Matt Nippert - auctionable commodity, Auckland

Monday, May 31, 2004

As you'd expect from a herd of hacks, there was a certain amount of drinking, in-jokes and self-congratulation going on at the 2003 Qantas Media Awards. The awards list runs long, 17 awards just for Magazine writing, and a procession of reporting, photography and overall categories as well. Fortunately, the event was well-oiled, the ceremony not allowing for verbose speeches of victory. (Although admittedly this did deny the audience material for gossip like last year.)

The omens for the night weren't good, I've lost heavily at the venue (Sky City) before. And Salient (my lounge, office and canvas last year) didn't win its first nomination. Instead, Little Treasures, a parenting advice magazine took out best trade/professional publication. Since students ain't professionals, and certainly aren't tradesmen, it was a surprising category to be plonked in. (I hear Sarah Barnett, 2004 editor, is planning changes to ensure the magazine wins next year, including promoting letters to the Editor containing frank discussion of student fertility, and a shift to a pastel colour palette.)

Following omens, events conspired to shock. As names, sponsors and teleprompted banter flowed from screens and speakers, there was cued applause and a range of surprising finalists (go Wairoa Star!) and absent names (where, oh where, has the 2002 Daily Newspaper of the Year gone?). It's nice to see your name in print, almost as good seeing it scroll along on powerpoint, but having it read out twice makes up for all those angry letters to the editor when I confused the North Island townlets Foxton and Shannon.

Bestowed titles for 'best general feature' (a piece on Antony Beevor), and junior magazine writer of the year, I won ribbons, paper, a cheque and a weighty bronze feather. There's also a large pile of business cards from editors who happened to hear I'm presently unemployed. (If there's demand, I'll try to find somewhere to host the four articles I submitted in my portfolio, described by judges as "stylish, sparky writing which hits the spot." Salient only launched a website last month - everything I wrote for them last year is off-line, only existing in student memory.)

The official photo will have preserved my look of impish delight at seeing off a couple of talented full-timers from national glossies. The suspicious cigarette stashed behind my ear also made it into the shot - independent media represent! I guess the main point to take from Friday night is the validation of student media as a legitimate source of journalism. There's never going to be consistent quality coming out of campus, but these awards proves there's the potential to compete with - and even to beat - the big, professional, boys.

Shakespeare must have been a man of the people because his plays are riddled with lewd allusions and slapstick toilet humour. Herald staffers (especially the Gandhi-like Simon Collins) were kind enough to share their local haunt, and I think the bard would have approved of the revelry that took place under his name. David Cohen from the NBR (who still reads Salient) made the small student media crowd - myself and Hamish and Holly from Critic - feel very welcome. Even being escorted off the balcony by bouncers with one unnamed Listener staffer over a gardening dispute didn't dull the mood.

A few shout outs are in order, especially since I was cruelly denied time at the lectern. Firstly, and chiefly, my editor last year Michael Appleton. I'd like to think we complemented each other as polar opposites - chalk and cheese. Appleton is very dry, and very white - while I work best matured in port. An employer as encouraging, trusting, and dedicated I doubt I'll find again.

In some ways it's unfortunate Appleton has been lost to journalism, and instead is ensconced in academia. He would have been able to keep John Campbell company during the 2005 election whilst in Helen Clark quarantine.

Allen Walley, the media chief at the Green Party, also needs a prop. Noticing my work long before editors, he allowed to me survive summer doing something more constructive than pouring coffee or data entry.

There are also editors who deserve praise from someone frequently disillusioned with freelancing. Finlay Macdonald - who ran my first freelance piece; Pamela Stirling - for giving me further encouragement and a hug; Guy Somerset at the Dominion Post for feeding me books; and John Gardner at the Herald who helped me form (and even printed) a couple of research-heavy features that were more worthy than sensational.

PS: The results are in for the readers poll, responses collated and acted upon. A clear majority preferred keeping my boots clean, although I did like this advice from one respondent who obviously shares my love of Hunter S:
Load up on booze and stimulants before writing, get a dictaphone, head to the roughest pub within staggering distance, pick fights with foul-mouthed thugs and sheilas and record their obscenities. Then use these, unattributed of course, as the basis of a 4,000 words character assassination.

Seeing as you don't know anything about Ms. Williams I would suggest that you cover all bases so make sure you accuse her of: being in the employ of 'the man', being sexually promiscuous, being sexually inactive, being sexual perverse, being sexually orthodox, being of less than average appearance, being of greater than average weight, being a carrier of or suffer from several embarrassing and contagious infections, being socially inadequate, being ethically unsound, being intellectually below par and being grammatically incorrect (this is especially damning to editors, which is the one thing you do know about her).

Good luck with your response.
Enjoy your tenure Ms Williams - hopefully student media will be as rewarding for you as it's been for me.

UPDATE: While the growth in the New Zealand prison system is worrying, what's happening in the states is simply shocking, this from Cursor:
"The prison system just grows like a weed in the yard," said the head of the Justice Policy Institute, in response to a Justice Department report that America's prison population grew by 2.9 percent last year, to almost 2.1 million inmates, with one of every 75 men -- and about one of eight black men in their 20s -- in jail or prison.

Michael Appleton - student, Cambridge

Friday, May 28, 2004


Arriving in Cambridge last October was a little intimidating. Everyone would be so smart! The academics would have towering intellects and would see right through my superficially-educated, journalistically-inclined self! Most of the university colleges would be older than my country! What history! What wisdom! I am told that these are common insecurities of students from post-colonial societies, coming back to "the source" with feelings of reverence and awe. These sentiments lasted about five minutes, until I got talking to fellow students and academics who seemed so, well, normal. Intelligent, intellectually curious and rigorous, to be sure, but not out of this world.

I am not doing a "traditional" British masters, but one with a taught component - which means you do coursework and pass exams before embarking on a scaled-back thesis. Taught masters are all the rage these days, in part because they are more attractive to professionals. The most challenging (and baffling) of the courses I took was entitled "History of Thought in International Relations", led by Dr Jonathan Haslam of Corpus Christi College - a historian with eclectic interests and a biting wit. His seminars were alone worth coming to Cambridge for; he would stand in front of us for two and a half hours, without notes, take us back several centuries, and tell us an enchanting story. The whole point of his three-month course was to drum into us the motto: "text and context". That is, you cannot understand a piece of writing (the text) in isolation from the circumstances in which it was written (the context); but nor should text be understood as being somehow a mere product of context. It's not text or context; it's not context explains text; rather, the two form a mysterious, intangible, fascinating dialectic and it is the job of historians to enlighten that relationship. In my mind, there are two kinds of contexts: societal and personal. The former turns on what was happening in the world when a work was written. The latter involve what the writer had personally experienced up until the moment he wrote the work in question. This second kind of context - in fashionable parlance, an author's (or politician's or whoever's) "backstory" or "personal narrative" - is regularly evoked when discussion is entered into of someone's art.

