Posts by Bob Williams

  • Access: Lest we forget: the influenza…,

    I've been very frustrated by the poor coverage of the flu epidemic of 1918. It was such a seminal event in many ways that it deserves much better coverage - as well as a timely reminder of what overuse of antibiotics could result in. There has been one play put on by the students at Vic but that's all I've seen. Hopefully someone will correct me since I've also been out of the country.

    Incidentally I don't buy the 'miasma' argument. The germ theory of epidemics replaced the miasma theory in the 1880's - getting on for half a century or so before the 1918 epidemic. I doubt by then it was even part of the popular imagination, but it would need a good delving into Papers Past to confirm that.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Fear of Cycling, in reply to MikeStead,

    And parking. Sometimes - often - there isn't anything convenient to attach your bike without creating an obstruction. I recently popped into the French Bakery in Petone (bread imported frozen from Paris). No space on the pavement so just parked my bike on the curb in the traditional manner. A minute later, emerging with my freshly baked baguette, I was yelled at by a women saying 'you are parking in my car park'. I had inadvertently taken up one of the rare vacant spaces on Jackson Street. The ensuing conversation is irrelevant - suffice to say it was unconstructive - but it got me thinking about notions of 'car parks' and bikes. So I checked the Transport Act. True enough, bikes are classified as vehicles (as anyone who's been pulled over for a DIC of a bike knows). I then emailed Lower Hutt Parking folks who confirmed that indeed they are 'vehicle parks' not 'car parks'. But added the following telling comment :

    "My only caution is that if you use a car park, you may infuriate a motorist who could take out his/her frustrations on your cycle, pushing it out of the way to make way for their vehicle. (That sort of thing can happen when there are no parks vacant). "

    As a car driver (as most adult cyclists probably are), his point rings true, but why can't I be infuriated also that a car has taken up my space. Time to bang on a few roofs (a highly effective way of expressing your displeasure at car drivers I learned in London years ago - it scares the bejesus out of them).

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Speaker: Saying what we actually mean on…,

    And don't forget the two seminal works by Susan Sontag - "Illness as Metaphor" and "AIDS and its metaphors". Both are brilliant essays into the huge influence using 'war' metaphors when speaking of illness has had on how we address disease (eg fighting disease, suffering AIDS, battle cancer), in particular the notion of winning and losing; success and defeat. These are powerful metaphors. Many years ago when working for the NZ AIDS Foundation, my colleagues and i tried to stop using military metaphors for a day..... we lasted twenty minutes.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Housing, hope and ideology,

    Oh and um, if rental properties become more financially attractive, then that could encourage more second and third home buyers into the market, which could further increase housing prices, increase our debt levels and reduce investment in the productive sector. Oh the delights of unintended consequences. Assuming of course, the conspiracy theorist in me coming to the fore, that they are unintended.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Housing, hope and ideology,

    Some years ago a colleague and I were contracted by a government agency to do some work for them. After listening to the brief, my colleague and I discussed the job over coffee (well it was Wellington). "But this was done fifteen years ago, the two of us were involved. It didn't work then and it won't work now" I said. "Yes" replied my colleague, "but this bunch were still at high school and everyone else was made redundant and are now living on the Kapiti Coast ... we are the organisational memory."

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The People's Poet is dead!,

    Back in the late 70s my then partner was on the same drama school course as Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. It was my pleasant duty to attend every performance of their (then) only routine, the infamous Two Americans sketch. Time passed, the audiences got into double figures and one day we wound up in this dingy, strip club in Soho, part of the Paul Redmond empire, called the Comic Strip. Prior to Dawn and Jenny being added, the line up was dominated by Alexi Sayle and two comedy duos, The Outer Limits (Nigel Planer and the much underrated Pete Richardson) and 20th Century Coyote (Ade Edmondson and Rik). Brought up during the anarchic British TV comedy period of Spike Milligan, Marty Feldman and the Monty Python bunch I thought I’d seen everything. But for the sheer terrifyingly uncertain nerve wracking performance that was Rik Mayall I’d never imagined the like. If it had come down to a choice between the survival of Rik, the audience or the building I’m not sure I’d have trusted Rik’s judgment. I disliked The Young Ones intensely, because I felt that genius had been sacrificed on the alter of shock. But I’m genuinely pleased that my opinion was in the minority.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Speaker: Let's talk about class,

    I first came to New Zealand in 1987 on holiday (I moved here the following year). In a dingy pub somewhere off Lambton Quay I got talking to a, then, fairly well known academic. I was given their business card. It said “Senior Lecturer in social stratification”. “What in God’s name is social stratification” I asked. “Class” they responded “but we’re not allowed to talk about class in New Zealand.” And so, in my twenty five years here, it has so proven.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Legal Beagle: On Consensus,

    I recall facilitating a "consensus" process once and being reminded by the participants that "consensus" isn't the same as "agreement" or "unanimous"

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: A good soldier dies,

    Corporal Hughes' story is uncomfortably similar the plot of the 1968 Rod Steiger movie "The Sergeant" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sergeant_(film). It was the days of A and B movies and I'd gone along to see something else. As a teenager still several years away from coming out to himself let alone anyone else, the film scared the living shit out of me. Even in these supposedly more enlightened times, perhaps especially in these more enlightened times, the overall message to young gay men is not a good one. If Hall's report in the Star-Times is correct then Corporal Hughes was clearly in a very messed up state, but infatuations in closely confined environments are always messy and can be dangerous whatever the sexuality of those involved. What's really disturbing is the response of others - as has been pointed out well in Russel's article and by Corporal Hughes' whānau. I feel reluctant to drag out the old cliché about whether this chain of events, from the confrontation to the coroner, would have unfolded the way that it has if Corporal Hughes had been straight. But I have.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • OnPoint: Breaking Point in Sri Lanka,

    I was in Sri Lanka at the same time as Keith, spending a lot of time with agencies who are trying to bring some form of relief to those dispossesed by the current phase in the civil war (for that is what it is).

    What Keith reports reflects much of what I was told, and also much of what has been reported in the local English language newspapers that are not entirely alligned with the Government. [These are influential because English is such a common language of the Sri Lankan middle and upper class that for some of them, I was told, Singalese or Tamil were their second not first languages]

    One thing Keith didn't mention was the threat by the UNHCR to pull out its support and resources unless the Government stopped forceably repatriating refugees back into their original areas. In fact, my recollection is that the UNHCR acted on that threat in an attempt to force the Government to stop doing it. It did pull its people out (although I haven't been able to confirm this). If they did, or if they do, then would be enormously significant - since it strongly affects the inclination and ability of other aid agencies to carry on their work. Their work is tough enough as it is - I spoke with aid workers who had been evacuated by their agencies several times as the bombs fell around them.

    That this is a nasty, ugly and largely ignored war goes without saying. What is less known is the extent to which New Zealand has a direct interest. Fonterra has a very major stake in the country. There are 18 million or so people in Sri Lanka, and through its own exports and ownership of local producers and processors Fonterra controls about 60% of the country's dairy sales by volume.

    We are, as a country, involved and yes it is disgraceful that Keith can't get the local news media interested. I could care a toss whether or not Kim Hill and Ruth Pretty have a rather closer relationship than I'd previously assumed, but what I do care about is that a so-called high quality magazine such as the Listener chooses to put that on its cover than something as substantial and important as the work that Keith has done.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply