A live peek at your cray

On Saturday morning London time, a rag-tag bunch of left-wing weirdos will descend on my flat to huddle around the glow of livestreams, making panic pikelets and schadenfreude pie, and wishing it was evening here so we could justify sinking piss with the rest of you.

This has been my third election as an overseas voter.  Nothing makes me miss New Zealand like election time.  From out here this vote has become sacred to me, not as a symbolic ritual of connectedness to nationhood and citizenship but – duh – as the actual, literal connection to nationhood and citizenship.

However, once you send in your vote from overseas (early of course), then what?

Where is the rest of the connection?


When the seal of crazy was broken over a month ago with the release of Dirty Politics, I was jolted by memories of the first New Zealand election when political blogs became A Thing. It was 2005, my (and Keith’s!) first year blogging on Public Address.  No-one on PA had a TV show; politicians referred to blogs as ‘blogspots’, Whale Oil was just one of many fringe voices not to be taken seriously, and Russell told me to check out a technically ‘Asian’ female blogger called Cactus Kate out of – why not? – solidarity.

It was a little heartbreaking to think of how innocent and scrappy political blogs seemed then, and how corrupt and institutionalised things got after just one more election cycle.  I left New Zealand in 2007, and while I was away the Scooby Gang morphed into Game of Thrones.

But let’s face it: Game of Thrones is awesome viewing. And after nine years, New Zealand finally gave us expats an election to actually pay attention to. Aotearoa is having a world news moment! For being world-class awful. Weirdly, this is less embarrassing than the norm. The spectacle of citizenship is perverse; as if to be taken seriously it needs blood sacrifice, a Joffrey, some animal mutilation, the full smorgasbord of Cray. Not only did overseas voters want to watch the ever-peaking crustacean, we finally had the technology.

Take 2008. It was a boring, depressing election for the left. On election morning in my flat in Geneva no-one could find a functioning non-geoblocked TV livestream, and we were reduced to flipping between digital radio streams of bFM (was it Wallace? Whoever it was, they were hammered) and NatRad, eating Swiss Surrender Cheese and waiting for the inevitable. Once it was over, I ignored everything for three years.

In 2011, the outcome was so predictable (earthquake; rugby), I’m amazed I remember anything about the election. Outside the country, we were vaguely aware of a last-minute journo-frenzy around some accidental tape-recording that people on the ground were taking Very Seriously. Seemingly because there was nothing else for journalists to do during that campaign. But at least we had an open livestream for the count. Small mercies. Very small.  I needed a stiff drink, but was pregnant and had to settle for Blueberry Pancakes of Bitterness.

Flash forward to mid-August 2014, six weeks out from the election: My toddler demands to know what I’m looking at on my computer as I shove his breakfast paratha into his face with one hand, and scroll with the other.  “Erm… Mummy’s working,” I say.  I feel Dirty.  Nicky Hager has made me lie to my child. I am stuck to my New Zealand twitter feed, because SCANDAL.  People I know are in a book!  Not in a good way!  And it doesn’t stop. It does not. Ever. Stop.

For the first time in seven years I had the means and the motive to follow all the debates, all the journalists, the ever-mounting peaks of cray. It’s been like catching up with old friends. How times have changed since 2005. When did Sean Plunkett get so old?  When did the Press Gallery get so young?  Jesus, how long have I been gone??

We’ve gone beyond every journalist having a blog.  Now it seems every blogger has a column or two, a radio slot or three, and a TV show.  TV and radio are tweeting out print stories.  Newspapers are tweeting out video stories and half-hour long interview panel shows, and the Herald and ZB are now some double-headed conjoined twin, but which is the evil one? There are TV debate shows based on tweeting out comments about other TV debate shows happening on the other channel.

While the UK media retains a degree of format specialism because it can afford to (also stratified neatly along the lines of the class system and the left/right divide), from the online-facing content it seems like the scrappy, survivalist New Zealand media has become a massive multi-platform clusterfuck.  If Fairfax buys APN, this may not result in anyone’s… well… satisfaction.  But right now, I can’t be mad. Every expat knows the embarrassment of going back with a foreign partner to New Zealand to visit, and turning on the news. Or handing them a copy of the Herald. This election, the knives came out and everyone sharpened up. New Zealand journalism became much less embarrassing, because there was something to cover.

