Hard News by Russell Brown

42

Republished: The CTV collapse and inquiry: my personal thoughts from being there

Author and researcher Jarrod Gilbert today published a moving, beautfully-written personal response to the findings of the inquiry into the findings of the Coronial inquiry into the deaths in the collapse of Christchurch's CTV Building. The inquiry included many criticisms of the performance of the Fire Service on the day, but concluded that the rescue effort did not contribute to the deaths of eight people trapped under the rubble.

The Fire Service has published a lengthy response to the findings -- but it has also forced Jarrod to take down his own account of his experience and personal, emotional reaction as a volunteer fireman, apparently on the basis that it was a breach of the service's media policy.

This seems silly and excessive to me. In no sense was Jarrod purporting to speak for the Fire Service and I don't think anyone could have thought so on reading his post. I think a guy who went through what those guys went through is entitled to process the experience.

I happened to still have open the tab with Jarrod's blog post on it, so just so an important personal account account is not lost -- because we need to keep all the stories, right? -- I copied the post and pasted it in below.

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To hear criticism of the fire service response to the CTV collapse is difficult. I was part of that response.

I was at CTV late on the night of the quake. I was part of the first crew from Sumner. Our own district was smashed to bits and we had worked since just after 12:51pm with the injured, the dead, and the living. We would have days ahead of us but town needed help and so our chief released three volunteers at a time. We nervously drove in.

When we arrived I looked to report our crew to the Officer in Charge but nobody was obviously in that position. CTV, like much of the city, was a mess. Everything was unclear. We met a firefighter we knew who was looking for equipment and got it from our rig. We followed him and found ourselves as part of a large team, swarming like ants over the rubble.

The heat of the work in firefighting gear was terrible and the dust stuck to your sweat. The nagging smoke tugged at your lungs and every now and then overcame your eyes. We wore flimsy paper masks over our nose and mouth but many of us ripped them off. Looming above us was the elevator shaft. Each large aftershock made everybody pause. There couldn’t have been a single person who didn’t think of being crushed. 
After perhaps 20 minutes I pulled at some corrugated iron. It wouldn’t budge and so a guy next to me (I think he was a civilian) helped.

Underneath was a dusty form and although partially obscured it was unmistakably a body. I raised my hand in the air and yelled for a gurney. The message went down the line. We pulled the body out only to find another, further under. Again we pulled at the tin but this time I had to tug a little at her legs. The third body was even more difficult but all I recall, and will never forget, was that she had a coffee cup clasped in her hand. We lifted them up and sent them on a slow journey back to their families.

The bodies were recognisable, all three were young, female and Asian. There was a sign next to them saying ‘Change your contact details here’. I have sometimes thought about their final moments; what they were doing before they huddled together as the terror came. I don’t like to reminisce on the quakes and I avoid reading or watching things about them, but sometimes little questions like that pop into my brain. I hurry them back out again.

Another of those questions has stemmed from the criticism of the fire service. Did it contribute to people dying that day? After finding the bodies, I was given a delivery hose and fired a lot of water down the rubble. I was trying to put out the fires that we could not even see, way down below us. The whole thing was huge, dangerous and hard. Even now my thoughts aren’t clear.

In some parts there were firefighters, burrowing under the rubble. Deep into it. Pulling out the living. I believe six were extricated while I was there. I cannot begin to describe to you the bravery of the people who crawled into those spaces as the earth still rumbled and moved.

At some point toward midnight we were all pulled off the site to better coordinate efforts. I lay on the ground drinking water and I allowed the first signs of tiredness in. I had seen no media, heard no radio, I wondered if the rest of the city looked like this.

We returned to our home station where we had no power and no water to wash ourselves. Our job was only just beginning. The tiredness I felt at on February 22 would compound in coming days.

CTV was just part of one big effort, but it appears clear that we didn’t do everything right that night and it’s important we learn from it. But for me, I couldn’t have been prouder of each and every person I worked alongside then and in coming days: the firefighters, the police, the ambulance officers, the armed forces, and the civilians. I will never forget the effort, courage and selflessness. I will never forget that coffee cup and the person holding it.

And while I cannot speak for the Fire Service and have been careful not to talk about operational matters, I note the national commander has not apologised to victims’ families for the failings of the fire service that day. I have no such hesitation in saying sorry, unreservedly sorry, for what could have been done better. God knows, though, we gave it our best.

Jarrod Gilbert

16

A Big Thing

On brilliant autumn days like this one, with a tui chuckling in the trees and barely a whisper of traffic noise, it's very easy to forget that the earth is being ruptured and towers raised up only a couple of kilometres away. Here in Point Chevalier, we're at the the top end of a Road of National Significance -- the Waterview Connection.