I was thinking about all this when I read some of the media reaction to Michael Moore's victory at Cannes. I was in France when the announcement was made; inevitably, the lumbering American sounded more sophisticated when dubbed into French. Back in England, discussion (on TV, radio, and in the papers) has re-started about to what extent Moore's awkward relationship with the truth should disqualify him as a documentarian, and about whether his "biography" is congruent with the causes he claims to champion. I have lost count of how many times I have read snide remarks about Moore preaching to millions about the evils of rich fat cats and in the process becoming one himself. The inference is that this is obviously hypocritical, though I find it hard to understand why. Is it even conceivable for someone in today's (Western) world to reach millions with such a message (i.e. that conspicuous capitalism is bad for the working classes) without becoming wealthy doing so? Isn't reaching people in an atomised, consumer society only possible by (directly or indirectly) creating a product that they will want to buy (or vote for)? Maybe the point is that Moore should, once he has made all this money, use it in better ways than he does; in reality, he owns very expensive properties in exclusive neighbourhoods, and (gasp!) sends his daughter to a private school.

Similar questions have been asked of Australian philosopher Peter Singer, whose views on the obligations of the rich to the poor are uncomfortably extreme for anyone with much money. More famous for his defence of animal rights (a utilitarian, Singer argues that our inclinations to privilege human well-being over the well-being of other animals is "speciesist"), the Princeton-based philosopher believes that one should use one's resources to maximise happiness and minimise suffering. Whether that suffering is happening to a relative or someone you don't know on the other side of the world is "morally irrelevant", he says. This is his way into arguing for huge redistributive policies from rich countries and peoples to poor ones. So, money you spend on getting your children into a good school should really be spent on trying to alleviate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, say. But a New Yorker profile in 1999 pointed out that Singer hadn't in fact lived up to his lofty principles: he had started to spend a lot of money on having expensive medical treatment for his ailing mother. Said Singer, "Perhaps it is more difficult than I thought before, because it is different when it's your mother."

One can fairly criticise Singer for this, because his whole philosophical platform is built on the idea of following stringent guidelines, even when doing so is hard and goes against your natural (or at least socialised) urges to privilege those you love. But while Moore holding himself up as a man of the people, and mentioning his dubious working class roots at every turn, might rankle (and while his last documentary was ultimately so manipulative I felt intellectually violated when I discovered the extent to which he had tricked me) going in search of tangential ways in which he might, in his life, be breaching principles he champions is no substitute for a critical appraisal of his work. Obviously, if Moore champions worker's rights in his films then treats his own employees badly, then that's rank hypocrisy. But, for example, so what if he's self-important and self-indulgent while apparently being all about the people who can't speak for themselves? Discovering that a successful artist is self-indulgent is about as earth shattering as observing that politicians want people to vote for them. What could be more self-indulgent than thinking the cultural products you produce are worth the time and money of thousands, nay, millions of people you don't know? It's hard to imagine how an artist, whatever their political persuasion, could be anything other than self-indulgent. All of which is to say simply that an artist's context should never be allowed to obscure his/her text. And journalists and columnists and commentators wishing to investigate the text/context dialectic should do so to provide illumination of motivation and meaning, not to cheaply and glibly bash artists for bald political reasons.

Lyndon Hood - job hopeful, Lower Hutt

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Take the Power Back

Surely it can't be healthy, but apparently I'm not the only one. When I hear about an critical, urgent problem involving electricity, my basic assumption is that it's a con. This winter (says Transpower, the lines company) the north of the South Island may well face evening blackouts because there isn't enough capacity to carry the power. Nobody was told earlier - many were assured otherwise. Much of the indignation is arising from this last point (especially as Transpower is a state-owned company).

But one of the mayors interviewed by Linda Clark on Thursday morning expressed the opinion that the technical problem has been manufactured, or allowed, for the company's own purposes. I don't know that they will profit out of it directly, but they certainly took the opportunity to protest the Resource-Management-Act-related difficulties of building new infrastructure, even though that has little to do with the immediate issue.

My own suspicion of power companies stems from formative exposure to Greg Palast, an American-scale investigative journalism equivalent to New Zealand's Nicky Hager. The dirt he's most known for digging up and flogging unmercifully is the details of the roll-doctoring an other dodgy practices in Florida in the last presidential election.

Palast also enjoys explaining his economic credentials (enough to qualify as one of Milton Friedman's brat pack, even if he was there spying for trade unions) and he's persuasively adamant that things like electricity and water are not appropriate subjects for privatisation. Supply and demand don't balance. If you suddenly have to pay exorbitant prices for water, what are you going to do? Stop drinking? Similarly, the air-conditioner dependent state of California was swindled particularly hard by the privatisation of electricity.

In his book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Palast discusses, among other things, the international history of utility privatisation, from the British and US Thatcher/Reagan-ite ideologically driven messes to the deregulation and privatisation mercilessly imposed by the World Bank/IMF combo on smaller, poorer countries.

It is of course a little one-sided. For example, the film Power Trip explored the private adventure in ex-Soviet Georgia from the power company's point of view. From memory, Palast may have discussed this in the book (has anybody seen my copy?) as a case of privatisation being bad. In the film, the bright-eyed Americans were bringing in a modern electricity system, almost as an aid project. Unfortunately, a number of factors including rampant corruption and a populace unprepared to pay power bills made their job impossible. Appearing at the film festival at the tail end of the power crisis of 2003, Power Trip reassured kiwi electrocrats that their problems weren't nearly as bad as all that.

But the point remains that power markets favour the supplier, particularly the generator, and are generally easy to rig. Anyone who says the electricity market would work better if it was deregulated is wrong.

In New Zealand our experience hasn't been quite as catastrophic as elsewhere. We have an increasing number of checks and balances in the market. I know few of the details, but I have a fair amount of faith in them. Partly, I admit, because a blood relative of mine had a hand in them. Also because many of the games that generators can play, such as discarding production capacity to exacerbate a crisis, would presumably be obvious if you tried it with hydro.

Should you wish to refute this uninformed assertion that water power is more transparent (see what I did there?) you should probably start by reading Sharon Beder's Power Play.

At any rate, the 'checks and balances' sometimes seem to mean shelling out public money towards things like spare capacity - things that you'd think would be part of the companies' core job. The expensive fixes reinforce the impression the private electricity is inherently broke. I can't help thinking wistfully of a public system. I won't claim it would be perfect, but the problems wouldn't be any worse than the ones we have now.

And there are upsides to high prices. One the interesting idea is that being gouged by utility companies increases the GDP (not that I know of anyone who claims this) in much the same way that someone buying as many cigarettes as they can afford and then getting expensive lung cancer treatment keeps the money circulating.

Also, high power prices encourage energy conservation and make alternative sources look more economical in comparison. All very green.

The Minister of Technical Stuff, Pete Hodgson, joined in the discussion with the mayors. He made it clear that, if the current capacity problem was manufactured, the swindle just backfired. Transpower will be getting a lot of scrutiny from all quarters, over both the misreporting and the management of its own networks. That's for the future. The first priority for the Minister will be making sure that the supply will be there. It's the absoluteness of this priority that gives electricity companies so much non-electrical power.

Matt Nippert - apprentice hack, Auckland

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Flaming pages

If infamy is far better than obscurity, I guess I ain't doin' too bad. Arriving at class on Monday, I was surprised to see this schoolyard diatribe in the letters to the editor pages of the AUT student publication Debate. The editor is one Rebecca Williams, a graduate of the course I'm enrolled in.

Rebecca makes loser angry

Here's a bit of history before we launch into this virtual bash. Matt Nippert is a guy who think it is cool to get every student magazine in the country and write a crap column picking on all the things he doesn't like. He does not take into account the
environment for which it is published, he also ignore the amount of hard work that we do as editors. He submits columns and demands that we publish them. I refused. I'll let the emails tell the rest of this story.

