November 30, 2004
The End is Nigh
David W Young writes earnestly once again:
Finally the civil union debate minces into its final days. Once the Civil Union Bill is passed, getting the Relationships Bill through should (one would imagine) be a formality, even if it is going to come embarrassingly late.
As our MPs prepare to vote, doesn’t it feel more like a referendum on shirt-lifting, vegemite-drilling ar.se banditry than anything else? Any pretence that this is anything other than almost-but-not-quite-gay-marriage seems to have been dropped by both sides.
Both the supporters and the opponents of the Civil Union Bill seem quite burdened by their self-righteousness. Their hearts are in the right places. The opponents believe they are helping New Zealand avoid slipping into a moral morass. The supporters are just as pious: they see themselves unshackling a minority from inequality.
Of course, neither group will actually achieve their goals. Neither sin nor (state-sanctioned) discrimination will disappear.
The two sides have a lot in common. Both vastly overestimate The Other. For social liberals, the Religious Right is a massive and terrifying Bogeyman. For social conservatives, the Gay Lobby fulfils the same role. Overseas the Religious Right and the Gay Lobby might be large and well-organised. But I’ve seen both sides up close in New Zealand, and I don't think either is particularly strong. To my eye, they appear fairly well-matched.
Believing in evil Bogeymen means a lot of energy is wasted on fear and paranoia.
In this fight, it has meant masses of political and social capital have been used up in extremely divisive and non-constructive activities. Campaigning that included print media advertisements and the lobbying of MPs (incidentally, did both sides remember to get Kenneth Wang?) went overboard on rhetoric, while under-delivering on evidence. Advertisements that list a whole load of names? Bible quotations? Gee, thanks for taking the people of New Zealand seriously.
This battle bubbled away under the surface for months, giving shape to the Destiny march and leading to (some accurate) accusations of bigotry from both sides.
Yet I believe this was the wrong battle. I support full gay marriage. No argument exists for a civil union that is not also an argument for full marriage. I do not believe, as Russell Brown’s straw man does, that “the defeat of the CUB would somehow open the way for same-sex marriage”. I do believe that the passing of the CUB will make it harder for full marriage to ever be allowed. I don’t think this battle should ever have been chosen – and certainly not before first trying for full marriage.
Brown has been one of the few protagonists in the CUB debate who has actually argued his case rationally. So I'm sorry for giggling when he mentions he is "standing behind" his gay friends in this debate. I just get an unfortunate mental image. Anyway, It's interesting that his friends and my own have such different viewpoints. I suspect it is a generational thing. I'm 24 and came out quite young. His friends are in their 40s and seem to have belatedly identified as gay.
The civil union bill will be passed. The Relationships Bill should get through too - without it, the CUB has no bite. Once both pieces of legislation are passed, some people will be rather happy and others will be rather angry. I think both sides will be over-reacting.
Like most New Zealanders, for me personally, it won't have much significance. And not just because of my opposition to civil unions. I don't let politics drive my life to that extent. Nope, it won't have much impact because my partner and I are already engaged to wed next year. In our own way. After that, in the medium-term, we will sort out how to have kids. But in the meantime, our ceremony will be just right for us. It will be a demonstration of our love for each other. And that's really what matters.
November 26, 2004
We Were Bored
DAVID: I’m getting bored of Matt Nippert pretending to be “Lyndon Hood” at Fighting Talk.
BEN: I know. The worst thing about Nippert ghost-writing Hood's pieces is that he doesn't even save his best material. it's like this creatively barren dumping ground for his diary entries.
DAVID: We could pick a fight with him. But fights are so Two Weeks Ago. Besides, I think Nippert gets aroused when you say nasty things about him.
BEN: We could make him fight someone else. Someone equivalent.
DAVID: The internet version of two weedy guys slapping each other's forearms in the playground after their glasses have fallen off?
BEN: Exactly. Then we can get others to pile in and create a stupid-blogger-bitchfight. It can be like Sweeps Week.
DAVID: But who do we choose to fight “Lyndon Hood”?
BEN: Leave it to me. I’ll find the perfect match.
Friday, November 19: Aaron Bhatnagar’s weblog:
Lyndon Hood - self-appointed tit, Lower Hutt
Found in the blogosphere today is a post by sporadic blogger Lyndon Hood, from the blog Fighting Talk.
Lyndon, who I have never met, takes it upon himself to post a ficticious conversation between ACT Leader Rodney Hide and himself. After reading the post, I find it completely believable that Lyndon does have voices in his head conducting interviews… Lyndon Hood describes himself tongue in cheek (I hope) as a self-appointed dramaturg. Self appointed tit is closer to the mark I'm afraid.
DAVID: You are a genius.
BEN: Thank you, thank you.
DAVID: Do you think Matt Nippert will respond as "Lyndon Hood"?
BEN: Rile him up. Make sure it happens. He hates local body politicians ever since the anti-vagrancy by-laws in Wellington. I think they were called the ‘Nippert Regulations’. Play on that.
DAVID: Very clever. I will. By the way, we should really use our powers for good, one day. Not today.
Wednesday, November 24: “Lyndon Hood’s” weblog:
… I wouldn't normally be offended (and I certainly wouldn't be surprised) by a right-wing ideologue sneering at somebody who disagrees with him. Especially when said ideologue's name is written in such big letters at the top of their blog… Why are you so angry Aaron? Is Rodney Hide your momma, that you rage so when I diss him?