The ground is being scoured out for the north end of the Waterview tunnel, which will curve under Great North Road and emerge in what was Alan Wood Reserve to connect State Highway 16 with SH20, the southwestern. (Strictly speaking, given the direction of drilling, it's the other way around.)

At the same time, the SH16 causeway just west of the new interchange is being raised and widened, meaning the accompanying cycleway will no longer be swamped by high tides and road run-off will finally be better captured. Given that I spend much of the summer either cycling or swimming at Point Chevalier's nearby beach, I'm all in favour of this. I also think the completion of SH20 is basically a good thing.

But although I'm close to the works, I'm not close enough for them to be a daily reality. At my end, a swathe of housing in Waterview has long gone, concrete podia have already risen to hoist future lanes in the air above SH16 and there's now a kink in Great North Road where the tunnel is to pass under and through Oakley Creek.

But at the south end, it's much, much bigger. Hundreds of households now look out over a vast site where soil is being passed out as Alice the digger digs. (I've posted a panorama in the first comment -- just click to enlarge it.) It's confronting. On the west side, some people literally have the works in their backyards. They seem to have been given quiet new asphalt road surfaces to ease the disruption.

On the east side, where there are many Housing New Zealand properties, there are no vistas and it feels even closer. Without wanting to overplay any comparison, it reminded me of parts of post-earthquake Christchurch. I imagine it's not so exciting when you can hear the work for most of the day and night.

This is a five and a half year project, and doesn't complete until early 2017. It's hard to even look forward to it being done when the schedule is that long, but it's an extraordinary project to watch. I had a ride to both ends of the connection last week, and took some pictures (not great, most of them -- I was playing with HDR in the iPhone's Camera app and the results were iffy). It's a thing. A big thing.

PS: Here's the latest official YouTube video, published today: 

59

Polls: news you can own

Political polls aren't cheap to produce or purchase, so they'll only be commissioned by organisations that derive actual value from them. In the case of so-called internal polls by political parties, the value lies in knowing where you are, not just overall, but with respect to specific demograhics and specific policy or political questions. Sometimes you'll want this literally on an overnight basis.

For media organisations, the motivation is slightly different. Commissioned polls are news you can can own. They are exclusive at the time of publication and if they're sufficiently interesting they may then be picked up and quoted by other media organisations. The natural approach to maximising the value of your investment in a poll is to make a compelling story of it -- to make it look at much like news as possible. The one thing you want to avoid on your own poll day is acknowledging there are any other polls in existence.

Thus, 3 News understandably reported its Reid poll last night as a calamity for Labour and its leader, who have both slipped in popularity relative to the last 3 News Reid poll. It's certainly not great news for them. But on the same page is a link to a report on recent a Roy Morgan poll, which has Labour and National on virtually same ratings as the new Reid poll (just over 31% and 45% respectively). That newsbrief is headed 'NZ election too close to call'.

Last night's assumptions on the appearance of a virtual Parliament (were an election held today, etc.) were governed by an essentially meaningless shortfall of 0.1% which, according to this poll, would see New Zealand First fail to make the 5% threshold. The more realistic assumption would be that a lot is going to ride on what New Zealand First does this year.

Which is precisely the angle of One News's report on its own Colmar Brunton poll, also last night. And while Patrick Gower told his viewers that National's Oravida troubles hadn't hurt it all, Corin Dann told his viewers National had "taken a hit" over Oravida, sliding four points to 47% support (that is, two points higher than the Reid poll).

There are less obvious but interesting elements in each poll. Green Party co-leader Russel Norman was quick to note on Twitter last night that compared to the Reid 3 News poll at about the same time three years ago, National was down nine points and the Greens up three. It doesn't prove much beyond the fact that individual polls months out from a general election can bear little resemblance to the eventual election result, but that's a fact worth bearing in mind.

One interesting nugget in the full Colmar Brunton results is the proportion of undecided or refuse-to-say voters (who are excluded from the headline figures)-- 18%, up five points on the previous poll. That didn't feature in the report, but it seems a notable shift. On the preferred Prime Minister question, "don't know" was 30% -- the same as the last poll, but up six points on last May. That could signify a number of things.

This isn't a whine about how the polls are unfair to the left because landlines or whatever. The party and its leader David Cunliffe are going in the opposite direction to what they'd want. But the big danger for Labour in particular lies in the creation of a news narrative that will deter some potential voters (because there's no point) when in fact the the question of who gets to form a government in September is not at all a done deal.

Some of the best commentary comes from Danyl, who has updated his poll of polls and notes that with the Conservative Party tracking at 2.9%, National has a tricky decision to make about extending a helping hand to the Conservative Party. Lose a sympathetic vote bloc if the Conservatives can't crest 5%? Or throw Colin Craig an electorate seat "and lose some voters to the Conservatives and a whole lot of center-voters might panic and switch to Labour, New Zealand First or the Greens."