I note a plea for contributors for Debate - and yet you haven't run a single one of the five columns, or the review or feature I've sent through.
Are you for real?

Are you? Your column is pants, haven't you got anything better to do with your time?

Your feedback is appreciated. I'm sure your legion of volunteers testifies to that.
Good luck in getting out of the media slum.

The last word from Bec - What a "special" guy. I chose not to respond to Matt, since he knows nothing and is probably ugly. I hope he finds the happiness that he is looking for ... I really do.
My first thought was: where did my actual letter to the editor go? Emails, unless marked are generally not considered for publication. As it stands, I thought I came out rather well - certainly with more dignity than my detractor.

Secondly, the 'pants' reply was the first word I'd ever heard from Ms Williams. Never met the woman, never had much bad to say about her. There is no running grievance, there is no literary feud. Her judgments on my experience and ability seem to come from thin air. (I hear oxygen deprivation can cause brain damage.)

Thirdly, as hatchet jobs go, it's a poor effort. With home-field advantage as editor, the ability to clip text and set the stage with introductions and parting shots, I expect quality, creative, vitriol. It's not like I'm without faults. What about my mullet? Boundless arrogance? Extreme drinking problem? And this isn't even broaching anything substantive. "Ugly loser" comes straight from primary school, and honestly I expect better from the student editors of today.

I'm left in a quandary; what to do? Eyebrow cocked in quizzical disbelief? An obscenity-laced tirade? Auditioning as a character actor in the mold of Steve Buscemi? To solve this dilemma, I'm opening up the first Fightingtalk readers poll.

Matt should:
a) Fight fire with fire - launching a bitter obscenity-laced tirade usually reserved for mIRC?
b) Occupy the high ground - keeping boots clean of mud and blood?
c) Investigate further - who is Ms Williams, and what triggers such outbursts?
Email votes to: matt_nippert@yahoo.com. I'll act on them next week.

PS: Has anyone else spotted the similarities between the planned Maori Party and the Business Roundtable? Both oppose the foreshore and seabed legislation because it removes property rights, and both are staunch supporters of the private management of Auckland Central Remand Prison...

Tom Goulter - Your Fucking Khakis, Christchurch

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Don't they realise Animal Crossing has already done

News Item:
Fight Club to be released on major consoles in 2004

Instruction Manual: Fight Club
By Chuck Pahlaniuk

Getting Started

Set up your Playstation2 Computer Entertainment System according to the instructions in its Instruction Manual.
These instructions you've read a million times before, only they have to put them at the start of every Instruction Manual, because there's always someone out there willing to do the wrong thing and get hurt.
Or, worse, sue.
Like the Arkansas kid who tried to unscrew his Master System II so he could lend Alex Kidd to a friend, only he didn't disconnect it from the power first, and now he has no use of his right arm below the elbow.
Make sure the MAIN POWER switch (located on the back of the console) is turned on. Press the RESET button.
The Salt Lake City girl who wondered the same perfectly natural thing that everyone wonders about the N64 Rumble Pak, and her parents (with the legal and financial support of Mormon Elders) are still involved in a class-action lawsuit against Nintendo for making the destruction of the base on Fortuna in Lylat Wars "unnecessarily suggestive".
When the front of the console lights up, press EJECT and the disc tray will open. Place the Fight Club disc on the disc tray with the label side facing up. Press the EJECT button again and the disc tray will close.
The Normal, Illinois, kid, who, making the wrong inferences from the Giger-via-Konami graphical flourishes of the final level of Contra: The Alien Wars, tried it on with his Super Famicom, and he hasn't been able to get wood ever since.
They said if only he hadn't imported.
They say the Cartridge Slot of the American model is shaped in such a manner that such inferences would never be possible.
Attach game controllers and other peripherals, as appropriate. Follow on-screen instructions and refer to this manual for information on using the software.


Using the Controller, you can make your character perform a variety of actions.

D-PAD - Move/Menu Selection
Cross - Confirm
Circle - Cancel

Pauses the action. Everything flows, moment-to-moment. You press this button and you're taken out of those moments.
Like your own personal escape pod.
Or your own personal coffin.
Only you can unpause by pressing START again.

Press this button to exit the fight.
To Tap Out.
Using the controller, you can make your character live to fight another day.
There's no shame in Tapping Out in Fight Club. Guys aren't there to win. Guys are there to Feel. Hitting, getting hit, beating a guy, tapping out, it's all the same.
Only if you Tap Out, you lose the fight, and then you have to Continue.
The German word for this, if you have a big enough dictionary, is zeitgeber.
The resetting of the spirit.
Your environment winding all the dials back and putting you back at zero.
In Fight Club, it's called a Continue. You can collect more by collecting tokens, which appear when you perform combos.

When in analog mode (indicator: ON), the left analog stick may be used to control character movement.
Everything on a sliding scale. Press hard. Run. Nudge the stick. Inch the character.
Sometimes you can be moving and not even know it. Sometimes standing still is the most definitive movement of all.
With analog mode off, your movement is at a perfectly regulated pace.
You couldn't run if you wanted to.
You couldn't inch if you tried.
Using the controller, you can make your character a perfectly regulated simulacrum of a human being.
Toggle analog mode on and off by pressing the ANALOG button.

Punch/Menu Confirm/Choke (In Grapples)
A quick punch will put anyone in their place.
Fight Club isn't about winning or losing. That's why your score goes up even when you get hit. Using points, you can buy condiments, furniture and other things. You can then store your belongings on your Memory Card, to show them to all your friends!

Kick/Menu Cancel/Cut Loose (In Grapples)
The kick is a more time-consuming move than the punch, but also packs more power.
The longer you take, the bigger the release.
Just like real fighting.
Or fucking.

Headbutt/Gouge (In Grapples)
The headbutt is a dirty move, but sometimes in Fight Club, you have to fight dirty.
Using the controller, you can make your character walk the complicated moral grayscape between ethical behaviour and being a total shitheel.

Special Move
Each character has his own special move.
Jack: Destroy Something Beautiful Floor Grapple
Tyler: Breathe Smoke Ground Lock
Bob: Bear Hug
Angel Boy: Jeet Kune Do Dodge With Flip Kick

As you progress, you'll unlock new characters with different moves.
New environments to fight in.
The bigger the world gets, the more everything starts to look the same.
Using the controller, you can make your character experience extreme violence in a variety of intentionally bland and monotonous settings.
Using the controller, you can switch the music between Slipknot and Staind.
Using the controller, you can bypass the tedious literary devices.

Playing Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.


Michael Appleton - student, Vinezac

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Spinning morals

Much has been written by historians of sport about where certain games come from; though, this sometimes seems an exercise in futility, not least because so many of the early writers on sport were keenly promoting their versions of particular games as the authoritative one of the time. If you take the sightseeing bus tour in Cambridge, you are told that this town is where association football - or soccer, as antipodeans like to call it - was invented. How so? Well, when the various clubs at the time got together and tried to agree on a common set of rules so that they could play each other, the ones chosen - the bus tour guide intoned - were those invented in Cambridge.

