Hard News by Russell Brown

241

News from home ...

I'll be brief (it's 5am where I am and have to catch a plane) but the Labour's leadership result and the means by which it was achieved both seem disastrous for the party and for the prospects of the centre-left.

Little didn't win the support of the party or the caucus, he loses his electorate more badly every time he contests it, and he's vowing to dump all the intellectual capital built up by David Parker. I can't see any good thing about this.

Am I missing something?

22

Music: To renew, you first need history

Before I came to stay in Peckham, I had heard tell of its burgeoning gentrification, but to wander the streets of this South London borough and see it in action is something else.

The terraces of the street where I'm staying are progressively popping their tops as the owners do their loft conversions. Abandoned shops in nearby roads are being refitted to to sell cakes, artisan giftware, gelato, clothes and sleek city bicyles. And yet, even as the hipsters move in, the clamouring artery of Peckham Rye, Rye Lane, remains crowded with the stores of another generation, selling hot peppers, thawing chicken pieces, patties and the flash, shiny suits in which West Indian men still dress to impress. 

And there are record shops. Yam Records, down a narrow arcade. Rye Wax, through a courtyard and down into a basement, at the back of a spacious cafe. Puzzle Organico, a brilliant-smelling health food store with music down the back. And soon there will be Hop, Burns & Black, the new shop my hosts Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams are opening to sell craft beer, hot sauces and vinyl records.

They all sell vinyl records; new, short-run house and techno records in some places, but much more so the London sounds of the past few decades, on sale second-hand for a quid or three. As I shuttled around yesterday, I had to keep saying to myself, "excess baggage", because there is simply so much that takes my fancy. Old house twelves that maybe reached New Zealand by the handful, and reggae sevens, the town's musical lifeblood, that never got there at all.

And then, a short ride away on the number 12 bus, there was Camberwell's Rat Records, which churns through old record collections at what seems to be a remarkable rate: its freshly-arrived bin ran to a hundred or more platters. And then I noticed, up on the wall, this:

"Do you see this often?" I asked the man behind the counter, as I paid for a couple of twelves and a mint-condition Studio One double album (five quid!).

"Not a lot," he said.

I said I'd rather like it, but it seemed a bit scratched. Let's put it on and see how it sounds, he said. It actually sounded a little scuffed, but not bad.

"It's a reggae 7" from the 1970s," he observed. "That's how it's going to sound."

I thought of my budget.

"How much change did I just give you?" the man said. "Twelve quid? Just give me that back."

I did, and I'm so pleased. Sidney, George and Jackie are better known as The Pioneers, the group that made the ska classic 'Long Shot Kick the Bucket', but in the 1970s, they cut a handful of sides under their alternative name that are, frankly, wonderful. The A-side of this one is their cover of the Temptations' 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' and the flip is the brilliant collie-weed anthem 'Feeling High'.

I played it that evening at Lucky Sevens, the Thursday open-decks night at The Gowlett, the pub around the corner, along with a fistful of other old sevens Jen let me raid from a recent stash she'd scored in Bethnall Green on a tip from our mutual friend Mike Hodgson.

Gee, it was fun. People danced and sang along, and then, madly, a couple of the locals and I discovered that there was a whole skip full of vinyl on the street around the other side of the pub. Some good classical records, some terrible MOR, a Bob Seger album and a very clean copy of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night.

Jen loaded up with as much as she could carry -- good for the shop, she explained, but also a right laugh. She staggered home with us (under the load of the beer we'd supped as much as the vinyl she was carrying, to be fair) and we had a duty-free Lagavullin and played a few of our finds. I Facetimed the family back home in Auckland and had to explain why Phil bloody Collins was playing in the background. But gee, isn't Bob Seger's 'Against the Wind' a bloody good song?

I'll have to try and restrain myself and not buy much more vinyl. It's heavy. But it makes me think of the times my friend Duncan Campbell would and visit us in London and turn up each day, excited, with old reggae records he'd have to lug back home to Auckland. In a way, it's the same thing that makes the new gentrification work. To have renewal, to have a secondary market in space, place and culture -- you need the history first.

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57

Garbage in, garbage out

Dr Jarrod Gilbert has a pretty blunt response today to the revelation that the government's pre-election crackdown on gangs was predicated on data so wildly wrong that it's hard to imagine how it happened.

David Fisher lays out the scale of the mistake in the Herald today:

The inaccurate figures had suggested the 4000 gang members in New Zealand were personally responsible for about 1500 serious violence and drug charges. New figures show this year gang members were actually responsible for 26 of the 649 serious drug charges laid. They were also responsible for 61 of 868 violence charges.