There's one more wrinkle. 3 News was lauding new Act leader Jamie Whyte for lifting his party from zero (clearly not the party's real level of support) to 1.1% -- and highlighting the Internet Party's debut on 0.4%. But One News has Act on o.3%, its lowest rating since October last year, and "others" on 0.4%.

So: unappetising results for Labour and its leader. But it's a little too soon to be sketching out seats in the House.

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If you haven't already, it's worth reading UMR's Gavin White in the historical accuracy of the major political polls. He finds that polls consistently overstated National's support when compared to actual voting at the last election and going back to 2005, and did so to a lesser degree for the Greens. Labour's vote was slightly overestimated in 2011 and slightly underestimated going back to 2005. For National, consistently looking two and a half points more like winning may have been a non-trivial electoral advantage in itself.

24

Friday Music: Electric Dreams

A week or two ago, I was talking with a local record company person who mentioned the name Thomas Stoneman -- a kid who, he said, "every record company in the world wants to sign at the moment." It sounded interesting, but the name didn't ring a bell for me.

It wasn't until I read Mike Chunn's opinion piece in the Herald this week that I made the connection. He noted that Stoneman, who attended Avondale College last year, was a co-winner of the 2013 Lion Foundation songwriting competition and records as Thomston. That did ring a bell.

Back in the January 10 Friday Music post, I noted that I'd found this track on TheAudience and ("another talented, moody, confident kid comes out of nowhere") was impressed by it.

I'd love to say this was the blog that made him the most-wanted, but, as Mike explains, that probably happened about a month later:

On February 12 this year, Pigeons and Planes posted another tip page, headed"Daily Discovery: Thomston, a Teenage Pop Artist from New Zealand". Thomston is the stage name of Thomas Stoneman (Avondale College, Auckland last year) who was a co-winner of the 2013 Lion Foundation songwriting competition. The next day, the A&R director at Atlantic Records in New York emailed the Play It Strange office asking if we know how to get hold of one Thomas Stoneman. We oblige. On February 18, Thomas emails with news that his homemade EP which Pigeons and Planes picked up has had 35,000 plays on Soundcloud since the post and he had inquiries from 11 record labels. Presumably Atlantic Records in New York was one of them.

Remarkably, Pigeons and Planes, a reatively small, discovery-focused music website, also seems to have played a role in the early buzz around Lorde and in the interest that got Broods a deal.

"Revolutionary young artists achieve distribution through the technology of sharing," Mike declares, and he's right. It's fascinating to see the established music industry now so fully invested in a principle that even five years ago, it might have found threatening.

So you (and anyone else with an internet connection) can go to Thomston's Soundcloud page and download all five tracks from his debut School Night EP for free, just as for months anyone could grab Lorde's The Love Club EP and 60,000 people did.

It helps that Soundcloud has found a sweet spot: it's respectable enough for record companies to use, but still free enough to allow the edits, remixes, covers and other derivative works that provide a good deal of the creative vitality in the new world of music.

Examples: the oldest thing on Wellington producer Eddie Johnston's Soundcloud (as Race Banyon) is his remix of Drake's 'Forever', posted two years ago to a reception that clearly surprised its creator. This isn't unusual. Playing with other people's pop music is one way to work out your own. The first thing I ever heard of FFFRRANNNO was his sweet bootleg remix of Miguel's 2012 R&B hit 'Do You' (which you can still download for free here). I don't think I'd ever even heard the original. (You may note that FFFRRANNNO's management contact is now with Saiko, the company of Lorde's manager Scott Maclachlan.)

It also helps that there is actually something going on here: an aesthetically cohesive group of young local producers taking a cue from the pop music around them, but doing something distinctive. The interest of international record companies is not unwarranted.

I'll leave you with High Hoops' typically disco take on Broods' celebrated debut song, uploaded this week:

___

I've had time to write a few things for Audioculture lately, and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

Those things include an essay on the landmark Flying Nun release the Dunedin Double EP, featuring The Chills, Sneaky Feelings, The Stones and The Verlaines. It's hardly a perfect record, but it is a hugely important one that embodies a great deal of Flying Nun's mythology. And if this pic of The Stones doesn't bring joy to your heart you may be Matthew Bannister.

Having been out of print for 17 years, the Dunedin Double is lined up for a re-release by Flying Nun on Record Store Day, April 19 (along with with Bored Games' Who Killed Colonel Mustard?).

You'll definitely want to visit this blog on Friday, April 18, when I'll look at some more special re-releases and have a few to give away.

