December 21, 2004

Do they know it's Christmas time?

MediaCow writes...

We are going on holiday and shall be back in early- or mid-January, depending on our collective sobriety. This is where we will be:

Olivia Kember, our very own Beautiful Militant, is tracking down the foot/mouth painters of her undesired Christmas cards for a bottling.

Ben Thomas, the Man with the Mark of the Beast, was last seen passed out somewhere within Chantelle's bosom at Cafe 223. He continues to search for a Feature Story to match to his beloved Single Paragraph.

Mister Neil Falloon, the slutty sex kitten with a loud mouth, is still waiting for Christmas cards from Stephen Franks and Matt Nippert, but received a lovely signed photograph from Mary Lambie.

David W Young, who loves it when you say Abyssinia, is too earnest to take a holiday. He shall spend his down-time thinking about interior decorating.

And MediaCow, proud to be the only media commentator in New Zealand who worked out that Coran Lill is a male, is going to relax in a quiet paddock, happy that the Paul Holmes Replacement has been found, and hopeful that 2005 will bring a profile and startlingly large photograph in the Listener.

Have a lovely summer.

December 17, 2004

Sedation to Conspiracy

Written by Mister Neil Falloon with extra Googling by MediaCow...

Tim Selwyn is being charged with seditious conspiracy – a “pretty scary” offence according to Gary Gotlieb of the Auckland District Law Society.

The last prominent case involving disloyalty to the Crown earned Dutch double-agent Harry Duynhoven boutique legislation to allow him to keep his seat in Parliament despite having sworn allegiance to a foreign power.

This time around it all seems like pretty frightening stuff – allegations of indigenous Ahmed Zaouis running around without Dominican friars to keep them out of trouble. Accusations of dark plottings in Grey Lynn to topple our Popular and Competent Prime Minister. A purported “conspiracy” – a cabal of anarchists bent on “exciting disaffection”.

These facts are not disputed: On 18 November an axe was lodged in the window of Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Sandringham, Mt Albert electorate office. After a tip-off to a radio station, flyers were found on the corner of Ponsonby Road. The flyers said the axe was a protest against “the Government's attempts to steal, by confiscation, Maori land in the form of the Seabed and Foreshore Bill”. A group of “concerned Pakeha” claimed responsibility.

Selwyn, who was a member of the ACT party in its earliest mid-90’s incarnation, noted to TV3 last night that seditious offences were a feature of war-time governments – but then, he continued, so were government land grabs.

The Land Grab

After the foreshore and seabed legislation was passed by parliament this year, Selwyn circulated a petition asking the Governor General to refuse the Royal Assent to the legislation, on the grounds that it contradicted of the second and third articles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In an email accompanying the petition, Selwyn explained he believes the Foreshore and Seabed Bill:

“contains utterly unnecessary and discriminatory land confiscation provisions that will haunt and divide our nation should it be enacted. Access by everyone to the foreshore and seabed was all anyone ever wanted, and yet that was used as an excuse for a Government land grab. Rushed through parliament under urgency, it is a mess. I believe the Bill is, basically, unconstitutional…”

The Charges

Selwyn is charged with seditious conspiracy. The word 'conspiracy' would indicate the involvement of more than one person in an activity.

In this particular case, allegations against co-conspirators are conspicuous by their absence. Nobody has appeared in court charged with putting the axe into the window.

Selwyn says he is unsure which part of the “conspiracy” he is accused of participating in.

He says there is considerable uncertainty regarding the accusation he does face. (This perhaps befits a charge that nobody in this country has faced for at least 50 years.)

Selwyn says he has been given four contrasting descriptions of the charges that are seeing him attend court in his pinstriped suit. He says the charges have been incorrectly attributed to various sections of the Crimes Act, and the charge has been labelled in different ways.

One police document rather sweetly shows the charge against Selwyn is “sedation to conspiracy.”

