Monday, February 28, 2005
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
A whiles ago, my least successful (to my mind) FT post was published. It was called A City Of Stars; a wanky reference to the last words on the last studio album released by Nirvana before Mr. Kurt Cobain lifted his head up high and et cetera. And ten years later, I remember thinking it was time to mark the occasion.
Y'know, because that's what bloggers do, we find events which have happened and we shoot enough salt into the crowd that hopefully a few people get hit in the eyes and reconsider their point of view. No one goon with a shell full of condiment is going to hit it, sure, but between us, maybe we'll at least get remembered as the motherfuckers with the guns. (No, we'll get remembered as the self-aggrandising motherfuckers who tried to equate sitting up late on a quiet mood-leveller jag with riot control and heavy firearm usage; but let's see what Old Uncle Tom has to say and then maybe we'll just call that a sad sort of symmetry).
So here we go again. Hunter S Thompson is dead, and it's Once more et cetera Breach ad nauseum Hill his prisoners ad fucking infinitum.
Because hey, we're now talking about a guy who according to friends, was "not the sort to go quietly into the night". Oh, please. Maybe... "The king is dead. Long live the king"?
No - listen, people, we're talking about one of the most-lauded practitioners of the scathing eulogy since Mencken. He gave us:
He was the real thing -- a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."
...And all you simpering jerks can offer up to honor his memory is:
He lived longer than any of us expected already. He gave us so much, his was a great life, full of energy and magic and righteousness.
Well, thanks all to fuck, Jann Werner, Rolling Stone. Real rock 'n' roll cool! Even Tom Wolfe, touted as having eulogised Doc in a manner befitting his unique standing at this most interesting of times, really manages nothing much more insightful than, here was a nice guy who sometimes did crazy stuff but overall I think he's this century's answer to Mark Twain.
The only thing attempting an answer to Thompson's legendary Nixon eulogy comes, predictably, from humorless twits who damn Thompson while advertising Bill Clinton Toilet Paper - nevermind that Thompson wrote, from his fiercely-guarded POV, a three-dimensional and rather damning critique of Clinton, both as candidate and President anyway. Right, cause he didn't like Nixon and he claims to have met Shrub passed out in his bathtub, so, y'know, he's obviously a commie pinko faggot yadda yadda fucking yadda.
The fact that Thompson shot himself in the head also bothers people more than somewhat. Somewhere between Kurt, and Marilyn Manson proclaiming that anyone who kills themselves is just a stone-cold buffoon, we seem to have arrived at a situation where geeks on the str8-edge like very much to get tanked on Woodstock and proselytize about just how little sympathy they have for anyone who kills themselves. It's a kneejerk thing: suicide/pussy/fucking idiot/quitter/faggot. Psychological complexity/spiritual trauma/empathy? Nah mate, suicides are queers.
I would like to contradict every single fucking word in the way of suggesting that Thompson eulogies have tended toward the fawning, and I would like to say that Hunter S Thompson shooting himself in the head is exactly what Thoreau would do if he lived in the 21st century and he was goofed up to the eyeballs on rat poison and he had a large collection of large guns and he was often left unattended with his guns and his bug powder because he had a tendency to shoot his assistants on the offchance that they might actually be a bear. Exactly what Thoreau would do.
It's the self-determinism. It's the self-reliance, don't you see. It's the principle of saying, I am in total control of how I live my life, and people all over the world respond to how I go about my affairs, so I see no reason to change; and if I choose to get totally sidewaysed on God only knows what and I have a sore leg so I figure, well, what about if I shoot myself in the head, there ain't a damn thing you're gonna do to stop me.
Thompson lived in a world where, famously, reality and fiction ceased to have clear borders; where Tanked and Drunk and Blitzed were just as valid states of being as clean, hell, where Tanked and Drunk and Blitzed were the norm, and clean was an interesting notion to be played around with, but then, so was kiddy-porn.
The American dream, the Western ideal of self-sufficiency, says that you get to work for the right to do whatever you damn well please short of directly fucking your neighbor's wife, and I don't think it was despair at the drift from that dream, or horror at its perversion, that drove Thompson to a fit of inability to cope. I'm sure it's likely that Thompson's final moments may indeed have been a Gonzo apocalypse - stranded deep in bat country, and one of the little buggers landed itself on his frontal lobe, and what was a man to do but blow the fucker out of the water and hope for the best?