Also new by me on Audcioculture, the Jean Paul Sartre Experience article, which I hope explains why they mattered and dispels some misconceptions.

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One of the reasons I keenly follow Jonathan Moore, aka Leftside Wobble, is that we seem to have a fair bit of musical schooling in common. In particular, the acid house revolution in late 80s London. So I'm delighted that he's been posting a few of his go-to tracks from that era, including this superb edit of Charles B and Adonis's acid classic 'Lack of Love', to which I will introduce the neighbours later this afternoon:

That's a free download if you click through and follow the link to his Facebook page (or just click on the shopping cart icon). As is this one:

So, you know, 'Royals' went to the dancehall with Busy Signal -- but have you heard this excellent dub version? 

That's derived from a nice roots remix which is also a free download here.

An intriguing edit of a 1976 Alice Cooper track by the hyperactive Russian DJ Shanti. Like most of his edits, it's not really a tune some much as a track to mix within a DJ set, but it does underline the fact that early 70s rock 'n' roll was funkier than you think:

But I don't think anything from that era is funkier than Suzi Quatro's 'Your Mama Won't Like Me'. I have this on 7" but I hadn't played it for years until I dropped it when I was doing a guest slot at a record fair and just thought, wow. 

And just for good measure, a mad clip of her playing it live in Japan in 1975:

Fan-tastic.

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The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:

theaudience

45

Crowdfunding Time

Hello, lovely readers. This week I'm doing a crowdfunding drive for Public Address. As I've explained before, these occasional requests for contributions represent the majority of the site's income. And they allow to me concentrate on Public Address, which is my favourite work. My need is fairly acute at the moment, to be honest.

When we've done the occasional whip-round in the past, I've simply invited one-off donations, you've made them and they've helped more than you could know. You can make those from your PayPal account or credit card by clicking this button:

Or by means of a payment into the Public Address bank account:

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But this time -- and sorry this has taken so long, but I've been looking for an ideal solution which turns out not to exist -- you can also, if you choose, take out a voluntary sustaining subscription. This just helps us exist.

These are your voluntary subscription options via PayPal. Note the drop-down menu options on the button:

Sustaining Subscription Options

The subscription button should prompt you to create a PayPal account if you don't already have one. The advantage of this is that it gives you control of the recurring payment, which I figure is very important. You can cancel at any time by following these instructions, or by simply hitting this button:

Both of these buttons will have a permanent place on the site, so you'll be able to get to them easily.

The other subscription option, which you may or may not find more straightforward, is a simple automatic payment from your bank account to the Public Address bank account at the sum and frequency of your choosing:

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I looked for an automated option for this, but the only services available took subscriptions as direct debits (which I would have to cancel) rather than automatic payments, and it's pretty clear to me that you should be in control of your own damn money.

So what will the money be used for? In the first instance, it simply helps me be here every day. I'm suffering a significant degree of financial insecurity at the moment, so I have to be careful with my time. But what I want to do is post more to Public Address and offer you all new things.

Donations this time will also underwrite several key additions to the site:

Access: A new, broad-ranging (but loosely internet-themed) disability blog written by the awesome (both of them) Michelle Walmsley and Sacha Dylan, and others. (My autism blog at humans.org.nz will continue under Hilary Stace's oversight and we'll do a PledgeMe to fund an upgrade at some point.)

Feed: that damn food blog! I may yet have a sponsor for it, but I can't really wait any longer to get cracking.

Capture: An upgrade to the functionality in the Capture photoblog adding the option of a thumnail-and-gallery option.

The home page: The regular features of the site need a tidy-up. Some internal features will be dropped and we'll make the Public Address System link more obviously a gateway to the discussions.

Feel free to suggest any other improvements we could consider -- especially if you're kicking in some cash! I hear whispering from some of the team about ... a book blog. In general, I think we'll look more at themed blogs with a range of authors than personal mastheads (which can be hard for people to maintain over time).

It would be nice to get to a point where I can pay per blog post on the site, but I won't get ahead of myself on that. That may come with the help of some commercial ideas I'm pursuing, or we could add Patreon accounts to individual blogs. Patreon was the best of the platforms I looked at, but it's more for individual creators than a whole publishing venture. They seem like nice people anyway.

As, evidently, are you -- especially if you've chipped in a little for us. And if you have contributed, feel free to to let me know, so I can do something nice for you as the opportunity arises. Just flick me your email address here:

This isn't the regular Public Address mailing list, which announces new posts most days (that's here, and you are warmly welcomed to join it), and your address won't be used for any other purpose than occasional gestures of my warmest appreciation.

Anyway, that's it for now. Got some blogs to write ...

PS: Someone's asked whether they can pay a sum of their choosing for an annual sub and get a tax invoice for it. YES, no problem. Just click the email link below and let me know.