Monday, June 29, 2009


I do hope, gentle reader, that you did not spend too much of your weekend mourning the demise of Michael Jackson, or even talking about said demise. Because (and I don't really need to tell you this do, I?) time spent in such a way would be wasted, wouldn't it? Your emotions were manipulated, were they not? Manipulated not by the Mass Media - that is like so 20th Century; no, said emotions were manipulated by your Twitter pals, and your Facebook Friends: people you know, sort of. They all rushed to make a comment, each one hoping that he or she would be the one who told you and countless others about it. And so, it came to pass that a rather inconsequential event became terribly important.

Or, to put it another way: Michael Jackson was forgotten, for the most part, by ordinary decent people. He was, after all, Creepy and Weird. The only people who did not share this opinion were His dedicated fans, those who stayed with him long after He stopped making half-decent records and throughout the child molesting stage of his life. Why so? Answer: the dedicated fans are (a) creepy and (b) weird. They wouldn't have minded if he had been found guilty; they would have offered their own children to him. The rest of us carried on our lives, feeling vaguely uncomfortable about what we did in the Eighties.

Then He died, suddenly. It made the news. It stopped the news. Everybody remembered Him, and what He had meant to them, back then, before it all became rather sordid. And everyone felt sad. But everyone also secretly rejoiced, because His demise was an opportunity for everybody to come together, to share their feelings and their memories. And such mourning for our past is acceptable, in this post-ironic culture; not just for the Proles, who have always enjoyed mawkish sentimentality, but also for People Like Us. Look: even the Guardian is doing it.

It is better this way. Concerning ourselves with the death of a composite media figure (the King of Pop, as he insisted he be called by any media outlet that was wanting of his blessing; an insistence that has now paid dividends, since it is as the King of Pop that he is known) is so much easier than dealing with the real problems, like the millions of plastic beads flowing from exfoliating soap into the oceans, or that interview on Nine to Noon with Charles Clover about the imminent extinction of fishes.

Me? My weekend was rad. We went to Labretta Suede's garage sale, an opportunity to drink beer in a garden in New Lynn, surrounded by retro Americana. Then we played Super Mario and Kirby on the Wii. The past is so much better these days than it was back in the day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Minister of Unknowing

Reader Anonymous of Auckland Central draws our attention to the latest utterance of Ms Anne Tolley, the somewhat undereducated Minister for Education. It's all about Standards, you see, but not League Tables.

I know, it sounds confusing. How could we have national Standards for schools, you may be thinking, without the information about the attainment of these Standards by individual schools being used to compile League Tables? Perhaps, in an enlightened New Zealand led by that nice Mr Key, such perfidy will become unthinkable: nobody would compile the information about individual schools into such a Table, because to do so would be wrong. The Minster has said she wants no Tables; there will be no Tables.

Of course, it may necessary, in the period between the seizure of the means of government by the National Party and the eventual withering of the state (or at least those parts of it which are inconveniently democratic) for the Government to prevent this information being released, in case it were to fall into the grasping hands of counter-reactionary elements. The matter of Official Information Act requests can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. Ms Tolley doubtless will have in mind the example of the House of Commons in dear old Blighty and its release of information about its Members' expenses claims. Despite the prior leaking of complete details of expenses to the Daily Telegraph, and despite widespread public outrage at some claims by some Members, the House of Commons wisely chose to redact the contentious claims from its release. Students of Information Management will be the first to recognise that, by this simple procedure, the Commons has negated all the illegally leaked information: the official publication does not include the claims about moat cleaning and the duck island, so those claims do not exist (although they have been paid).

Using a similar technique, Ms Tolley says "as far as I am concerned, we are not planning to publish any form of information that could be used for league tables" and the information about Standards instantly becomes useless for such purposes. However, readers with an inflexible commitment to rational thought might object to her next statement:
But she said it would be acceptable for some parents to dole out blame if their children's performance was not up to scratch. "There's a variety of reasons why that might happen, especially if a teacher isn't using a good assessment technique in their teaching when the national standards are in place ... We encourage parents to get involved in a child's education."

It seems paradoxical. Parents will have access to information which will allow them to blame teachers, but this information will not be useful for building League Tables. At this point, you may be saying to yourself "am I smarter than an Education Minister" but you would be foolish to think such a thing.

You see, Ms Tolley does not have a conventional education as such - the kind administered by her Ministry - but in fact she is a Zen Master. By making these apparently contradictory statements she is sharing some of her Wisdom with us. She is showing us that we cannot know, in the Western epistemological sense of 'knowing.' It is only by years of study at the feet of a Master such as Ms Tolley that we can understand that we do not understand. Many further years later, we may finally grasp the truth of what she says, and so gain Enlightenment.

By then, of course, the conventional Education system will no longer exist, and what schooling which still occurs will be in the hands of private schools, subsidised by the Ministry. By this approach Ms Tolley will have achieved not only the radical ideas of Deschooling proposed by Ivan Illich, but also shown our children that true understanding cannot come from schoolbooks and study trips. It can come only by abandoning everything we thought we knew. With her 80 percent cut in adult education funding and her transfer of funds from public eduation to private schools, she has guided us to the start of our journey on the long road to Enlightenment.

