other.

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients; of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is our own growth and manufacturer; of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury; of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence, and temperance; of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Australians, Americans and the rest of the OECD; of being a little cautious not to sell our country and conscience for nothing; of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants.

Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, into our businesspeople, who if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal or just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of closing the gaps, till he hath at least a glimpse of hope that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put such preaching into practice. For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name an ideology that would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, as things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs.

And secondly, there being a round million of creatures in human figure throughout this nation, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock would leave our nation bankrupt from welfare payments, adding those who are bludgers by profession to the bulk of farmers, students, service workers, and labourers, with their wives and children who are beggars in effect.

I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year-old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as they have since gone through: by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the like or greater miseries upon their breed forever.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country and economy, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, ending benefit dependency and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children by which I can propose to get a single cent; the youngest being nine-years-old, and my wife past child-bearing.

-From A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift (1729), abridged, edited and adapted by Matt Nippert (modifications noted in bold).
(Originally printed in Salient, Issue 4, 2003.)

PS: When speaking of dope-taking in sports, some (anonymous) sportspeople have said "For one taste of success, to be number one, almost anyone will sacrifice their future health." If there's a drug that can make me write just one piece like Mr Swift, hook me up. I smoke anyway, so risk-aversion obviously ain't in my genes. Admiration for a good piece definitely is.