The "Publicity Stunt" Angle

Some journalists suggest this could be a “publicity stunt” for Selwyn’s new venture, a current affairs magazine called Tu Meke. The project has been in the works for some time. A mocked-up sample, produced in April, the "zero issue", can be viewed here.

The (impressively designed) edition of Tu Meke includes a commentary on the Brash Orewa speech, consistent with the views expressed by Selwyn in his petition to the Governor General.

The “publicity stunt” theory appears to hinge on the assumptions that Selwyn is guilty and would admit guilt for the purposes of claiming credit.

The "Serious Test of Justice" Angle

University of Auckland constitutional law expert Bill Hodge expects the Bill of Rights Act’s freedom of speech guarantees to effectively eviscerate the content of the Crimes Act’s sedition laws, by making the scope for publications or statements to be regarded as unlawful much narrower.

Just Not Cricket

The conditions on Selwyn’s bail imposed yesterday included a prohibition that stops him straying within 50 meters of Clark’s electorate office in Sandringham Road. The restraint is reportedly minimal because the Crown accepted it may be unreasonable to remove his access to Eden Park across the street during the international cricket season.

December 15, 2004

Deathray of Sunshine

Ben Thomas writes...

The house I moved into in late 2000 was one that no longer stunk of death. That’s because when the then-leaseholder took occupancy at the beginning of the year, she and her flatmates spent their first days in the large old Sandringham villa cleaning blood off the walls of two of its five bedrooms. The previous inhabitants were drug users – injectors, gone mad and finally succumbed to a sort of violent cabin fever. Their lease was terminated after the head tenant was found, having hanged himself from the tree in the yard, just next to the driveway. By the time I moved in, the tree was a shadow of its former self, a victim of the exorcism of the suicide and its aftermath – shorn of any branch that could support the weight of a human body.*

With its lopped off limbs, it stood as testament to a pathetic attempt to “suicide proof” the house in the future, as much as it did a totem of purification for the past events. But The Economist has posited that it may be exactly such “supply-side” measures that have contributed to Britain’s falling suicide rate [30 October 2004, offline, or available to subscribers].

The UK’s rate of self-inflicted deaths in 2003 was its lowest since the Second World War and, at 84 deaths per million people, is now among the lowest in Europe. The Economist suggests this is not because the triggers of suicidal behaviours have changed – that is, the demand for suicide – but because the means of suicide have become less accessible – that is, the supply.

A number of disparate factors seem to have combined to make suicide more difficult. For example, in 1998 pharmaceutical regulations made it harder for customers to obtain large volumes of pills at one time, and manufacturers began producing medication in blister packs rather than bottles. Since this time, the number of lethal paracetamol overdoses has dropped by 34%. The proliferation of catalytic converters fitted to cars, to reduce carbon monoxide emissions, has seen the number men gassing themselves fall from 672 in 1996 to 265 in 2002. The former changes were intended to reduce waste in the healthcare system; the latter, the result of pressures to be environmentally friendly.

Controlling the supply side of the market in suicide has been attempted in New Zealand, most visibly in the erection, then removal, then reinstallation of barriers on Auckland’s Grafton Bridge. The bridge, the largest single-span concrete structure in the world at the time, was built to connect the Auckland Domain with the central city. Its foundations on the west side stand rooted in an inner city Victorian graveyard, and the roughly hewn road, lit at night by gaslight-styled lamps, looks down – from a fair distance - over the southern motorway. It’s a favoured hang-out for younger Goths, a preferred sleepout shelter for the homeless, and a notorious suicide spot.

Glass screens lined the bridge’s footpaths from 1992 until 1996, when they were removed as being unsightly and unnecessary. Since the walls were designed to make life difficult for anyone attempting to get around and over them to the outside ledges, they were also fairly hazardous for council staff to clean safely. Then, in 2002, they were back. There was no fanfare – a short piece in the Auckland City Council’s newsletter, City Scene, referred to the construction of the “safety barriers” in response to the concerns of otherwise anonymous “health professionals”. Throughout, “suicide” went unmentioned in public discussion of the screens.