She is truly ambitious for New Zealand.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Also up for Second Reading was former MP Matt Robson’s Liquor Advertising Bill that would have restricted liquor advertising on television to between 10pm and midnight (currently 8:30pm to midnight). The Bill’s new sponsor, Brendan Burns, acknowledged that the Bill was not the whole answer to the problem, but that: “It confronts what can be done immediately to reduce the harm of alcohol advertising.” Yet, despite National MPs accepting that excessive drinking by young people is a serious problem, National’s Nikki Kaye tried to argued that: “We need to consider the whole problem” as a reason to oppose this step. Despite it being a conscience vote, all National MPs voted nay.

Frogblog reveals that the Fundy Post's MP - Ms Patsy Kaye - doing what what she does best: nothing. Ms Kaye's solution to any problem is to consider the whole of it. Roughly translated, this means that Ms Kaye knows nothing about the subject, lacks the intellect or the energy to find out about it, and only spoke because she wanted to be on television.

Herewith follows Ms Kaye's Parliamentary career to date:

Truancy - Survey

5. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: What reports has she received on whether an attendance, absence, and truancy in New Zealand schools survey was held in 2008?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah. Blah.

Nikki Kaye: What reports has she received about whether the previous Government knew about the cancellation of the survey last year?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah - Blah.

Schools - Property Projects

3. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: What steps has the Government taken to fast track school property projects?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.

Nikki Kaye: Does today’s announcement deliver on the promises made when the fast tracking of school building projects was announced in February?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Of course it fucken does. I wouldn't have told you to ask the question if it didn't, would I? [I may have transcribed this incorrectly - Ed]

And that's it, so far. Ms Kaye is there to fill a seat on the backbenches and do what she is told to do. That she will do until she is thrown out at the next General Election. Then she will have MP on her CV and fill a variety of roles (or possibly rolls) which her Tory chums give her.

Wake me if anything changes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The past is a foreign cafe

Where once there was a pub on every corner in New Zealand, today there is a sign: Cafe Opening Soon.

Coffee is the beer of the 1990's, a symbol not only of changed tastes in what New Zealanders are drinking, but more importantly, the surroundings in which they choose to enjoy it. Unlike a bar, with its connotations of pick-ups and making dates, cafes are relaxed, non-threatening places, opened out to the street rather than closed off like pubs, where customers can write letters or read the newspapers and magazines left lying about the tables.

Before cafes and espresso bars began to boom in the late 1980's, there was a huge gap in the hospitality industry. True, there was an ever-increasing number of casual bistros and brasseries, but they catered only to those who were prepared to spend anything up to $50 for a full meal. Nightclubs did their best to repel customers with dress codes and bouncers, and while there were coffee lounges here and there, none stayed open late. Faded leftovers from the sixties and seventies, they were definitely not baby boomer or Generation X territory, being drab and low budget, with formica tables, plastic chairs, a perspex cabinet with predictable rolls, cakes, white bread sandwiches... and stewed Cona coffee.

Then there were the pubs, Grim, smoky dungeons, utterly devoid of style, usually owned by the breweries and designed purely for their own convenience, monuments to an era which finally ended with the reform of the liquor laws in 1990, when the breweries' grip on retail liquor outlets was loosened forever.

The demise of the Kiwi booze barn is unmourned by the throngs who simply stopped patronising them. Indeed, the very emphasis on coffee rather than alcohol in the new cafes forms a large part of their attraction. The die-hards are left to the pubs which still remain, and women, in particular, can feel comfortable about going to a coffee bar by themselves, without feeling they are subject to hostile leers from male customers who feel they are invading their domain.

Perhaps the greatest appeal of the new cafes is, quite simply, their proprietors have taste - in music, food, coffee and art. Often from educated middle class backgrounds, they see their cafe as a lifestyle option, rather than as a business alternative to running a corner dairy or a fish and chip shop. Gone is the dominance of immigrant groups of mainly rural stock, particularly Greeks and Yugoslavs, who operated our steak bars, milk bars and coffee houses after the war.

The text is from The Character cafes of New Zealand of 1994, an essay by David Burton to accompany photographs by Grant Sheehan of New Zealand's happening cafes, run by People Like Us. Unlike the hick wogs who used to run our retail food industry, these people have Taste. As the photographs show, often it is a taste for corrugated iron or sheet metal, which are used to decorate almost a quarter of the forty-two establishments illustrated. It's kiwiana you see: retro and ironic and affectionate.

The kids of today won't believe us when we tell them this but, although the word Serious was widely overused back then, nothing was serious in the 90s: we were too exhausted from all the working hard and playing hard of the 80s. So we took our coffee amidst a jumble of Stuff. In 1994 Cuba Cuba (which, unsurprisingly, is in Cuba Street, Wellington) has little plastic babies all over the shop; both Rakinos (High St, Auckland) and Paraparana (State Highway 1, Paraparaumu) have fish reliefs on their walls; Chez Eelco (Nelson) has wetas on its walls, rattan chairs and gingham tablecloths (it is, in fact, authentic: a survivor of the 50s coffee-bar boom and bust). Opawa Shell Cafe (Christchurch) has a counter fronted with Paua shells, you will be relieved to know. And there is quite a lot of Formica, despite the writer's disdain. In fact, Hastings once had a cafe (not featured in this book) called Formica; it was rad.