… Aaron, you called me names… Anyway, Aaron (if that's your real name), you wrote a post to sneer at me and you'll no doubt describe me as whinging now. So we're even now, right?...
BEN: Damn, that was lame. "You called me names"?
DAVID: Bugger. Do you think Bhatnagar will even respond?
BEN: It'll be tough, but I will rile him up.
Thursday, November 25, 2004: Aaron Bhatnagar’s weblog:
Lyndon Hood - part two
Lyndon Hood, who I described as a self appointed tit in a previous blog posting has taken umbrage with my comments and launched into a spectacular Fallujah like offensive in his most recent blog posting. Except he's on the insurgent side. And like any fanatic, he appears to desire his own being slaughtered (if even metaphorically) by choosing to respond to my criticism…
Still, his response shows that he has some spine. I like that. It looks very nice on my home office wall.
DAVID: This is getting boring.
BEN: Time to bring in a few more players?
DAVID: How about Simon Pound? He's the guy who washes Simon Dallow’s coffee mug at the end of Agenda – and did you know Pound's been made co-host of that new Charter queer television show starting in 2005? Apparently he once might have had a near-gay experience.
BEN: People with weak chins always get lucky.
Thursday November 25: Simon Pound’s weblog:
And coming down from the roof like Sting...
Aaron Bhatnager and Lyndon Hood are having a ruckus. But what piss poor job they're doing of it.
There are no verbal fireworks, no cutting or incisive insults, no gore, no money shot. Just pomposity from the only man capable of being voted out in the one ward in the country where having a rich dad is an advantage, and, on the other side, drivel from Lower Hutt….
I wouldn't have thought, Aaron Bathhater, Auckland Political Activist that you would be so active these days, what with the being voted out and all. Sorry I wont mention it again. (Loser)
And Lyndon, stick to web design, Aaron Barklater had a point: it wasn't funny…..
DAVID: That was fairly good.
BEN: Yeah, but he has the cruel wisdom of Simon Dallow to draw from. Dallow is an evil genius.
DAVID: I aspire to being like him one day. How about we bring it all home now? We've might not have gotten Free World Blog Leader Russell Brown involved. But we could go for quantity instead
BEN: What made the world wars truly global was the participation of all the minor players, like Abyssinia and Indonesia – the real backwater nations that just wanted to be part of it. So we need to get them involved by prodding and poking them.
DAVID: I love it when you say Abyssinia.
BEN: Let's do it.
Over Thursday and Friday...
DAVID FARRAR AT KIWIBLOG: "I thought the Matt Nippert/David Cohen/Neil Falloon war was far more funny. Is Lyndon Hood really Matt Nippert? I never got that impression."
SAGENZ AT NZPUNDIT: "having read both sides of aaron/nippert they seem to make a pair of really old droopy grandma's breasts really."
PHILOSOPHICALLY MADE: "I was warned before joining Philosophically Made that it was about policies, not people. Just this once, I feel like publicising my affinity for disobedience. I used to think Aaron Bhatnagar was pretty cool… That was way before I joined the blogosphere or discovered Mr Bhatnagar's political convictions… Now, I see Mr Bhatnagar for what he is: an 'active member' of the C&R ticket in local body politics in Auckland. Riiiight.
JORDAN CARTER: "I am taken a bit aback by it. No other comment to make really."
MR T AT PHILOSOPHY, ETC: "I tend to keep my fingers out of blog-wars, because I'm not into social commentary, but rather into looking at the validity of arguments. As such, I don't try to push social positions very hard, although I do state mine.”
LEFT AND LEFTER: “They are having a little bitch fight. It does not seem to be too serious. They are both adults, they can sort it out themselves. Sorry, but you won't see a posting on something as unimportant as that from me."
ABOUT TOWN: It seem Aaron "With targets this big I don't even need to aim" Bhatnagar has been at it again. This time getting into a scrap with the long haired Lyndon Hood .
I'm glad someone who couldn't get elected to a community board has taken up something more sporting. I guess he is angry because unlike the US we don't elect our Dog Catchers and he might have had a really good shot at that.
I was told of Aaron long before I saw his blog. I was told he was Rabid... I crusied past his blog and he seemed normally anough. Talked about his new MAC and life with out his front door. Then he went off about the peace foundation and I could see the slim veneer of sanity slip…
Aaron you scare me and I wish you had been answering that door when that little old lady had come calling.
BEN: He’s referring to the car crashing into Bhatnagar’s house, isn’t he?
DAVID: God. I didn’t realise we would provoke death-threats.
BEN: Mind you, it’s a fairly poor death threat.
DAVID: It’s still a death threat
BEN: I think our work here is done.
November 24, 2004
Fair and Balanced
The New Zealand government provides 'free'... education at state secondary schools. Explain why this results in a better resource allocation than the free market...
Explain why using 'free market' policies causes income inequality.
Some readers will agree with the underlying assumption present in both questions: free market bad, interventionist government solution good. Some won't. But everyone can agree this world view is hotly contested. And if the question were put the other way around - "Explain how using 'interventionist' policies restrains economic growth" - then the unhappiness would switch to the other side.
Basically, if you were writing an economics exam, wouldn't you try to avoid questions so obviously based on contentious, politicised arguments?
Just a thought.
November 22, 2004
Beautiful Militants for Zaoui
Who is Jeremy Elwood? Five hours at the Kings Arms on Sunday led me to this conclusion: he’s a well-meaning bastard whose unfortunate conviction that “comedy is one of the most potent forms of political statement available to us” almost transformed me from a casual Labour sympathiser into a supporter of whoever would have the power to cut off his PACE benefit.
