I love Radio New Zealand

I’ve always thought those ‘I (heart) NZ’ genre of tee-shirts were olympically lame. They made me want to buy a tee shirt that said ‘I ( picture of psychopath stabbing randomly) jetskis’ or ‘I ( stick figure throwing up) Nigella Lawson’s cupcakes. But it’s very unfashionable to be so negative so I never really got round to either buying or manufacturing them. Lately however I’ve wanted a tee-shirt that says ‘I (stick figure radiating hearts) Radio New Zealand. Because I do. In the words of those great 20th century poets ABBA, “I do I do I do I do I do.” One of the great joys of my present job, despite its inherent mundane nature is that I get to listen to Radio New Zealand for the whole day without any ad breaks. I am never told what to buy or what to wear, never told it’s not ok or not to shake my baby and never advised to go for a cervical smear test.

Unlike TV news or most of the print media offered up for consumption in this country, I can rest safe in the knowledge that none of the economic forecasting or commentary will ever come from any real estate organisations. Neither will I be made dizzy from the media loop the loop which is a mainstay of kiwi print and television journalism whereby newsreaders veer off the rails of reasonable newsworthiness and go careering off creating their own personal relationship train wrecks and then get their other newsreader friends to comment on them, or be outraged that other news organisations got there first. I can feel reassured that if Sean Plunket ever decides to go upmarket and become a lesbian and date a pole dancer from Huapai that R N Z will never feel the need to let me know. It may sound mean but I really don’t care what interchangeably blonde newsreader does or even thinks about anything .. simply because it’s just not news. I love Radio New Zealand precisely because they actually have the resources to go and pay for the answers to the questions they/we want answered through the official information act and the time to follow long running issues – the boring yet vital spade work of attending hearings and parliamentary debates to track politicians’ real form rather than the 5 minute sound bites we get of what may be just politically expedient at the time. They have the skills and the people to do all the tedious groundwork that real journalism used to be about. Saturday mornings without Kim Hill is as the Russians say ‘an egg without salt’ or a ‘kiss without a moustache’ a meaningless meander towards Sunday. Kim Hill still actually reads books and understands them – thereby doing all the hard work so her listeners can follow the most fascinating of discussions on everything from meta-physics to the architectural reasons why there are so many conspiracy theories about the twin towers – and still feel like you’re having fun. She’s the braining up when other news media is dumbing down so fast that listening to it feels like being locked in an elevator with Paul Henry and Susana Paul after all the cables have been cut.

If Radio New Zealand were a species in this political climate– it would be a Black Stilt or a Chatham Island’s petrel. Extremely rare and under extreme pressure from destruction of habitat.

Jonathon Coleman – the minister of Broadcasting in a peculiarly mustelid like speech, announced a few days ago that RNZ really needs to get jiggy with it and think of some cool funky ways to come up with some more cash. Like sponsorship. I can see that working. ‘Saturday morning with Kim Hill and Durex – Protecting Plonkers Like You!’ I’m sure she’d be up for it. He wanted to know what an organisation that costs $38 million a year to fund should look like. If it were in any other country it would look like a ford cortina after the cousins have borrowed it for a road trip up North. Instead it’s still cruising like an old Benz. Before Mr. Coleman starts taking the wheels off and flogging the hubcaps I’d just like to say – mate: as the last bastion of decent independent ad free news in this country – it’s cheap at twice the price.

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Whatever happened to chops?

Whatever happened to chops? My entire childhood was founded on chops, spuds and one green and now they’ve vanished in much the same way as Morris Minors or glory boxes. (For you Gen Yers – a glory box was a box where women kept things like linen and embroidered pillowcases until the glorious day when they would marry and be able to use them. I know. And before I get outed – I actually had one.) There were the few fallow years when Mum had a mid-life crisis and started wearing ties sewn together in the form of skirts and took herself off to chinese cooking classes whereupon she started doing things like battering and frying ice-cream for the same reason that mountaineers ascend ridiculous peaks. Because it was there… and because she could. Apart from when Mum went mad, expressed through some fairly radical mid-seventies cooking experiments, chops formed the culinary base of our gastronomic geography. They were so easy - get some chops and tell the kids they’ll get a cuff around the ears if the spuds aren’t peeled and cooking and the greens ready before Mum gets home from work. The perfect dinner!