Amidst all this levity there is some gravity, however. The man behind the counter at Brigitte's Espresso Bar (Christchurch) wears a shirt that says "THERE IS NO X IN ESPRESSO," perhaps to keep the Yugoslavs away. At Castro's (Marjoribanks [pronounce it marchbanks or you will be hearing from me] Street, Wellington) two beautiful women ignore each other with only a vase of daisies to lighten the mood. Lido (corner of Wakefield and Victoria Streets, Wellington) is a post-industrial wasteland with, again, daisies; and, oh look, Sonic Youth are playing at the University. Deluxe (Kent Terrace, Wellington) is anything but. SPQR (Ponsonby Road, Auckland) is anything but gay. The closest Alba (Lorne Street, Auckland) comes to retro cool is the sugar-shakers on its linen tablecloths (yes!) and its newspapers on sticks. It lacks even the cheery chalked menu, instead having those plastic letters set in black felt (JUICES APPLE CARROT ORANGE $3.50).

Glimpses of the old New Zealand, in the time before Cool, are shown in Auckland's White Lady (PLEASE ORDER HERE) and the Dominion Cafe of Hastings: "meals at all hours, fish and chips to take home," it says on the window. The name S. Halicopoulus is also displayed on the window, besides which stands the proprietor wearing a moustache; clearly he is one of the aforementioned Greek rustics. Also shown is the Detroit Diner (Under New Management) of State Highway 1, Oamaru and the Mainstreet Cafe (Thai Fast Food) of Queen Street, Auckland. Just so you know.

It's all about class, the distinction which dare not speak its name in New Zealand. Nice people started selling coffee to other nice people, who had no wish for a Double Brown and the attentions of road-menders. Better that your waitress is a surly art student with a shaved head (Verona, K Road, then and now) than to suffer steamed milk. And being Top People means we can appropriate the relics of the plebeian past and make them our own. So we embrace those cushioned chairs, those bar stools and all that Formica. In Hamilton, there is the wonderful Hydro, which once was the corner shop for the Hayes Paddock estate (mmm... State Housing, designed by Gordon Wilson in 1939; happy, happy, joy, joy) and now is a cornucopia of cup cakes and 50s design. Of course, the State's tenants went long ago, encouraged to buy their homes by the first National Government after the War. Modernism is now safe for the middle class.

In a classless society the middle class carved out a space of its own, a space where everything is nice and cool and retro. We tore up the social contract, abandoning the masses to their fate; we put a distance between ourselves and the welfare state, which we decided we could no longer afford. We left behind the land of lamingtons and free dental care. But we took with us whatever we wanted from the past, making it retro and cool and safe. So we put the artifacts of that other country in our coffee shops, recreating the past as quaint and funny. And in these places we can take refuge from the others, with their vulgar ways and their lowly tastes.

And we get damn fine coffee as well. And cupcakes.

Rosy Tin Teacaddy:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where it's at

Party time!... that pre-ball get-together, - one special guest to be introduced all round - Steinecker Lager beer. Your guests are discriminating in their choice of Lagers, and none can resist Steinecker's charm, its true continental strength and flavour - its tang of cool breezes in high snowy places - its friendliness. Serve Steinecker chilled, your guests will agree - it makes a perfect party.
The past, as L P Hartley said, is a foreign country; they do things differently there. And one of the things they do is drink Steinecker Lager. This bothers me. It bothers me because - as an architectural historian and, more specifically, an historian of New Zealand's architectural culture - I am trying to get some sort of feel for what New Zealand was like in the period I am studying, which is from 1960 to the end of the last century. Now, you might interject, Steinecker Lager has nothing to do with architecture and I really should be concentrating on buildings and the like. But, I would reply, things like Steinecker Lager are part of the culture, and I find it difficult to ignore.

You see, the trouble with History is that it is very difficult to take one part of it and isolate it from the rest. Looking at old buildings is all well and good, but those buildings were built by people who lived at a particular time and were subject to particular influences. The Steinecker Lager advertisement which I quoted above was published on page 23 of the New Zealand Listener of 22 April 1960. The copy is accompanied by a drawing of men in Black Tie and women in evening dresses, all enjoying Steinecker Lager poured into those conical glasses which were so, so modern at the time. These people are discriminating, you can see. And they are part of the culture. The obvious selling point of Steinecker Lager - made by New Zealand Breweries Limited of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin - is that it is continental. It has the tang of cool breezes in high snowy places, after all. It is, in marketing terms at least, a long way from the Six O'Clock Swill.

