The Weather Girl Blues

“I’m your weather girl. Ah.Huh. I’ve got news for you. ‘Cause tonight round about half past 10 – for the first time in history. It’s gonna start raining men.”

 The song has promised me that Whaangaarrain is going to start delivering more than precipitation and I’m counting on it.

I’ve listened to Aretha belting out ‘RESPECT’. I’ve sung the words loudly to every rousing song ever sung by every drag queen ever born including “I will survive” and “It’s raining Men,’ in order to cheer myself up and I’m done. If it doesn’t stop raining soon I will have to break out the Janis Joplin LPs.

Once expelled from a flat for over indulgence in Janice, the flatmates made me choose; her or them. Two of them were dairy farmer’s boys and watched Neighbours so were hardly the arbiters of good taste. I chose her.

The small person learnt the words to ‘Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedez Benz’ when she was four. It is true that I told her that we’d have to give her away to another family if she wasn’t up to the task.

It is also true that the Latin went mental when she told on me.

In the end I told him it was a church song and of deep political and social import and also part of my cultural heritage. He calmed down – he’s big on inter-cultural respect.

I also told him when we came to live here that Whangarei was beside the sea and that you could grow tropical fruit – he was thinking Rio and what he got was Raumanga. Not that he’s ever complained. But seriously this incessant rain must be driving more than a few of us more insane than usual.

I decide to get all Pollyanna with it and get with the Sunday rainy day groove. I go for all those crafty things the small person gets for Christmases that I never seem to have the time to sit and do with her. Small pieces of glitteriness flutter everywhere. Paint leaks through the newspaper. Then the cat walks through it. I remember that I got expelled from Brownies on the craft day. The look of horror on my Mum’s face when I had to tell her I’d been kicked out which was why I was home early. It was a rainy day. Now I get it.

Then I have the brilliant idea of ‘More Me Time.’ This is very big in the women’s mags that I read in A and E when the small person has either broken another arm or has an asthma attack due to the incessant rain.

I start on Eric Fromm’s ‘The Sane Society’ and am on page three when a bugled rendition of the theme song to Sponge Bob is channelled into my frontal lobe via a rolled up poster. I go nuclear. There is shouting which would make the Hulk look like a patsy. Variations on the theme of roaring and apologising for bad behaviour on both sides. My family gangs up and repeats a theatre piece of me losing it. It’s funny the first time. 

Baking! Only; everything chosen needs ingredients which necessitates forging into the tempest. Bread. Flour – water. How hard can it be? Samoan sea slug loaves accompany zombie brain loaves. Meanwhile the dog kennel floats out to sea.

I look to the modern oracle of Google for salvation. ‘Weather men’ gets nothing but some rock band.

‘Weather girls’ however gives pages of porno lite. It’s then that I notice a clip entitled ‘Why God sends rain to Latin America and not to the Middle East.’ There are the usual Latin lovelies falling out of a variety of outfits made from the off-cuts of g-strings. Nobody is noticing the approaching low. Rain is irrelevant. They are followed by women in full burkas pointing to maps. It seems to be working. It’s all desert there.

I’m writing to TVNZ and suggesting the new dress code for the weather women before I have to consider living with these guys on an ark.

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Mining Rhetoric

Bugger. I was lining myself up for a PR job with the mining companies and Shane Jones has beaten me to it.

I had my fingers crossed when I promised the mad Latin I’d never spend another cent on horses after that time I tried to ride to Bolivia and I still want another horse before I need a hip replacement. Obviously one can’t pay for the chaff by writing so I was thinking I’d change my name to something funky and write the press releases for the mining companies as a side line. I’d call myself Saffron DuFont and wear expensive silk floaty stuff and big jewellery and organise a pay packet which ordinarily would be about 4 times that of an investigative journalist .

That was the idea until Shane stepped up.

He’s good though. I’d pay to listen to him but I hadn’t reckoned on him being the local tongue for hire.

