Lyndon Hood - jetsetter, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Australia I: A Singer of the Bush

So I saw this book at the airport.

Actually, the first book I saw was the Bumper Book of Countries, or whatever it’s called. It’s got a glossy two-page spread for every nation of the world, with a big photo and information about what the place is like and how it get properly in touch with its spirit. Some understanding of New Zealand, for example, can be reached by eating whitebait fritters while reading Whale Rider.

For Nigeria, people were encouraged to read the plays of Wole Soyinka. This may be as close as a relentlessly positive book can get to a warning. I’ve been listening to Soyinka on the radio giving lectures with the topic "Climate of Fear" - on the effects terrorism and dictatorship have on the people. He regularly draws examples from his homeland. The deeper understanding of Nigeria that Soyinka's reader would get presumably includes it not being a good place to go to.

Speaking of travel advisories: at Melbourne Airport, on the way home, there was a computer with the Australian travel guidance website open. Iraq (don't stay unless you have to, get good security) sounds less dangerous to Australians than the Gaza Strip (leave if it is safe to do so). Visitors to New Zealand, on the other hand, should try to avoid earthquakes.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Book.

It was by the controversial ethicist Peter Singer. I recognised his name from my Applied Ethics paper, which left me with a vague impression that he had written the book on the subject. Turns out, he's written another one. It's about President Bush. I had plenty of time before my connection to Tasmania, so I had a look (wouldn't it be nice if more Amazon review posters actually read the books?).

And before you go looking for my other head (or deciding that I actually am Matt Nippert), I want to say we were going there to visit my wife's parents. And they haven't been in Tasmania long, so she hasn't got two heads either. Okay? Besides, I saw nobody with any kind of congenital deformity the whole time I was there.

The basic idea is, since George W Bush habitually appeals to ideas of right and wrong, to analyse his ethics he has professed as a Governor and a President. Skipping to the end, I discovered Ole Dubya didn't fare so well. If sincere, his morality of a few simple rules is not really adequate to the task of running a country.

I didn't buy it.

I did get some duty free on the way back though. I don't know if you've ever tried Laphroaig whisky, but you would probably remember if you had. It felt like the middle of my tounge was trying to shrivel up and it was pretty clear why the people at the shop had listed "seaweed" among the flavours. Not that the taste is the same, but I'm reminded of the one time I tried Kava. I couldn't help think part of it's stimulating effect was your body reacting to having drunk something so foul.

I had tried Laphraoig before and I got it because I like it. Call me a short-black-drinking-stilton-eater if you like. I won't mind.

I didn't buy the book, partly because I don't need "Babykiller" Singer to tell me that George W is misguided at best. Outrage fatigue? Possibly. Also because I was keeping my baggage weight low. It is beautifully produced, though. Maybe I'm just bad at buying books. I saw Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers in Tasmania going so cheap it must have been a mistake, and I didn't buy that either.

The book may be a useful introduction for disillusioned liberals to the world of Applied Ethics. Much like the Get Your War On man writing on the theory of meaning. I've often wondered if the general teaching of some kind of philosophy, or at least of logic, would improve the quality of the general discourse. I suspect the bulk of people would remain fools no matter what.

On the way out of the bookshop I saw the latest follow-up to Latin for All Occasions, which had intructions on how to say a wide variety of amusing things in latin. The sequel is called X-treme Latin (possibly to avoid confusion with the correctly-spelt church mission to Brazil or any amount of porn). It includes a section on "Homeland Security", which translates phrases such as, "If I can't get a good table in a popular restaurant on short notice, then the terrorists have won". It's good to see someone treating these matters with the proper gravitas.

Re-entering New Zealand at Wellington I had to pass under a pair of those bloody white feather flags. I almost went back to Australia.

Max Johns - Marketing Consultant, Blenheim

Monday, October 25, 2004

A meander through the past few months
Or: Why I'm wasting my rent money

As anyone who has tried to keep track of me in the past year - Hi, Mum - can tell you, I'm having trouble staying still. It was never meant to happen like this, but for the next few months I'm a resident of Blenheim. I'm a marketing consultant at Mitre 10 over the summer. They've got this young guy in management there who has access to a sympathetic ear of the boss's - something to do with one being the other's father - and he's got plans to shake things up a bit. So he needed someone with a bit of marketing knowledge to help him out, and convinced the boss to let him hire a consultant. He cast out a very small net and duly hauled me in. No interview, no competition. Something to do with us being drinking buddies during our varsity days in Dunedin. So that's why I'm here. Not that I've moved here or anything. I'm just spending a few months away from home.