One could get all Continental about this advertisement and deconstruct it as a Text. One might note how these characters are dressed as if they ought to be drinking cocktails, yet they are drinking beer; how they are arranged in couples - men and women drinking together, but obviously in stable relationships; how the man of the house (presumably) pours the beer carefully into the conical glass, while the wife of the house waits with a tray; how the stock figure of the Matriarch sits in the background, conversing with younger folk standing around her. One could go on. But the point is (and this is more my problem than yours, and I really should not be troubling you with it) that all this is part of the culture of which the buildings and the opinions about the buildings of which I am studying are also part. Clearly, as if I didn't know it already, continental sophistication is a desirable thing of the period. One could, if one were not writing about architecture, write an entire thesis about drink advertising in New Zealand and how it expresses desires to be more international and of a better class. This desire can be seen in the architecture of the period, as can an opposite desire (both in booze and buildings) to be more national and authentic. That we have buildings of the period that look the way they do is the result of influences that are not solely architectural. That we had beer of the period is not solely bibulous. The suggestion by Kingsley Amis that there should be one universal beer advertisement - "Drink Beer: It Gets You Pissed" - rather misses the point.

Anyway, that is my problem and not yours. But another problem with History is that one can never know what Steinecker Lager is like. I expect it was perfectly horrid, at least by modern standards; but then, it was judged by the standards of the day, not by ours. But one cannot really know, because the only senses we can use in History are sight and hearing. Taste, smell and touch are beyond us, for the most part. I very much doubt that there is a bottle of Steinecker Lager in existence; I am sure that, if there were, it would taste nothing like it did in 1960. So we might have to take the advertiser's word that it tasted of cool breezes in high snowy places.

Anyway, we should leave them to their party. I am reading the Listener of April 1960 on the off-chance that Monte Holcroft might have something to say about architecture, not for the advertisements his publication ran. And I am sure you have better things to do than worry about problems of History. Just remember, serve Steinecker and serve it chilled.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Trash for cash

Coffee tables made from barrels. Lamps crafted from brooms. Chairs swathed in burlap and sackcloth. Look at some of the newest furniture on the market, and the recession appears to have really hit home. But irony alert: This new brand of shabby chic doesn't come cheap.

At the Dan Marty showroom in the Pacific Design Center, the heart of West Hollywood's design scene and the place where top decorators shop for their wealthy clients, light fixtures made from old French apple baskets carry $1,600 price tags and canopy chairs upholstered in burlap sell for $3,600 a pair.
Gentle readership, we all need to put down whatever we are doing and think about how we can extract money from the Rich while they still have some. As the LA Times reports, there are still some very stupid people with very large amounts of cash. Catch them before they squander it all.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Ralston Gripe

I have been saving something for this day: Bill Ralston's column of 26th April, in which he made his predictions for the Mount Albert by-election, predicting that David Shearer would not be chosen as the candidate and that Melissa Lee," a trained media professional" had a good chance. How can something that feels so right be so wrong? Well, let me count they ways; no, let me not, because Ralston was wrong in every respect, save one:
National has the advantage of being in government and can therefore summon up money from business contributors who want to curry favour.
In short, National solicits bribes; I did not expect to hear this from Mr Ralston but it is nice to have confirmation. Mr Ralston might also, if he wishes to retain any credibility, declare whether he has received any payment from the National Party or from John Key; you will recall that John Drinnan asked a similar question, and received the response: "I'm not a public figure, I don't have to answer your f****** questions." This, you will note, is the response of a Herald columnist to a Herald journalist.

But, then again, is Ralston doing the Tories any favours? Melissa Lee has disappointed him, so he now washes his hands of her. I suppose that is the great thing about being a columnist. You never have to take responsibility for your opinions and predictions, you never have to declare your financial interests and, when you stuff up, you move forward, blaming everyone but you. As Mr Ralston himself says:
One of the advantages of political commentary, which must annoy the hell out of politicians, is that you generally have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight when analysing what has been going on. Whereas politicians are often forced into making their calls unaware of some of the facts or potential fallout, guys like me can be blissfully wise after the event.
Or you can be blissfully contradictory, or blissfully self-interested. Or you can be blissfully ignorant, like John Roughan :

When you or I act in a judicial capacity - as parents or employers or some other position of authority - we naturally demand an explanation from somebody accused of wrongdoing.When a staff member makes a serious accusation against another, the boss does not give the accused an ultimate right to silence. There are many rights an employee must be given these days, including perhaps access to a lawyer, but sooner or later a satisfactory explanation will be demanded. If none is forthcoming is is natural to assume the worst. Criminal law differs from natural justice in this respect I suppose because the penalties are so much greater, often a loss of liberty, and proof must reach a higher standard.

I would have thought it prudent to avoid topics of which one knows nothing, but Roughan wears his ignorance on his sleeve. Clearly, he knows nothing about the Employment Relations Act nor of the meaning of the phrase "natural justice" (still, he is right: we heard a lot from David Bain before the trial and a lot after the trial, but nothing during the trial; of course it is his right to decline to speak and it is natural that he should prefer facing John Campbell than Counsel for the Prosecution, but it did leave something of a hole in the proceedings). Does anybody check these columnists' work before publication? Or do the likes of Ralston and Roughan have contracts which allow them to write whatever they like, however idiotic such writing might be? Or do their editors not care?

I think it is the last: there was a time, not so long ago, when newspapers lived by their reputations. The quality of their reporting and of their opinion was crucial. But now it is all just copy. It helps keep the advertisements apart. The facts often are wrong, but the paper will print a correction if a reader notices an error. The opinions are mindless and prejudiced; but they are entertaining, which is all that matters.