It’s easy to see symbolism in these things if you look hard enough. Grafton Bridge was steeped in triumph at the time of its creation – a symbol of the power of government as a force for progress and improvement, after the private Australian firm engaged to build it became insolvent. The suicide barriers, likewise, represent the “central planning” of the suicide market, as it were.

The results were examined in a study by the Canterbury Suicide Project's Dr Anne Beautrais:

In the four years following the removal of the barriers the number of suicides increased five-fold… [The] rate of suicide by jumping in the city in question did not change but the pattern of suicides by jumping in the city changed significantly with more suicides from the bridge and fewer at other sites.
-“Effectiveness of barriers at suicide jumping sites” A L Beautrais, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 35(5):557-62, 2001 Oct.

Curiously, the recommendation following Beautrais’s report was that the barriers be reinstalled. It’s difficult to reconcile that with the findings that they did not in fact deter any suicides, but merely redistributed them around the city, away from Grafton. Or rather, it’s easy to reconcile these recommendations with the empirical findings of the report, if the purpose of the screens was not suicide prevention, but a tourism committee initiative to get these unsightly, desperate people off our heritage-protected bridge. The only suicide I ever witnessed was a girl who jumped off the Symonds Street overpass, about two minutes down the road from Grafton Bridge.

Does this matter? Probably. If the Auckland City Council has $900,000 (the cost of reinstating the screens, according to City Scene) that it’s prepared to earmark for suicide prevention, there are almost certainly better ways to spend this money. The New Zealand Herald reports that overseas experts are queuing to investigate some of the CYFS initiatives with suicide survivors and families of suicides (two obviously high risk groups). The amount allocated to these schemes in the 2003 budget amounts to a little less than $700,000 per year, and evidence suggests they are actually helping to save lives. Nonetheless, more than this amount has been spent raising transparent walls to protect us from the mysterious thrall in which a century old viaduct is meant to hold Auckland’s inhabitants.

More from the previous report:

The bridge is a known suicide site and is located adjacent to the region’s largest hospital which includes an acute inpatient psychiatric unit… The majority of those who died by jumping from the bridge following the removal of safety barriers were young male psychiatric patients, with psychotic illnesses.
- “Effectiveness of barriers at suicide jumping sites” A L Beautrais, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 35(5):557-62, 2001 Oct.

Wait… did I forget to mention that? That it’s not a gothic allegory of protest, alienation – a monolith, spanning this world and the next. That it’s just the closest bridge.

Supply. Demand.

* My buddy lived in the single room next to mine for six months before he discovered, written high up with builder’s pencil on the painted green particleboard built-in wardrobe in the corner, the words “LIFE BEGINS 9/11/1999” – November being the month of the suicide.

December 10, 2004

An Open Invitation for a Bottling...

Olivia Kember writes an Open Letter to Scribe (and then gives up halfway)...

Dear Scribe

How could you? I mean, really, how could you?

Don't you know that you're a role model, that you're among the Most Powerful People (Listener Power List, offline) in all of New Zealand? The twenty-third most powerful, I think. Perhaps twenty-sixth. Anyway, you're more powerful than almost four million other New Zealanders. Your every move reverberates. I'm reverberating just thinking of you.

As if, with your phrase that launched a thousand shit jokes, you hadn't already done enough damage.

...Oh blah blah.

When Bone Thugs n Harmony dropped by New Zealand to visit Ronald LaPread (ex-Commodore, now Remueran) they asked how we cope without guns. My sister explained that we bottle each other instead.

Scribe and/or his entourage are merely ushering in the next phase of hip hop. The one where everyone gets really aggressive and full of themselves and start bashing each other up. Surely it was inevitable. And, considering how far behind the American scene we are in that respect, it's about time.

December 09, 2004

Finding a Role Model

David W Young writes a letter:

Dear Alan Ivory,

Thank you for your email to DogBitingMen. First up, you're right: the introduction to my last column on gay marriage was indeed "insufferably superior".