I was at a Zaoui benefit gig. Nice people, happy to fork out fifteen dollars to hear nice bands, happy to play for free and a bit of publicity. Dave Dobbyn looked like a chubby Castro in his little revolutionary cap and sang about virgins. Don McGlashan sang about Korea. The Brunettes sang about… well, whatever, but they tactfully dropped “You Beautiful Militant” (“you pick up your gun, and shoot everyone”) from their set.
But bloody Jeremy had to get up in between and harangue. “What I like best about New Zealanders is we’re not afraid to stand up for what we believe in.”
Rubbish. Most New Zealanders can barely complain to a waiter, let alone pick up a placard and picket. But clearly his New Zealanders are not mine. There’s a sad gap between the ones that protest – and protest and protest – and the rest.
I’m in group two. Despite my theoretical support for their aims, I just don’t like activists very much. I don’t like their hair, their righteous t-shirts, their simplistic slogans, or their sincerity. I loathe Thursdays in Black, and Alannah Currie’s wailing made me want to forcefeed her with genetically modified toads. I also can’t stand activists who graft other protests on to whatever protest they’re actually at, or the ones in silly costumes. And I particularly hate the way they congratulate each other for having the bravery to stand up for what’s right. As if, in this case, there was anything particularly noble about coming to a concert.
Besides, despite Don McGlashan's best attempts, Zaoui is not a hero. Just because he may not be a terrorist doesn’t mean we have to idealise him. He’s a democratically elected leader, as Jeremy chanted over and over again, but then so is John Howard. And Bush. Zaoui might turn out to be some sort of Nelson Mandela-in-training, but we’ll have to wait and see for that. In the meantime the best we can assume is that he’s an ordinary man.
But then Deborah Manning, Zaoui’s lawyer, got up to speak and I felt ashamed. Whatever Zaoui’s merits, his family have to eat, and those who bothered to come along on Sunday scored his wife and kids $4000. And – whatever the Prime Minister might say about process – two years’ detention without charge is a disgrace.
I’m also increasingly sceptical of anything involving the SIS. The spy’s briefcase found at a bus-stop and containing only a pie and a Penthouse, even the bungled burglary of GATT Watchdog’s Aziz Choudry suggested a reassuringly bumbling incompetence. We might have spies in New Zealand, but at least they’re crap. They can’t do us any harm. Besides, what is there for them to do?
Pick on iwi, it appears. Their shambolic handling of the Zaoui case, from the ‘lost video’ they made to the ‘casing video’ they accused Zaoui of making, suggested a more sinister side to their fumbling, while the latest revelations from the Sunday Star-Times make it clear: the SIS is shit.
It occurs to me now that there probably was a spy at the Zaoui concert. Lurking in a "Stop America’s Racist War" t-shirt, worn as bait in order to lure sympathisers into a chat about the need to acquire fake passports. Thinking she was just another comrade, I didn’t speak to her, but in retrospect she seemed too…obvious. Or maybe Jeremy was the spook, which would explain why he was so not funny. Who’d join the NZ SIS? Nothing of importance to do, and no one to tell…an ideal career change for a failed comic.
November 19, 2004
Auckland luminaries such as David Tua have lent their support to a campaign for free public transport.
I can’t speak ill of David Tua - unless we are revisiting his title bout with Lennox Lewis in 2000, in which case I would say he doesn’t move his head enough. But what I do feel comfortable saying is that I have never seen him riding the bus with me. Trudging around Ponsonby and Newton I have, however, often seen a large four wheel drive with the number plate “TUAMAN” and an iconic depiction of David covering the side panel. Perhaps he drives it to the bus stop.
As regular bus riders, David Tua and I know that bus fares don’t dissuade anybody from getting on a bus. A Free Bus has girded its way around the CBD since 2002. The only people who use it are students who take it to their Victoria Street bus stops (they then pay), and from their bus stops to the University. The only other popular destination is the casino.
I can believe that Grant Morgan, Socialist Workers’ Party crank and Resident Action Movement activist, who is behind this initiative doesn’t have bus fare, but this seems a pretty extreme way to fix the problem.
A minimalist launch
I am walking past one of the innumerable minimalist private galleries on Karangahape Road. Like them all, it usually seems cavernous, empty. Dwarfed by a snowy surround of white walls, a tiny painting sits like a pinprick in the centre of the eastern wall. I can’t even discern what it may depict.
On the southern wall, although the visual equivalent of white noise makes it hard to determine the interior angles of the yawning space or distance of any form, a rectangular canvas sits, slightly raised, giving the impression of being suspended in a void. Staring at it makes its edges throb in and out. Size is impossible to judge. Otherwise, the room is bare.
Tonight is the occasion of a minimalist soiree. Dressed in tails (man) and black evening dresses glittering with jewellery (women), three revelers are sipping wine from flutes and enjoying animated discussion about art in the bay window. In the opposite far corner, within shouting distance even if the likelihood of an echo is uncertain, two others laugh as they drink and eat canapés. The rest of the gallery is empty. There is no music.
There’s minimalism of another sort at Café 223, on Auckland’s Symonds Street, where Thursday is “Beer and Titties Night”.
