Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

5th May 2000 - Judge Not, Citizen

Copyright © 2000 Russell Brown

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there can be few experiences more chastening than having to pass up on big a drum 'n' bass gig where you've got your name on the door because ... your gout's playing up.

No matter how much you bear in mind that it's hereditary and that even finely-tuned athletes get it, there is, I'll grant, something comedic - and yet somehow deeply painful - about gout.

So it was that I waved my friends goodbye on a Friday evening's entertainment encompassing BritCom 2000, pool at the Control Room and a few hours in the maelstrom at Grooverider. And so it was that some of those friends turned up for morning tea, all too keen to tell me about what a brilliant night they had had. Or rather, were still having. Bugger.

Still, I did manage a bit of a dabble in the offerings of what was quite an extraordinary week of it in Auckland. There was comedy everywhere. There was flagrant, unabashed eating and drinking on the footpaths of Ponsonby Road. On a Sunday! And in one case, in a spa pool.

Fu Manchu, Grooverider, Spearhead and the Titanic were all on and they all sold out. Bit of a shame about ZZ Top, but, overall, Auckland, you bloody well went out. Well done. And can I just thank the Laugh Festival people for providing the Queen City with a festival that doesn't suck? First we stack the Te Papa review team with Auckland wankers and now this!

I wasn't alone last week in being irked by the idiocy over Elian, it seems. Thanks to all the Hard News punters who passed on their appreciation of last week's impressions of an angry man. But if I'm to highlight the shortcomings of other media organisations, I should confess to my own.

Last week, I said that, sure, Elian's mother shouldn't have had to "defect in a leaky boat" and that "a free country would have just let her get on a plane". Turns out, I made that up.

The fact is that the Cuban government doesn't restrict the right of its citizens to travel and migrate. The problem is with US government policy.

In 1980, an immigration free-for-all known as the Mariel boatlift saw about 125,000 hopeful Cubans turn up on America's doorstep. Many of them were former prison inmates and the US public was not at all pleased about them being let in.

So the US and Cuban governments signed an agreement allowing for 20,000 Cubans to legally migrate to the US each year, particularly where it would reunite families.

But the US has never honoured this agreement, and, most years allows only a trickle of legal migrations from Cuba. At the same time, CIA-funded TV and radio stations actively encourage dangerous illegal migration. It automatically grants residency to the illegal Cuban migrants who make it. If you're a six-year-old kid kidnapped by distant relatives they hold an asylum hearing. Some policy.

I certainly shan't be approving of a regime that has refused to allow a free press for more than three decades, but when the Americans invite China into the WTO, their economic blockade of Cuba looks more morally bankrupt than ever.

In further matters arising from last week, Michael Cullen and Jim Anderton met with West Coast mayors, bumped up their no-logging bonus to $120 million and promised they'd advocate strongly in Cabinet for the continuance of another eight years' rimu logging.

The rimu contracts are a pain. Timberlands whipped them through just before the launch of - but with full knowledge of - Labour's policy on native logging on public land. Advice appears to be that the government can unilaterally curtail them, and that had appeared to be the government's policy. The Alliance caucus is furious at the prospect of handing a PR win to the Greens and the Prime Minister is displeased.

So were Cullen and Anderton overcome by the rugged Coast charm? And why do numbers two and three in the government go into key negotiations without apparently being aware of the government's stance? A bit of a cock-up, surely?

The result of the inquest into the death of Jamie Langridge at a dance party in March came through this week. As the police had already hinted, he had not just taken Ecstasy, he had taken a lot of Ecstasy. The level in his blood was five times that of New Zealand's only other Ecstasy victim, Ngaire O'Neill.

There is only one person to blame for this death, and that is Jamie Langridge himself. He was 24 - old enough to understand that he was multiplying his risk by dosing up large, and by ingesting whatever else he ingested. No one has actually told us yet what else he ingested, or what actually went wrong, or about his head injury, even though that would seem to be useful and relevant information.

Indeed, the sermon from the Auckland coroner Mate Frankovich that accompanied the verdict was neither useful nor relevant. It was stupid and unhelpful. In pronouncing on the death of a man who had taken a large dose of Ecstasy, Frankovich chose to rail against marijuana.