Here's a song from Mount Albert:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent

So, what can we say? Not a lot really; we are prohibited today from saying anything about the Mount Albert by-election, lest we sway the opinions of voters. We might want to say something about the David Bain case, but we might need an Opinion to discover whether what we want to say is permissible. However, throwing caution to the wind, I will venture to say something.

As I understand it, the Supreme Court decided last week that it would not allow the evidence about what might have been on the 111 tape to be heard by the jury. It is fortunate that the Court should reach this decision, since the jury had gone home last week, having found Mr Bain not guilty. Despite this, the Supreme Court would not allow anyone else to hear the tape, or at least the part that was disputed, until they said so. One could, though, read the Supreme Court's decision, which said what was thought to be on the tape. The Supreme Court itself decided it did not want to hear the tape, and would instead read what was said about it by Experts; it also did not want anyone else to hear it, until such time that they could.

Despite this test of self-control, some broadcasters broadcast the part of the tape which the jury had not been allowed to hear in the trial that ended in the previous week. They may now be in contempt of the Supreme Court, or one or several of the other Courts that have made decisions about this. If they had just waited a little longer, until the time that the Supreme Court decided it was acceptable to hear the tape, they would not be so contemptuous.

I may have some of this wrong. I apologise to any Court which might be reading this post for any contempt that I might have shown it. Steven, who knows about these things, suggests that the Supreme Court's decision is, in some respects, no more clear than the tape; this might be the basis of my defence.

So, you will be wondering by now (having covered your ears when it was broadcast, to avert any possibility of being in contempt), what's on the tape? Many scholars have concluded that Bain said, or aspired, the words "I shot the prick," although to my ears it sounds something like Uriah the Hittite, or possibly Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (known to the Catholic Encyclopedia as Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, to avoid confusion). Since Mr Bain was from a religious family and studied Classics, both are possible. But I wouldn't rely on my Opinion, if I were you - my ears are alight:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Moving forward on a new path

Breaking news: Richard Worth has resigned, leaving behind him only a trail of slime. His resignation letter is a masterpiece of rancour: after confirming that he is going because of the allegations against him which are completely untrue, he then contends that he can best serve his country by advancing his business interests.

I look forward to his bankruptcy with unseemly glee. There was a time when politicians caught with a hand in the till or in somebody else's knickers had the decency to resign graciously and without further comment. Worth is not of that age. He is the kind of politician who can see no difference between his own intrests and those of the nation. When caught doing what comes naturally to him, he recoils with spluttering indignation. It is all, of course, a plot against him, the Government and the nation he only wished to serve. However, slings and arrows notwithstanding, he will move forward on a new path, just as a slug does.

We shall see his like again, more's the pity.

The examined life

To quote: "I made a point in my second book - actually it was a point Socrates made 3000 years - four or 5000 years ago when he said: 'Don't worry about why I might be saying something - have a listen to what I'm saying' and of course what he said laid the foundation for modern civilisation - even though he was hung for it at the time."
David Bain, like Socrates - the philosopher who was hanged three, four or five thousand years ago for laying the foundation of modern civilisation - has had his day in court. Unlike Socrates, he was not obliged to drink hemlock by the jury. So we shall have to endure him for months and possibly years to come, as the suppressed evidence is disclosed, the coroner deliberates and Joe Karam huffs and puffs. It really is all to ghastly to bear thinking about.

So instead, let's think about the state of gossip. The latest blathering by La Glucina de Lammermoor suggests that the artform is in a crisis. You will note that this was an event that La Glucina did not attend and which anyone could watch on television. And what does she reveal to us, exclusively, through the agency of her spies? That people in a pub bought drinks, which included beer, a sophisticated glass of red and fizz, which may not have been ritzy. This is not trying hard. Perhaps Glucina needed the competition provided by Bridget Saunders to thrive. Now Saunders has left the building, will Glucina descend into introversion, posting her post-literate tittle and tattle from her fireside? Who knows, and who cares?

I know I don't. Still less do I care that Brad Pitt bought a painting at an art fair or that someone called Johnny Palermo is dead. So little do I care that I cannot be bothered continuing this post, which was to have been a discourse on the cult of celebrity, which would have included some exclusive gossip from last night's Great Blend. But I just lost interest.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Life, Art, whatever

From the Listener, 20th April 1992, a review of Feral City by Rosie Scott

Rosie Scott has a vision of Auckland at an unspecified date early in the next millenium in "the darkness of the post Thatcher/Rogernomics holocaust," and it is not a pretty sight. The city centre has become a ghetto, populated mostly by drug addicts and "street people" where Aids is rampant and people die on the streets every day. Thanks to privatisation, the city's public library has been boarded up and the university's premises have been shifted from the inner city to the North Shore.
From the New Zealand Herald, 9th June 2009, National News

The Cabinet has signed off on Mr Hide's request for the Department of Internal Affairs to review local government law, including the removal of the requirement for councils to deliver on "community outcomes" such as social, environmental and cultural "wellbeing" which Mr Hide said pushed councils into providing services well beyond their core roles.

