Hard News by Russell Brown


#eqnz: Okay?

Earthquake news comes with baggage these days. We know what happens and we know what happens afterwards. It's rotten news to wake up to in Auckland. We slept through it, but it's a measure of the magnitude of last night's quake that things were swaying in the CBD and at Auckland Hospital. And that never happens.

The Facebook check-ins worked. It was nice to be able to tick off a long list of friends at 6am. Our respective parents are fine. Mum, in Paraparaumu, was thrown out of bed by the big one, but had no idea there might have been a tsunami danger. Fiona's mum's in Leithfield Beach, which was was evacuated on the tsunami warning and is with relatives in Hororata, having not slept a lot.

You all good, friends?


Music! Staring into King Loser

King Loser's brief reunion this year could have been a bit of a calamity: indeed, the first few minutes of their first show, at The Other's Way, weren't up to much. But the creature gathered itself, stood up and growled. They were great – and by the time they'd invaded the rest of the country and returned for a final show at the King's Arms, they were greater.

My friend Andrew Moore was there the whole time, shooting a documentary. And although he maintained his personal safety throughout, the Loser curse struck not long afterwards, when he slipped on a wet deck and broke his ankle. Happily, he has spent some of the consequent sitting-on-his-arse time knocking together a short preview:

I can't wait to see what happens next.


It's been a strange week and I don't really want to think about politics for a day or two. So last night, listeneing to the songs of a randy Jewish poet who became a Buddhist monk was about as woke as I was gonna get.

Grant McDougall has sent me a tribute to Leonard Cohen and you can read it here.


For the Songs of Auckland LATE at the Museum last year, we were able to get Jed Town's work-in-progress refresh of the 1980 video for The Features' 'City Scenes'. It's been a long time since, but the video is public now:

It's been released along with a new compilation on Flying Nun called X-Features.


A few weeks back, I was a DJ at a friend's party and the gear let us down. It wasn't until deep in the night that we could hook up another PA and get down to getting down. And just so we all had a decent turn, the soulful Sandy Mill (from the SJD band and elsewhere) went one-for-one on the decks. And it turned out that Sandy and I had some deep funky chemistry!

So people talked and one thing led to another and Sandy and I will be DJing at Golden Dawn next Friday night, the 18th. We're on the late shift – from 11pm to 2am.

If you're friends with either of us, please do come on down and dance away your cares. We're strictly vinyl and the new DJ setup at Golden Dawn is mint. It will be funky.


As noted a little while ago, The Verlaines have a new album, Dunedin Spleen, on the way. This is the first song from it:

And the band has announced two shows next month: Bodega in Wellington on the 9th and The Cook in Dunedin the following night. No word on Auckland ...


Under the Radar got Roger Shepherd to choose five favourite songs recorded on Chris Knox's legendary TEAC four-track and tell the stories that go with them.

The Skeptics finally get a fully-fledged article on Audioculture.

Also on Audioculture, Gareth Shute has put together a Top 10 list of live sound engineer-musicians.

And on RNZ, Kiran Dass interviews Bill Direen and plays some of his songs.


It's not actually a music documentary, but the BBC's Black is the New Black is a story about the black British experience and features Jazzie B, Dizzee Rascal and others. This week's first ep is already online:

There's also another one coming soon: see the story and preview of Jazzie B’s 1980s: From Dole to Soul.



 New Dimitri from Paris remix! Free download!

Another disco freebie! Click "buy" to download.

Yet another funky freebie! (Mildly irksome Artst Union palaver.)

And, finally, a word from Gil Scott Heron ...


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


Be careful what you wish for

As things stand, Hillary Clinton has won about a quarter of a million more votes than Donald Trump – who in turn has won about 1.5 million votes fewer than Mitt Romney did in 2012. That changes nothing about the result, but does cast some light on Trump's extraordinary and unexpected victory.

It also to some extent addresses the "polls were all wrong" meme. National polls did, after all, predict that Clinton would win more votes than Trump. And it wasn't that they "didn't listen" to Trump voters. They polled them like anyone else. But sampling is about making assumptions – and the assumptions almost all polls made were based on turnout in 2012. The outlier among major national polls was the Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which, as the paper points out today, made different assumptions about weighting and was thus closer than anyone else. The Times also says this:

The poll told us in August, for example, that Trump's chance of winning depended on mobilizing white voters who had sat out the 2012 election — something that he clearly has succeeded in doing in several key states.

And it seems evident that the anti-establishment sentiment that produced the Brexit result this year was – on top of simple electoral tribalism – the factor that mobilised those voters. This vote is like Brexit in another way: it manifested in areas that are less diverse and less prosperous.