Be that as it may, I say fuck the impulse to turn every suicide into a tragedy or a case of a pathetic loser giving up, desparing of the world in which he finds himself stranded. The rubes with their braided goatees can marginalise his final act as a pathetic old fool giving up the ghost, but what the fuck would they know?
Shooting yourself when you're young and don't know any better is tragic. Shooting yourself when you're old and don't believe in anything any more is sad. Shooting yourself when you're Hunter S Thompson is, regrettably for those of us who'll miss him, perhaps just par for the course. Welcome, as we say, to Shotgun Golf.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Like any self-respecting third world nation should, Guatemala lives off the US's scraps. That's why many of its 14 million people are dressed in American hand-me-downs: t-shirts from American high schools, complete with signatures from old classmates wishing Chad "all the best, buddy!"; faded Nike sweaters; worn Levis jeans; and more t-shirts, these ones with the picture of an American flag fluttering in freedom's breeze and a hawk soaring in front, "Proud to be an American".
Yep, the American Dream skipped right over this desperately poor country, and so Guatemalans are forced to live the American Reality. Unfortunately, reality doesn't come with air conditioning and reclining seats.
The chief mode of public transport in Guatemala is the chicken bus. In fact, it's a national icon. You can buy postcards with the image of these transformed old US school buses. Well, not so much transformed -- but definitely painted. The buses look as if they've been through an episode of Pimp My Ride, except the renovations stop at the exterior. Inside there are a few personal touches, mainly confined to the posting of stickers saying "Jesus is in my heart" above the driver's seat. Some still have signs on the back that ask "How am I driving?" before offering an American 1-800 number to call for feedback. It's the Guatemalan sense of humour, I guess.
And you gotta have a sense of humour when you're forced to get around on the discards of USofAmerican children. The black-smoke-spewing buses aren't good enough for little middle-Jimmy, but they'll sure as hell do for the diminutive brown people a couple of borders away. And just to prove how suitable they are, the Guatemalans pile into the things as if there weren't another one just coming round the corner. Where two well-preened American kids once would have sat with their school bags and packed lunches in brown paper bags, three full-grown Guatemalans cram in for a bit of bum-space on the chewed foam-stuffed vinyl. Bodies are squashed against windows, legs are strewn across the aisles, and kids are kept with luggage on laps. A mess of people hang from the roof rail wherever they can, and still the driver's assistant leans out the door touting for extra customers: "Guate!Guate!Guateee!" The ritual is so ingrained that you can see young boys leaning out the window of their father's pick-up, emulating their role-models: "Guate!Guate!Guateee!"
At every stop a hopeful vendor will board the bus, patrolling the aisles for a potential sale. Young boys sell sliced oranges in bags; old ladies try to offload armfuls of dried banana; girls walk by with bottles of fizzy, water, and anything else they can sell for a measly 30 cents, if they're lucky. And then there are the professionals, the less common yet equally as desperate salesmen. These chaps, with their crisply ironed shirts and Brian Tamaki hair deliver a practised sales pitch at the front of the bus, demonstrating the superior qualities of their razor blades, hand creams, pens-on-ropes, before working their way down the often fruitless aisle.
At the next stop the vendors disembark, and the bus bumps onward with its rumpled cargo.
"How many people can you fit in a chicken bus?", asks an old Guatemalan joke. Answer: "Always one more".
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Certainly, anything would be better than the combination of awful lyrics by an awful poet and music that is dull and plodding even by the standard of national anthems. While the line "in the bonds of love we meet" has no doubt provided seconds of mirth for many, its loss would be but a small price to pay.
The political climate is also right for this change. If ever there was a Prime Minister that would support making a song about the "queen bee" our national anthem, we have one now. Especially if she didn't listen to the lyrics too closely. And this is just the kind of quasi-constitutional reform she likes to put through with a simple majority under urgency, to the annoyance of the balance of the next Herald Digipoll.
Plus, it really is a fucking good song.
But, as with even the smallest, least urgent, most cosmetic changes to the state, we must allow for unintended consequences.
Notably, the idea of a stadium of football fans attempting to sing 'Home, Land and Sea' suggests a travesty of a far higher order than merely having a bad national anthem. Ultimately, any legislation would have to stipulate that the song could only be performed by Trinity Roots, with Warren's soulful vocals backed by Rio and Riki (did I mention that I went to primary school with the drummer from Trinity Roots?).
I'm counting this as a negative - it would certainly be unusual. However: it would limit the number of performances of the national anthem to the human capacity of one band. This, combined with the nature of the song, which while feelingly throughly grounded in our part of the world hardly nationalistic, will discourage jingoism of all kinds.
Also unusual in a national song, but no bad thing.
I realise that the group is considered to he disbanded. But questions of such vital national importance - whether their recent Wellington Tsunami benefit concert (which was rather a good night, by the way) was their last gig or should be considered their first reunion show - must be decided by the legislature rather than a handful of individuals.
The complications begin to multiply. If forced to play the one song at even a fraction of the frequency New Zealand's current jingle is used, the lads - with their irrepressible musicianship - would no doubt be tempted to devise various high energy genre-bending cover versions of their own track. Or so their past behaviour indicates.
This would perhaps be popular with 'the kids', but would undeniably detract from the atmosphere of formal investitures and military commemorations.
Underlying all these niggles is a greater worry: Is it really an appropriate national anthem? Is being a great little song that tastes like distilled essence of New Zealand what is actually required?
I have been increasingly under the apprehension that neither quality or lyric, nor of music, nor expression of a country's spirit are the relevant point in a national anthem. This leaves me at something of a loss.
If I do discover what the relevant point of a national anthem might be, I'll be sure and let you know.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
In the interview the questions of exactly what the information was, what it was for and whether it was collated weren't directly put. At the same time, NZ Post's representative seemed to agree that it was about whether particular addresses needed painting.
I suggest that anyone who gets a pamphlet saying their house could do with a drop of paint - especially if it happens to have their name on it - makes a complaint to the privacy commissioner.
The Post lady said that it was all good because the state of your house is publicly available information - anyone could get it if they wanted by walking down the road. Much as, if you went out on the street I would be allowed to photograph you. Or your twins.
Maybe. But that doesn't mean I want what is a basically a government agency, whatever they might call themselves, collecting information irrelevant to their main brief without my knowledge or consent, connecting it with my address and then selling it on to a third party.
I don't want to be getting Regaine brochures just 'cos the Postie saw me bending down to collect the mail, either.
She also likened selling information collected in a deal with a private company to telling the council about dangerous dog.
The latter is noting the relevant enforcement agency of a breach of a bylaw. The former is voluntarily being paid to snoop. Just because one's right, doesn't mean the other is.
It barks like a violation of the Privacy Act. And it sure bites like a violation of the Privacy Act.
I'm not certain it's illegal, but it's not on. At the very least it is a breach of trust. Speaking as an NZ Post customer, they could 'add value' to their services by promising to stay the hell out of my life.
Monday, February 07, 2005
Another editorial from www.muzic.net.nz's email newsletter
It is quite possible that Grant Hislop has the biggest balls in all of Aotearoa. And he's just gone a long way towards proving it. Hislop is, among other things in the NZ music scene, Channel Z's program director. Not a lot of reason to celebrate his knackers, you might say, but only if you didn't know that on Waitangi Day he pulled the plug on all overseas content and converting Z into a brand new station they call Kiwi.
100% NZ music, every day, forever. It's certainly going to make Kiwi different from any other station. And it's also one hell of a bold move. A new station, broadcasting to our three biggest cities (and Sky TV's digital subscribers), putting all of its faith on the creative output of our single, tiny country. And it's trusting in the listeners out there to go along with the vision. Will Kiwi fly?
Channel Z hasn't had a great run in the ratings with its current "alternative" format. Kiwi needs the radio-listening public to be drawn to NZ music to a greater degree than it was to what Z offered. Whether this will happen is tough to predict. Marketers call it "segmenting" – basically, making yourself different from the competition in order to attract different people. Radio stations generally segment themselves along genre lines - easy listening, rock, pop, whatever - rather than anything else. b.net stations buck that trend by broadcasting anything relatively unknown, but theirs is not an overwhelming commercial success story. To separate yourself from the competition by restricting your playlist not to songs of a certain type, but music of a certain country is a new idea. Kiwi is going to have to broadcast across genres and this, according to accepted radio practices, is a big risk. Your average Joe or Jane puts on whatever station plays the type of music they like. It could be that Kiwi is asking too many people to have too wide a musical taste.
But people do recognise NZ music as a distinct type. Look in the stores and you'll see, among others, sections for pop, metal, rock, world, hiphop, and New Zealand. One of these kids is not like the others. By virtue of the way NZ music is perceived, it could hold a radio station together. There is something that means that we group Greg Johnson, King Kapisi and Blindspott together in our minds almost as much as do Chingy, Ja Rule and Nelly. If the perception of NZ music as its own genre can carry listeners to Kiwi, Hislop will have himself a winner. But if the station is seen to lack any particular sound, or be too eclectic to attract the average listener, he will have a problem on his hands. Let's hope that they're as oversized as other bits of him.
Flouting accepted norms in any media is inherently risky, but the biggest payoffs usually come from the taking biggest chances. The idea behind Kiwi is simple, but fantastic. If the station is a success, it can only be a good thing for NZ music and NZ artists. We've had the talent to pull this off for years, and now we've got a man with the broadcast frequencies and the bravery to give it a go. All we need now is the audience.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
If you're anything like me -- ie, from New Zealand -- you'll probably know very little about Belize. Here's a quick synopsis: it's a small country bordering Mexico and Guatemala, and close to Honduras; it's home to about 200,000 people; sugarcane is its main product; it's more Jamaican than Central American, which means that it worships Bob Marley and, sadly, if the people aren't listening to reggae they're swooning to tacky ballads.
But goddamn, they can shake their Carribean asses.
My first night was in a charming small town called Orange Walk, population 16,000. The second-biggest settlement in the country. Straight off the bus we were accosted by the friendly local drunk, who we think wanted some money but between his drunken slurs and his thick Creole accent (think Dubwise without the pretence: "Peace to Jah," etc.) we weren't quite sure. Later we were to learn from our charming Taiwanese hoteliers that the drunkard used to be a teacher. Over some cold Belikins, the local beer, the hoteliers told us they've had to chase the man away from the bar 200 times. The husband proved it to us by whipping a pistol out from his pocket and 'escorting' the drunk back out onto the street. I think he said something like, "Which leg you want me to shoot?"
It's remarkable what can be learned from Taiwanese hosts and a few Belikins. Belize, I learnt, is home to Mestizos (like Mexicans, a mix between Native Americans and Spanish), Africans, Garifuna, Mayans, Chinese, Indians (yes, of the curry variety), and even 14,000-odd Mennonites (who are much like the Amish). The Mennonites produce about half of what Belizians consume on a daily basis: rice, wheat, milk, poultry, eggs -- all without using electricity and basically dressing like farm-gimps (wide-brimmed straw hats, check shirts, and overalls with braces). They have an agreement with the government that they don't have to pay taxes or serve in the military. It's a very tolerant country, our hosts told us, and relatively stress-free.
But they do have vampire bats. Apparently the locals have to lock their dogs up at nights because the bats like to feed off their ears. The thing is, the bats' teeth are so sharp that if they bit you'd never even notice. They wouldn't really be a problem, but they're carriers of rabies, which they're conveniently immune to. They also have a curious ability to find their way back to their blood sources for repeat feeding, kinda like highschool kids with liquor stores that don't ask for IDs.
Belize also has an AIDS problem. Marriage isn't really respected, and sex is well enjoyed (again, the highschool kid analogy seems apt...). While we were at the hotel bar, we had the pleasure of meeting a rather inebriated individual by the name of Oscar. He was in the company of the Deputy Prime Minister's secretary (yeah, it's a small country), who he charmingly described as his "side lady". In addition to this, propogation seems to be one of the country's big money earners. By law, men are required to pay $50 (US$25) a week in child support. So, said our hostess, "some ladies make babies their business".