I once bussed from Dunedin to Picton. Once. In 2000. My flatmate threw a party the night before and we barely had time to hug the keg goodbye before our 4:30am boarding. We were students. We were idiots. "Fuck," I later thought out loud to my bottle of Otago Liqueur firewater, "I'll never drink for seven hours straight before a twleve hour bus trip all the way up South Island again." I sobered up in Kaikoura. It wasn't worth it. In fact, it hurt. Firewater's great. It smells like cinnamon and kicks like a donkey.

But Fate is a bastard with a mean sense of humour, and Fate overheard my conversation with that firewater. That's why, more than four years later, it happened again. And I don't mean some sort of combination of alcohol and travel that bore a passing resemblance to the pain of 2000. I mean it repeated itself entirely - right down to the 'seven hours' detail. This time I boarded at 12:45am, though. Those readers able to do sums will already have worked out that for some now unknowable reason I didn't spend Tuesday afternoon packing for my four months away, but instead decided on having a few tequilas. I even went to the effort of starting at 5 o'clock. Because, y'know, the sun makes it more Mexican. I'm still the idiot I always was, but now I'm not a marketing student. I'm a marketing consultant.

I was kind of a marketing consultant in my last job. That's the six-month stint I did at the flour mill in Ashburton, starting after Easter when I quit being a door-to-door salesman. It was a short-term contract so I didn't bother moving all my stuff out of Dunedin. Just spending a few months away from home, right? I kept my flat down there and went back for weekends, except when I was in Auckland or Hamilton. I didn't want to spend the weeks living in Ashburton, which I think is entirely understandable, so I got a room in a mate's flat in Christchurch. The one-hour-each-way commute kind of sucked, but it beat living in Ashburton. The job also kind of sucked, but it paid well. I have a decent relationship with the boss up in head office, you see. Something to do with him being my father.

In Dunedin, flat leases run from January 1 to December 31. If you don't want to sign a full-year lease, you're screwed for a roof. The Christchurch flat I took - students, scummy kitchen, bird nesting in the bathroom's exterior fan, not much else going on - conforms to the local norm there of being leased through till February. No problems, the boys told me, we're going to sublet for the summer. I'm still waiting on that one, paying two rents and not living in either place. I told you I'm an idiot. Currently I reside on a single mattress on the floor of my drinking buddy's (and therefore boss's) living room floor. I need a place here, so I'm going to get one. You see what's going to happen.

Now when I started writing this, I didn't think it was going to have a point, and you probably thought the same when you started reading it. But it does, and it is this: If you or anyone you know wants a place in Christchurch for the summer - one to four rooms available - email me. If you help me out I might even shout you a firewater.

Max Johns - Briefly unemployed until I can find a way to get to Blenheim, Dunedin

Monday, October 18, 2004

Another Fighting Talker falls victim to shameless self-promotion

Okay, so I'm pretty sure that I'm no Patrick or anything, but I'm going to take this opportunity to recycle some of my old crap for y'all. You see, I'm now a writer for www.muzic.net.nz's regular newsletter, and my first editorial came out on the 17th. And let's be honest, I'm pretty crap at this whole "being a regular blogger" thing, so I figure I might as well just throw a slightly rejigged version of said editorial into this space. Enjoy.

Who is Marshall Smith and why does he matter?

Later this month, APRA is going to hold a glitzy ceremony in front of an invite-only industry crowd and give out a few awards. The APRA Silver Scroll will be decided by a secret panel of six judges and will go to 2004's best NZ songwriter. There will also be awards for those who received more airplay than anyone else this year, on both a national and international scale. For 39 years the Silver Scroll has been one of the highest local accolades available to New Zealand musicians. It's awarded solely for song-writing, and in paying no mind to commercial success retains a certain form of purity, an artist-centric feel to it. This year, there are six nominees: Scribe and P-Money for Not Many; Shayne Carter, Andy Morton and Ned Ngatae (Dimmer), for Getting What You Give; Liam Finn (betchadupa) for The Bats of Darkwell Lane; all four of Goodshirt for Fiji Baby; TrinityRoots's frontman Warren Maxwell, for Home, Land and Sea; and Marshall Smith (head of songwriter and producer collective The New Freedom) for Grey Boy.

In a way, the nominee that stands out beyond the other five in the list is Marshall Smith. Chances are that this isn't a name you've seen much of before. The New Freedom's website gives more than enough evidence that Smith has the CV of a fine songsmith, and provides downloads to prove how good he is. That APRA have considered Grey Boy alongside hits like recent number one Not Many is testament to their pursuit of NZ's finest-written song, regardless of popularity.

So it's a bit odd that the award ceremony will also present awards for the Work Most Performed Overseas and Most Performed in New Zealand. These two awards recognise exactly the sort of success - commercial popularity and airplay - that the Silver Scroll is intentionally designed to not take into consideration. What are APRA doing? The overseas award is pretty much a Neil Finn certainty for all time, given the USA chart-topping (if you count number 2 as 'chart-topping') history of 1986's Don't Dream It's Over. The national award moves around a lot more, and this year could quite possibly end up in Scribe's rapidly-overcrowding pool room. Or shudder-inducing Ben Lummis may receive a last few minutes in the spotlight before his short-lived 'career' goes the way of all the other Idols around the globe. If there were ever two people at opposite ends of a broad spectrum, they would have to be Marshall Smith, with his many years of song writing success and small amount of personal recognition, and Lummis, who shot to fame nearly overnight on the back of a reasonable voice and huge media attention, but hasn't had to have an original musical thought yet.

APRA is definitely the only group that can boast almost all of NZ's active songwriters within its membership, and it's also probably got access to more airplay and song performance data than any other outfit. This probably means that it's fair enough that they take it upon themselves to award our best-written song of 2004 as well as the producers of the year's most popular tunes. But aren't these awards almost direct opposites? Given music's rather slight relationship between quality and popularity, which award should our songwriters be aiming to win? The Silver Scroll might be nice to receive in front of NZ's most important music industry figures, but what does it signify? The 'Most Performed' awards are at least based on something measurable and definite. The Silver Scroll, meanwhile, has a proud history of passing through many amazing hands in its time (including those of Ray Columbus and Wayne Mason, and more recently Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Don McGlashan, Greg Johnson and Chris Knox). APRA quite rightly treats the Silver Scroll as the more important award. New Zealand's music industry is going through its best times yet, especially in a commercial sense, and there is point denying that the dollars that are out there are talking more loudly than ever. But dollars will never, ever sing.