Café 223 is an anonymous bar/café on a slight round in the footpath, opposite Khyber Pass Road. It’s rare to see more than a couple of regulars in the small space inside its ranchslider door – 223 is a generic “Sky and Tui” style sports bar which struggles to attract blokes over its more down to earth neighbour, the Edinburgh Castle, and young urbanites over the painfully hip Odeon Lounge down the road.
Tonight, there is barely room to stand. About forty men are crowded around the salient feature, a red felt pool table set off to the side of the bar, abutting the staircase which, in one of 223’s previous failed incarnations as a punk venue, led to the band area. The crowd is almost exclusively from the construction sites opposite, on the corner of Khyber Pass Road, which seems to spew forth new apartments every day. Some are still wearing their safety vests; there are a couple of hard hats on tables. The younger ones, under thirty, are heavily tattooed; two wear full moko. Playing pool is a twenty-something guy, and a slim, large chested brunette wearing a one piece latex nurse’s uniform unzipped to the waist.
DogBitingMen scoops the Herald on a regular basis. But a clipping pinned to the office partitions which separate the bar area from the “casino” – three pokie machines – shows that we have been outpointed by the Truth on this one. It has already profiled and interviewed “Chantelle”, and printed its piece along with photos of her wearing a Hawaiian lei and holding cocktail mixes. It’s a tie in with the interview, the part where she says “One day I’d love to work in a bar on the beach, like that movie Cocktail”. I also learn that patrons are surprised to walk in off the street to see her dispensing drinks without a top.
I can understand their shock. In the time I am there, she doesn’t come close to serving anyone a drink, seemingly more interested in playing pool and soliciting tips from customers. It’s tough getting a drink from the barman, because he seems more interested in watching Chantelle.
As a de facto strip club, Café 223 technically comes under the definition of “commercial sex premises” in the Auckland City Council’s district plan. It is well outside the area bounded by Fort and Customs Streets, and its blackboard’s crude chalk drawing (body in green, hair in yellow) of a topless woman probably constitutes ground level advertising within the meaning of the bylaws.
Observations, gleaned from original research: The number one topic of conversation at strip clubs proper is the dancers themselves. When young guys, and older guys, go to clubs and believe they are chatting up the dancers, they will discuss that dancer’s career. (Interviews conducted between 1999, 2001. Subject sample: patrons, friends, employees, former employees. Possible biases in study: early interviews conducted drunk, in strip clubs). They will ask how long she has been working at the bar, and they will ask what the other customers are like. They will hope that she says “they are weird and creepy and shallow and nothing like you.” Another favourite question is, what do you do other than dancing? Young male students, in particular, are disappointed if dancing turns out to be her full-time job. As if that’s demeaning, somehow. As if now they have nothing in common.
Very few patrons have a strip club experience – they have a meta-experience. They are longing for an out of body experience, not for themselves, but for the dancer. They discuss the dynamics of straddling strangers for money in an abstract way, with the woman sitting exposed on their respective lap. Always, do you enjoy this line of work? Never, are you enjoying this right now?
Right now, Chantelle is waving a cup in my face and saying “the more money you put in the pot, the better it will be at 8 o’clock.” This is the scheduled denouement – when, the top having long been discarded, the rest comes off. I shake my head. I live in a cashless society, I tell her. My ex-flatmate moves to put a twenty in the pot, which she grabs from his hand. She climbs on the pool table, gets down on all fours and places the rolled up note in a place where it would not normally go. I’m not sure what point she is trying to make, but it strengthens my resolve to pay by EFTPOS and never handle change in the future.
I’m thinking about this. Back as a student journalist, it was easy to detach and look at everything as a potential story. See? I wasn’t like those other guys. It was research. This is research. I have a duty to readers to report faithfully what is happening. What is the audience like here. Mainly older Europeans, younger Maori, a scattering of Samoans Where are her tattoos placed. A dragon over her left mammary. Must have hurt. Tribal design on her foot. Something else on the calf. I don’t care about this. There is no soundtrack, just a big screen showing Juice TV. Dei Hamo’s video, We Gon Ride.
Chantelle is naked now. She’s leading a middle-aged guy with soft curls falling out from a central bald spot to the centre of the crowd, who are whooping and applauding. Her wide, leather belt is around his neck. After a series of complicated gymnastics, she ends up on his back, and is taking to him with the belt, wielded as a strap.
He is rearing up and down – less like a bronco, or a stallion, than like an old car belching smoke and about to stall. He is becoming flushed with the effort. The cracking sound of the belt through the air as Chantelle strikes again and again is more satisfying than the dull thud against his cushioned backside. His mates are laughing. I am laughing, trying to remain a journalist. Am I laughing with them, or at them? Are they laughing at their workmate, now bobbing as if trying to free part of his body that is stuck somewhere, already sunburnt face beet-red now, panting – or with him? And Chantelle. She’s laughing, too. Part of the service? With? At? This isn’t erotic. This is stupid. But watch me laugh.
November 18, 2004
Donna's World View
As MediaCow recently noted, I worked for Donna Awatere Huata for three great years.
In a move that was surprising for everybody involved, I got a job working in parliament for the Act party and became Donna's press secretary, roughly a month or so after her stomach stapling. Over the next three years I felt I became very close to her. I thought I was her confidante. I was her staunch defender and fierce advocate. She told me we were "spiritually attuned"; I counted her among my closest friends.
With the glare of hindsight I can see I was naive and gullible. Yet, at the time, I felt more loyalty to her than I ever had to anybody. I strongly admired her, perhaps even idolised her. She is a remarkably talented, intelligent person. She had the potential to achieve anything she wanted. She inspired me to work very hard for her.