This is not to say that the assumption about Trump voters being economic victims is correct either. Exit polls show that a majority of less-wealthy voters went for Clinton, not Trump. And those exit polls bear out sterling demographic surveys conducted in earlier in the year by Gallup and Pew.

Gallup – which analysed 87,000 poll responses collected over a year (but had no need to bother with weighting assumptions) found that Trump supporters were not on average economically insecure and earned "relatively high household incomes" – and that their unease with immigrants was cultural rather than economic. They tended to live in markedly less diverse communities, communities which had their own problems.

Pew found more "warmth" for Trump among Republican likely voters who believe the flow of newcomers to the US  “threatens traditional American customs and values". Among Republicans who believe the flow of newcomers (the word Pew used) “strengthens American society,” only 14% felt warmly toward Trump. Trump support also correlated with concerns about immigration, Islam and racial diversity. The same correlations did not manifest around economic fairness or excessive business profits. Trump supporters felt culturally, not economically, insecure.

The New York Times' visualisations of exit poll data are useful here. This one shows the way that Democratic votes were concentrated in the most diverse centres, where Clinton won by much larger margins than Trump won anywhere:

This NYT graphic shows the change in vote. In some areas, Democrat support actually increased, but many others are a thicket of red arrows.

So Trump intuited very well the ideas that would mobilise the white votes he neeeded. And yet, his sweep has been achieved with fewer total votes than Romney got in coming a poor second four years ago. The Democrats, of course, shed even more votes. But it seems fair to say that whatever mobilised Trump's vote (and let's be clear that includes a somewhat better result than Romney with Latino Americans in the midst of overwhelming white voter support) was not good for overall voter turnout.

Indeed, this graph offers a very different narrative. One that suggests what what happened yesterday was not a Trump surge but a return to the mean as Barck Obama leaves the stage. Clinton was not able to motivate turnout the way Obama did – but neither was Trump.

 The other problem – the really, really big problem – is what you do with the ideas that achieved that Trump's victory. Remember, Trump's closing campaign video was a full-noise Jewish-conspiracy dog whistle. Trump's promises to build a wall with Mexico, to summarily deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to impose some sort of ban on Muslim entry are all both idiotic and impractical. It is difficult to satisfy the urges raised and remain a modern nation.

 There has been the odd troll on social media taunting "liberals" about the loss, but that ignores the fact that it's problematic for conservatism too. Remember, not a single credible newspaper endorsed Trump this year. Papers that had never endorsed a Democrat urged their readers to vote for Clinton. Conservatives are supposed to care about great institutions: Trump has repeatedly given the impression that he doesn't really even understand what those institutions are.

All accounts indicate that Trump is monstrously ill-equipped for government. He has serially stiffed people he has employed or done business with. He has escaped into bankruptcy six times. His beliefs that global trade agreements can simply be renegotiated to America's advantage, that America's partners in longstanding security agreements can be tapped for tribute money, as if they were vulnerable tenants, are bizarre and dangerous. And as Foreign Policy's Stephen Palmer was quick to point out, the Chinese leadership, which had faced dealing with the tough, experienced Clinton, is celebrating. They have cover for their own human rights issues and they'll play Trump like a fiddle.

Evan Osnos's bracing New Yorker story from September, President Trump's First Term, gives a glimpse of what might happen domestically:

Trump aides are organizing what one Republican close to the campaign calls the First Day Project. “Trump spends several hours signing papers—and erases the Obama Presidency,” he said. Stephen Moore, an official campaign adviser who is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, explained, “We want to identify maybe twenty-five executive orders that Trump could sign literally the first day in office.” The idea is inspired by Reagan’s first week in the White House, in which he took steps to deregulate energy prices, as he had promised during his campaign. Trump’s transition team is identifying executive orders issued by Obama, which can be undone. “That’s a problem I don’t think the left really understood about executive orders,” Moore said. “If you govern by executive orders, then the next President can come in and overturn them.”

That is partly exaggeration; rescinding an order that is beyond the “rulemaking” stage can take a year or more. But signing executive orders starts the process, and Trump’s advisers are weighing several options for the First Day Project: He can renounce the Paris Agreement on greenhouse-gas emissions, much as George W. Bush, in 2002, “unsigned” American support for the International Criminal Court. He can re-start exploration of the Keystone pipeline, suspend the Syrian refugee program, and direct the Commerce Department to bring trade cases against China. Or, to loosen restrictions on gun purchases, he can relax background checks.

But those are secondary issues; whatever else Trump would do on January 20th, he would begin with a step (“my first hour in office”) to fulfill his central promise of radical change in American immigration. “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” he told a crowd in Phoenix in August.

