Hard News by Russell Brown


Something we ignore at our peril

Six months ago, I published a post based on information I had been given by ESR that began:

Synthetic cannabinoids are being prepared and sold on the New Zealand black market, more than a year after they were banned from public sale by an amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Act. And a report provided to me by ESR shows they are not leftovers from the old regime, but largely new chemicals.

The sole regret I have about that post is that it brought down some grief on people who spoke to me in good faith. What was true then is true now: removing synthetic cannabinoids from regulated sale did not prevent their import, manufacture, sale or consumption, it merely drove them underground.

So I was pleased to see this excellent report by Michael Morrah on the same issue, for TV3's 3D. My post was just something that didn't fit in with another story I was researching. This is a well-handled, accurate and wide-ranging report into exactly what's going on. And what's going on is a textbook case of what happens when a formerly legal product is handed to the black market.

Morrah presents evidence that not only are synthetic cannabinoids (yes, I know, they're more properly referred to as cannabinomimetics but thats a long word) being imported and prepared for sale, they are being manufactured here through dubious processes. And where they can't be easily manufactured, dealers are soaking mixed herbs in fly spray and selling that. It is, according to a couple of his sources, bigger than P.

The two black-market samples taken for testing by ESR contained, respectively, 5f-PB-22 and AB-FUBINACA. What Morrah's story doesn't say is that both have been legally sold in New Zealand. Products containing the former were revoked both before the amendent to the Psychoactive Substances Act, and when that amendment took all synthetic cannabinoids off the market in May 2014. I noted in a post leading up to the amendment that AB-FUBINACA products had been identified as a problem by users. 

Would it have been better if the synthetic cannabinoids had never been available? Well, yeah. I think they were poor candidates for regulation and that the Psychoactive Substances Act would have fared better had they not been the test case. But we didn't have that choice.

Synthetic cannabis products had been available for years in shops and New Zealanders were buying them in significant quantities. The progressive banning of earlier products had the paradoxical effect of ushering in more harmful and less well-understood substitutes. AB-FUBINACA was a very late entry to the market.

But even then, for all the failures in execution of the Psychoactive Substances Act, we had some control over dosage and purity. Now, it's in the hands of criminals. Morrah's story suggests that dosage has increased. That's bad. His two former dealers talked about the whites of their eyes turning yellow from use – which indicates liver damage. The story hinted that medical presentations have shifted from psychological distress to acute emergency.

So why aren't we seeing the same headline-grabbing problems as we did during the PSA's interim regime? Probably because it's off the high street and therefore out of mind. Some of the people who were buying because it was legal have stopped. The balance of usage has shifted to kids in suburbs and towns we never hear about in the news.

In that sense, it's probably similar to methamphetamine, which became much less of a story when advertising executives and property investors stopped using it, even as it took off in poor, brown communities. And perhaps the push back against these drugs will, similarly, come at a community level.

It's important to remember that these drugs entered the market as legal substitutes for natural cannabis. That's a textbook prohibition story: the thing you ban or chase out will give way to something worse. Whether simply legalising cannabis now would entirely drive out these drugs is less certain. The hard stuff is probably here for good. The drug environment is a hell of a lot more complicated, and dangerous, than it was when I was 20.

But what we can't do is pretend there isn't a problem. I have, as ever, some sympathy for Peter Dunne – he is now being pilloried for both introducing the Psychoactive Substances Act and for the National Party amendment that has for the time being rendered it almost inoperable. I presume he hadn't actually seen the 3D report when he sent back the comment that cannabis was a much greater health problem for New Zealanders than the synthetics. Because I think the evidence is now that something pretty bad is going on. Something we ignore at our peril.

PS: That was a very important report from a programme about to be shitcanned by TV3's management. We might want to think about that too.


Stories: Home

Because sometimes we had to move, we never moved when we didn't have to. My Dad worked in a bank and although he left school without qualifications, he was bright enough to regularly gain promotion. By the time I was five, we'd lived in Wellington, Hamilton, Invercargill and Christchurch.

Things setted down in Christchurch because he could be promoted between branches, so, apart from three formative years in Greymouth, where Dad worked his first managerial position, that's where I grew up. And then, the year I started work, the family had to move away.