In the end, after everything had turned upside down and inside out, I was one of the last people working for Act she or Wi would talk to. (By then they didn't like what I was saying.)
I visited her new office once, a few weeks after she had been suspended from the party. We had a stilted conversation. We haven't spoken since.
I have many memories, anecdotes, impressions, but I'd like to keep those bottled up and away from the uncompromising harshness of cynical hindsight or retrospective thinking. Regardless of everything else, we were a great team. I miss that. I think I miss her.
Today Donna finds out if she is booted out of Act.
The logical part of me knows it's simple: Act voters wanted nine members of Parliament. They no longer have nine MPs and that is Donna's fault. Therefore, no matter how flawed the Waka Jumping legislation is, Act should be allowed to shed her, especially before she gains extra taxpayer-funded perks at the end of this parliamentary term.
But, emotionally, I find the issue less clear. At a gut level I don't want the court to rule against her. I don't want it to be over this afternoon. This part of me wants to see Donna escape the clammy embrace of the courts and wriggle free from the clutches of politics on her own terms.
It's bigger than that, though. Fundamentally, I don't want her to be shackled by reality.
Donna is a master of self reinvention. But I don't think she has ever stopped at recreating her image. Our 'spiritual attunement' came in large measure from my willingness to believe in the world that Donna created for herself.
It was a world that was larger and brighter and more magical than real life could ever be. In that world, she has never done anything wrong, she is above accountability, and she has nothing to apologise for. In that world, she is a legend first, then a diva, a motherand a saviour of children.
Yes, this may seem far-fetched, especially to people who have never met Donna. But it didn't seem so at the time.
I learned from Donna that blind faith can be remarkably comforting. It was a frightening thing to find out.
And I've now learned that even a belated gift of the power of vision doesn't mean you will allow yourself to fully see.
November 17, 2004
Thank You, India
An AAP piece from this morning’s New Zealand Herald:
Homosexuals embrace Pansy Rose
SYDNEY - Australia's gay community has been quick to embrace the newest pansy in town - a fruity little New Zealand number produced by Auckland winemakers Kim and Erica Crawford.
Pansy Rose has been aimed at the lucrative gay market, which polishes off around $4.5 million worth of wine each month, according to the wine's creators.
The Crawfords originally produced the wine to thank their gay friends in the hospitality industry.
Now, I’ve owned a CD by Madonna and another by Cher, and I’ve even wanted an anatomically correct Billy Doll. But pink wine called Pansy Rose that I’m supposed to buy because I sleep with men? I’m sorry, but that’s going about thirty mincing steps too far.
I know, I know: it’s supposed to be tongue in cheek. It’s a tribute to their numerous gay friends (who all conveniently work in a stereotypically gay industry). But it’s just not working for me. It's really, really not working for me.
Let me just run a scenario past you.
What if, having “thanked” their pansy friends, Kim and Erica wanted to thank all their Asian mates... Would they launch a wine called, “Squinty Eyed Chardonnay”? And would the newspaper article begin, “Australia’s Asian community has welcomed the newest chink in town – a yellowish number produced by…”?
DogBitingMen introduces a Competition:
How do you think Kim and Erica express their undying gratitude to all their Maori and Pacific Island friends? The handicapped? Lesbians? Any other minority group?
Go on, come up with a wine name yourself, and we’ll suggest it to Kim and Erica.
Send us your light-hearted, “tongue-in-cheek” suggestions by email. We'll publish the best.
(If you'd like your entry to be anonymous, please say so).
(A note: We would ask gay men to participate in this competition, but we're aware that hairdressers, hospo staff and florists probably won't have easy access to computers. And lesbians will be too busy playing cricket. So it's up to you heterosexuals. Make your children's children proud).
November 15, 2004
My Two Hats
Miss Olivia Kember writes...
Thank you, David. Unaccustomed as I am to being the recipient of such enthusiastic puffery (see Welcome to a New Contributor, below), I think it's necessary to make the following corrections:
1) I wear two hats. One is a black and yellow cap embroidered with"AMI Insurance Autobody Repair competition 2004". That is not because I entered an autobody repair competition, but because someone less well-versed in PR than Mediacow thought it would entice me to an apprentices expo last month.
The other hat is made of towelling and has red, orange and brown flowers on it, and I wear it with a bit of the brim down and a bit of the brim up. Like a gangster. [Editor: I thought we weren't going to write about Matt Nippert anymore?]
2) I'm not producing a bfm show anymore. I do book reviews for them every fortnight, and I am currently plodding through "Planet Simpson", a Springfield nerd's bible. It's full of nerd facts like, "Burns's use of 'Ahoy-hoy' when he has to use the phone while Smithers is away is derived from Alexander Graham Bell's suggested telephonic greeting". I like nerd facts. I am, after all, a nerd.
3) I sort of trained as a journalist for one year at AUT but I failed photography and only got the shorthand certificate by cheating. Thanks to the Listener for giving me a job before the results came through.
4) I did learn the flute for about twelve years. I even teach it. Whether I can still play the thing is an entirely different matter which I'm not willing to investigate.
All the rest is true.
November 14, 2004
Welcome to a New Contributor
The DogBitingMen team is very proud to welcome our newest contributor, Miss Olivia Kember.