Now could be a good time for a reprint of Ms Scott's novel.

Postscript: I started reading the novel after posting; unfortunately, my willing suspension of disbelief collapsed halfway through the first sentence: "I came most of the way on the train because I wanted to sit quietly..." They still have trains; this can't be the future.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Victim-bashing for pleasure and profit

Call me an irrepressible optimist, or a deluded fool, but each Sunday I approach the papers with hope - that maybe the depths of journalistic integrity were eventually plumbed in the previous week's editions, and that the only way is up. And every week I am wrong. The ethical standards of our papers continue to descend, week by week, into the lair of the Gigantic Squid.

Last week's exemplar of amoral conscience, the paper which outbid all the others in the weekly auction of values, was the Sunday News. Now, I think I need to add a note of explanation here, before we go on. People Like Us do not read the Sunday News. It is a tabloid, produced for the lower orders; We read full-size papers, ones with book sections, over coffee (I only came across yesterday's paper because I popped into Magazzino to browse the latest Artforum, pretentious git that I am). The Sunday News has always been quite decent, ethically, nothing like the Red Tops in dear old Blighty. Not so this week.

Its sole front page story is about the former Minister for Indian Affairs, Captain Richard Worth. The Sunday News has achieved the scoop of an interview with the Captain's daughter, who wore a slinky evening dress for the occasion. And this is what Virginia Worth has to say about the Captain's accuser: "It's a pity [the complainant] has problems and needs help. I really, honestly hope she gets the help she needs."

Correct me if I am wrong, but is this not the sort of thing that 14 year-old girls say about their classroom enemies? They think it cunning, smarter than saying "that Bournvita is such as slut, she would go with anyone; and she has thick ankles;" rather, they say "it's a pity Bournvita has problems and I really, honestly hope she gets the help she needs." See, it makes them appear both grown-up and good-hearted, except it does nothing of the kind – anyone can see it is a juvenile ruse; anyone except the Editor of the Sunday News, it would seem.

But now read on, because also coming to the Captain's aid is none other than Ms Bridget Saunders, former gossip columnist and star of last week's Media7. She turns up all other the place. And what she has to say is that the rumours of her having a sexual relationship with the Captain are quite untrue.

No, me neither. Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has ever suggested that the Captain and the woman of letters were entangled; in fact, we all thought he was a pederast.

Anyway, it seems she is blaming the Labour Party for this scandalous gossip which no-one has heard before. She has no evidence for this claim, but why should we care? Of course, the cynics amongst us might think that it is a bit rich of her to complain about gossip, given her former profession. We might also recall those stories about various unnamed celebrities doing named activities with each other. And we might remember fondly those puff-pieces about Nikki Kaye she put in her column on behalf of her friend Mr Slater. Finally, we might consider that the Labour Party probably would rather have had Captain Worth stay around for a bit longer before he was caught, given the value he was giving. Finally again, we might bear in mind that Mr Goff wanted this matter dealt with discreetly and that it was that nice Mr Key who made it all public (after pretending, of course, that the Captain was leaving for personal reasons and doubtless hoping that nobody would notice he had gone).

Anyway, back to the chase. It was, of course, the Sunday News which brought us the news that the Captain would be a witness in the long-awaited cause celebre of Glucina vs Saunders. Nobody knows quite why Rachel Glucina's ghastly mother wants to squander the family fortune on suing Ms Saunders; fewer still care. It has been going on for years now and still it has not reached court. But what we all want to know is what part the Captain will play in this legal drama, and whether he still is in a position to appear as a character witness.

Anyway, that is besides the point. The point is that all this is very grubby, as are most of these people. And once again, it is the victim wot gets the blame. She needs help, in the considered opinion of the Captain's daughter. Whether the Captain's other accuser also needs help is not made clear. It rather puts me in mind of a sex predator formerly of my acquaintance, who on one occasion shrugged his shoulders and wondered aloud why he attracted women who turned out to be mad, women who became all emotional when he ended their brief relationships. Of course, the truth was that he went out of his way to find vulnerable young women whom he could manipulate into bed and then betray. But an important part of his pretence was to blame the victim, to portray her as disturbed and himself as the innocent party. The Worths, Mr Key and others involved have learned the same tactic.

But why did the women in the Captain's life choose the Sunday News for their revelations? Perhaps because the Herald on Sunday usually leads with a tragic car crash, perhaps because all the other weekend papers are besotted with David Bain, the man who did not murder his family beyond reasonable doubt. It is not really a good time to go plugging your story, because Bain's media circus has come to down and it has all the best acrobats. And then there is Susan Boyle and New Zealand's Next Top Model. In fact, with all this going on, there was hardly any room to print any news stories, so both the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday Star Times wisely decided not to.

Perhaps I am being rather harsh on the Sunday News. It is the last of the Sunday papers to run news stories. The other two compete with each other to run the most asinine and irrelevant celebrity tragedies. The SST stories suffer further humiliation by being posted on the Stuff website as "Editor's picks," in turn suggesting that the Editor is a cretin.