One of my schoolfriends moved frequently – his parents liked buying and selling houses – and I could never get my head around it. Even later, when I was not greatly burdened with either responsibilities or worldly goods, I rarely moved for the sake of it.

And when we finally bought a house, we stayed put. We've been here in Point Chevalier 17 years; long enough to see the karaka Fiona planted rise over the roofline and the neighbourhood change around us. We could have sold up and taken our winnings in the Auckland property lottery any number of times, but that always seemed an awful prospect. For all that I embrace risk in other areas of my life, I like a nest.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is intended to recall one of the more pleasant elements of the Public Address culture: the telling of stories.

Two weeks ago, I made myself a little wobbly by giving a keynote speech to an audience at an international arts seminar in Christchurch about how Public Address provided a community for people after the earthquakes and the things that flowed from that. (I'll rework it as a blog post as soon as I get the time.) And then the next day, while I was still travelling home, there was a blow-up on one of our discussion threads that made me feel weary and unhappy as I tried to moderate it. I thought, this isn't the community I was talking to that audience about.

There were a number of factors to the blow-up, not the least of them being the somewhat traditional end-of-of year Public Address meltdown. But also, new people, old people, people giving offence and just ploughing on, people raising the stakes. No malice, just people.

If you value the community here, you can do a few things to help. When you have a moment, click on your own name and have a look at your recent commenting history. If someone signals that you're giving offence, pay attention and think about whether you need to keep saying what you're saying. If you take offence, try and say so clearly, rather than snarking back.

But also, it's been a while since we simply told stories rather than debating and discussing. Telling stories is good because it means we speak from experience, not opinion. It humanises us and helps us get to know each other. It's a thing people do to be together.

So, here's your place to tell stories. Stories about Home.


Ten Thousand Maniacs

Six weeks ago, a Saudi-led airstrike on a wedding party in Yemen killed 131 civilians. On October 3, strikes by US aircraft on a hospital in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan killed at least 30 people, including 13 staff. On October 31, a terrorist bomb brought down a Russian airliner 23 minutes after it had left Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, including at least 24 children. Last Thursday, two suicide bombers killed 45 people and injured 200 more in a crowded part of Beirut's Bourj al-Barajneh neighbourhood.

And in the past day, coordinated attacks have killed at least 120 people and injured 300 more in Paris.

While victims were still lying where they fell, US Republican presidential aspirant Ted Cruz responded by rejecting "outreach or declarations of tolerance" in favour of airstrikes with more "tolerance for civilian casualties". More surprisingly, US Today saw fit to publish this incoherent, ambiguous cartoon:

Cruz did not specify where these less discriminate attacks should take place, but presumably meant Syria, where as many as 250,000 people have already died in a senseless, confusing civil war. A further nine million Syrians have been displaced by the violence, including three million who have fled to neighbouring countries and perhaps 200,000 who have sought safety in Europe.

The numbers hardly make sense any more: they could swallow up the victims of Paris many times over. Which does not mean it is any kind of failure to feel particularly shocked by the events there. The cruelly deliberate, close and coordinated nature of the killings is shocking.

Many of us have been to Paris, perhaps to the very places that were attacked. We will always respond more strongly to an atrocity in a place whose streets we can picture, and to an offence against civilisation in city that is part of our own democratic narrative.

There is another, particular resonance that some of us have felt. The centre of the atrocity was a gig; the place where we unburden ourselves of the world. The band playing there has played here – you might even have seen them. As another measure of proximity, Fat Freddy's Drop have played the Bataclan and last week they played a different Paris concert hall. Overnight, their European tour  was re-routed through Switzerland because they could no longer cross French borders. It could easily have been them playing Paris on a Friday night, and their fans dancing.

As several commentators have noted, the targets of the Paris attacks were not the symbols of state, but ordinary people – especially young people – enjoying themselves: eating, drinking, dancing, watching a  football match.

French graphic novelist and film-maker Joann Sfar captured that fact in a series he posted to Instagram. This one reads: The people who died tonight were out living, drinking, singing. They did not know that war had been declared on them”.

It was this liberal world that the terrorists sought to rupture.

The same thinking may well also apply to Europe's refugee programme, which immediately came under scrutiny from some quarters. And yet, the attackers are likely linked with the very people from whom the refugees are fleeing. And early indications are that the perpetrators are French citizens.