Tom Goulter - Nigerian Lottery Winner, Christchurch

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Leaves Of Arse

Firstly, and belatedly, I think it's very likely that Christopher Reeve deserved every bit of adulation and respect that he was given in life. However, I'd like to place a moratorium right now on anyone who's thinking of eulogising the man by lamenting how very much the world needs Superman at a time like this. (Picking the world's most obvious headline is bad enough).
Seguing tenuously, Superman's father (and fellow recently departed person), Marlon Brando, has written himself a book. Described as the story of "a swashbuckling sailor in the South China Sea who meets up with a Chinese woman pirate", said book would not, on first glance, seem full of promise. (Granted, it includes pirates, one of the cornerstones of any solid narrative; but pirates alone do not Curse Of The Black Pearl make. No, for that you need pirates and zombies). Anyway, by all accounts it's not in the same league as the horribly misunderstood Night Travels Of The Elven Vampire, whose advertising speaks for itself, but the fact remains that Marlon Brando is about to have a novel published. Not six months after his death.
Putting aside the dubious ethics of waiting till someone is dead in order to plunder their artistic corpse, this is a Good Idea. Because if Marlon Brando's book tanks, and Marlon Brando's publisher goes into Chapter 11, and Marlon Brando goes down in history as an amazing actor and a powerfully individual human being and an astoundingly terrible author, there's not a Goddamn thing Marlon Brando can do about it, because Marlon Brando is dead.
Someone who is not dead is Anne Rice. She made this clear to the world in her proactive, grassroots, amazingly stupid actions in the aftermath of the release of her latest book, the excrutiatingly-titled Canticle Of Blood. Canticle, which was set to delight airport shoppers worldwide with its further merging of Rice's Vampire Chronicles with her less-followed and mercifully less-numerous Mayfair saga, drew such anguished criticism from disappointed Rice fans that many Amazon reviews, in listing the litany of really really bad things about it, speculated that this could not actually be a book written by Anne Rice.
(These reviews ignored the fact that the Vampire Chronicles alone had, long ago, made the main character sing; become a movie; relocated countless times; incorporated special guests from the Mayfair books whenever possible; made countless dubious additions to the core cast; become another movie with a different actor in the main role; dredged up maudlin musings on puberty wherever possible; and, not content with having so many character pairings perform clumsy metaphorical sexual acts on each other that the entire idea of Rice slash should be entirely redundant, went out of their way - way out of their way - to provide plot twists that would allow Rice to write real actual bona-fide sex scenes. With so many glaring examples of shark-jumping having gone before, and the title of the latest book being Canticle Of Blood, what's surprising isn't that the book wasn't well recieved, it's that there was a time when people thought it might not be terrible).
Blood Canticle chronicles - I gather from reading the reviews - Rice's protagonist, Lestat, as he attempts to become a saint. In what I'm choosing to call life imitating art, Blood Canticle also gave Rice the opportunity to make a bid for the position of patron saint of arrogant misguided self-important artists everywhere: by reviewing her own book, explaining that the "sheer outrageous stupidity" of some of the reviews, as well as touching Rice's "proletarian and Democratic soul", have - famously - "taxed [her] Dickensian principles to the max". (Not just taxed - taxed to the max! That's enough to make a feller forget Poland).
What I'm thinking here is that Rice thought she was justified; that she was just being like Walt Whitman, who, when his epic of formative American poetry, Leaves Of Grass, wasn't setting the world alight, set to reviewing it himself - you know, so that America could "cease shamming and be what we really are", now that "self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all the attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature, talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such a being as a writer".
I mean, exactly. And with that kind of carry-on as accepted precedent, who could blame Mrs. Rice for public expression of the max to which her Dickensian principles have been stretched? After all, she was dealing with people who "have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies", let's remember.
And, to return in closing to things that Marlon Brando is avoiding by not publishing until he is dead: Marlon Brando, by not publishing until he is dead, can also never be George Lucas. Luckily, I myself have always been somewhat warmly ambivalent toward Star Wars, and as such, I've never been tempted to sink to the level of the fascists and Communists and agents of the Evil Empire who resent Mr. Lucas changing his movies every few years. But, on principle, is there any chance that one day, another movie will be released that is big, and popular, and has artistry and passion, and of which there is one definitive version? Because that would be nice.
To my knowledge, there's only ever been one cut of Superman released.

Lyndon Hood - shameless plugger, Lower Hutt

Friday, October 15, 2004

My life ain’t nothing but britches and hose

I’m rehearsing for a play. I say this not to excuse my behaviour but by way of introducing a story.

When I found out that the amateur dramatists in my ‘hood were putting on Moliere’s Tartuffe I thought I’d audition. Turns out the folk at Hutt Repertory are lovely people. Plus we get to dress up like badass 17th century French people of the landed classes. Though I’m only in a couple of scenes I consider the first to be one of the funniest lovers’ tiffs out.

In fact, I’ve liked the play for a long time. It uses what’s basically a brilliantly funny old-fashioned farce to deal with issues of moral and religious hypocrisy. As an exercise, you might like to compile a list of way that these ideas are topical. It’s written in rhyming couplets; in French the rhythm approximately resembles that used in the Hairy Maclary books.

A few years ago I decided to translate it. This despite the fact that I only know just enough French to speak properly awful French, which just shows how much I like the play. And brings me to my story.

Feeling the need for more guidance than a pocket dictionary, I fed the entire French text through the babelfish translation engine.

It was utterly unfair to expect some famously amusing software to understand the colloquial, old-fashioned language of the play, yet the result was strangely helpful. Admittedly, the first lines came out like this:

MRS PERNELLE: Let us go, Flipote, go, that them I am delivered.
ELMIRE:You walk of such a step that one to hardly follow you.
MRS PERNELLE: Leave, my daughter-in-law, leave, do not come further:
They all are ways which I do not need.
ELMIRE: The EC what one owes you towards you one discharges,
But does my mother, from which come that you leave so quickly?
MRS PERNELLE: It is that I then to see all this household,
And to take pleasure one does not take no concern.
Yes, I leave on your premise strong evil built:
In all my lessons I am opposed there,
One respects nothing there, each one speaks there high,
And it is precisely all the court of king Petaut.
...but combined with the original text and and other people’s translations it’s actually comprehensible.