Olivia is talented, witty and intelligent. She wears many (perfectly coordinated) hats, including the 'Producer of a Radio 95bFM' big red hat. (Yes, we too were amazed there was anybody left at bFM who didn't have a weblog yet.) Incidentally, the bFM she works for is not this one.) Olivia is trained as a journalist. As well as her radio gig, she works in telly and in print. She is a great flute player.
Her addition does create the inevitable question: DogBitingMen or DogBitingPersons? We'll sort that out in due course, perhaps when we get a Queer Eye-style makeover in the next few weeks. (Our site is going to be as stylish as our newest contributor). In the meantime, if MediaCow can be called a man, so can Olivia.
November 12, 2004
Nobody in telly-land was hugely surprised when TVNZ revealed it was canning teenage news show Flipside. It was expensive programming that rated poorly. NZ On Air funding wasn't available because it counted as "news".
But the interesting thing about TVNZ's decision was that Flipside was pure Charter. Most yoof aren't gonna watch a news show no matter how it's packaged. The remaining teens who do want some current events after school aren't catered for by anybody else. Sure, the audience was small - but providing a service for "smaller audiences" and "extending the range of ideas and experiences available to New Zealanders" was what Chartervision was supposed to deliver.
I'm not a fan of the Charter. But I find it strange that pro-Charter politicians haven't at least drafted media statements mourning the loss of the show, or asking what message this sends loyal TVNZ staffers who are toiling away to implement the Charter.
Wow. We did that without once mentioning Flipside Hotties.
One MP not afraid of a challenge is Tariana Turia, outraged on behalf of Donna Awatere Huata that Awatere Huata's plan for a face-lift and tummy tuck was released by the private hospital that performed a stomach stapling on her. "It gives me little confidence in our health system if patient confidentiality can count for nothing," she said. The information was included in an evidential statement from the surgeon, which was then presumably released by Auckland District Court to Dominion Post reporter Deborah Diaz. It was a good scoop, and it was a little interesting that so much ostensibly private doctor-patient information was made public... but because this was delivered through an evidential statement, it doesn't seem Turia has anything to go on, does it? You'd think, if Turia was right, that the Herald would use a media law expert or medical ethics person to back her up.
(In the interests of full disclosure: an author of Dog Biting Men, David W Young, was loyal press secretary to Donna Awatere Huata for around three years. This period included the time she received surgery and lasted until her formal suspension from Act.)
According to people who should know, The Listener's Page 94 man Steve Braunias has been snapped up at the last minute by the Sunday Star Times, after the Herald thought his hiring was a done deal. How very cut-throat the world of arty literati types must be.
And thanks to fascinating emails received, MediaCow has a few more questions about the Hannah Hodson shift from TVNZ to TV3.
- Did Hodson actually know she was dobbing in the source when she faxed Jayson Rhodes?
- If so, had Rhodes promised her/TV3 anything in return for the delivery of the source's head on a platter?
- Did Bill Ralston know the extent of what had just happened when he hired her?
- What's up with the Y in Jayson and the H in Rhodes?
November 10, 2004
Back to Basics
It's time for some good old media watching.
From the 'Where's the Outrage' file... hasn't TV3's Hannah Hodson gotten off incredibly lightly over the Asher saga? Here's what we know: Another TV3 reporter was given a copy of the log of Iraena Asher's 111 call by a "trusted" police source. Ex-TV3 employee and current police spokesman Jayson Rhodes rang different TV3 journalists, asking for the source of the leak. He was understandably told to "rack off". Then Hodson gave him the log. A fax number on the document allowed police to track down the source of the leak. One assumes that Hodson had noticed the fax number. Which means that she deliberately gave away a colleague's source.
TV3 news boss Mark Jennings immediately asked Hodson for her resignation, which makes sense. But within hours, TVNZ news boss Bill Ralston gave her a vote of confidence by hiring her for Close Up at 7. This makes less sense. Ralston's justification? "I'm sorry for the source but it was not a mistake made at TVNZ, it was made at (TV)3." Bizarre. TV3 may foot the legal bills of the source.
Contrast Hodson's treatment with that of Renee Kiriona. Kiriona was a green print journalist who made a silly mistake - plagiarising in what she thought was an early draft - and got blasted in every publication in the country. Hannah Hodson is an able and experienced broadcast journalist who put a colleague's source in danger of losing her job. Hodson gets a new job. The number of print stories about her actions? Just three.
Another 'Why is everything so quiet?' story from abroad... It seems weird the UK hasn't seen an anti-tabloid backlash this week. On Sunday the Sunday Mirror revealed a 21-year-old television soap star had sold fake stories about his supposedly virulently heterosexual sex life. These 'fake' stories had appeared in rival The Sun, and the Mirror didn't hold back in gloating. Its article strongly implied the actor was really gay.
After opening his newspaper on Sunday, the actor took an overdose of paracetomol and then slashed his wrists. His suicide attempt was unsuccessful, but made the newspapers. Now The Sun is publishing daily updates on Parker's condition, while the Mirror has gone completely quiet. I'm just surprised the rest of the media aren't seizing the opportunity to engage in moral outrage about the Mirror going too far.
In one of those titbits that we know you love... Page 94 of the Listener is due for a makeover soon, as is the books section of the New Zealand Herald. Subtract 1 from Wellington, carry the 1 to Auckland.
And finally, isn't it tempting to make fun of the profile and startlingly large photograph of self-styled social commentator Russell Brown in this week's Listener? We won't, because it would just reveal how jealous we are: We're not yet old enough to grow chin hair like that.
That's enough for today.
November 08, 2004
The Mark of the Beast
Ben Thomas writes…
[Passages in italics are excerpts from the decision of Dzintra King in PMP Print Ltd v Barnes, Employment Relations Authority, Auckland Office, unreported, AA317/04, 28 September 2004, Member Dzintra King.]
As David W Young intimated in his excellent piece in the Listener, New Zealand's new frontier of justice is employment relations. Usually the employer is put on trial: it must “justify” its actions to the ominously named Employment Relations Authority. However, since 2000, an employer has also been able to use this machinery of the state to hold its employees to account.
PMP Print Limited sought a determination from the Authority as to whether the applicant’s instruction to the respondent, Mr David Barnes, that he comply with a new time keeping process, which involves finger scanning technology, is lawful and reasonable and in accordance with the contractual provision relating to time keeping.
The relevance of this, in a political-media context, is that the Authority is a much more interesting beat for daily newspapers than the tired old criminal courts. With abundant advertising dollars in the print media, it is a new theatre for playing out age-old dramas.
Mr Barnes refuses to use the system. He told me he didn’t feel that the company had the power to demand a fingerprint and it went against the grain with him. He seriously doubted its legality but could not point to any legal argument in support of his view.
The Authority is the newest and best news source for gory conflicts dripping with salacious details – the modern day equivalent of the Truth's “morality reporting” on divorce hearings. In an age of moral relativism, it is reassuring that the Authority can, and in fact is required by law to, deem some actions “unjustifiable”. The language of employment law – reasonableness, duty, obligation – is of a timbre rarely heard in mainstream society nowadays.
Mr Barnes also told me that the taking of biometric information would result in his being stamped with the Mark of the Beast.
The Employment Relations Authority is, officially, an “informal, low level tribunal”. It is not a court, and its investigations are not conducted like hearings. The "member" (the equivalent of a judge) can take on an inquisitorial role and is free to question the parties, witnesses and members of the public with impunity. The process is flexible and so, counter-intuitively, can resemble television courtroom antics much more than the real thing.
I enquired whether he would have a problem with using his left hand. Revelation 13:16-18 refers to a person being marked either on the forehead or the right hand. Mr Barnes believes the Biblical reference was to both hands.
In the drab criminal courts, 85% of defendants plead guilty and 90% of those who do not are found culpable anyway. In the Authority, employers and employees can bring claims, and the win-loss record is much more evenly shared.
The difference between the Authority and criminal proceedings is the difference between watching gladiators fight, and Christians being fed to lions.
He said he would let the police take his fingerprint. I asked why he would do that if the consequence was that he would not be able to participate in the Rapture. This is referred to in Revelation 20:4. ‘And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads nor in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.’
Or perhaps it is more like the teenage-nerd card game, Yu-Gi-Oh. At any point in proceedings, a party can deliver the winning blow with one of the employment law trump cards: the Health and Safety in Employment Act, for example. Employees’ safety is paramount. An employee wielding this card may declare “my right to a safe work place beats your contractual right to set my work hours, you capitalist exploiter”. Or (in a cunning reverse made possible by the Air New Zealand drug-testing case) the employer might say, “your right to a safe workplace beats your right to privacy, so pee in this cup, you meth-addled loon”.
Health and safety is an automatic win. But in its absence, parties may win a clear points decision by playing combinations of lesser rights-conferring legislation - the Human Rights Act, say - and paint the other party as having unlawfully infringed those rights.
When this matter first came to my attention I was anticipating an argument on the grounds of indirect discrimination on the basis of religious belief. However, it is clear that Mr Barnes cannot sustain such an argument. If he had a sincere religious belief that he would be denied the Rapture because of the requirement to provide a fingerprint he would have to apply that to the taking of fingerprints by the Police as well as by the employer.
As one commentator recently noted, defamation laws stop all the best stories from being told. That's why bored journalists should see the Authority, with its public status and human drama, as an untapped goldmine.
November 03, 2004
Now is the Hour
This is the day the world has been waiting for.
Armies of lawyers watch like hawks for the hint of a decision. They are ready to swoop and contest. The officials who must announce the outcome cannot put a foot wrong...
Paul Holmes has left TVNZ, and it is time to find his replacement.
Having successfully predicted the trifecta at the Melbourne Cup, DogBitingMen is on a winning streak. We’ve put this to good use to create our very own tip sheet for the Decision That Will Change the World. Think of this as Holmes Idol. In no particular order, here are the candidates that Smart People are talking about:
Pros: If Judy Bailey is the mother of the nation, Kerre Woodham is the nation’s older sister’s unruly best friend. She speaks truth to power in the pages of the Herald on Sunday and has won praise for “telling it like it is”.
Cons: History. Woodham unsuccessfully followed Holmes in the prime-time 1ZB talkback radio slot, bleeding off a third of his hard-won audience within a year. Does not execute irony well in her Herald on Sunday column: it remains unclear whether she identifies with the redneck bigots or latte-sipping liberals. Then there was the Hamilton restaurant thing...
Pros: Experienced and intelligent, Simon Dallow has only recently developed the on-screen assurance that should come naturally to someone who takes home Alison Mau each night. Has made a very good fist of Agenda. It is probably the best news show in the country now. He finally possesses gravitas.
Cons: The primetime slot is about branding more than quality interviewing or analysis. It can be difficult to create a sexy brand from the 8.30am Saturday morning shift.