But it is funny I mentioned the Editor, one Mitchell Murphy, because he was on Mediawatch yesterday. And here's a funny thing: he is also Editor of the Sunday News. Which is another first for New Zealand: two papers, one Editor, who happens to be a recent arrival from Australia. Maybe there is a story in that.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Poetry Nation

The other item of significance was he basically said that community bards in the Super City will be bulk funded and have their own budgets to spend. Also John Carter said that their powers will not be left to the new Auckland Council but be defined in statute, so it sounds like they are going to be quite souped up.
Mr Farrar reveals that lyric poetry is the winner on the day. As for politics:
John and Bill have a very effective double act, where rather than pretend there has not been a disagreement between them at some stage, they openly acknowledge they were saying different things, and then joke about it at every opportunity. It is a very very effective way of taking the sting out of it, and also sending a strong message that while they may disagree at times, they have a strong personal rapport and are comfortable hassling each other in a very Kiwi sense of humour way.
So they don't each hate the other's guts, as we so fondly imagined.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The incredible rescinding man

Breaking news: Cameron Slater's hair is not permed. Its all natural. I am sure you will be relieved to know this. No doubt you were watching his interview on Close Up, thinking to yourself "surely his flowing, lustrous curls cannot be natural? That Cameron Slater is like the girl from the Harmony Hairspray advertisement."

On the other hand, you may have been thinking "does this bloke know anything?" It was not the hair that was faked. Mr Slater was brought in because nobody from the National Party would front up on Close Up to talk about the former Minister for Korean Affairs, and then was treated as if he had some inside information about the case; which, of course, he had not. In fact, he knew nothing. So we were forced to look at his hair, and that sweatshirt (which you can buy from his store; just don't come to my party wearing one - or any sweatshirt, for that matter).

But what of the mystery fax? It came from North Shore City Council. Therefore, it must have been sent by the Mayor. There, case proven. Mr Farrar agrees, so it must be correct. Obviously, only the Mayor would have the keys to the facsimile machine. This sort of deductive reasoning is what investigative blogging is all about. This is why traditional journalism has no future.

And who to blame? Why, Mr Goff, of course: his latest crime and misdemeanor was to opine that one of the complaints against Doctor Captain Worth is strikingly beautiful. It is this sort of talk which causes trouble. Clearly, the man is out of control.

And what of that nice Mr Key? He has been decisive all week, so what is his decision about the woman of whose appearance we must say nothing? She must front up, she must show us the textes. Here (With thanks to The Standard for the transcription) is some of what he had to say on Checkpoint:
John Key: No, let’s not have a private meeting. Let’s have the textses. if they’re real let’s produce them. And if he gives them to me I’ll give them to the media. As I’ve said all along, if those textses were real and they, they were of the nature that Mr Goff said that the complaint said they were and Mr Worth adamantly denies then I would have sacked Dr Worth on the spot. No question about that.

Mary Wilson
: Why does it have to become public? Why can’t this woman simply show you the information without becoming public? Why does her name, she’s got a small son and she wants to keep her name out of the public arena. If this man has hounded her for months and she is incredibly embarrassed...

John Key:
That’s your characterisation.

ary Wilson: No. Why, I’m asking you, why on earth would you demand that she go public with them when what she can do is have a private meeting with you and provide the evidence? Why would you force her into a situation where she has to go to the media?
Well, Mr Key, why would you?
Because it is all about her, and hair, and Mr Goff. It's all about textes. He won't meet the Korean woman, but he wants to see her textes. He promised to meet the Indian woman (yes, I know it is difficult to keep up, but it seems that Captain Doctor Worth had extensive interests in bilateral relations) but then rescinded that promise, instead insisting that she show her textes to his Chief of Staff, Wayne. It is all about everything but Captain Doctor Worth and his sleaze, and his corruption.

Mr Key's week of decisiveness has not been successful. Next week, clearly, he will have to do something. Otherwise, people will no longer think him nice. He has a number of options. He could try to save a BMW, he could alter his Wikipedia entry or he could shoot his entire Cabinet and then get a millionaire All Black to support him. This last option, above all, might regain him the public affection on which he thrives.

Hot Grits:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Feed the children

A few weeks ago you would have received an email from Roshan Allpress, asking you to consider financially supporting the Compass Foundation.

We wanted to add our support to that call.

As three people who have been keenly involved in Compass for years, we’re totally committed to its vision and mission. Like many others we’ve been enormously impacted ourselves by the teaching and the community of Compass. And we can see the effect this will have on New Zealand in the years to come.

As Roshan explained, the work of Compass has to date been grown on the back of some very generous, big thinking individuals. It’s time now to share that load and in summary we need to raise just on $4000 in monthly support.

We’ve each signed up for $100 a month along with other generous monthly donors who give between $10 and $80 a month, and wonder if you might join us? Just over 100 giving an average of $35 each would see us there. For some of you $10 will be a sacrifice, whilst others will be able to do more. There are over 600 Compass alumni so if just one in six take up the challenge...

Many thanks for giving this some real thought. We’ll keep you updated on our progress toward that target.