I'm glad you introduced yourself. I want to say thank you. It made my day to read what you did in 1979:

Along with others, I manoeuvred to sink a Bill introduced by the well-meaning MP Warren Freer which would have decriminalised homosexual sex only for those over 21 in private. We would settle only for equality.

We succeeded in sinking that Bill to the considerable anger of well-meaning liberals who accused us of biting the hand that fed us. (We should be grateful for being given some of our rights? We didn't think so.)

History proved you right to insist on equality or nothing. You and your friends formed the Equality Bill Campaign and drafted the legislation that would eventually become the Fran Wilde-sponsored Bill. It took five whole years, but your waiting paid off.

You came out a year before I was born. I wonder when things changed - when equality became something that we should delay for tomorrow's fight, rather than strive for today. I wonder when gay and lesbian New Zealanders started to think so little of ourselves.

I just don't get it. Why does everybody seem so excited about civil unions, when adoption rights and full marriage will continue to be kept only for people born heterosexual?

Let's look online. The flock of civil union advocates includes Xavier and Tristan from AbouTown, my mate Ben Thomas from DogBitingMen, Russell Brown, Jordan Carter , Constar, Dorking Labs, David Farrar, Generation Y Not? ... I'm doing this list alphabetically and can't be bothered subjecting myself to reading anybody past G, so we can just agree there's shitloads.

Meanwhile, other than the odd reasonable commentary this side of the argument is embarrassingly lonely. Ex-National Party MP Marilyn Waring seems the only public figure who gets it. MPs proposed lots of last-minute changes to the Civil Union Bill. Not a single member of parliament (nor even one of those supposedly activist "youth" wings of the political parties) proposed dumping the Bill and replacing it with a rewriting of the Marriage Act that would allow full marriage. Not a single one. Not even as a token gesture.

I'm really grateful you shared your experience. Maybe these things go in waves. Perhaps in another twenty-five years the gay kids of the current Compromise Generation will share your spirit and resolve. I hope so.

Kind regards,
David W Young

December 08, 2004

House Keeping

Goldenhorse visited Ahmed Zaoui and posed for a photo shoot, but it certainly "wasn't a publicity stunt". This rates up there with "I almost forgot the moon". A fellow much cleverer than us usually sends us nice emails but once sent us this diatribe: "Yeah, sure ya did. It’s a gigantic rock orbiting the earth. It affects everything, from the tides to women's periods... How smart is this supposed ‘academic’ that you throw him in a small box for two years and he forgets about the moon? What else might he have forgotten over that time? Hmm?"

We're just quoting our letter-writer. That's all.

We are delighted to announce the results of our Pansy Wine-Naming Competition. You will recall that Auckland wine-makers created a new wine called Pansy "to thank their gay friends in the hospitality industry". We found this a tad patronising and asked for your inspired suggestions to help the wine-makers "thank" other groups in a similar manner.

The best correspondence was from Wellington communications guru Susan Ryan, who suggested: "As a way of thanking women who drink more wine when they're stressed with PMT, how about a bloody little number called "Period Red"? The bottle will have a second convenient use when empty as an effective smiting object for anything that pisses these women off. They could also work on a "Don't fuck with me" Sauvingnon Blanc for the summer bloats.".

We like it. Ms Ryan, we're sending you a little bottle of something to say thank you.

Mr Neil Falloon believes this site needs some 'mainstream credibility'. The rest of us think it's too late for that. But to humour Mr Falloon and his brilliant similes, here's some writing that people did recently for The Listener.

Click the links and boost our self esteem:

Interview with Emily Barclay by Olivia Kember
Why we should celebrate the commercialisation of Christmas by David W Young
A defence of nepotism by David W Young

Finally, here's a link to someone new. The authors of IHATENZ have plenty of time on their hands, access to PhotoShop and poor photo-editing skills. They tried demanding that we link to them. We ignored them until they took a compromising photograph of Russell Brown snogging Lyndon Hood. In the background you can see Mr Neil Falloon waving.