Lord's - the venue for today's first test between New Zealand and England - is known globally as the "home of cricket", but it was neither one of the first grounds to host regular cricket, nor the venue for the first test match. The latter was played in Melbourne in March 1877. Last week, I visited the small Hampshire village of Hambledon, which claims to be "the cradle of cricket", having hosted its first matches in the 1750s and its side having beaten the "All England" team provided on several occasions. Across the road from the cricket ground there is a pub called The Bat and Ball (the apple and rhubarb crumble was excellent, if you were wondering), whose walls are adorned with cricket memorabilia. One framed newspaper cutting told the story of a number ten batsman making over 150 in an early Hambledon match, a phenomonon which surprised some upon first seeing the scorecard. However, back in the 18th Century, batsmen were not listed by batting order but by status and - as would tend to happen in English sides made up of aristocratic gentlemen and less worthy professionals who played for material gain - the more socially lowly were better cricketers.

Cricket is still pervaded by considerations of class and empire. The countries where the sport seems to be more an all-consuming passion than a national pastime - Australia, the West Indies, and India, for example - cricket is a sport for everyone, the "common person", not just those who believe themselves to be too dignified to play more "common" sports. I have heard innumerous recollections from travellers to India and the West Indies about how all children - no matter how poor - seem to be out on the streets in their whites bowling or hitting a ball around, cricket representing both a reprieve from less palatable realities and a one-in-a-million shot at stardom and wealth. Cricket seems to be to Caribbean youngsters what soccer is to young Brazilians.

Though there are perpetual attempts by the ICC to broaden cricket's appeal - both in test countries where the sport has failed to infiltrate all social strata (South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, and I guess to an extent New Zealand) and in societies untouched by this relatively benign vestige of the British Empire - it seems unlikely that there will ever be more than 15 countries of test standard. I suppose if enough subcontinentals and Afro-Carribeans continue to travel to the United States and/or Canada, a couple of test sides could emerge from North America halfway through this century, but it is difficult to see where else test cricket could occur. Besides, building societies on the back of mass immigration doesn't seem to be as in vogue as it used to be. Consequently, the most urgent concern of cricket's authorities should be saving the current member of the test club teetering on the brink of self-destruction: Zimbabwe.

As is to be expected, Tony Blair's words on the English tour to Zimbabwe have been the usual mixture of self-righteous indignation and post-colonial tutt-tutting. One should probably observe a statute of limitations when it comes to the actions of states; nevertheless, it is a little galling to hear the pious words of a Prime Minister of a state which has a despicable record in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe (blood diamonds, anyone?) offering himself as the Southern African state's moral compass. This isn't to say that Britain now is morally equivalent to Mugabe's Zimbabwe, just that the former will struggle - as it has in the Middle East - to convince those Zimbabweans who oppose the Mugabe regime that it has benign intentions this time round. Any discussions about what actions should be taken against post-colonial states has to take into account what might be termed the Anglo-American world's "credibility deficit".

Anyway, all this talk of boycotts - Australia's Stuart MacGill is skipping Zimbabwe for "moral reasons"; England's players and administrators are trying to find a way out of their tour next winter - got me wondering what would have happened had some Black Caps refused to tour England on moral grounds. There must be some peaceniks in the Black Cap side - Vettori? Oram? - and what if they had held a press conference and said, "We cannot in good conscience tour a country which is undertaking an illegal war and occupation, against the will of its own people, and which has further destabilised an already precarious world." Would New Zealand Cricket have assured them - as Australia and England's cricket authorities have over Zimbabwe - that their careers would be unaffacted by such a decision? How would Helen Clark have played the issue under the glare of what would have been a furious tabloid reaction? How would have Tony Blair framed his moralistic response? If nothing else, it would have made for a delicious spectacle.

As it turns out, the delicious spectacle will play out not in the tabloid pages but on the beautiful cricket fields of England over the next few weeks. My guess is that New Zealand will win the series 2-1, so long as the fickle weather lets them. The New Zealand side, its embarrassing loss to Kent notwithstanding, just seems to me more battle hardened and have more match winners than its opponents. Game on.

Max Johns - Number and people cruncher, The Office

Would you like to see me in the nuke?
May 20th, 2004

Is the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 so untouchable that the mere suggestion that maybe we could think about changing it a little is a threat to all that is New Zealand? So great that the Government can score political points just by claiming – via a very dodgy and stupid use of a private memo – that the opposition is willing to discuss removal of a section of it? So crucial to our nation that it comes before reasoned debate, international kudos, and possibly even common sense? If spouting “Yay for being nuke free!” every time a TV camera gets pointed at our nation is what it means to be patriotic, I’m the guy in background, jumping, waving, pulling faces and ruining for everyone.

This is because I think it’s a good idea to take the National Party discussion document and, at the risk of being predictable, discuss it. The basic thrust of it is this: being nuke free is good. Being nuke free is right. We should continue to not use nuclear energy to power our country, and to not let nuclear weapons anywhere near it. So far, so good: no bombs like they have in France, no power stations like they have in Springfield. On the downside that means no free trips to the Pacific for ‘research’ purposes and no hilarious evil dictatorial boss to hate, but we already gave those up when we banned whaling and voted Muldoon out. The change being proposed is to remove Section 11, which reads “Entry into the internal waters of New Zealand by any ship whose propulsion is wholly or partly dependent on nuclear power is prohibited”. The rest of the Act remains untouched.

The discussion paper goes on to suggest that this legislative ban on visits from nuclear-powered ships can be replaced with a corresponding policy of banning them instead. Ships only visit if invited, so we can make it legally, technically okay for them to park up here for a while, but then never actually ask them to. Denmark, which hasn’t seen a nuclear powered ship since 1964, has the sort of policy that is being proposed. If we were to take a similar position, the net effect on NZ territorial waters would be zero. Net effect in other regards: debatable. Some are convinced the policy won't last, and are concerned by the possibility of ecological degradation should anything go wrong when ships do turn up. More realistically, it's claimed that our reputation around the world will worsen, and that those of us that make our living trading on the good ol’ clean green image – think tourism, agriculture, and therefore our two major economic pillars – will find life in the international market tougher than before. Others claim that there will be much good to outweigh the bad, principally in the area of NZ-USA relations.

How crucial is the ban to New Zealand? Not our general nuclear free status, but the specific ban of nuclear powered ships from our turf? They’re not exactly knocking at the door, so what’s the good in the big, nasty “Keep Out” sign we’ve had up lately? Wouldn’t a demure silence on the matter be a bit nicer? As a part of that clean, green image we’re so keen maintain, this particular part of the law is tiny. In fact, the entire anti-nuclear aspect of the image is not anywhere near as great as the environmental aspect – the fact that New Zealand is, in most cases, relatively clean and actually green. In terms of branding the nation (insert shudder here), the continued exclusion of other forms of nuclear power are much more crucial, since power stations and weapons cause many more problems and raise much more opposition than vehicular propulsion. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to imagine fewer tourists coming here or less NZ produce being purchased overseas just because we replace an Act with a policy. Our place in the markets where we compete is fairly secure - if nothing else, there’s no similar nation in the same markets positioned to snap up customer share when the ten most environmentally concerned percent of consumers are suddenly turned off NZ.

A less critical argument is that of potential ecological disaster. This is obviously predicated on the chance of a government over-riding the "no visit" policy at some stage. It's therefore probably irrelevant, but, regardless, it ignores records of safety and is little more than scaremongering. In the ‘80s it made sense to ban nuke-powered ships because it was the only way to be sure of keeping out ships with nuclear weapons in a time of American refusal to confirm which boat was carrying what missile. But those days are over now – US ships no longer carry nuke weapons at all – and it could well be that all this law does now is harm US-NZ relations. So what reasons are there for this ban now?

