Friday, November 30, 2007

Lets march again (like we did last Summer)

In Northern Ireland every year they have a Marching Season, when the Prods put on their suits and their bowler hats and go marching behind a big bass drum to celebrate battles won by a Dutch prince three hundred years ago, while the Papists (in whose neighbourhoods the Prods insist upon do their marching) hang about looking sullen. The Papists also have their marches but they have nothing to celebrate, except Mass.

It seems that Auckland is imitating this fine tradition. We had the march against the Electoral Finance Bill a couple of weekends back and we will be getting a sequel soon. Tomorrow we have the march for Civil Rights, in which folk will demonstrate for the Civil Right to form private armies and plot to kill innocent people. Your correspondent will be there, in search of lulz and radical chicks.

In between these two very serious events we had the Santa Parade, which was a lot more cheerful. Your correspondent attended, despite severe misgivings about the effect the event might have on his highly-developed aesthetic sensibilities, involving as it did Christmas and children. Santa, you will be relieved to know, was jolly. Numerous others came along to demonstrate in favour of festivity.

Santa and his helpers were joined by a lot of pipers. It seemed that if you missed one pipe band, there would be another along in a minute. I am not complaining: I love the skirl of the pipes; its part of my Scottish cultural heritage, along with an enjoyment of bad weather and odd food. A Salvation Army band played as well; they are not a marching band - they sat on the back of a truck.

There was also a very peculiar drum band. They all wore black and berets. They were very stern and probably frightened quite a few children. They had black flags; I think they might have been Anarchists. Quite what they had to do with Christmas I do not know. Perhaps they turned up for the Civil Rights march a week early.

Ronald McDonald was there with his purple friend and some children they had kidnapped; so were TV3 and Sky TV and other traditional commercialisers of Christmas. Even Barfoot and Thompson, real estate agents, were there. So was a Hare Krishna woman who, with characteristic lack of tact or sense of occasion, pounced on mums and dads to tell them all about nothing.

Between the commercialisers there were some real people. Remarkably, without the impetus of financial gain or the desire for marketing success, they had constructed their own floats, made their own costumes and choreographed their own routines. And that, in the end, is what the Santa Parade is all about: looking at girls. There were teenage girls of all sorts in the parade, many of them wearing very little, to the delight of young and old alike.

My friend Conor was doing the PR for the parade, so I would like to offer him some evaluative feedback: vet the floats more carefully next year. One merry group of paraders had tied children, dressed as angels, to stakes on the top of their float (I am not making this up) so that the children hung out over the street; they also had a baby on a crane. It could all have gone terribly wrong. Fortunately for them, the social workers did not have a float in this year's parade.

Everybody seemed to have a good time, which is more than could be said for all the other marchers. The parade was all well and good but it should be more representative of the diversity of Auckland. Next year, I would like to see the emo kids in Myers Park rounded up and herded down Queen Street, slouching towards Bethlehem and complaining "you're not the boss of me." I would like to see the mothers of Remuera holding up the parade with their SUVs, as they drop off their little treasures at kindergarten and park badly outside Smith and Caughey. I would like to see the street-corner evangelisers mocked by fashion-conscious children for wearing polyester slacks and cable-knit sweaters. I would like to see even more girls, wearing even less.

Christmas: it's a time for perving.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This sporting life

It's a funny old game, Democracy, innit? You see, on the one hand you have the New Zealand Herald huffing and puffing about the threat to Democracy posed by the Electoral Finance Bill. On the other, you have a rather inconspicuous report, tucked away in the Metro section of Wednesday's edition, about local government.

It seems that Auckland City Council has told its community boards not to appoint spokespeople for planning, trees and signs until the completion of a review of their powers, some time next year. The Council's Democracy Services Group Manager says, "it's an internal review of how Auckland City runs its regulatory processes. It's not a governance issue. It's a management issue and no, you wouldn't consult community boards on management issues."

Planning, trees and signs may not seem very exciting management issues, but the spokespeople appointed by the Community Boards advocate for their electors when developers want to cut down trees and do other entrepreneurial things that affect communities. With summer cummin in, these sorts of issues will be many and various. This edict, which the Maungakiekie and Eastern Bays boards say they will ignore, comes on top of Deputy Mayor David Hay's decision to cut the pay of community board members by twenty percent.

Over to Eden Park for live coverage of the upgrade: the Herald reports that Mayor John Banks has said "there is a commitment towards a legacy project at a cost of $270 million." He said this after a meeting with the Eden Park Redevelopment Board and the Eden Park Trust Board. He also said, within minutes of being elected Mayor not very long ago, that ratepayers' money would not be spent on sprucing up Eden Park for the Rugby World Cup.

Now, the phrase "there is a commitment" is not the same as "we have a commitment" but there is something very suspicious about that other phrase, "legacy project." It looks a lot like ratepayers' money will go into the project because it is not really being done for the Cup but is just a bit of unfinished business. However, this sum of $270 million is a lot more than the $197 million project that has been put out for tender, which suggests that the word "legacy," has a particular meaning for Mayor Banks that escapes the rest of us.

The Herald's correspondent, Bernard Orsman, says "rugby interests are pushing hard for the public purse to pay most of the costs of the upgrade, while minimising their own financial contribution." The Rugby Union has committed to a modest $10 million, while the Eden Park Trust Board is "pulling back" on an earlier commitment to contribute $60 million to upgrading the stadium it owns. Obviously, a legacy commitment of this kind does not have obligations attached.

