Hard News by Russell Brown


Radio being made

It wasn't television, it was radio being made. And that is a virtue. The debut episode of Checkpoint with John Campbell went out yesterday and while there are still a few moving parts to be bedded in, it seems clear this is going to work.

I watched it sitting at my computer, ducking away occasionally to look at other things and see what my social media friends thought, while staying engaged with the audio. So it passes the ADD test nicely.

Many other people seemed to be doing the same and there was a notably positive response on social media to seeing "real people" on screen. In contrast to television news, which is controlled and inviolable, seeing reporters and a newsreader who hadn't been corporate dress-coded made the programme seem accessible and engaging. There's so much of the theatre of television that can be dispensed with at no real loss to anyone.

There are, on the other hand, some different skills to be learned. Katrina Batten, a fine newsreader, struggled a little with her autocue (it gets easier, believe me) and there was the odd bit of awkward body language. But, you know, it's day one.

One thing is clear: the lapel mics don't cut it. Speaking on radio is about being (or at least sounding) close to the mic and the voices without the pictures weren't quite up to scratch for radio. I don't think bringing in proper microphones would really detract from the programme. Indeed, it might contribute to that sense of radio being made.

Similarly, I don't mind seeing Katrina get up and leave after her bulletin (although could someone please install a hook for her to hang her cans on?). If you've sat in the control room for a programme like this, you'll know how in-motion it is. That's something the show should be happy to convey.

The video links went off quite well (I thought the medical cannabis interview was particularly effective, sync issues notwithstanding) and the switches to simple audio were smooth enough. The one part that felt odd was the Nadene Lomu interview, which felt like a chunk of Campbell Live dropped into Checkpoint. The human-interest orientation of 7pm TV current affairs and the imperatives of a 5pm daily news roundup on radio are quite different things.

Apart from that, the host was excellent. He dialled it back a bit for radio, but it was good to see him walk around a bit at the end. I think there's no reason he can't venture out into the control room again, if that's where the action is. Again, they can do things TV wouldn't.

If you tried to watch it on Freeview Channel 50 and couldn't find the channel, you'll need to do a quick retune of your set – easy enough, but perhaps off-putting for RNZ's older listeners. But the potential for RNZ to expand on Freeview – where as a full Freeview partner it has rights to the Freeview Plus real estate for catch-up programming – is considerable.

This really is the toe in the water for a more comprehensive move to illustrated radio. And, as Lizzie Marvelly observed on Twitter, the wairua was good. It felt right. Bravo.


Friday Music: Bowie, Original Hipster

There is, of course, already a discussion thread here devoted to David Bowie and his passing – and I had intended to lead with something different for the regular Friday Music post. But then I noticed this post on Dangerous Minds. It basically explains that David Bowie is cooler than you will ever be because he recorded the first Velvet Underground cover – before the first Velvet Underground album was even released.

In 1966, Bowie's manager Ken Pitt returned from New York with an acetate of the album that would be released as The Velvet Underground and Nico. Pitt didn't much fancy the record, so he gave it to the young singer, who liked it very much and had The Riot Squad, the band for whom he was briefly lead singer, play it. It was never officially recorded, but there was a rehearsal tape which was released on an album of Riot Squad oddities in 2012:

Bowie didn't stop there. He also lifted lyrics from 'Venus in Furs' for the Riot Squad song 'Toy Soldier'. It is, to be honest, a pretty bad song, albeit hardly one where you'd expect to hear the words "Taste the whip and bleed for me".

But there's more!

In a piece Bowie wrote for New York magazine on being a New Yorker, republished this week by Vulture, Bowie gives his account of discovering the Velvet Underground. And he says the first Velvet Underground cover was in fact performed by his other band at the time, Buzz (aka The Buzz), when he insisted it be done as an encore at the band's final gig.

"It was the first time a Velvet song had been covered by anyone, anywhere in the world," he writes. "Lucky me."

I think it's worth quoting at length Bowie's account of hearing the Velvet Underground for the first time:

The second, a test pressing with the signature warhol scrawled on it, was shattering. Everything I both felt and didn’t know about rock music was opened to me on one unreleased disc. It was The Velvet Underground and Nico.

The first track glided by innocuously enough and didn’t register. However, from that point on, with the opening, throbbing, sarcastic bass and guitar of “I’m Waiting For the Man,” the linchpin, the keystone of my ambition was driven home. This music was so savagely indifferent to my feelings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It could give a fuck. It was completely preoccupied with a world unseen by my suburban eyes.