Not far from Orange Walk (well, nowhere's far from anything in Belize), there lies a beautiful island called Caye Caulker. It's a 40-minute boat ride from the festering wooden shack city that is Belize City. Nobody really does anything on Caye Caulker. It's relaxed to the point of sedated, and things move slow. It's a thirty minute wait for food at any cafe, and at least that long waiting for the bill after you're done. The island's specialty drink is the appropriately-named Panty Ripper, a pineapple/rum mix which, taken in sufficient quantity, brings on all the effects of drunkenness.
Not having anything approaching a decent beach, Caye Caulker remains relatively immune to the damaging effects of tourists from the nearish Cancun (which is basically like Las Vegas with a beach, and without the class). But it is close to the world's second-largest barrier reef, which I was lucky enough to snorkel amongst. I got to touch a shark, Mummy!
The rasta man is out in force in Caye Caulker. If they're not asking a pretty tourist girl for a "ting," then they're appreciating "da sun shining on her beautiful face". Even in 30-degree temperatures they're wearing tea-cosies to hold their dreads, and they get around in pimped-up golf carts, replete with extra tread and a booming stereo system. Their favourite bar is called 'I and I' and it serves Panty Rippers near a shrine to Bob Marley. Love and rahspeck.
Unfortunately I didn't have long in Belize; I had set my sights on Guatemala, where I have been told repeatedly I must spend a lot of time. Good coffee, good people, great nature, great times. I'm in Flores now, a small town on an island near the Belize border. Today I did Tikal, the famous ruins in the jungle, which have the grand distinction of featuring on Star Wars Episode One, Part Four. They're my sixth ruins so far, so I probaly didn't fully appreciate their splendour. Suffice to say they were marvellous, and it was a very hot and sticky day. I did, however, refrain from buying a beer on site. There seems something just a little odd about consuming an intoxicating beverage on an ancient site of mass human sacrifice... Then again, those Mayans sure were into their 'shrooms...
Thus we have tort law reform to prevent small businesses being subject to frivolous law suits and most notably to prevent large businesses being subject to genuine law suits. If it's anything like his tax cuts most of the benefits will be felt at the rich-folks end.
Similarly with helping people with low incomes afford health care with tax credits.
And, of course, social security. While he's busy listening to anyone with a good idea, he wants to privatise a good chunk of it into personal funds. This is of course disproportionately helpful to people with high incomes, but it's worse than that.
America's social security has the same problems everyone elses does - the current taxpayers pay for the current retirees rather than their own retirement. And the population is aging so we can't keep it up.
The privatisation idea takes money out of this system - whatever long-term solution is tried will cost more if Dubya gets his way.
Oh, and I am I being overly cynical if I suggest that freedom from fear wasn't actually one of the founding principles of the United States?
And so on. Have a guess what he would propose for his next term, it'll probably be there, explicitly or implicitly. Don't know why he bothered making the speech, really. Guess he just likes being applauded.
And because I won't feel like a real blogger until I've segued randomly into a gig review: I saw Minuit at the weekend, playing at the Jackson Street Carnival in Petone. My first real experience of live mostly-electronic music (I don't get out much) and it was a blast.
As a performance, they had more of a physical relationship with the music than a lot of bands I've seen (I'm from Dunedin).
Maybe they've worked out that, with two of them twiddling knobs on big black boxes and one singing, they need to put some effort into looking interesting. Or maybe it's just that, not having to keep the beat going with an actual instrument, they're free to dance to their own music. Literally as well as figuratively.
Still, at least one of them seemed to be doing something important to the music at any given moment.
As they played their last number - apparently she doesn't like guns - the sun was setting and we could finally see the effects of the smoke machine and the lights that had been flashing on and off during the whole show. The crowd was also filling out with rather bemused-looking people who were there to see the Black Seeds.
I feel this relationship between the genre of the acts and daylight hours was rather unfair on the people who were selling glowsticks.
I wasn't dressed for the night chill. And the for the first couple of Black Seeds songs to sounded to me like they were playing too slow and gradually getting slower. I could hear them livening up a bit as I headed home.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
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.