Greg Fleming

Mark Strom

Charles Belcher
Out there living it
Awesome, Charles; being out there, and living it. Shame about the Foundation. It seems the Maxim Institute's devilishly cunning plan to provide the fundy yoof with a worldview has fallen on hard times. Now, I am not one to interfere, but I think they should be looking at staffing: having three full-time staff to run two summer conferences is a little excessive, somewhat like a department store employing Santa all year round.

Maybe they could make themselves useful by checking the writing of their elders and betters: such a sentence as "like many others we’ve been enormously impacted ourselves by the teaching and the community of Compass" never should have been released from captivity.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Feed the rich

What did we learn at school today? Well, we learned that the Tories lied about the tax cuts. Mr English has said and will say again that the proposed cuts were overtaken by unforeseen global economic events, but there was nothing to unforesee: we all knew the global economy was stuffed back in November; it was kind of obvious, what with the Lehman Brothers falling over and all that. But Mr English tolled like a bell throughout the campaign, telling us that the cuts would be coming, and we would all have loadsamoney.

By extrapolation, we learned that a significant proportion of the electorate is (a) greedy and (b) stupid. I refer, of course, to those who believed Mr English's flannel and believed in it; those who thought of their vote as a futures option. These voters must be feeling a little foolish now, unless they are so stupid as to believe that Mr English really must defer those tax cuts until such time as the economy can bear the weight of the stimulation they will bring upon it.

We also learned that, in a crisis, Tories will look after their own and – by extrapolation – bugger the rest of us. We learned of such from the Tories' house journal, under the somewhat misleading headline, Private schools' $35m lifeline wins applause; somewhat misleading because the applause was coming from the private schools who would be sharing the $35 million.

Here is some quoted applause:
Executive director of the Independent Schools of New Zealand Deborah James said she was delighted with the announcement as private schools had been struggling with a "crippling capped funding regime for the past 10 years".

She felt it was important the Government had acknowledged that if it did not help them out, a number of private schools might have been forced to integrate, which would have ultimately lapped up a portion of state funding that could otherwise be diverted towards public schools.

[Independent schools] bring a choice in education, not all schools suit all children so it's wonderful in a democracy that families can choose an education that best suits the needs of their child," Mrs James said.
The reader might notice some anomalies here. This is the head of a body representing Independent schools, also described as private schools, complaining about not having received enough money from the public purse. The reader might also notice the utterly fallacious threat of integration: not only is the Education Ministry under no obligation to accept any school for integration (Mr Mallard saw to that) but many private schools would not qualify, since integrated schools must have a specific "religious character." Finally, the reader will notice the tosh about democracy, needs and choice for what it is: tosh. Some children may well have special needs and choices, such as being allergic to the proletariat or yearning to wear tartan, but it is not a requirement of democracy that these be met at public expense.

Worse still is the headmaster of King's School crowing about the money he will be getting. This funding would "greatly assist the school's parents as it would allow him to keep cost increases at a minimum." This is the head of the most expensive school in the country speaking, the school which nice Mr Key's own son attends. This funding will assist rich people to retain more of their wealth.

It is all about freedom and choice, of course. As the Ministry says:
The additional funding achieves the Government’s manifesto commitment to increase families’ education choices so they have more freedom to select schooling options that best meet their children’s needs.

It is also designed to make private schools more affordable to more parents. By increasing the overall subsidy, the desired outcome is for private schools to reduce their fees resulting in increased enrolments.
And how, you might ask, will the Ministry ensure that this outcome is achieved? It is funny that you should ask, because the amazing truth is that the Ministry will do nothing. It will not be setting objectives, asking for commitments or assigning Key Performance Indicators; it will simply hand over the money. And will the schools be reducing their fees? The Minister does not know. She cannot or will not demand a reduction in fees.

So what difference does it make? It makes none, none at all, other than to increase inequality: a student in a private school will be funded by $15K of public money, while a student in a public school receives $5K. All of a sudden, the dreaded voucher scheme, which libertarians have been demanding for years, seems quite attractive: at least the public school students would be entitled to an equal amount to those in private schools, rather than a third of the amount paid to schools which select children from the wealthiest families in the country.

So, how will the Government fund this largesse? By cutting the spending on public education, of course. The professional development of teachers in public schools is being cut, as are school and curriculum support programmes. Other programmes which benefit those in lower social-economic groups, such as the one to combat youth obesity, will also be gone.

This is pre-wasted public funding of private institutions, money that is being transferred from the public to the private sector, without any guarantee of any benefit. It will be accepted gleefully by the schools which educate the children of the rich, who will be not be required to account for the money. These schools already receive large amounts of public funding, equivalent to half the salary of each teacher, as well as enjoying tax-free status as educational charities. Meanwhile, funding which benefits the vast majority of school students will be cut. Three percent of schools students will benefit from the disadvantage of ninety-seven percent.

Finally, let us not forget that parents of children in public schools will continue to face demands for "donations" or "voluntary contributions," funds which often are raised by stigmatising or penalising those children whose parents cannot afford to pay. Shortfalls in public funding, as well the expansionist plans of ego-driven heads, will continue to be addressed by making parents pay for education which, by law, should be free.

So what did we learn? We learned that the Government has a developed a programme of wealth redistribution, one which will help the well-bred and the well-fed, to the detriment of every other child.