If I even tried it now, I’m afraid my own child would ring CYFS declaring child abuse. No hint of Thai Green Curry. An absence of miso soup. Not a thread of saffron or a cardamom pod to be found. Not a suggestion of … well anything much except … chops. Glorious chops.

I do vaguely recall going vegetarian for about 8 years after one too many weekends on the farm peeling cow’s kidneys and cleaning up guts. And I do have faint guilty memories of telling Dad that according to Buddhist texts he would die uttering the same noises he had engendered in those beasts he had killed in some karmic retribution theory that I’d pretty much made up in order not to have to get so up close and personal with anything in my immediate food chain. Eventually I washed up in Argentina where such deep character flaws as ‘vegetarianism’ were soon knocked out of me. They are such a meat eating culture that only ‘beef’ is considered to be actual meat. Everything else; chicken, pork, lamb is ‘other’ and therefore appropriate to offer non- meat eaters. Very few vegetarians make it out alive from Buenos Aires.

Since leaving home I’ve been an espresso fuelled culinary experience junkie always looking for the next exotic fix, looking down my nose on that limited mainstay of kiwi culture: the humble chop. How deluded I’ve been. A few nights ago, rushing home from work and experiencing the working Mum’s water-boarding hour where one wonders what is for dinner and then remembers that you’ve got to cook it and there is only some dying parsley and a can of chickpeas in the house, I decided to make falafels. Not too radical – not life threatening and just enough stress to make you feel like you’re making an effort. Instead of undying gratitude the mad Latin declared war (where’s the meat?) and the six year old said she ‘didn’t like the texture.’ ‘You what?!’ Incredulity sending my voice ceiling bound, ‘ We didn’t have texture when I was a kid! We just had bloody chops!’ Those kids in Haiti wouldn’t mind the texture.’ She held up her hand as if to say… ‘I know... starving orphans…blah blah.’ “ I’m still going to eat it, I just don’t like it that’s all’.

Dumbfounded really.

It was only then that I realised that I haven’t so much fostered an adventurous eater as created a culinary monster.

So that’s it. No more masterchef or any of the other myriad cooking shows – they’re all banned for their evil influence. Next I know she’ll be declaring that the syllabub (if I knew what one was) is lacking in consistency and that the chicken should have been baked in a handmade clay pot.

Arise Sir Chop! Your time has come. I’ve bought 20 kilos of the things and two potato peelers – one each for their birthdays. Retro cooking is the new black.

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Rents will rise!

“Rents will rise!” Intone the property investors in the way that one expects from religious fanatics discussing Armageddon. I’m wondering if Mr. Key might need an expert hostage negotiator to talk them back down from the ledge which, for the last few years has been artificially bolstered by easy borrowing and the ability to claim depreciation on assets which have steadily risen in value. The hostage piggies in the middle are the renters and property investors know that because about 38% of the population rents, they’re always going to be the soft flank in any government’s side. Which is why previous governments haven’t had the cojones to go for a capital gains tax or adjust some of the tax benefits for owning rental properties. That a National government should do so – astounds me. If they go ahead with it I’ll have to eat not only my hat but three pairs of thermal undies and a pair of old work boots. Note to self: Stop making ridiculous bets while under the influence of alcohol.

Vice President of the Property Investors Federation Andrew King said recently that house prices were sure to drop. He said it like it was a bad thing. However those young (and not so young – forced out by the combination of high student debt, high rents and living costs and low wages) families desperate to get into their first home know one thing; a place to call your own is the first real starting point in owning your own life.