Instating the ship ban made Kiwi-American relations measurably worse. We were, in fact, ditched by our ANZUS buddies and left as two useless, pointy consonants parenthesised by a chummy A and US continuing to get along quite nicely. And playing Greenie in the Middle gets a bit stale after twenty years. So it can be argued that things might get better again if we reverse the changes that ruined things in the first place. The alleged pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow is the much-discussed (in this corner of the world, anyway) but highly speculatory free trade deal with the world’s economic king. Of course, trade deals are a lot more complex than “free” or “not free”, but recent reporting hasn’t really respected that. Let’s just say that even if free trade is off the agenda for the time being, there are plenty of improvements we can still seek.

It can be useful to note that Australia’s new trade setup with America, signed on May 19th but yet to be approved either government, is not a particularly bad one, and comes quite obviously in the wake of strong political and military friendship. It’s not complete free trade, but it’s pretty damn close and lacks any serious barriers to any major industries in either country. Everyone’s happy because the two nations are dissimilar enough to produce very little direct competition between major industries. New Zealand, if we got a foot in the door, would be similarly able to prove to its own majors that the US wouldn’t be about to come in and crush them (as a kick-ass primary producer, we’re pretty safe in that regard), and also reassure the Americans – for what it’s worth – that we’re not about to take any of their big boys down with our “quality over quantity” approach to exports. And if an NZ-US agreement could be thrown in alongside our CER with Australia, you’ve got yourself a happy little trio. (If it can’t, CER might be pushed into the background by Aussie now that they have as much access to the massive US market as they do to our tiny one). This lack of potentially destructive competition and pre-existence of shared preferred trade partners would be a massive boost for any trade talks we have with Uncle Sam. But first we need trade talks to begin with.

There’s no reason to immediately assume that changing our nuke policy will magically double our exports. There’s also no reason to assume that it will halve tourism numbers. But this is one debate that needs to be held with calm heads. It’s an issue worth putting on the table after 20 years of respectful and dutiful silence on the matter. Would the Americans really be that stoked with us if we changed the way in which we don’t let them sail in our waters? Would they appreciate that we are finally willing to reassess the way this globe works in a military sense, and address possibly outdated laws? What about the average tourist? Do they know about our nuclear stance? Do they care, or are they just here to jump off a bridge and bounce back up again?

Australia has proven that being nice to the USA works in favour of trade, but they didn’t just let the USA come for a floating visit. The price they paid...sorry, that was meant to be this link…isn’t one that we should even consider. Those supporting the discussion paper - myself included - need to prove that the benefits, including but not limited to USA trade, will be real, valuable, and no more costly than the simple removal of Section 11. Those who don’t want to rock the boat...I was up all night working on that one...have to find a way to keep Australia interested in our markets now that they’ve got the USA open, and also have to replace 1980s’ anti-nuke justifications with up-to-date ones. We’ve got to get past the level of “but being nuclear-free defines our country”. The changes being proposed won’t remove our internationally public opposition to nukes or crucially re-define New Zealand. But they just might do some good.

Meanwhile: There is now a call from famous conservationalist James Lovelock to attack global warming by putting urgent work into expanding nuclear electricity generation schemes. He's pissed off Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others by arguing that nuclear power is preferrable to burning fossil fuels. The Independent reported his pro-nuke views on the 24th of May. Then on the 26th The NZ Herald ran this piece on Lovelock's belief that NZ can go 100% renewable with our power generation. The same day, NZoom reported another winter power shortage on the way. Not because of weather this time, but because the lines aren't up to the job when we can make enough power for everyone.

Lyndon Hood - Reader, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

When we moved to Wellington most of the weight was accounted for by books. I've been rereading some of my wife's science fiction.

James White's Sector General series is set in a gigantic free-floating multi-species hospital. Its physiologically varied denizens spend their days dealing with the galaxy's most difficult medical mysteries alongside a gentle version of the usual hospital soap opera. There is an intense tolerance of difference and a united desire to heal the sick. Thematically the books cover a whole variety of ethical and spiritual issues. It's all quite utopian, very charming and highly entertaining. The characters are memorable and White smoothly manages a number of books with non-human protagonists.

And there is a war, of sorts.

A huge, crumbling space empire is encountered and its rulers conclude that the best way to preserve their power is to have an extended war based on a Big Lie. It happens that the only target they can get coordinates for is Sector General Hospital. As the onslaught intensifies, the Commander of the Federation's security forces (our guys) struggles not to hate the enemy. He's a policeman. This is just a large-scale riot.

As it is, it's the doctors who save the day. Their diligent treatment of all the wounded, irrespective of what side they're on or what shape they are, exposes the big lie and the invading fleet goes back to ask its leaders some pointed questions.

White's characters have a habit of thinking of war as a "mass racial psychosis". But it's also clear in the first book, 1962's Hospital Station, that trying to achieve ethical purity is setting yourself up for disappointment. The thing being that, despite this, somebody has to try, for all our sakes.

James White died in 1999, the year his last Sector General novel was released.

David Weber's Honor Harrington books are a different kettle of epic space war. They have been compared to, and appear to be inspired by, C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels (about what Harrington would call an "old-fashioned wet navy"), but by now there are probably more people familiar with Weber's work than Forester's.

Weber clearly enjoys working through the political and technological systems in his books (the tactics for Harrington's space battles, for example, are dictated by the peculiarities of the ships' propulsion systems) and he writes fantastic fight sequences on all scales.

Honor Harrington herself is, for plot purposes, a perfect soldier - a killing machine on any level from hand-to-hand to the strategic with and intense sense of duty and the habit of inspiring her subordinates - and she never really makes mistakes. Things that go wrong in her life are the fault of circumstances or other people. If she weren't so wracked with personal insecurity it would be maddening.

Weber's opinions do show, though. And he spares little contempt for the man who keeps insisting war is a wasteful failure of diplomacy and that "reasonable people negotiating in good faith can always reach an acceptable conclusion". In the particular circumstances of the book the position is wildly irrelevant and willfully ignorant. Weber not being one to pull his punches the man is also a shallow, greasy fool and a personal coward. One general conculsion from Weber's construction of interstellar political economics is that reasonable people negotiating in good faith can be hard to come by. He also highlights the possibility of a genuine conflict of interest.

And it's a bit like reading the Iliad (or, I presume, like watching Troy - did I mention I once played the Brad Pitt part in a reading of the Iliad?). In what becomes a very long war, you're allowed sympathy for the soldiers of the enemy (Haven) as well as the 'good guys' (Manticore).

In one memorable scene a badly hung-over Havenite Admiral risks execution by disagreeing with his government's propagandist. We should keep, he says, and be seen to keep, to the conventions on the treatment of prisoners - for entirely practical reasons (making a moral argument would probably be construed as treason). Our people will feel they're more likely to be treated well. The opposition won't become suicidal fighters. The rest of the universe won't be disgusted. Yes, I suppose exceptions could be made, but we're talking general policy.

Less likeable Havenite commanders are observed to discourage abuse of prisoners not out of respect for their humanity but because they consider that kind of behaviour to be destructive of discipline.

I suspect that Weber has gotten so popular that nobody dares edit the Harrington books for length anymore. I was increasingly exasperated as I got more than two-thirds of the way through the latest, 800-page installment without anyone shooting at anyone else.

I've also been reminded of that episode of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' when there's an explosion in the engine room and a witchfinderesque commission determinedly uncovers an alleged terrorist conspiracy using questionable methods. But, appearing accused, Captain Picard makes a big speech and the inquisitors go home chastised.