"I feel sure that some of our parliamentarians might revise their thinking towards the decriminalisation of the use of marijuana ... if they were to attend a few inquests," he declared.

By this Frankovich presumably doesn't mean that he has actually presided over any inquests where marijuana has been found as the cause of death.

No, he's recycling the discredited line about marijuana as a "gateway drug". If it is, then it's that way because of fools like Mate Frankovich telling kids that if you take one drug, you take them all. Kids who discover that they can't kill themselves with marijuana are given the impression that the same applies to all the other lollies on offer in the modern world. It doesn't, clearly.

According to his friends, Jamie Langridge liked to party hard. According to the police, he had "a predisposition towards marijuana use" - by this I presume they meant he was a surfer. So did the idiot who killed himself jumping off the wharf at the Viaduct this year have "a predisposition to alcohol use"?

Does the coroner like a drink, too? Does he pronounce over all the alcohol-related deaths, as he did this time, that "it would appear some young people of today feel it necessary to inoculate themselves against what they perceive are the evils of sobriety"?

Maybe they do. I'm just a bit surprised that a coroner of all people would think that was something new. We could have learned something here, and we just didn't.

You wouldn't expect the Herald to help, of course, even though it thought the story important enough for a front page lead. Speaking of which, you might not have noticed that the Herald has been running a series of features aimed at pushing a programme called Living Values, which is being supported by the Independent Schools Council and Fletcher Challenge.

This week, in concluding a series that has basically been a flop, the Herald got the pip. Big time. Thursday's editorial - titled 'Values in education - we've made a start' - was an extended whinge about the fact that someone had dared not to back the horse on which the Herald had put its money.

Or, as the Herald chose to put it: "a state education lobby styling itself the Quality Public Education Coalition wants to insert a political agenda into any values that schools are to discuss."

QPEC spokesman Emeritus Professor Ivan Snook, of Massey University, had been cheeky enough to offer a critique of the Living Values pitch. He found it "conformist" and "overly individualistic" and worried that it wouldn't encourage anyone to question the social order. This seems a point of view worth considering. And God help us if that editorial represents the Herald's attitude towards debate.

There is nothing wrong with the values the Herald says ought be taught in our schools: "honesty, personal integrity and responsibility, generosity and respect for the dignity, rights and property of others." But what do those words mean?

The Herald sure doesn't know. Halfway through the editorial it declares that "respect for others has been perverted to the point that almost any self-indulgence and destructive belief is to be respected if it is asserted strongly enough." Pardon my values, but this is bullshit.

"To be 'judgemental' these days is almost a moral failing," the editorial further bleats. But hang on. Aren't we warned against being judgemental in The Bible? Y'know, Judge not, lest ... well Jesus was a sickly liberal anyway. Probably went to a state school.

The killer comes at the end. "Good parents punish antisocial behaviour and expect schools to do likewise," it is declared. Let's boil that down: Good Parents Punish. In my experience good parents and good schools like to try positive approaches to antisocial behaviour before punishment.

The sad fact is, this is probably all much more about the Herald's current strategy of trying to generate news around and about itself than it is about values. The paper's fight for the right to name the pot-smoking billionaire businessman was a spectacular success in this regard.

They're trying it on again, by going to court to try and get the name of the policeman who shot Stephen Wallace in Waitara this week. They've even put a smarmy little poll on their Website, asking "should the media (ie: the Herald) be allowed to identify the policeman ...?"

As of yesterday afternoon the public had roared YES! by a thunderous two to one margin. Well, actually, when I say two to one, I mean two votes to one vote. Gosh the people are really clamouring for the truth on this one, aren't they? In my view, given the emotions around this event, given that people are talking about utu, it would be stupid to name the cop until we at least have a firm idea what actually happened - which clearly was not good. There wouldn't be much mileage in that for the herald though, would there?

It occurs to me that the new Herald is a bit like Tony Blair's New Labour Party in Britain: more glamorous, more liberal and in many ways better than the old Tory model, but also slightly scary and given way too much to spinning the facts in its own interest. Herald staff reading this should feel free to forward it to Stephen Davis. I hear he's sensitive to criticism, but somebody needs to tell him . . .


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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