The difference between the sets of figures is the inaccurate figures which resulted in police excluding potentially 56,000 other people who might have been responsible for the crimes by attributing the actions solely to gang members. Police had failed to mention a wide group of gang prospects, general associates and family of gang members.

Gilbert has a right to be indigant, because he recognised at the time that the numbers could not be accurate, and wound up having a confrontation with Kiwiblog's David Farrar, who publicly defended them. He points out that the numbers, which formed the basis of the policy, have never been publicly corrected.

He also notes Keith Ng's post-election lament that journalists had not done enough to follow up stories raised by, in particular, Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics:

Last week Gordon Campbell articulated a rebuke to Ng, in part saying that if politicians just refuse to talk then there’s not a lot journalists can do. End of story.

David Fisher's work is proof this is not the case. He chipped away until the truth was revealed. It’s his second story on this issue. He first reported the erroneous data and uncovered collusion between the Minister’s office and Right Wing blogger David Farrar, who was then seeking to defend the inflated data. Now Fisher has gained Cabinet papers showing that the numbers have been retracted. All of which was revealed through Official Information Act Requests undertaken by him or by Josh Grainger, a University of Canterbury law student. Credit to the police, too, for providing the accurate data.

To me it is surprising that more journalists haven’t dug around like this in relation to the issues raised in Dirty Politics, after all there are names to be made. 

What I'm thinking is this: how often does this happen? How often is policy formulated and sold on bogus numbers, which are simply accepted? I had a modest experience with this after the then-Broadcasting minister Joanthan Coleman quoted nonsensical ratings figures to justify the government's decision to to shut down TVNZ 7.

My Media7 colleague Sam Mulgrew and I did get to the bottom of that one. It turned out that officials in Coleman's office, presumably looking for persuasively gloomy numbers, simply didn't understand the ratings figures they were trying to quote. Ironically, we had a hell of a job trying to get the Herald to stop using the bogus figures the minister's office had handed out. They were even quoted twice in editorials.

I'm sure the shiny, data-savvy New Zealand Herald of 2014 wouldn't have been as sweetly trusting of the minister. And I'd wager that there might well be a few more stories to be found in interrogating the data that governments and ministers offer to justify their actions.

132

The Boom Crash

If you need a metaphor for Auckland in 2014, try this. So many people clamoured this morning to search for their new property valuations that they brought down the entire Auckland Council website. We broke government.

To be fair, the 2014 valuations have been so extensively and enthusiastically trailered to us by the city's newspaper that it was no wonder that on the day they finally arrived, we went and had a look.

I got in before the rush and was able to get a valuation out before the whole show came crashing down.

"Darling," I called out from the office. "We're property millionaires."

Actually, that much had been obvious for a year or two. But it was still a weird sensation reading that the not-exactly-level and somewhat unkempt 632 square metres of dirt on which our ex-state house sits nearly doubled in value to $800,000 in the past three years. The house itself hasn't fared so well with the valuers -- the "value of improvements" on the land has actually fallen $30,000 to $230,000 -- which happens to be not much more than we borrowed from the bank four years ago to refurbish and extend the place so our boys could finally have their own bedrooms.

The ideal Auckland property investment strategy seems to be living in a shoebox and trying not to mess up the expensive dirt underneath it.

Overall, our cv has risen 39% in three years, meaning our rates will rise again next year, by about 5%. This is plainly nuts, and it's not even what the place would fetch on the market if we sold up, which we have no intention of doing. If the government directs Housing NZ to to flog off the five remaining state properties in the street, I guess our little cul de sac will go full millionaire alley. The days of the tinny house on the corner and the guy making homebake heroin over the road will seem a long, long way away by that point.

We've been living here since 1998 and we love the Chev, but if we were that young family again, we'd have no show of buying a house here. I don't really see how we'd be in with a shot within a 15 or 20km radius. This can't go on, surely.

26

LATE: The Age of Slacktivism

Everyone is there for a reason at the LATE at the Auckland Museum session I'm fronting on Monday evening. The theme is The Age of#Slacktivism, which I'm effectively interpreting as "beyond slacktivism" -- that's why ActionStation cofounder and Amnesty International NZ board member Marianne Elliot, and the face of RockEnrol, Laura O'Connell Rapira, are on the panel. 

The fact that Nicky Hager and Matthew Hooton are also on the panel doesn't mean it will be Dirty Politics redux. There are things I'll ask them all about changing hearts and minds, and about bridging the gap between me-too hashtagging and whatever change you actually want.

Both before and after the panel discussion, there will be korero and waiata from Moana Maniapoto and Paddy Free, which I'm really looking forward to.

The schedule, details and links to buy your $20 ticket are here. See you on Monday, maybe.