I think I'd like to live in Sector General best.

Matt Nippert - apprentice hack, Auckland

Monday, May 17, 2004

Compromising values
[A bi-weekly column critiquing student media]

Apologies in advance for those who got up before 9am on Sunday, and to those who listen to National Radio. I'm sure there's not too many of you in either category, let alone both. This column is derived mostly from a discussion on National Radio's Mediawatch programme where a rare glance was cast on student media by its professional counterparts. Not a long glance, but certainly a critical one.

Discussion swirled around the rebranding of Critic down in Dunedin, from newsprint to gloss. Their website even received a pretty makeover, including flash animation. Salient, part way through 2003, also upgraded their production values. All these improvements cost money. The topic for discussion: is this investment in appearance undermining the spirit of student media?

Salient editor Sarah Barnett, myself, and Chris Trotter, left-wing columnist for the Dominion Post and the Independent (the pro-business New Zealand version, not the liberal British one) were hauled out to discuss the issue. Trotter was editor of Critic in 1981, when 5,000 students graced the campus (compared to close to 20,000 now).

Trotter argued yes, student media has gone down the critical gurgler, albeit symptomatic of wider social changes. I argued no. Trotter had history behind him: The glory days of protest during the Vietnam War and the Springbok Tour. Taking a flick through the archives in any editor's office, and you'll find treaties urging Pacific decolonisation, even editorials against the war - the Second World War. (You'll also find potty-mouth-poetry, and reams detailing the joy of LSD.)

Judging from the response the week following Critic's shiny relaunch, Trotter may have a point. A vast majority of letters to the editor decried the new format. (Although, predictably, most complaints concerned how poorly the new version served as toilet paper.)

I guess the real issue is the potential of the medium. The constraints and pressure of commercial publishing means content needs to be popular, or else ratings decline along with income and bankruptcy results in silence. But student magazines aren't in a position to go bust. Their financial outlays are relatively minor, no plush buildings, few travel expenses, practically no paid staff and no exorbitant management board. (There's always students association subsidies to fall back on - and at around $4 per student per year, this is hardly a severe burden if spread amongst all students.)

Therefore there's real potential, on those pages, to push commercial constraints and boundaries. A recent letter to Craccum said they liked the 2004 edition because 2003 only aspired to be Listener-lite. While commercial media is required to be entertaining, student media can also be informative. Which is preferable: a Listener-lite, or amateur FMH? Or more pointedly; which is best for students?

It is important to provide interesting content, but the of raising what should be interesting but isn't right now shouldn't be underrated. The political issues (and dare I say it, the politicians) of tomorrow will come from campus discussion. Are dangerous dogs really our biggest problem? Is the Treaty irrelevant? Student media pages are a good a place as any to hammer these issues out.

Will a reliance on advertising, and a ramping up of production values, ultimately undermine what is an amateur forum where ideas drive the publication, not an eye on the bottom line? Let's take a look at the last two years:

During World Cup season last year, Critic, stonewalled by All Black media handlers, instead chose a foreign team to cheer, interviewing the captain of Uruguay. Craccum talked to John Pilger following his incendiary interview with Kim Hill. Need I mention the Helen Clark feature in Salient last year?

This year, after only nine issues, there has been some entertaining and encouraging signs of alternative commentary and dissent. A review in Latin of the Passion of the Christ in Salient. A strident (although raw) critique of the increasing commercialization of Auckland University in Craccum.

While the Sunday Star-Times took a simplistic approach towards explaining the rise of Don Brash in running a 'Don Brash-Pauline Hanson: Spot the difference' front page, Critic talked to a former leader of the New Zealand National Front – about why he liked the National leader so much. Brent 'Snake' Gebbie, Lower Hutt panel beater, was annoyed because he’d formulated racial policy long before the Brash "ever even thought of it." (Brash even responded with a letter to the editor - a sure sign student media is hitting a nerve.)

There is, however, less activism on campus, less call for revolution from student organs, and even less response from students these days. Chaff editor Anne-Marie Emerson says that "Today's students, the majority of them, have grown up in the post-Rogernomics era. A lot of them are cynical and seem to believe things like protesting are pointless." Trotter does seem to have a point. The great political battles seem to lie in the past.

Has the fire gone out of student bellies? Has the sea of commercialism washed over and eroded the revolutionary barricades of years past? Perhaps the last word is best left for Nick Henry who wrote in a guest editorial for Salient last year that Trotter and other "left" branded mainstream columnists have "taken on a particular function, to act as proxies for the establishment, the kneecapping heavies of the corporate media."

I guarantee the Dominion Post doesn't take that line. I'm not so sure about the Independent.

Michael Appleton - Cambridge, student and Heather Bowlan - Cambridge, abortion counsellor

Friday, May 14, 2004

A Cambridge encounter

There has been a "slasher" roaming the streets of Cambridge in the last week. According to police, he rides up to women at night, using a knife to cut them across the face before riding off. Students at my college, Clare Hall, were sent an email earlier in the week advising us to be careful. It read, in part:
You will be aware of recent stabbing incidents in Cambridge and may know that an arrest has not yet been made. While not wishing to cause alarm and panic I believe it is prudent to think carefully about your personal safety at this time. Avoid walking or cycling alone at night - take a taxi or go with friends.
Meanwhile, the Cambridge Union was holding what it had hoped would be a "controversial" debate last night on the topic, "This house believes Islam is the single greatest threat to gay and women's rights."

LP: Lord Periwinkle of Woodville, a suspected Cambridge academic, debating enthusiast, concert-goer, and friend of High Court judges. He is a corpulous, pompous-looking man, wearing a penguin suit with an ornate fob chain and a yellow, silk pocket hankerchief. He is holding a dangerous looking umbrella.
MA: Michael Appleton

Just outside the Cambridge Union building, last night, at around 7:30, half an hour before the debate was due to start. Skies are clear.

LP: [Walking out of the Union Building] The debate's been cancelled.
MA: Oh, really?
LP: They could have let us know earlier, and spared me the hassle of a taxi ride with a less than pleasant taxi driver. There are probably only two English taxi drivers left in Cambridge, who understand English ways and know to drive on the left side of the road. You know, I never used to be a racist before, but I find myself getting angry and racist. I'd really like to be able to conduct my day-to-day business in Cambridge with speakers of the English language who understand the British way of life.
MA: Uh-huh. So why was the debate cancelled?
LP: According to that little girl [pointing inside] with the big wine glass, they couldn't spare any police for security - they're all out looking for the slasher. A couple of them [the attacks] have happened in the Madingley area, where I live. I am getting a taxi home tonight, so it doesn't matter, but I have this [pointing to his umbrella, with a metal ring and stopper at the end] just in case. Though, he's supposed to be on a bicycle, and he creeps up on you really quietly, so I might not even have time to give him a whack. A couple of times it was just women alone, but there has been also one time when he went after a man who was walking with a woman.
MA: Uh-huh. So what does he do, just cut their faces?
LP: Yeah, all the people attacked have had to go to hospital. It has never been fatal, but it could easily be, if he got you in the neck or in the back. I was at a concert last night - and they were describing him as tall, wearing dark clothing, skinny, with a bandana around his head or his face - and the woman next to me said, "That describes my middle son." He sounds like a drug dealer, but the strange thing is that he doesn't do it for money or anything. So it must just be a real nutcase. But, yes, if he came up to me, and I had time to, I would definitely have a go at him [Gestuting to the umbrella].
MA: Uh-huh.
LP: Actually, there's a funny story behind this [umbrella]. I have this friend who is a high court judge [said smiling]. But this was about twenty years ago, so he was a very young high court judge. We were having dinner down in London and I had this with me, and he said "Is that a defensive weapon?" He said he had recently sat on a case which was precisely about this - whether one can use an umbrella as a defensive weapon! He told me that when the case was published in the Law Reports, he would send me a copy. So when I received this case, I made a couple of copies - one copy went straight to my lawyer, and one went in my private papers. My judge friend said that if you use an umbrella like this as a walking stick, like I do, because you are disabled, then you cannot use it as a defensive weapon. Look at this [gesturing to the umbrella]! You can open it right up and sit on it. But of course my fat arse can't fit on it! I said to my friend that if I ever had to use it against someone who was attacking me, then I would just tell the court that it wasn't a walking stick, but a defensive weapon. It defends me against the rain! And, in England, that's a little every day.
MA: Nice to meet you.
LP: Yeah, nice to meet you. Have a good night.