While the rental property investors claim it costs $6k more a year to own than rent, anyone renting knows that they may have to leave their home with only 6 weeks notice. Anyone renting a house that gets put up for sale will fail to feel the love or the economic savings as the phrase ‘open home’ becomes more like ‘open zoo’ and they are the main exhibits. The implications for families renting at the lower end of the property market where houses are routinely put up for sale can be horrendous. Tenancies ending in 2002 were of an average duration of 15 months, of those 33% ended in 6 months and 13% in less than 3 months. I know of one family in Auckland who had to move house 4 times last year because investors were bailing from their lower end rental portfolios. There is the expense but also the disruption to schooling to consider. If we really want to look at issues such as academic failure we may want to look further than just achievement standards and worry more about things like truancy which is often a direct result of being a member of a highly transient family. Housing New Zealand is increasingly looking to private property investors to provide NZ’s State Housing offering a 5 year ‘guaranteed rent’ leasing agreement with private property investors. The costs of maintenance for those properties is then, in many cases picked up by the tax payer thereby taking the remainder of the risk out of the ‘business’ of people farming. Let’s face it – owning rental properties doesn’t create jobs or any long term economic viability – surely there are more creative things to be done with all that investment energy than just buying houses. For some entertaining reading on some future prospects for housing in New Zealand I suggest looking at Housing New Zealand’s website and click on ‘Future Scenarios for Social and Affordable Housing’ from a year ago. My favourite scenario is where gangs initially dominate and control the housing market but ‘eventually become a positive force and get elected to Parliament’. I think someone just made that up to annoy Micheal Laws. However there are some intriguing land ownership implications in the last scenario where ‘all New Zealanders unite under a Kotahitanga flag’. Particularly interesting given the recent discussions around Waitangi Day. Long term, if I were a residential property investor, instead of threatening rent hikes I’d be less worried about a capital gains tax and more concerned about New Zealand going the way of some South American countries where renters just decided they’d had enough – stopped paying the rent and simply stayed. In Bolivia at least, they then elected the leader of the ‘squatters rights’ movement as the new President. Last I heard he’s still there.

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What the hell are we doing there?

The only thing my Pop ever said about the Second World War was ‘Better the enemy in front than American troops behind.’ I’ve heard NZ veterans who were stationed on the ground in Vietnam say similar things - that everyone just ducked for cover if they saw the stars and stripes coming overhead despite being, supposedly ‘on the same side’. I suppose it’s some reassurance then that US General Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops in Afghanistan to ‘fire cautiously’ – now there’s a thought - in the wake of hundreds of Afghans taking to the streets to protest the seemingly arbitrary killing of civilians in American air raids. Not so reassuring then that the numbers of civilians killed is now in the thousands and less than 20% of that is attributable to the Taliban.

It should be reassuring that the spokesman for the New Zealand Army has insisted that ‘not a shot has been fired in anger’ by the NZ SAS. Except I noticed that he was blinking a lot when he said it– which made me wonder if perhaps the SAS had not done any shooting while slightly pissed off or maybe… just a little bit cross?

I doubt any highly trained soldier would do anything in anger – leave emotion to the civilians. An SAS soldier would be calculated, on orders and with no emotional involvement at all – surely that should be the hallmark of any professional soldier. Neither are they allowed opinions – that is left to the politicians and the public. Which is why the comment was totally meaningless – at least to me. Unlike school, Mr. Key has assured us that none of the SAS troops are there to eat their lunch, or shave if the photos of Willie are anything to go by. Somehow the pics of Mr. Apiata published in the Herald last week got turned into an OSH issue (naughty Willie forgot his helmet) instead of raising the larger question – namely: What on earth are we doing there? And presumably, ‘What is the end game?’ Instead we got a full scale hand wringing about whether or not the media should identify members of the SAS – a diversion so convincing and entertaining I’m sure the NZ army engineered it themselves.

But how good can it be for lasting peace, for New Zealand to be seen to be supporting an Afghan government that made up its own election results - making even the UN say they’d have to go and sit in the thinking spot and do it all again (which they didn’t.) Karzai must have got political coaching from Tony Blair.

The lack of access to reliable information must surely be partly to blame for why, after 7 years life is little better for the average Afghan citizen than when US forces walked in. Literacy among women is still less than 10%, the heroin trade is thriving and security is almost zero. According to a BBC poll in May last year most Afghan citizens still see the occupation as a good thing in achieving security. The only other people who can be reliably asked about how best to go about this are the soldiers who are there and assessing the efficacy or otherwise of the military operations they carry out. But they are not allowed to speak – and when they do we are not allowed to listen to them. Sometime this week Corporal Joe Glenton will be court-martialled. His crime was saying publicly that the ‘war in Afghanistan was just making things worse.’ He ended up in military jail and we are now none the wiser in at least being able to hear what his thoughts are and what he has seen first hand. We have however been treated, at length to Tony Blair’s distortions and untruths in his version of events of how we got here in the first place. The NZ Herald and the Dominion Post are indeed grossly irresponsible – not for showing the pictures of Willie Apiata - but for not digging hard enough at the army and political non-speak to get to the question of what exactly NZ’s role in Afghanistan is and what the public mandate is for it.

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