I’ve been privileged to follow this election campaign live online with the rest of you.  I cried along with other tweeters while watching people around the country talk to Native Affairs about giving up and going overseas. I leapt to my feet in my pyjamas in London and whooped out loud with the Auckland Town Hall, when Snowden’s wan face blinked up on my livestream. From my time zone, I saw who on New Zealand Twitter was getting up the earliest, and who was going to bed the latest. Sometimes this was the same person (you know who you are). I pondered idly, at 6am while a child battered my face with a wooden train, whether these guys were getting enough sleep.

This election has been the first that has made me so ashamed and proud of New Zealand at the same time; and has been the one to make me miss New Zealand the most while simultaneously, making me feel like I’m right there with you. Ah, fuck it. This time there will be Saturday morning drinking.

Tiananmen 25: Anniversary season

Tank Man
‘Tank Man’, 1989, Image by Jeff Widener

At the movies the other week, I was subjected to an ad featuring a brainless celebration of the 25th anniversary of the invention of the Magnum ice-cream. The Guardian reminded us that this is the 25th anniversary of the first use of the acronym LOL in an online environment. 1989 truly was the beginning of the end times.

The End of History even, if you and Fukuyama remember that lark.

Where were you in 1989? Or, more to the point, how old were you in 1989? Were you old enough? Were you born yet?  If you were there, you’ll know that this whole year will be a long string of 25th anniversaries. And you will feel all the feelings, as the kids say. Sad. Old. Nostalgic. Hopeless. Cynical. Hopeful.

Tomorrow isn’t one of the good ones. The wall doesn’t come down. The good guys don’t win. It’s the anniversary of a dead end. I was old enough, and young enough, to be very deeply affected in unspeakable ways.  I even wrote a totally indecipherable poem about it around ten years later, that’s how hard it seemed to say anything.

My family and I had been in the square only a year before, wandering its vast expanse in the grey summer rain, through Mao’s Mausoleum, past the Great Hall in whose basement out-of-town troops gathered a year later to launch the attack.  China: It was that place where the stories came from, the only ones around at the time to tell you about your crazy people and the terrible things they did to each other, and for each other. Stories of a strange twisted pride of place and explanation. A year later, the greatest story of all started – one that would let everyone find out who we truly were, and what we were capable of.

I watched it all roll out on the TV1 news every night with my family, as autumn rumbled into winter in the suburban antipodes. I remember my parents in that living room, observing their quiet, tense hope.

You know the ending.

Old. Sad. Nostalgic. Fearful of that postmodern memory virus, that renders everything flat, momentary and meaningless. 6-4 becomes a bead that clicks over each year, its texture wearing down with each iteration, a dying prayer. Is that all there is?

I know people who had been a part of the student movement in Beijing and in other parts of the country, who through luck or circumstance avoided or evaded the military attack. One person I know wrote a giant novel about it. More recently, I’ve worked in human rights on the coms side, and have been abreast of the China twitterati, the vast netizen movement and the universe of meme-tastic inside baseball that is the Chinese online experience. But I was never sure how common the knowledge is in China about what happened.

I know a student here from Mainland China – incredibly bright, ridiculously young. Born, in fact, several years after June 4th 1989. I asked this student the other day. The 25th anniversary of liusi is coming up. Did they know about it?

They knew about it.

And did other people know about it?

Outside of universities, people don’t know exactly what happened. But they know something happened. The anniversary makes it all too obvious, when once a year, nothing works on the internet. But students know. Students all know.

And where did they get that knowledge from?

Videos shared between students on their hard drives. Handed down, format to format, over 25 years. It’s a memory kept alive inside universities, by a living oral and multimedia history.  This kid had been reading up about the reformists of the time.  Like Zhao Ziyang, I asked?

Yes, they said, Zhao Ziyang! Seeming surprised I had heard of him. This process of recovering memory makes it all new. So maybe my fears are unfounded.

Tiananmen, just like Skid Row’s breakout hit of 1989 (another 25th anniversary), I remember you.

Who will watch the watchers? Report from the Chinatown store detective

Oh, hai. It’s been a while I guess. I got distracted studying maths in the library.

No, really!