Actually, though only 19, I had seen rather a lot but had accepted it quite enthusiastically as all a bit of a laugh. Apparently, the laughing was now over. I was hearing a degree of cool that I had no idea was humanly sustainable. Ravishing. One after another, tracks squirmed and slid their tentacles around my mind. Evil and sexual, the violin of “Venus in Furs,” like some pre-Christian pagan-revival music. The distant, icy, “Fuck me if you want, I really don’t give a damn” voice of Nico’s “Femme Fatale.” What an extraordinary one-two knockout punch this affair was. By the time “European Son” was done, I was so excited I couldn’t move. It was late in the evening and I couldn’t think of anyone to call, so I played it again and again and again.


There is a little more to this. While the Velvets were totally out of step with the West Coast love vibe stateside, a kind of secret musical history unfolded in London. The Yardbirds got hold of a copy of the album – perhaps because JimmyPage had played guitar on Nico's debut single in 1965 – and added 'Waiting for the Man' to their live set:

The song was also performed by Mick Farren's MC5-like London band of freaks The Deviants. Which brings us to another connection. After being kicked out of Hawkwind, the late, great Lemmy went on to form a band with Deviants guitarist Larry Wallis. That band was called Motorhead.

And that, boys and girls, is the end of today's lesson in how everything is connected.


Audioculture has a second installment of the punk-era pictures of Sara Leigh Lewis.

There's also a whole new trove of Auckland punk and thereafter photographs, from the private collection of an unnamed donor, who has stipulated that they're copyright-free. They include this remarkable pic of Doug Hood onstage with Chris Knox in The Enemy in 1978:

And this pic of Kath Webster from Look Blue Go Purple, wearing the frock that became the EP cover ...


Me and my crew are excited and set to dance at Sunday's Shipshape with John Morales. If you like disco, funk and soul, you might want to get along. And you might want to bend an ear towards Nick Collings' interesting interview with Morales for Radio Hauraki's In It for the Kicks show before the DJ's first New Zealand show last year:



100% for the dancefloor this week.

I've mentioned the Australian UK-garage DJ duo Cup & String before (notably for their great bootleg remix of 'Say My Name' by Destiny's Child). Three months ago, they posted an amazing remix of The Streets' 'Has It Come to This', promising to take it down if anyone objected. Never mind that, said a hundred people in the comments, can we please god have a download of this? And you know what? They've done it. Click through and get in and get yours while it's still there:

Connor Nestor and his buddies at A Label called Success have been trickling out nu disco niceness for a few months now, but have chosen only to put it out on the streaming services. Being elderly, I asked Connor this week whether there was any way of buying an old-fashioned download. There isn't (although it appears there will be in future) but Connor was kind enough to switch on the download for this, their latest release. It features Jordan Arts of High Hoops and Leisure on vocals and it's sweeeeeeet:

George Darroch put me onto this rework of a techno classic. Free download:

This swooning deep house remix of Tula's cover of 'Wicked Game' is also a free download, but requires an irritating Spotify follow (I just clicked the "I'm already following" link and that worked fine):

And finally, London-based Aucklanders Chaos in the CBD on the remix. Free download.  Pretty gorgeous, no? 


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


Footpaths, not manifest destiny

Simon Wilson is most of the way through his fascinating Metro magazine feature on the Auckland National Party and its designs on Auckland local government by the time he identifies the thing that unites the party's "braided river": the belief that it is National's birthright to run things, Auckland included.

It's easy to understand why party members and supporters would think so. As Wilson points out, its command of most Auckland electorates underpins the party's dominance of national politics. He writes:

When National looks at those numbers, it asks itself, "If we're so popular, why the hell can't we win the council?"

It particularly asks itself why it can't win the Shore. In the council election of 2013, the independent rightist candidate John Palino won the mayoral vote in all five of the ward seats north of the bridge. Yet the centre-right holds only one seat in those fivewards.

The city's wealthiest ward, Waitemata, "is represented by the unreconstructed old lefty Mike Lee and a board full of Labour and Green types. Why hasn't Waitemata turfed them out and voted blue?"