That said, there were a few particularly noteworthy glitches, of which giving the EC for de ce, as above, is probably the least hilarious.

It didn’t help that the title character’s name has in France become synonymous with sanctimonious hypocrisy. Thus many lines akin to...

What do you say of Sanctimonious hypocrite, our host?
The ambiguity of the French faire une petite souris(give a little smile) resulted in this stage direction:
Mariane turns the eye towards Valere and makes small mouse.
Similarly, religieuse describes both nuns and chocolate eclairs. The babelfish output suggested an easy rhyming couplet:
Girls always want to become chocolate eclairs
When their father thwarts their love affairs.
Often in the play Moliere refers to weddings and so on with a word some might recognise from classical myth as the name of the god of marriage. Babelfish clearly didn’t know it, and left it untranslated. Thus we have a young man asking his uncle to talk to his father “of the hymen of my sister” and this at the play’s triumphant conclusion:
ORGON: Yes, it is quite known as? let us go to its feet with joy
of renting Us kindness which its heart deploys us.
Then, discharged a little this first duty,
With the right care of another it will be necessary for us to provide,
And by a soft hymen to crown in Valere
the flame of a generous and sincere lover.
My own translation got as far as a draft of the first act . Then I obviously decided that there were more efficient ways to use my time. I’m tempted to get back to it. It can’t be worse than the one the machine did.

Hutt Rep’s Tartuffe runs on a rather complicated schedule from the 27th to November 6th. Your chance to not only to check out my calves but also prove conclusively that I am not Matt Nippert.

Nipperty Slim - literati gangster, Auckland.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Simon Pound appears to have caught a wiff of blood in the air:
In other news, how funny is the intellectual ping-pong between Cohen, Nippert, and the ice skating rink?

Barbs flying like a battle on the Nation's letters page, except none of the writers involved are wet and sanctimonious. It is almost like a freestyle battle, not too distant from the breakdancing that may have sparked it all....

It keeps getting wittier at each turn, I thought Matt was hilarious, and then the rink came back hard. All in jest though?
For clarity's sake, it is all in jest. The punchline's a short bloody left to Neil Falloon's nose. Falloon is going the way of Tupac, except Tupac will be remembered for more than a pithy headstone.

Battle on...
Dear Neil,
Falloon, you have much to say. Pity about short attention spans and tastes of the wider public, because they need to hear you. You’ve got malicious advice by the bucketload, but before you launch your ultimately unsuccessful campaign to unseat Paul Holmes you need to look in the mirror and engaging in a life-changing interior dialogue.

There's space in your day, between furiously masterbating over pictures of Deborah Coddington and crying yourself to sleep. Pencil in some "me time" and take the advice you used to flog from your dirty crackhouse. You know, "Suicide and How to Do It".

You seemed proud of your wisdom then, spouting something about "freedom of speech" and "an important issue that needs to be discussed". Live by your words, and die by the same. Take some of your own medicine, lots of it, and overdose. This isn’t just an idle death threat, it's valuable career advice. Your demise is an important issue that needs to be discussed.

I know you’ve already thought this through and planned your funeral out well. A hire-purchase headstone's stashed under your bed. I know it reads "Here lies the hard Neil Falloon." I know this because you needed me as spellchecker.

Your funeral would be beautiful, the crowd of mourners stretching maybe to a half-dozen. A unusually downbeat Jim Hopkins, a gruff Jock Anderson and a disbelieving Ian Wishart. The fantastic four, crusaders for truth and "keeping it real", would furthermore be just be an unholy trinity. There would be much lamenting and much wailing from this somber trio. (Mediacow would be there, but is busy for the next decade rehabilitating Roger Kerr.)

But across the nation, celebrations and parties in the streets will continue for weeks. I've booked for the occasion the penthouse suite at the Hilton, three of Steve Crow's finest, and Monteith’s entire December production line. And no, you are not invited.

When your bloated corpse lies buried beneath six feet of rotting flowers and now-poisoned earth, then, and only then, will you truly have become part of the underground. Until that day, you're just a shiver looking for a spine to crawl up.