December 07, 2004

Riddled with Pathologies

Mr Neil Falloon writes…

It is September. Act MP Stephen Franks, ex-commercial lawyer and Bill Gates impressionist, is pulling on his coat after a business lobby dinner. In the past week, he has been sitting on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee hearing oral submissions on the Civil Unions Bill.

According to underground conservative sources, Franks has been asking pro-Bill submitters how they justify legal recognition of homosexual relationships, but not bigamy or bestiality.

It’s an odd line of questioning, unless this is being treated as a policy focus group for the rural ACT voting base.

With John Banks declining, Franks is a key man for the right. I ask him whether he is feeling focused.

“I ask [about bestiality and bigamy] because, frankly, I get bored,” he says.

“Most of these people are saying the same things and, while it’s new and interesting to them, we have heard it all before. I ask the questions as an intellectual exercise…”

I picture Stephen Franks as a reactionary Sacha Baron-Cohen.

“…although none of them have come up with a good answer yet.”

Talking with Franks can be daunting. True, he lacks social grace, street smarts and any ability to recognise his own shortcomings – or put out a press release that lasts fewer than seven pages. But he is every bit as book-smart as people – fans and detractors alike – allege.

His mind is not like a steel trap. More like a Swiss Army knife that, once the can opener has proven ineffective, can offer a dizzying array of alternatives: a magnifying glass, a pocket knife and a bottle opener. Most of these contraptions will prove utterly useless, but all will look nice and shiny splayed open to gleam in the sunlight.

It’s about family, I tell him. Married heterosexual couples save more and demand fewer of the state’s resources. Family and commitment, I say, should be encouraged. Homosexuals, I tell him, have no greater right to my tax dollars than indolent, unloved heterosexuals who save less and leech the public health system with their fetid lack of self regard. Franks is unrepentant.

“Well, I love my dog, but that doesn’t mean I should be allowed to marry it.”

But, of course, even dogs have legal rights in the relationship with their owners, through the Animal Welfare Act.

“Yes, but I could have my dog put down any time I wanted.”

So perhaps the relationship between a dog and its owner is not analogous to that between two people.

No matter; Franks’ mind is today like a Catherine Wheel, spinning phosphorescent sparks into the darkness.

I ask about the incentives for harm reduction, in promoting commitment. Gabriel Rotello pointed out in Sexual Ecology that even a change to serial monogamy, with no reduction in the total number of partners in the gay community, would cut down the spread of STDs enormously.

Franks will have none of it.

“We’re talking about a community that’s so riddled with pathologies… harm reduction can’t be the aim of the Bill.”

He’s got to get a drink, he says.

So do I.

December 03, 2004

If a Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood

So Susan Wood is the new Paul Holmes, and Mark Sainsbury is the new Susan Wood while still being the old Mark Sainsbury?


We didn't predict it, but nor did other esteemed media commentators. In fact, the only person who foresaw Great Things for Susan Wood was The Truth astrologer Don Murray whose personal website states that in 2004, "positive Pluto-Venus sextile moves [Susan Wood's] career nicely ahead."

Bill Ralston's decision was not particularly adventurous, but Susan Wood will do a jolly good job.

We're happy for her. As DogBitingMen said earlier, she's cheerful, luvverly, friendly and nice. She's the sort of telly person you'd want to work for if you worked in telly, isn't she? She'd say thank you to the person who powders her nose. (Not a drug reference - editor).

In this age when every noddy releases a CD, writes their autobiography - has a blog - and shares their home, family, dogs and hernias with underwhelmed viewers, Susan's old fashioned niceness seems admirable.

And maybe that's what we're looking for, today. MediaCow's favourite TV presenters, Peter Williams and Simon Dallow, are the sorts of gents that would put the toilet seat back down. We've moved on from the days when we expected our telly heroes to throw histrionic nelly fits behind the scenes and stuff their Larger Than Life personalities into our lounges.