In part it's because the Auckland centre-right is so divided and thus not very effective. Even in this year's local body elections, it will be standing against itself, with C&R declining to make way for the more urbanist Auckland Future. The common answer to this problem seems to be that the elected Council needs managing, via the equivalent of a whipped caucus. Which, as I've noted before, isn't necessarily something Auckland wants – and very probably is not what it needs.

But this belief does seem to have been a key element of the centre-right's own conversation. It must be at the heart of Theresa Gattung's bizarre column in the Herald three weeks ago. She wrote:

What decision making power does the mayor actually have? Even the council website doesn't claim that it's actually that much! Decisions of council are by majority vote with the chair (usually the mayor) having the casting vote. The Auckland Council Standing Orders of the Governing Body May 2015 reads like something out of last century.

It's true that good leadership is about more than positional power. Good leaders inspire people, walk the talk and take people with them. But not relying only on positional power is not the same as not having it. True leadership involves being able to make decisions after getting the best input possible.

The Super City would have struggled to get up without regionally based representation. But what was a good idea then is crippling the city now. And there is no independent review mechanism.

Gattung seems genuinely horrified that the mayor can't make major decisions without the support of a majority of elected councillors. She doesn't seem to grasp the distinction between executive management (and its "walking the talk" cliches) and democratic leadership. She actually believes that local representation on a local council is "crippling the city".

I wonder if this in turn is at heart of the right's conviction that Len Brown has been a hopeless mayor. They don't understand the environment and thus don't value his coalition-building skills (and, importantly, those of his deputy Penny Hulse).

Elsewhere in Wilson's Metro story, he records aspirant councillor Bill Ralston's crack that "If Len Brown can get his own way, how hard can it be?" To which the answer must be: quite a lot harder than you think, Bill.

But that's not the startling part. Wilson writes:

Ralston is not a details person. Even he says that. I asked him about the big Franklin Rd redevelopment project, which is about to start. Which of the three proposals did he like best? He said he didn't know much about them. He lives on Franklin Rd.

This is astonishing. For god's sake I know about this and it's not even in my ward. And the cycle lobby Ralston describes as "ferocious" certainly does too. Local politics is local – this is about people's footpaths, not what you believe to be the natural order of things.

The details are also important because Auckland councillors are currently making decisions for the next few decades. They are setting the shape of a new city. And they matter because an understanding of the detail is civil society's stake in the new city. It's how TransportBlog has achieved its authority.

And it's also absolutely crucial because it's the only way that the elected council can keep in check the city's wilful executive branch. That will only be done through a command of the detail – and not with all your airy-fairy ideas about management.

Ironically, the business community – the people who actually have to do business in the city – understands that much better than the putative business right does. So while Victoria Crone is still reaching around for a stance on the City Rail Link, on the 27th of this month John Key will tell the Auckland Chamber of Commerce that his government has fallen into line with the council's CRL timeline and will contribute its share of the funding from 2018, not 2020.

The announcement will probably be larded with yet more road spending, but it it's pretty clear the businesses the Chamber represents were getting antsy about the fluffing around. It's a big, big win for the allegedly ineffective Mayor Brown.

So this is the challenge for the Auckland centre-right: to not sit around reflecting on its own manifest destiny, or staging a face-off between its own factions, but to actually make a contribution to Auckland at what is a pivotal time for the city. It would be nice to see a sign they're getting that.


Kia kaha, Helen Kelly

"Helen Kelly is fighting for the rights of others to the very end," reads a comment under Life and Death and Cannabis, the trade union leader's new post at The Standard. And yes, she really is.

Kelly is taking cannabis oil to help manage the pain associated with terminal cancer. She knows she is in breach of the criminal law – and she knows she is not alone. She also knows she has the ability to speak frankly about it where others may not:

Since I have been public about it I have received so many very very sad emails from families also wanting access. Children with brain tumours, partners in their last stages of life zonked out on morphine and wanting something less brain numbing, people with elderly parents who are suffering from terrible arthritis and can’t cope with opiates so are basically in pain constantly and unable to move etc. It really has been incredible and quite heart breaking.

There's a reason that "Name Witheld" is the most popular byline on accounts like the letter to The Listener here:

I’ve never been interested in recreational drugs but tried cannabis as a last resort. I am now pain-free for most of the time, have been able to return to work and am again fully enjoying my life.

I would like to be able to share my experience with others who suffer from the same condition, but feel unable to for fear of prosecution, and for fear of jeopardising those who have helped me access cannabis.