Late at night, following the wake where I too toast the recently departed call-center stooge, I'll return to the cemetery with hammer and chisel. Spraypaint and stencils are so twentieth century. Lovingly I'll carve granite. You will be remembered, Falloon, and even Hopkins will crack wise over this one. Your epitaph to the ages, subbed by moi, will read:
"Here lies the blowhard, Neil Falloon."
Yours sincerely,
Nipperty Slim
Trash talkin' mo'fo'

Lyndon Hood - aspiring screenwriter, Lower Hutt

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Television Research/Writer

1. Can you write with clarity, wit, irony and candour?
2. Is writing about cars and researching motoring issues your passion?
3. Can you bring a fresh perspective and language to television factual programming?
If you can answer a categorical yes to each of the above, we would like to hear from you. Forward a full CV and sample piece of writing fully illustrating questions 1 to 3 ...

—Job ad, Dominion Post.



LYNDON is crouching casually (this may take some practise) beside his car. His body does not quite conceal the damaged paintwork from last time he tried to back out of the driveway.


This is a Toyota Sprinter.

He playfully knocks on the body with the butt of his fist. Try doing that with a Japanese import.


It’s blue.



Y’know how they put the same car in a body with a different number of holes in it and pretend they’ve done something clever? Well the Sprinter’s a bit more exciting. It’s the sportscar version of some really common range like the ‘Coronary’ or something.



So there are a lot of spare parts about. At least, that’s what my brother-in-law reckons. Anyway, this one’s a Toyota Sprinter Marino. Baa. Ho ho ho. I’m not exactly the sportscar type, but I put my hand up for the first time the moment the hammer came down and there you have it. I’ve been doing a bit of research . . .


Lyndon is reading Ben Elton’s ‘Gridlock’. He looks up, messianic zeal burning in his eyes.


. . . and I’ve decided that that bypass is a bit silly. Why do people drive into Wellington during the day anyway? Specially now the parking’s a jillion dollars an hour. Ooh, how ‘bout this one: environmental activist has a passion for huge gas-guzzling motorcycles. They ask him if there’s a contradiction there, he says he figures people are going to use up all the oil no matter what, we may as well get it over with.


The camera races through the ludicrously short distance between Lyndon’s flat and the railway station.


Lyndon settles into the driver’s seat.


Steering wheel. Dashboard. Just a couple of the signals I use to tell one end of an automobile from the other. Some novel buttons here. This one’s called ‘Manu’. Like the doll from Play School. Wish I knew what it does, don’t care enough to find out. Oh well. See you next time.

He shuts the door, starts the car and drives off. Notice that there’s no crashing-sound-followed-by-a-hubcap-rolling-across-the-shot. Now that’s class.



Michael Appleton - in transit, Auckland/Papeete/Los Angeles/London

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The debate

Friday, October 1, 1pm
Auckland, New Zealand
Even if I think the result of an election isn't all that important, because the differences between the two (or more) candidates are largely superficial, I still follow it with relish. Why? Because election campaigns at their best can be very much like test cricket at its best: enthralling, the fortunes of the two sides waxing and waning, commentators providing amusing and faux-intellectual analysis, etc. Politics can be fun to follow in the way sport is. As a media junkie, I am also rather fond of big stories, over which pundits get themselves into a lather. It's a largely unspoken truism, but all journalists feel some sense of buzz when terrible things happen - September 11, 2001 was a journalistic godsend. But elections provide the buzz without the terrible misery - the feeling that something historic, but virtuous, is happening: the wheels of the democratic machine are turning.

Anyway, New Zealand's largest international airport really ought to get some TV screens showing rolling news channels. The first Presidential debate is about to start, and these things are much better watched live; digesting all the post-game analysis is so much more interesting if you've actually watched what everyone is talking about. So, Auckland International Airport's failure to lay on CNN or Sky News, instead offering some lame reality show on TV One, sends me on to the outrageously priced internet portals. I know I'll have to start boarding about thirty minutes into the ninety-minute affair, but some of the live blogs of the action offer a few preliminary insights. Like, Kerry sounds more eloquent and commanding than Bush. Well, thanks.