How the Republicans deal with the disastrous fiscal hole implied by Trump's tax policy remains to be seen. Indeed, almost everything remains to be seen. His policy platform is incoherent and as Osnos notes, even his backers are relying on the assumption that he won't actually do a great many things he promised to do. As Josh Marshall writes, his administration will set about torching the Affordable Care Act without having any real idea of what will replace it.  ( The contrast with Clinton, who was a poor campaigner but, as the New Yorker observed,  offered "a series of thoughtful and energetic proposals that present precisely the kind of remedies that could improve the lives of many working-class and poor Americans of all races", is extremely stark.)

At any rate, America gets another shot in four years' time. By some measures, America will by then have a majority non-white population. But as Richard Alba pointed out this year in The American Prospect, those measures are problematic, in that they work in a way that makes the white population look small. Assumptions based on those measures may have contributed to mistaken assumptions about size and nature of the "white vote".

But ... the Republican Congress's disgraceful refusal to even consider President Obama's Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland leaves President Trump the opportunty to appoint a new justice who will be there a lot longer than four years. It's already evident that he will bend to the worst, most illiberal urges of his party in this. In this sense, Trump's contempt for practuce and institution has been pioneered in his party.

The really, big, long problem is climate change. Trump will appoint the extreme climate change denier Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team. The hard-won Paris agreement surely can't survive. From a campaign characterised by ignorance and the most feckless, constant lying, this is the most damaging of all deceptions.

There is already plenty of triumphalism about the repudiation of experts and elites. But the rejection of expertise is a dangerous thing. There are reasons America and the world have established institutions. And as dizzying as an anti-establishment lash might feel, rediscovering those reasons could be very painful indeed.

In short: be careful what you wish for.


The Long, Strange Trip

Like many of you, even though I cannot vote, I've taken an interest in the US Presidential election that lies somewhere between keen and visceral.

This isn't a new thing. America looms large in our in culture, historically and in the second-by-second sense of social media. The decisions of American voters bear directly on New Zealand's welfare. It's sport and reality TV and the news combined.

But this time has seemed different. The usual voyeurism of election-watching seems to have tilted over into something else. I've wearied myself addressing one bizarre Clinton conspiracy after another on Facebook. The alt-right and the self-professed anti-imperial left have found common cause, quoting and adopting each other's bullshit. Wikileaks has engaged in a barely-credible plunge from anything like journalism. People I actually know believe senseless things. I'm pretty certain I interacted with a Putin troll this week.

And it just seems to get darker. The late flush of anti-semitism from the Trump campaign and its supporters suggested that Godwin's Law should be suspended for the duration of the campaign.

It won't stop, unfortunately, after today's election result. It does appear that Hillary Clinton will get there, but the nihilism, resentment and sheer unreality won't go away. We live in very strange times. But the election of the USA's first woman President, after all those years, will manifestly be cause for celebration.

Anyway, Toby Manhire is heading things up at The Spinoff, which has a useful guide to what time the various polls close, Checkpoint has an extended show this afternoon and the internet will be alive with it all. I'll be hammering away on my Twitter account and popping back here  with thoughts of more than 140 characters. I might even get some work done.


From Zero: New Zealand and drugs

Over the past few years, psychoactive drugs and the means by which society deals with them have become a specialist subject for me. It's a field where so many things meet: science, medicine, politics, the law, philosophy, culture. It runs from policy to pop.

So I'm genuinely thrilled to be able to point you to the first episode of From Zero, a seven-part podcast and broadcast series for RNZ.

The title refers to the historical consensus that pre-contact Māori were that rare society with no use for intoxicants. In this first episode Dr Hirini Kaa offers an intriguing explanation for why that was so. It's not really down to a lack of goods – rongoā Māori incorporates a number of psychoactive plants, but they weren't used to get high.

Historian Redmer Yska and writer and documentarian David Herkt then help take us through to a present day when New Zealanders' use of some illicit drugs is amongst the highest in the world. The story of how we got there is sometimes a surprising one.

This first episode is a walk through history, but successive ones – including one on cannabis that's already in the can – will have more of a journalistic arc. The series will conclude with an episode called 'Are We There Yet?', examining the pressure for reform and thinking about what a more sustainable future might look like.

For now, new episodes of From Zero will be here online every Monday morning, on iTunes and Spotify and broadcast every Monday after the 10pm news on RNZ Nights. (I'll also be having a chat about the series with Bryan Crump after the 9pm news tonight.)

I hope you like it, because I'm loving making it. And I'm grateful to Tim Watkin for taking the leap and giving me RNZ's first outside commission for a podcast series, and the marvellous Justin Gregory for his help and support in putting the episodes together.

Have a listen. And, y'know, share that shit ...