Here's to nice people winning.

Foot in Mouth Charity

Olivia Kember writes...

The envelope was addressed to my flatmate but the letter inside was for Sir/Madam, and printed in wobbly blue letters:

We are a group of seriously disabled artists who through illness, accidents or birth defects have lost the use of our hands. We paint or write by holding the brush or pen in the mouth or between the toes…

They were selling Christmas cards. The cards were enclosed and were pretty standard fare – plenty of candles and angels, pohutakawas for local colour, a bit of gold trim, the nativity delicately alluded to by a couple of shepherds.

It is difficult to find a method of selling that pleases everyone. However this method enables us to describe the background story of the cards produced from our original paintings which required physical hard work determination and patience…if you would like to purchase the set of attractive cards at $16 incl. GST, please use the enclosed remittance form.

And underneath in red, “Tommy Waru – the original of this letter was written by Tommy using a brush held in his mouth.” Then a picture of Tommy, brush in gob, painting a blue landscape.

My flatmate is very generous. His name would appear on a lot of charity databases, probably in bold with a gold star. But even he was revolted by the arrival of cards. They were unsolicited. They were ugly. They had syrupy, badly punctuated slogans of the “wishing you every happiness” variety on the inside, clearly not written by the mouth and foot artists but stamped straight from the Hallmark block.

But there they were, and we had to do something with them. None of us wanted to pay for these cards, since they’d been forced on us. We didn’t want to use them without paying, either. We didn’t want to use them at all. They were embarrassing. We speculated about sending them back, which, in our apathetic flat, also seemed incredibly hard. So they sat for a few weeks.

As a direct marketing ploy they’re almost brilliant. They sat and oozed guilt, especially when you turned over the letter and saw pictures of the artists at work. Underneath the slogan “Self-help – not charity” was poor old Grant, who broke his neck playing rugby and loves painting flowers. Poor Wayne, who suffered “a freak accident” and is now tetraplegic. Rob, whose accident and disability are mercifully unspecified, is shown with Prince Charles, who apparently praised the way he painted snow.

The Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists
is an international organisation, and the queasiness engendered by their selling strategy is shared by some mouth and foot painting artists. According to Simon Smith, its founder Erich Stegmann thought that his lack of arms and mouth-painting technique were irrelevant to the quality of work, and that selling a painting using pity was worse than not selling it at all. Stegmann’s followers obviously don’t have those qualms. Smith says the British MFPA gives artists an income whether they create pictures or not, making their income a subsidy for working using their mouths or feet. “It's a case of ‘Isn't it marvelous, aren't they clever!’. A party trick which is seen as more important than the work itself.”

If multiple sclerosis or an accident reduces you from fully-functioning to quadriplegic, completing the tedious process of learning to draw with your mouth indicates at the very least enormous stamina and courage. What it has to do with artistic ability is another question. But if you’re trying to flog your wares – and as Simon points out, getting a much better than market rate for doing so – you need to ask why people would want to buy them.

And in this case, out of pity. No matter what the AMFPA’s bumf might say, it’s emotional blackmail. Simon suggests sending the cards you don’t like to people you don’t like, twinking out any references to the AMFPA and the orifice with which the brush was held and using as normal. He doesn’t specify whether or not you should cough up the cash.

My plan was just to leave them lying around until they got lost, but that’s rather unsatisfying. One suggestion has been to send them to the MPs who expect their marriages will be undermined by the passing of the Civil Union Bill, since doing so will fulfil Simon’s first instruction, postage to Parliament is free and they’ll probably be in need of Christmas cheer. A friend has just pointed out that it’s quite expensive being disabled and perhaps I should give the painters a donation. He’s right, dammit. But it’s not going to the MFPA people. The NZ Spinal Trust
donate button doesn’t work so I’ve gone with the MS Society. Now I can burn these damn things with a clear conscience. Unless, of course, you give me a better idea.

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