Thursday, September 30, 9.30pm
Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
We're in Papeete for only half an hour, but I hope to find an internet portal so that I can at least see the post-debate headlines. I'm rooting for a big Kerry win, if only because one-sided election campaigns are, well, like one-sided sporting contests: not all that interesting to follow. Alas, there are no computers in sight, though some even more perplexing developments confront me during my short stay on French soil. For one: Air Tahiti Nui (ATN) really likes to lay on thick the stereotype of the bumptious, friendly Polynesian. The air hostess clutches my shoulders upon entering and leaving the aircraft so as to give me a peck on each cheek; all the stewards are wearing bright, floral shirts that look much too big for them. When we leave the plane in Papeete, the ATN staff have the fun job of trying to pick whether each passenger is French-speaking or English-speaking, so they can give the appropriate, personalised greeting. For some reason, they pick me as French-speaking. This has happened in the past: on a couple of train journeys within England over the past year, French couples have just started speaking to me in French. Do they have a radar or something? Everyone is given a freshly cut flower upon entering the plane in Auckland, leaving it in Papeete, and re-entering it in Papeete. The flowers are meant to go behind each ear, so when I am handed my third, I'm not really sure what to do with it. I fix on the two-left, one-right combo.

Friday, October 1, 9am
Los Angeles, United States of America
I had heard horror stories about getting through security at LAX, especially since 9/11. While I sail through, the quick interrogation by the immigration officer (who had just taken my fingerprints and my photo) is a little unnerving. It feels like he's trying to catch me in a lie, so I can be carted off into an office and roughed up a bit. I think: Jeez, I wonder if they know that I ordered the Muslim meal on my flight to LA? Will they believe me when I tell them I did so to avoid smelly, slimy ham, and not because I am Muslim?
Why are you in the US?
I'm in transit for nine hours, because I'm flying to London this afternoon.
Have you been to the US before?
Where have you come from?
Auckland, New Zealand. We flew via Tahiti.
Do you have friends and family in the US?
Umm, I know some people who live here, yes.
How did you get from London to New Zealand? Didn't you have to pass through the US?
No, I went via Singapore.
Singapore, in Asia.
Okay, very well then, thank you.
So, the last part, about Singapore being in Asia, was facetious and unnecessary. Though, when I said it I felt I was being helpful - and didn't realise that it was probably my accent and my tendency to mumble that had baffled him, not his sense of geography.

As the provision of entertainment is concerned, LAX is perhaps the most inept international airport in the world. I can't get through security till I get my boarding pass from Virgin Atlantic, and its desk doesn't open till 2pm - i.e. for another five hours. After wandering around aimlessly for a while, listening to an "alternative" radio station, offering snippets of the debate, followed by commentary by Robert Fisk, I fail to find an internet portal anywhere, and happen instead on a newsagency and a Starbucks.

The former is a delight: I imagine nowhere else in the English-speaking world rivals the United States for cheap, good-quality, well-written political magazines. So, with eight hours to burn, I purchase Harper's Magazine, the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. I strain under the sheer weight of all this paper, stumbling across to the Starbucks, buy a small cup of tea from one of its four employees (who are nattering away in Spanish, of which Samuel Huntington would surely not approve), and install myself for a morning and then afternoon of reading pleasure.

It's only when you see a newspaper in hard copy that you can get its number. The NYT, when compared to its supposed British political equivalent (the Guardian), is a lot more staid, self-important, serious, and clearly places a much lower importance on design. Which is to say that, like with the New Yorker, words are clearly of utmost importance to the NYT, and flashy graphics, huge pictures and whoppingly big headlines are avoided to a much greater extent. There is a much more potent sense of the NYT and the LA Times being newspapers of record - that is to say, taking more seriously (or being better at keeping up the pretence, depending on your viewpoint) their roles as providers of information rather than analysis - all the news (not all the opinion) that's fit to print. They still felt like newspapers, rather than the commentpapers that most of the British papers seem to have become.

Neither paper was willing to call a winner in the debate on their front page: NYT went with "Bush and Kerry Clash Over Iraq in Debate" and LAT went with "Bush, Kerry Trade Barbs on Iraq War". Their front pages were much more cluttered than an equivalent broadsheet front page elsewhere in the English-speaking world: the debate competed for space on the NYT's shopwindow with stories about arthritis, Iraq, Tom DeLay's antics, and the Kyoto Protocol; the LAT's front page was similarly composed. I took until lunchtime to wade through the coverage of the debate in these papers, and the more perfunctory USA Today - including reading a full transcript of the exchanges - and a sense of a clear Kerry victory emerged.

Though, as I declared in these pages months ago, I expect Bush to win, and much more comfortably than last time. A political scientist whose judgement I trust told me over lunch a few weeks ago that the only thing that might change the dynamic of the race enough for Kerry to have a chance would be a successful terrorist attack on the mainland United States between now and the election. I tend to agree; though, at least a couple more debate victories for Kerry might give the media the opportunity to pretend for a little while longer that this thing might be close. I've entered a sweepstake in which entrants pick the winner and margin of the election: I've gone for Bush by 38 electoral votes - i.e. 288 versus 250.