This situation needs urgent redress. Although more evidence is urgently needed, those of us who have to rely on cannabis for our survival cannot wait for trials to take place. I know it works for me and has saved my life. I have conducted my own trials, carefully documenting the effects of every medication I have tried. Although I’m overjoyed to have my life back, it appals me to have to live in such a complicated and clandestine way.

And this Stuff column by a man who discovered that a very low level of cannabis use eased his inflammatory and arthritic symptoms and allowed him to return to work. It also helped moderate the effects of the prescription drugs he must take to treat his arthritic symptoms. Those drugs will eventually cause his liver and kidneys to fail. In that light, forbidding him to use cannabis because it might be bad for his health seems like a sick joke. He writes:

So although I have stepped out of the shadows to share my story, I am stopping short of telling you who I am. I would lose my job and my livelihood, I would lose everything I have worked so hard to create from the nothing when I was on the disability benefit.

My sense is that these stories are more common than is generally acknowledged. In the past, I've given a friend a pointer on where to access marijuana for a dying father, who had never used it before.

I also know of someone using cannabis oil (competently but illicitly prepared)  in a bid to shrink tumours. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound: the evidence that cannabinoids can reverse fast-growing tumours is mounting. Researchers  typically caution against self-medication with whole cannabis, but when self-medication is the only choice people have, such cautions may not carry a lot of weight.

Kelly writes:

Many are resorting to illegal supplies and this in itself is so far from satisfactory. They have no idea what the strength of the product is or what it even has in it some of the time. In countries which allow medical cannabis these things are sorted – Doctors are trained on its use and products are tailored to kids, elderly etc etc.

I'm not sure that even in more liberal regimes things are quite that "sorted" – this is new territory for everyone and it sometimes implies a departure from the precautionary principles of drug approval – but the lack of clarity on potency and cannabinoid ratios is a risk factor itself.

Which is why Helen Kelly – who you would think hardly needs the damn grief – has embarked on the process of seeking consent to import and use a cannabis-based product under the Medicines Act. You'll need to read her post to appreciate the full drama that involves, but it culminates in the required consent of the Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne.

Dunne is habitually, and often unfairly, pilloried in these matters. Yet in delivering the new National Drug Policy last year, he had to carefully navigate the National government's cynical and entirely political stance on drug law reform to become the first minister to acknowledge that a significant portion of the harm from illicit drugs lies in the laws that make them illicit.

Dunne is also constrained by the official advice he receives. Even when, as was the case in November when Pharmac's Pharmacology Therapeutics Advisory Committee advised against extending the subsidy for Sativex, the advice is frankly misguided. The committee advised against the funding in part because of the risk of "diversion" of Sativex for recreational use. Sativex is an oral spray containing a 50-50 ratio of the two main cannabinoids, THC and CBD – and is thus a poor candidate for getting high. The idea that criminals might seek to misuse it  when actual cannabis (which will get you high) is widely available is simply ludicrous. But that's the nature of the environment we're in.

In speaking out, Kelly also has the advantage – if it can be called that – of being terminally ill. The ethical case for denying cannabis for palliative care evaporates on examination, like a raindrop on a hotplate. If a dying person derives a subjective improvement in quality of life through the use of cannabis, there isn't really a moral argument for denying it. And there is a strong moral argument for alleviating the legal peril that use involves. At the least, no sane person is going to call for her prosecution.

Making this application will generate headlines. It will engender public sympathy. And perhaps this case – or the next one or the one after that – will transport the issue from being a moral one to a political one, thus bringing it within the ken of the present government. This is why it's worth trying.

I'm sure Helen Kelly understands this very well. She's smart as well as brave. But she could have simply kept her head down and got on with her own business. That she has not and that she has chosen to fight on a principle that will help others speaks volumes for the person she is.

Kia kaha, Helen Kelly. And thank you.

UPDATE: There has been some useful discussion in the comments below about the hoops Helen Kelly must jump through to gain ministerial approval to use a medicinal cannabis product under sections 20-22 of the Medicines Act 1981. The requirements are not part of the Act and were only recently published, in the wake of the Alex Renton case. Elements of them seem, frankly, unreasonable. The most obvious being the requirement that "patient hospitalised when treatment is initiated". The risk-benefit requirements are also irrelevant and unreasonable in the context of palliative care at least. I would hope there is scope for discussion of these requirements – a discussion that actually involves patients and their families.