So, a sum less than $70 million will be contributed by the major beneficiaries of the upgrade, leaving more than $200 million wanting. Mayor Banks says this could come from his Council, the Auckland Regional Council and the Government.

As for Democracy, the CEO of the Redevelopment Board, Adam Feeley told the Herald that the public could see what was planned, how much it would cost and who was paying once funding had been committed.

And there we have it. Rugby is the winner on the day and Democracy loses. I am not a sporting man but it seems that huge amounts of public money are being committed away. However, I am an architecture man and I note that a very nice stadium (designed by Warren and Mahoney, who made the design proposals for the abandoned Auckland waterfront stadium) is ready in Christchurch.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sound of the suburbs

Is Democracy under threat or not? Last week the NZ Herald told us we were doomed, yes doomed, if the Electoral Finance Bill were passed. The Herald felt compelled to warn us what would happen if the bill passes, with a front-page editorial and pages of polemic, each headed "threat to free speech."

This week they seem to have lost interest. Tuesday's front page and back page were filled with photographs of a bloody big shark trying to eat a rubber seal (not the sort of rubber seal you use in offices to mark mail as Received, but a rubber representation of the sea mammal, just in case you were visualising a Great White Shark attacking office supplies). It wasn't even a local shark; it was all happening in South African waters. Since then, they have kept banging on about the Bill but without the crusading zeal of last week's editions.

So, why does the Herald now care more about marine life than Democracy? Perhaps it was because of the rather lacklustre response to the demonstration in Auckland on Saturday, which the Herald was promoting. Perhaps the Herald had envisaged a more stirring response to its call to save Democracy. The Herald had advised that the organisers were requesting that protesters from immigrant communities should carry the flags of their home countries. As it turned out, there were none, although a Dutchman did wear an orange shirt decorated with various incoherent slogans, somewhat in the manner of the Letterist International or The Clash. He carried on his shoulder not a flag but a full-size effigy of Winston Peters, which itself was adorned with a helpful sign identifying the subject and describing him as a traitor.

The Herald had also advised that the organisers wished lawyers to come wearing their gowns. This was a rather naive request: most lawyers do not possess gowns, since we are not living in an Ealing Comedy set in 1950s England. As it turned out, one man turned out wearing a gown over his jeans. He looked somewhat uncomfortable.

Of jeans there was no shortage. Reader, I can tell you that never before have I seen so much grey hair and blue denim in combination. Obviously this is what they are wearing in the suburbs. Not, of course, 501s or stovepipes but those generously cut jeans which make allowance for advancing waists and descending behinds. Later, I checked at the official outfitters of middle management, the charmingly miss-spelt Rodd and Gunn, and found that their designs have names like "spike," "rover," "tex" and "digger." Not that any digging has ever been done in these trousers, some of which looked as if they had been pressed for the occasion. They were worn with polo shirts or long-sleeved, striped shirts of the kind suitable for working hard and playing hard. It was all very smart-casual.

It was a little bit fundy, as well. The organiser was someone called Boscawen, who had never done this sort of thing before, but he was helped by others who had: the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Family First. Although some Democrats for Social Credit and some Libertarianz had come along, the majority of protesters seemed to be God-fearing rightish folk. Those who want the repeal of the repeal of Section 59 had brought along a trestle table and a couple of petitions for badly-drafted referenda to reclaim their right to beat their children. Despite temptation, I refrained from asking the rather delectable girl behind the table whether she had been spanked recently. Instead, I signed another petition, promoted by some other people, for a railway to the airport; the political equivalent of a cold shower.

When the march got going, it became obvious that these were not people accustomed to protesting. They started off at rather too brisk a pace, leaving some of their elder comrades behind. Some began singing a hymn, which was quickly stifled by the organisers. Instead a chant was offered by an organiser with a megaphone. Here too, the crowd showed their inexperience; obviously they had been busy during Vietnam and, equally obviously, they do not go to churches where the liturgy includes responses.

They were keen, however. Some had brought along home-made banners, on one of which the word "communist" was misspelt. Several representations of the Prime Minister in various Nazi uniforms were noticed by your correspondent. Other protesters used the banners provided by the organisers, which claimed that the legislation is fascist (if you have not been receiving your mail recently, it is probably because your postino has been sent to a concentration camp) and that our boys fought the Second World War to stop this sort of thing.

The speeches were scarcely better. References were made to Pakistan, Fiji and other countries with electoral reform issues, as well as to The War. Mr Boscawen had promised to speak for five to six minutes when the marching was done. He spoke for at least twenty-five, referring to everything which had happened in the previous week, regardless of its relevance to his cause. Mr Garth McVicar of Sensible Sentencing claimed that New Zealand was one of the most violent countries in the West. Mr Bob McCroskie of Family First said something, I'm not sure what; it was probably about sex. Finally, that man from the talkback radio was asked to make an impromptu speech; such was Leighton Smith's mana that the crowd parted to let him through. And there was an old soldier with lots of medals, which just goes to show.

Then everyone went home. The organisers asked that the banners be returned, since they had another demo on Wednesday. As everyone packed up, they played Blind Faith's "Presence of the Lord" on the PA, which rather let cat out of bag; it is on the new Clapton compilation, which doubtless is a big hit in Glenfield.

Still, nothing much there to give the Herald cold feet; it's not as if Bishop Brian had come to the party. Perhaps the Herald realised how ridiculous it had become, squealing about the threat to freedom and democracy made by rules based on those of Canada. Perhaps even the Herald is a bit uncomfortable about its growing reputation as a mouthpiece for the National Party. Or perhaps bloody big sharks sell more papers.