At least, I hope the mining companies are paying him because he’s doing a really good job – and credit where credit is due. I’ve got some catching up to do. The first thing I’d do go for is division – make an issue that is essentially about long term sustainability, real wealth and water into a brown or white issue. I’d blame those annoying pakeha greenie fundies. I’d point out that they only show up on their skates to hold signs and wear too many scarves before retreating again behind their white picket fences and good jobs. I’d then make it seem as though the whole kaitiaki guardianship and future proofing for the next generations was a throwback to some mythological past and that any real groovy Maori will get with the programme and hop on the mining magic train of quick cash. That way those annoying pakeha tree huggers will never gain the benefit of learning about social action from a people who have spent the last 150 years honing their skills and Maori environmentalists will be shamed into silence, accused of not thinking of the good of their community.

Nice. Keep them separate.

The trick is to sell the false dichotomy between having to choose between feeding your kids and looking after the environment.

Make it seem like there are only two options and mining is the better one – it’s very important at this stage of the game to make sure that NONE of the other options that could have been pursued over the last 15 years of political neglect in the North are ever mentioned.

It’s best to ignore, that there is very little in the way of central government and local joint ventures for aqua-culture or fisheries - Thames is looking at the creation of 400 jobs by expanding their mussel industry for example. Can’t go there.

The idea is to keep the eyes firmly focussed on getting quick cash now.

 Dammit! He’s already done all of the above – I’m going to have to think harder.

The problem is that the one model that Phil Heatley keeps holding up as an example of gilded goodness is Newmont’s Waihi and the numbers aren’t adding up. While there may be billions in mineral wealth buried in Northland, the model that we have in Waihi shows that it does not get shared around the place it is extracted from. In Waihi, with the mine, the unemployment rate still sat at 8.3% when the economy was booming in 2006. Northland has an unemployment rate of about 8.7% today. In Waihi, with the mine, the median income is $15,200 – about $9000 a year less than the wider area of Waikato and 5000 less than the North.

Most poignantly - in Waihi – with the mine, 43.1% of the people aged 15 years and over have no formal qualifications compared with 29% for the Waikato as a whole.

 This PR gig is harder than I thought. I might leave it to Shane and his mining rhetoric rumbling like houses falling down mineshafts. Because at some stage I know someone will come and ask me ‘Show me the Money.” And so far, at least I don’t know what I’d have to tell them.

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Protestors or real people?

Words are funny things. Some carry weight while others are frivolous frippery.

 Like the last two.

They frame how we see the world in such a way as to change our mind about it. Which is why, smooth guys in PR get paid such a lot to put a good spin on them. It’s also why an honest argument can be blindsided with good bluff and a lot of quick banter. Actual numbers and information is not necessary – it’s all in the delivery, which is why the recent HAC debacle has a lot to do with the mining argument that is just starting to wind into gear.  Dr. Martin Esser is right when he said in Monday’s letters to the ed. that the financial burden to be carried long term from toxic mining will far outweigh the costs of the museum. We should all save our breath. 

But he’s wrong in thinking that the issues are completely separate and irrelevant to each other.

Any argument that there has been a real consultation process on either issue is moot if only one group in the community has been consulted.

In the case of the HAC – the results of the consultation were ignored and in the case of mining, only those with a vested interest have been invited into the discussions. Yesterday a few sustainable living advocates showed up at the stadium to show that there is a part of the community that questions the benefits of mining in Northland. Undoubtedly they will have been made a joke of by those inside and classified under the‘ protester/activist’ label, and their opinions filed under ‘ vexatious misc’ where they can be forgotten.

Officially, a ‘protestor’ is no longer one of the ‘real people’, who can be whoever you want them to be depending on where your interests lie.

Substitute ‘real people’ for ‘the silent majority’ and it’s just another way of saying ‘the people I choose to listen to’, unless you’ve got the verified numbers to back you up.

It’s unfortunate that those with concerns over mining have already been forced into ‘protestor’ mode by being excluded from the process from the outset. Perhaps mining is good for Northland. But who will ever know if this is the level of debate that is made available to the community by our political leaders?

Recently I attended a Mine watch Northland meeting and was surprised to find there were no professional protestors there. Everyone I spoke to had jobs. There were business people, farmers, tourism operators, refugees from ex-mining towns, an entomologist, a physiotherapist, a retired nun, an engineer, a trustee of a local marae, health workers, educators and more than a few Mums. And yes. There was one, dreadlocked and very entertaining advocate for the ecology who works for Forest and Bird. There was ‘no whining’. But there were a lot of questions. Questions that had not been answered by Phil Heatley blithely telling those left on the outside of the non-information meeting at Waitangi to; ‘go ask a geologist.’