Saturday, October 2, 11am
London, United Kingdom
The Belgian couple sitting next to me on the flight from LA clearly assumed that none of their fellow travellers would be able to speak French. They piled on the deprecation of the passengers around them (rude, smelly, inarticulate, overweight, etc.). I was poised to offer a witty comeback when they said something nasty about me but, alas, they held back. Maybe they, too, assumed I was French.

Back on "home" soil, there are no pesky questions from immigration officials about where I have been. You flash the maroon passport and you're through. The coach I'd planned on catching is all sold out, so it's the tube then the train down to Alverstoke, where my British family awaits. The Guardian - oh, how I have missed you these past few months of reading the Dominion Post instead - seemed largely uninterested in the debate, and much more concerned with the ongoing rumblings about Tony Blair's leadership. Another year, another election campaign to look forward to.

Matt Nippert - air guitar denier, Auckland

Sunday, October 03, 2004

WANTED: Journalistic protégé to acerbic and elegant New Conservatives spokesman. Must enjoy rambling romps along headlined beaches, support the state of Israel and prefer Soft News. Knowledge of html and blogging admired (and deeply needed). NSOH. Contact "David" c/o National Business Review.
Dear David,

I am sorry you feel crushed. I know we haven't talked lately, but I didn't know how much you cared. I am touched, and a little surprised, you felt the need to cry out to the world to bar your jilted soul. To hundreds of thousands of businesspeople no less, who all care nothing for oxygen rock and quaint blogging subculture.

Really, in my life, I only have room for one media commentator. Putting both of you on one page would be explosive, any story would get lost, overwhelmed by egos and petty jealousies. It wouldn't work David, and you must know and need to accept this.

Russell may be drunk in body, but at least he's sober in mind. Nothing personal David, but I'm trying to write for the serious pages, not a tabloid gossip column. Remember when I suggested you should go see your optometrist? Check your prescription and ask for rose tints, I don't think green is working out for you.

Russell has a blog, David, and you don't. I know it's petty and shallow, but it's important to me. Blogs live off each other, and if you had one I'd link to you too - if you wouldn't consider it too forward. The internet's a free world, much like the 60s (do you remember them David? I know you love the music).

Come and play with us David, even Mr Hide's in on this game. You'd be way better than Rodney. Better than John, better than Helen, maybe better than even the dearly departed Don. That way you can write what you want and not worry about looking silly. It's safe, and fun.

You know what I like about you David? You're passionate. Passionate about education, books, unions and myths about the lost tribe of Israel-tawhenua. Where some might stick to job descriptions and move with developments, you tenaciously hang on to the things you love. It's endearing, cute even.

But passion causes crimes, and the case against you grows with each printed, tortured, sentence. Neil Falloon doesn't exist. As a serious reporter he's a figment of your imagination, he's only real in the way that Kate Wrath filing on mescaline is real.

It was a joke, David, something to laugh at, nothing to shed a tear over. As I've said before, breakdancing is for trackpant wearers, not the hardest rocking air strummer in the land. Laugh with us David, it truly is the best medicine for a heavy heart.

But I am getting concerned about these delusions, worrying soon you'll end up banging on my door, calling late at night, sending unrequited French letters. I may have to take out a restraining order. I may have to alert the DPS, who I hear carry guns and care nothing for reputation or big business connections.

Don't make me do it David, I wouldn't be convincing in denying it to the Press. We'd both end up looking the fool, and I don't have a PR firm who employ disgraced hardmen to manage the fallout for me. I prefer eggs in my omelette and I know you do too.

It's time to move on David, time to get back the hardboiled work you were born to. It's time to lose this obsession and become the man so many of us loved. There's more fish in the sea, a whole world of media happenings, so many interesting things you should write about, you need to write about. If only you could rehone your rapier wit and find a new mark.

(Remember hearing something about hatchets, muesli and a man called Jock? Something big, something involving millions of dollars, public figures and politics and lies and the fate of a million souls. It's right up your alley, under your nose even. Have a look into it.)

Come back David, come back to us, and all will be forgiven.

Platonically yours,
Champion air guitarist, respected pillar of the establishment and celebrity chair of the Fashion Week jury.