Lyndon Hood - inactivist, Lower hutt

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I was at the Hikoi. I still can't deciding whether I was participating, watching, or just practicing with my digital camera. I didn't do any marching as such. I can tell you that what bought me out on that alarmingly windy lunchtime was the strong sense that it would be a huge event which I would kick myself if I missed. I wasn't disappointed.

I arrived at the station and joined the crowd hanging out around parliament. As it happened the battery on my camera ran out well before the whole march arrived (there were plenty of other photographers anyway) but I still have photos where the park in front of parliament looks full. In the end it was overflowing - there was no indication of what the police like to call "incidents" but my sympathy goes out to whoever has to tidy up the lawns and hedges.

It was big. The estimated numbers I've heard, compared to my amateurish guesstimates, vary from the high to the ridiculously high, but it was big. There was that community-mindedness you get on marches, knowing that a decent number of people agree with you about something, though in this case it was closer to town-the-size-of-Te-Awamutu mindedness. It's difficult to be with that many united people, even watching from the popular spectator spot in front of Parliament's church, without thinking they might have a point. I suppose that if I wasn't inclined to be influenced I wouldn't have been there in the first place, but in the end it really did feel as if the entirety of Maoridom had turned out to politely knock on the nation's front door and ask for their lawnmower back. It was big.

It was spectacularly Maori. I realise that won't surprise anyone, but this Dunedin boy was impressed by such a huge display of cultural vitality. In the circumstances it sounds patronising, but my generally sluggish patriotic pride was stirred by the uniqueness of a protest with haka going on all the time. Someone should cut a track of the call-and-response hikoi theme song, but my favorite chant was the charmingly maoringlish "Tahi Rua Toru Wha / What do we think about Parakura? / Hoha! / Hoha!"

And while we're looking at this from a whitey point of view, I'll also mention that I never felt personally threatened at all.

After a while I went and did some shopping.

By the time I made it back the crowd was breaking up in the rain but there was still a lot of them. I was also able make out what one of the speakers was saying, for the first time since the people in front of the march got down from their truck. As it happens, he was advocating that great bugaboo called Maori separatism. The idea of Maori publicly declaring that they've been betrayed by the current system and want one of their own must be a National strategist's wet dream.

Now, I was pretty sure the foreshore legislation was an alienation of people's real if unestablished rights for the unclear promise of probably insufficient compensation, basically unnecessary, unnecessarily complicated and tending to quasi-legal concepts like the lost and unlamented "public domain". Part of my ambivalence about actually protesting was the influence of Labour's communication strategy on the issue. Not the one about how we should move on and stop obsessing about victimisation and injustices such as, for example, how I'm grabbing your land right now. I didn't really buy that. The other ones, about how it's the best that the electorate will accept, and how one should consider the alternative. Previous Hikoi had an opposition more in line with their views. This one has National.

On the first point: this morning National Radio's Linda Clark (God bless her but she does have some interesting guests) spoke to James Flynn. Jim Flynn is Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at Otago, a former Alliance parliamentary candidate, mesmerisingly academic and enough of an expert on IQ issues to have the Flynn effect named after him. After the same discussion about IQ and genetics that (based on my experience) he often has with interviewers, Clark asked him for an opinion on the foreshore debate. He proposed an eerily simple solution.

Let the land court handle the claims. Legislate so that, if the court finding would confer the right to bar public access or to sell the land, that must be ratified by Parliament. That satisfies the public positions of everybody this side of National, and probably some people on the other side as well. Since National seems to think that the idea of customary rights under the common law was made up by the Labour government to satisfy their iwi masters, getting their backing on this one is pretty much out of the question.

And it wouldn't, of course, satisfy the recently-arisen political necessity of combating uppitiness wherever it appears. Sigh. Sometimes I wish we had actually had a debate about the Treaty rather than a bitch session followed by the government caving. I like to think it might have made a difference.

Tom Goulter - Well-Fed Actor, Christchurch

Monday, May 10, 2004

Pun of the week: Take a picture, it'll last longer

As part of the play I'm in this week, it's been my task to seek out old newspapers from the time and place - Australia, 1960 - the play is set. Unable to find actual, real Australian newspapers, I've had to settle for copies of The Weekly News, a Christchurch-based paper. One piece caught my eye:


Our greatest historical document of all, the Treaty of Waitangi, was lost for many years and found at last in some obscure drawer, well on its way to being destroyed by rats. We were more fortunate than we deserve. For although rats throughly enjoy a meal of parchment, it seems that they possiby do not like ink and only the edges, not the actual writing, had been nibbled away. And so, at least so far, we still do have the New Zealand Magna Carta.
- Celia Manson
On the one hand, the sentiment behind the Waitangi/Magna Carta comparison has a gravity and earnestness sorely missed in today's debates. On the other hand, the "eaten by rats" part kind of offsets the whole thing just a smidge.

It's also fascinating comparing the house styles of this old tabloid-size publication and modern papers, particularly as the Weekly News, on the whole, is a far more professional and well-put-together piece than Chch's daily paper. (Their cartoons, for instance, may be the sort of cryptic-crossword "satire" - "satire", in this case, being as defined by Dave Barry as "not funny" - lampooned in vintage Onion issues, but at least they're not the kind of vile shit that I have to force myself to ignore on a daily basis).

Seguing nicely from the above, the New Yorker has a fairly comprehensive (by which we mean, fairly graphic and unpleasant) rundown on the Abu Ghraib abuses, while Whiskey Bar has managed to dig up a firsthand diary from Joe Ryan, an interrogator versed in interviewing, golfing and euphemism.
There is nothing wrong with being an occupying force; that is what we were in Germany and Japan....
Pay attention over the next few days. There will be some changes over here and we may be showing our "big stick."
Foreshadowing - ain't it grand?

And, in the interest of a fair and impartial cross-section of reportage:
After the prisoner began throwing rocks at the so-far unidentified soldier at a detention center last September, the GI defended himself by shooting his attacker, according to the New York Post.

Still, in fit of political correctness [sic] that has hobbled the U.S. military almost from the outset of the Iraq war, the soldier was put on trial and convicted of using excessive force.
- Fuckin' commie pinko faggot nazi political correctness.