But what would happen if we reframed the labels a little? What if the ‘anti-mining’ lot took on the mantle of ‘pro-healthy waterways’? Because that was what most of the people there were concerned about.

If I were a dairy farmer relying on rivers that could be contaminated by a potential mine I would be worried about what could be in the milk concentrate that I was sending away as baby formula. I wouldn’t be an ‘anti-mining’ lobbyist. I’d be a ‘concerned business man.’ The same would apply if I had an oyster operation and the mine was in the catchment, or I had a license to fish eels, or was a small holding agriculturalist.

What if ‘protesters’ were just Mums who were not sure that a bit of Persil would be enough to get rid of the dirt once it’s been through Newmont’s mill? So if these people’s questions are entirely invalid, if in fact these are not ‘the people’, then someone please – tell me where the ‘real people’ are.

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Political ninja in the dark

I have a few vices which I am embarrassed about but over which I have no self-control.  Talking to newsreaders when they give the same gravitas to such things as a civil war in Syria as to the reformation of some girl band full of sulky middle aged women in pony-tails pretending not to hate each other. This was how I came to be rolling round the living room moaning: ‘Argentina has just privatised it’s energy sector and you’re telling me about the bloody Spice Bints’. Wendy Petrie did not answer back.  Another is finding double meanings funny. The loosely veiled slight. The intended but politely gloved dig. Last week’s handshake between the Queen and former IRA commander Martin McGuiness is a case in point. ‘Goodbye and Godspeed’ in Gaelic, were his words or so he said. ‘Bugger off and Good Riddance’ seems more likely. Odd choice of words. But definitely funny. I became over-sensitised as an exchange student in Thailand when I gave the traditional introductory speech at the school assembly. Out of cross cultural respect I decided to give it a go in Thai and so phonetically wrote down an inane greeting mentioning something about my likes and hobbies. Classic student drivel. What I hadn’t yet discovered was that Thai is a tonal language which means any sound can have 5 different meanings depending on what tone you use. “Hello. My name is Nickie. I am from New Zealand and I like horse riding and Thai fruit especially the big bananas.’ Or I thought that’s what I said. Why then did the kids fall down laughing, and as they were rolling around crying, why were the Thai teachers smacking them with rulers? The English teacher rudely pushed me out of the way, grabbing the microphone and made some form of explanation while berating the unruly students. When she could get over her embarrassment she explained that what I had in fact said was “Hello – I am Nickie and I like horse poo and big Thai willies.” It took nearly a year for the Dean to stop looking at me like I was the epitome of Western degeneracy and the very reason that it was important to uphold good Buddhist values within the school.   The worst vice of all however is the one I can’t give up. There are no 7 step programmes. It is a dirty secret that I keep going back to knowing it will lead to mental deterioration and futile rage. Parliamentary TV When I can, I watch it in the full knowledge it will lead the mind to dark places.  Last week’s effort was a living theatre piece based around the concept of ‘filibustering.’ I watched Tony Ryall in political drag, speaking on behalf of Kate Wilkinson - the minister for Conservation and not answering anything at all. I have to give it to him – he’s good. Unlike our own MP Phil Heatley, who constantly repeats the party line as a substitute for giving a straight answer. If words were numbchucks Tony Ryall is a ninja warrior. While impressive it still leaves everybody in the dark with no idea where the bodies are and the lurking worry that there’s a legislative lunatic on the prowl waiting to ambush those of us who still give a toss. It also manages to circumnavigate the whole democratic process. It even drove Lockwood Smith to stop the proceedings and insist that “If Ministers don’t want to be held to account – the answer is very simple: don’t be a Minister.” One way of telling our elected representatives to straighten up and fly right. “Members have a right to ask questions, and in a parliamentary democracy – the House deserves an answer.” It’s also up to the public to make a habit of getting the questions straight and putting them to MP’s so that they may put them to the House. Which is the only place I can think of where double or nothing meanings are not amusing at all.

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