Moreover, as the UAE exile, Arab Spring activist, researcher and "Islamic libertarian" Iyad El-Baghdadi observed – on the basis of the hundreds of jihadi social media accounts he follows – the refugee programme in places like Germany has a resonance elsewhere we might not immediately grasp:

El-Baghdadi's analysis is that the extremists want and thrive on a black-and-white world. They want clear divisions, not fraternity. Yet a tolerant peace will inevitably be harder to maintain now, and where war already manifests in Syria and Iraq, it is hard to conceive of any immediate future that doesn't involve further bloodshed. The Kurds will have to fight their ground or be massacred. They need help.

But if the West joins Russia in backing the Assad regime as the lesser of two or three evils, it will be lending support to the original architect of Syria's civil war, the author of one set of the war crimes against Syrians themselves. Last month, Russian forces handed Isis a big win when its strikes killed hundreds of the anti-government Syrian rebels who have been managing to keep Isis out of Aleppo.

It's hard to even conceive of what could ensue from the full-scale ground war that US Republicans seem to be cheering for, but it would be an attempt to mediate something that originally found its space in the chaos that followed the ill-advised adventure in fixing Iraq.

But more than that, you can't bomb hideous ideas out of existence. The mediaevalists have millennial tools to distribute their awful thinking – early indications are that these attacks were planned not in Raqqa, but in Belgium. It seems likely that harder, more hateful ground is what the extremists want. Not policing the the extremists is not an option, but that is what is should be – policing.

I don't have an easy answers – how could I? But I know that the answer doesn't lie in the feckless crackdown talk that sprinkled itself through my Facebook feed yesterday, still less in any desire to prosecute a billion Muslims for the actions of ten thousand maniacs. As fuzzy and as unsatisfactory as it sounds, a renewed evocation of humanity will surely be the thing that, at the very least, can do less harm.

Image credit: Jean Jullien.


Friday Music: Loxene and Beyond

Next Thursday sees the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand Music Awards at Vector Arena, where there will be the usual scenes of pop performances on stage and screen and, um, spirited behaviour away from the cameras. But the story of where the awards came from and their journey to Vector is quite an interesting one.

Simon Grigg has compiled a fascinating and richly-illustrated Audioculture history of the first awards – the Loxene Golden Disc – and how they came to be bankrolled by a British anti-dandruff shampoo.

As Simon notes, the lucky voter received twice as much in prize money as the actual Golden Disc winner.

The rise of the album and the evolution of our pop music away from its light-entertainment roots and made the Golden Disc look out of its time by 1972 (it was succeeded in 1973 by the RATA Awards) but for in the 1960s, our first music award was the biggest thing on the music calendar. We had this album in our house ...

Mark Roach takes up the story of what happened from 1973-2014.

There's also a gallery of covers and trophies (including the infamous "Perspex Swirl", which actually broke before some recipients managed to get off the stage).

A rundown of 50 years of Best Singles.

And photographs of a whole bunch of people socialising over the years.

Also fresh on Audioculture: an Andrew Schmidt history of New Zealand electropop, including Car Crash Set, Danse Macabre, The Body Electric, Marginal Era and more. Wait ... New Order played the Hillsborough Tavern?

One more on the history tip: RNZ has re-upped Andrew Dubber's 2002 Music Chairs interview with Barry Jenkin, who reveals he was "born with perfect pitch". But ... is the first voice we hear there that of Mike Hosking? 


Splore has revealed that its Saturday night headliner is ... Leftfield!

The one-time duo is now Neil Barnes' solo project, but the new album, Alternative Light Source is getting great reviews and the live show is, as indicated by this video, unadulterated rave.

Old muggins here will be maintaining relatively sound mind in order to DJ later the same night.


This is good: Shihad's Phil Knight has created a kind of Nutters Club for musicans, in the form of a podcast caled What's Phil Worried About Today?, in which he talks to his peers about mental health issues and experiences. The Australian site Tone Deaf has a story about it.

While you're scanning JB Hi-Fi ads for your next pair of shitty earbuds: Gizmodo's write up on Sennheiser's absurd $55,000 Orpheus headphones. Which apparently sound amazing.


If the essence of New Orleans music could be summed up in one human, that person would be producer, arranger, songwriter and performer Allen Toussaint, who died this week. I'm no expert on his work, but Danielle has directed me to this rich Times-Picayune obituary:

Despite international renown, Mr. Toussaint was a regular sight in the Mid-City and Gentilly neighborhoods in years past. He was known for his stately posture, unhurried speech, elegant suits, sandals with socks, and a Rolls Royce marked with license plates that read "Piano" and "Tunes."  

"He was his own living art form, the way he dressed, like somebody from another era, century, always had some incredible combination of jacket and shirt and tie," Davis said of Mr. Toussaint's personal style. "Always. He was a living piece of art. The tie and the shirt was a poem every time."

She also recomends 'I Feel Good', written under the pseudonym Naomi Neville ...

And subsequently covered to great effect by New Zealand's own Larry's Rebels.

The song was later covered again by Citizen Band. But I discovered this week that there is a third New Zealand cover – by Golden Harvest! They did it as the b-side of their 1976 single 'Come Together' and I really want to hear it. 

But back to Allen Toussaint, and Danielle says "I think it's important we know he wrote Lee Dorsey's much-sampled Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky'":

 "Plus," says Danielle, "his original 'Southern Nights' is rather a far, psychedelic cry from Glen Campbell's remake":


HOLD UP THERE. Danielle has come further to the party with a pointer to this downloadable Allen Toussaint mix, which is amazing.


Lurching back into the present, Red Bull commission Martyn Pepperell to produce some new video profiles. Most recently, Jordan Arts, aka High Hoops:

And a couple of weeks ago, Eddie Johnston, aka (in this case) Race Banyon:

Street Chant's Emily Littler did quite a bit of solo work as Emily Edrosa while the band was in recess and it's sticking around. The Emily Edrosa EP has been pressed to vinyl by Australia's Fluff Records and now there's a video for the standout song on the EP, 'Corner of the Party'. It's the creation of New Zealand Instagram star Ra Pomare, aka DJ Mall Sushi (story here):

And finally, Marlon Williams has released a strange, striking, dreamlike video for 'Hello Miss Lonesome', in which he gets both beaten up and fully naked (story here):


Zac Arnold has assembled a remarkably eclectic bill for his celebration of of New Zealand psychedelic sounds, NZ Psych Fest, which happens at Whammy bar on December 4 and 5. The lineup runs from Critics' Choice winners Bespin to Dunedin's moody electronic artists Death and the Maiden and Auckland sound experimentaist Christoph el' Truento.



I love this summery, jazzy shuffle from Auckland's A Band called Success:

But where can I buy or download it?

Simon Flower has done a lovely remix for Introverted Dancefloor (aka Bevan Smith, the man behind Signer and Aspen). The backstory is here:

New release on Loop: electropop duo Chambres, available now on Baboom:

Wellington's Unmap has an EP of spacious, soul-inflected electronic music out for ya:

And finally, Leftside Wobble is giving away this very cool remix of Leon Sweet's 'Sunny Bigler', from the new Paper Records remix EP. Get in there for the free download!


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


Video special: Jim's favourite psychopaths

It makes me happy that part of my son's work each week is creative. It's been that way since the mighty Bridgeway Cinema extended his duties from cleaning and stacking to producing a weekly vlog-style bulletin showcasing what's on over the bridge in Northcote Point.

But by its nature This Week at the Bridgeway has to be pretty straightforward, and I have been missing his more colourful evocations of movie fandom. I suggested he might want to work on something more adventurous again. Turns out, he did. I wondered what he was doing in his room ...

Here is a video that I’ve been working on for a while now. It’s a list of psychos from my three favourite media: movies, video games and anime. I meant to get this done by Hallowe’en, but it took a longer than I thought it would.

If you still have some spooky left in you, and if you’re not too squeamish, then please check this out.

I won't spoil it, but the way Jim embodies the theme is very funny.

Psycho and The Shining are there, but Jim's analyses of anime titles and games like Grant Theft Auto are also pretty interesting. And the fact that the sweetest toung man in the world is telling you about all this terrible stuff underlines the fact that these too have themes and stories – and that their fans know the difference between fiction and reality.

James Rae Brown is @kiwiinspace on Twitter and thekiwitree on Tumblr.