Max Johns - Commuter, Ashburton/Christchurch/Dunedin

This is reality speaking: NZ Idol isn't all bad

If this is three or more hours old when you read it, NZ will have a new Idol. Good for us. He’ll either be Ben or Michael, and he’ll have been voted for by thousands and thousands of "people", by which I mean "kids wasting cell phone credit they didn't even pay for". The Edge will start playing his version of the new single "Can't Take That Away", and it will probably go to number one for a couple of weeks. There'll be an album, complete with in-store signings at a Sounds near you. Then, suddenly, nothing else will happen. Like TrueBliss, he'll fade into the recesses of our fair nation's CD collections, and soon find his way into the dusty racks of Cash Converters with a permanent $5 sticker slapped on his cover.

Pop music in New Zealand will return to its old ways: the shelf space briefly dedicated to Ben/Michael (delete whichever doesn’t apply) will give way to imported crap, the NZ Idol TV timeslot will go to American Idol (because, you know, we need another one of them), and only a quota will keep anything local on our airwaves. The NZ Idol experiment will pass out quietly in the corner and leave nothing in its wake, except a bunch of smug music geeks quietly congratulating themselves on having predicted the whole collapse. I'll be there, but I won't be the only one filing away yet another historical example of shit music failing, proving once again that "real music" is better than, y'know, fake music. Then we'll start arguing about what real music is. And agreeing that it's great that we've still got genuine NZ music like Gramsci and Phoenix Foundation happening without a bunch of primetime hype. And arguing about whether we should take hiphop seriously, who's better out of The White Stripes and The Velvet Underground, etc., etc.

But something won't quite feel right. While my groupie-wannabe mates and I discuss obscurities only reviewed in the student media ('by ourselves', we won’t admit), we'll be willingly ignoring the basic truth that kids are idiots who like crap music. And, more importantly, they pay for it and they make it big business. It's true that there will be thousands of little punks out there that'll know every word to "Can’t Take That Away" and won't have a clue who Chris Knox is or what Flying Nun ever did for them - but just because it's true, it's not important. To assume that the presence of Ben/Michael takes attention away from decent kiwi tunes is somewhat ill-founded. If Ben/Michael wasn't being high-rotated on ZM, it’d be some fat black American with a shiny necklace, a big number on his singlet, and a hot chick singing the choruses.

It's not a bad idea to have grossly over-manufactured, cynically produced and entirely disposable NZ pop stars for the very simple reason that the other option is grossly over-manufactured, cynically produced and entirely disposable US pop stars. So while we’ve got a local equivalent out there, we might as well support him. Enjoy the little idiots shelling out for "Can’t Take That Away". At least a little more cash will stay in Aotearoa. Don't hold any grudges against Mr. Moment when he's performing in a shopping mall near you, instead rejoice in the fact that if he was to sing "Can’t Take That Away" in his real accent, he'd be censored from the first word. Look at the joy on the faces of the sheepy children's faces as they look up to someone from their own country for a change. Face it – pop music is fucking terrible, but it's here at least until compulsory military service from the age of 10 to 17 is introduced. So we might as well have fucking terrible kiwi pop music infecting our youth. And when it dries up some time in mid-July, watch the flocks turn stateside again, and remember how much better the days of the NZ Idol really were. Then email me with your opinion of which Pink Floyd album is the best, and what Greg Johnson has to do to crack the US market.

Postscript: I would pretty much be asking for death if I wrote an NZ Idol post and didn't let you all know about this here song, by an Auckland home recorder calling himself PDMJ. Don't be scared, it's actually good.

Lyndon Hood - Interviewee, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


Get some sun. It promotes Vitamin D and Seratonin. Some think that more people die of not getting enough sun than getting too much.

Improve your social dominance standing by listening to gangsta rap. It makes you aggressive.

That William S. Burroughs knows a thing or two.

Actually think about a political party's social and economic policy before changing your opinion.

Don't sneer at people just because they disagree with you. I mean, Helen Clark must have alienated the whole world now.

"Preferred Prime Minister" indeed.

You never know when you'll do something excellent.

Maybe it's just that I don't watch television anymore, but has the casual misuse of the word "refute" gone out of fashion?

Man, I could quote Machiavelli on world affairs all day.

Headlines we haven't seen: "Bush Promises More Efficient Electoral Corruption".

If, for some reason, you had to choose between National in New Zealand or the Republicans again in the US, what would you do?

It is of course my patriotic duty to point out that climbing Everest doesn't count if you don't make it back.

And the covenant between the Ratana Church and the Labour Party doesn't count unless it's kept in a magic box that melts Nazis.

Whatever you're doing, if it gets all screwed up say, "It's all turned to custard." Custard is yummy.

If all else fails, try an aphorism. An aphorism has something for everybody.

It doesn't take much effort to have a user-friendly job application process, but it makes you a lot of friends.

When somebody says we should forget about the past, start looking forward and move along, you know they're talking for the winners.

When somebody talks about a "win-win situation" I automatically try and work out who's getting fleeced.

I like to think that with the timing of the earthquakes we've been having that some people actually were having sex.

It doesn't make any difference if you get thin, saturated fat is still bad for you.

Why would you take advice from some random schmuck on the web?

Matt Nippert - apprentice hack, Auckland

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Cracks in the media windowpane

Something strange happened to Lyndon and I on the way to review a movie. It was a bright afternoon, and the Sunday drive down Great North Road was brought to a halt by four tonnes of African herbivore. Dumbo, Auckland zoo's sole elephant, had torn down a tree and used the fallen timber to bridge a moat and cross an electric fence. Dumbo was free, running on the road, and eyeballing my Morris Minor like the autmobile was in heat.

As it turns out, we eventually made the film (although the usher didn't seem impressed with my excuse for lateness), and my encounter with Dumbo makes for an excellent intro. Shattered Glass tells the story of Stephen Glass, a writing prodigy in the US magazine industry. Glass had a flair for words, and a knack for finding colourful stories. He'd probably have liked the story of Dumbo, maybe have written something himself along the same lines. And, like me with this piece, he'd probably have fabricated the whole thing.

I don't have a car, I wasn't in Auckland, the elephant isn't named Dumbo (it's Burma) and hasn't escaped since January. Shattered Glass is based on the events of 1998 that saw cracks appear in the work of the uber-writer, and led to the most significant media plagiarism case of the 1990s. The issue has gained added poignancy after the recent affair of Jayson Blair at the New York Times and, to a lesser extent, USA Today's Jack Kelley. (Incidentally Blair was commissioned to review this film for Esquire, before word got out and editors pulled the plug on their "joke".)

Playing in two parts, the first gets into the head of Glass, played by Hayden Christensen. Yes, he is best-known as a young Darth Vader, but this role proves he won't need an encassing suit and James Earl Jones voiceovers once he grows up and escapes the Star Wars franchise. His portrayal of Glass nails self-pity, unchecked ambition and deep insecurity all at the same time. You want to believe him, and you can see why his colleagues backed him for so long in the officer cold war politics that built with suspicions over his work.

The second half sees the film change gear into thriller, as rival journalists sense there's something fishy, and begin digging into details. "There is one detail that checks out," says Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) who looks into a Glass story after his editor berates him for missing a scoop, "there actually is a State in the Union called Nevada." Unpopular editor Chuck Lane (played to understated perfection by Peter Sarsgaard) tries to cover his writer, but eventually has to move against the office favourite.

From journalists as warriors for the public-good in All the President's Men, to journalist as cynical fraudster in Shattered Glass. It only took one generation - and two very good films.