Pros: Holmes will not be told what to do by a Ghanaian. Greg Dixon, 47, will not be told what to do by anyone over the age of 25 because "they are all sell-outs and phoneys”. The 7pm slot would be an ideal platform for Dixon to shock apathetic middle New Zealand out of its bourgeois complacency. Has already self-consciously demurred at the very idea of being a news presenter.
Cons: Possibly has contractual commitments to Fuse magazine which would prevent him from assuming the role. His loathing of corporate juggernauts might cause him to bleed on-air.
Pros: Is there a journalist, commentator or scholar in New Zealand with the extraordinary breadth of knowledge that Russell Brown possesses? An expert on Chechnyan, American, Middle East, Australian and Point Chev politics and culture, Brown’s chances have been talked up by New Zealand’s greatest media ethics-purveyor and broadcasting commentator, Russell Brown, who hinted heavily today, “you might be seeing a bit of me in the media over the next week or two”.
Cons: Has Brown’s “we’re not married but have a perfectly wonderful relationship” wife Fiona Rae been involved in underhand tactics on Brown’s behalf? Notice that in this television review column Rae systematically rips apart perceived competitors for (sort-of) hubby’s potential job. New Zealand doesn’t like cheats.
Pros: Mikey Havoc was seen as a serious contender at the beginning of the year during succession planning, and is lobbying the network hard by all reports. Seen as having the Holmes touch with the ordinary folk after Havoc and Newsboy’s World Tour traversed the country in a way that only Holmes or It’s In The Bag have done. He is charismatic and experienced; as a former Push Push frontman and DJ he would put out a better Christmas album than Holmes.
Cons: Then came Quality Time. Widely (and justifiably) derided after “investigative journalism” turned out to be dumbed-down Michael Moore gags and “satirical” interviews where Havoc sneeringly mugged for the camera while bemused guests looked on. Was always a risk, even before he blew his credibility.
Pros: Everybody likes a slutty sex kitten with a loud mouth. Look at Mister Neil Falloon.
Cons: Is Middle New Zealand quite ready for a show hosted by a rightwing chick-with-a-dick?
Pros: He can be a good interviewer. He is laid-back and suave. Appointing him would highlight a move away from personality-driven television.
Cons: Appointing him would highlight a move away from personality-driven television.
Pros: Wishart is actually not a bad investigative journalist, and has extensive experience. Although Investigate is panned by pundits and ignored by the media, Wishart’s constituency of the conservative, disaffected and paranoid is closer to Holmes’ natural audience than many in TVNZ news might like to admit.
Cons: New Zealand is not ready for the truth. Proportion of respondents to Investigate readers’ poll who would vote for the Destiny Political party (50%) slightly higher than in the general population; may cause controversy when Wishart breaks his exclusive story about the proven existence of God.
Pros: He’s an empty slate that wears nice suits and sits beside Kate Hawkesby in the evenings. He is so good at facial expressions that you wonder who is hiding under the table in front of him, and what they are doing to him. Bill Ralston likes him. (This is not intended to imply we think Bill Ralston is under the table in front of him).
Cons: He’s called Eric. His evening contorsions have not converted into a ratings bonanza alongside the solid performance of TV3’s Nightline.
Pros: Intelligent, articulate interviewer with wide broadcasting experience and range of views.
Cons: Will only get the offer if Russell Brown turns it down.
Pros: The daughter of Bob Rock has had a meteoric rise in profile in the last few months. One local commentator points out that "a Google search produces no hits for Aja that predate Celebrity Treasure Island”, leading one to wonder why she was on that television programme.
Cons: As the sad face of Ben Lummis staring out of newspaper front pages reminds us, New Zealand should not be allowed any more fake celebrities until it looks after the ones it has.
Pros: She’s cheerful, luvverly, friendly and nice, yet doesn’t veer from questions that others would avoid – like saying to Jack Black, “I just wondered about you and this thing with young boys”.
Cons: New Zealand hasn’t forgotten the time she didn’t turn up to work because her child had locked her in the wardrobe. One wonders if Holmes kept her as his understudy because he felt safe that she’d never take over his job. Better suited to a chirpy breakfast show. So long as they don't call it Morning Wood.
Pros: Ralston certainly has the track record; it’s possibly a shame this opportunity didn’t come along years earlier for the man who is now a suited head of news and current affairs. Was it Ralston’s idea to precede Holmes’ farewell speech with a (much longer) story about a retiring 50-year veteran production line worker at the Dunedin Cadbury factory? “They moved the chocolate years ago; the chocolate's all in Auckland now”, the southern stalwart informed the nation. Is Ralston itching for a hands-on role?
Cons: Who would replace him as the TVNZ News Bigwig? Mike Hosking?? Giggle. Surely experience shows Ralston being coach-and-player doesn't work.
Pros: It would stop him from writing an utterly dreadful column for the Herald on Sunday.
Cons: It may interrupt his return to stardom through the Maeroa Valley Amateur Dramatics Club.
Mister Neil Falloon: Heart says Wishart. Head says they will get to him before that can ever happen. Then it will be up to Ralston to be a man and prove his critics wrong.
MediaCow: I’m a big fan of Williams and I really like Dallow when he's not preening for a women's magazine. I’m not sure if I can warm to somebody named Eric.
Jimbo Hopkins: I'm not convinced we have identified a winner yet. If anybody could find Lindsay Perigo, wouldn’t he be great! (Editor's note: Hopkins watches Shortland Street anyway).