I’ve started an MSc in social research methods, and it includes… maths. And it turns out I’m worse at maths than I remember. I remember being great at maths. But back then, computers didn’t exist, and neither did puberty. So I may fail quant. But qual is pretty sweet so far (leaving more time for maths homework). Here’s my ‘participant observation’/ethnographic homework for my qualitative research methods class. I decided to follow white people around London Chinatown.

Grumpy old lady

You guys, I’m a university student again! Except this time, instead of being the socially-awkward 16-year old who threw up on herself while being supported to drink illegally on licensed premises, I’m the grumpy old lady who gets excited about going out for 1.5 hours to drink two half-pints, then goes home to complain on the internet about ostentatious architecture, and design festivals in her backyard.

Seriously guys, a few weeks ago some design school set up a cool-looking garden installation at the back of my building (not pictured), in big corrugated iron drums with curved ladders on it, suggesting a certain degree of interactivity, suitably enough for the raggedy aesthetic it projected of being a site-specific community-embedded garden/alotment project. I was excited because Dictator Toddler loves learning from the environment, mucking around in gardens, hunting bees, prodding flowers and veges, smelling herbs and picking up dirt. Then I looked more closely and realised that it was totally inaccessible despite the use of ladders (they were ladders you could not actually reach). You could only look up at the plants as though they were sculptures on a pedestal. So it was not a garden you could be in. Or participate in. Just look at from a distance. So why bother with the radical aesthetic? Right, hipsters? It was just a pseudo-feral corporate decoration. And then at the end, they packed it into a fucking box (pictured) To take it away. It was not a garden. It was potplants. Just seeing it packed in a box like that, transportable, commodified, and out of reach of any human interaction or practical use, just made it seem like an insult to gardens. Naturally it made a great creepy Instagram.

And another thing that made me go grumpy-old-lady. Dictator Toddler has started at the LSE nursery, which has delightful staff but is in an underground building with no real natural light or climbing equipment, because their ‘outdoor’ play area (a sunken basement corridor open to a strip of sky) is too narrow to fit any for health and safety reasons. They do great with what they have, and the Dictator is finally settling in. But then I walked into this building at the LSE and nearly cried. What is this giant cavernous and beautifully lit but uttlerly empty space for? Storage of massive floating red plastic balls of course!

First puns, now a poem – clearly, these are the results of post-traumatic stress disorder

My poetry hands are pretty arthritic by now, but this Race Relations Commissioner debacle has spurred me to erect the middle finger to scratch something out.  Blame Tulia Thompson, my erstwhile Creative writing classmate under the tutelage of Albert Wendt back in the far reaches of time – she has penned this, complete with links to this and Marama’s blog.  Race Relations Commissioner poetry contest IS ON.

It’s been five years since I last wrote a poem. Years of editing bureaucratic, legalistic or technical jargon into news-standard English has spectacularly flattened my field of written expression.  So tough titties if this shit ain’t pretty.

Joke news from New Zealand

(For Judith Collins & Susan Devoy)

Devoy’d of credibility

Someone confused multivitamins and multiculturalism, and unfortunately for us, it was Susan Devoy.

Full disclosure: I used to work at the Human Rights Commission, although not for the office of the Race Relations Commissioner. I also consider the former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres a friend.  (However, shitloads of other people do too.  He’s super friendly.)

Poor Susan Devoy.  Once an ex-sports star merely reduced to hocking multivites; now a national joke upon her appointment as New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner despite her admitted ignorance of the state of New Zealand race relations.

Because no-one cares about squash, I can’t even come up with a sport metaphor to describe the epic degree of this failure.  And I’m pretty late to commenting on this, because I’m tired and on the other side of the world.  But I made a pun!  Worth sharing.

A more intelligent comment by a friend on Facebook sums it up far better: “There is not even a pretense of giving a damn. In fact it’s the opposite – it is an aggressive statement that there is one way now and if you don’t like it, don’t expect any respect, understanding or compromise.” (Thanks Claire Foster – and not even an ethnic minority!)

You know I can’t interdict your ghost ships, bro.

I see that NZIS is advising the government to build refugee detention centres, to prepare for the imminent mass arrival of asylum-seekers by boat.

Okay, so.  All the WTFs aside.  Immigration officials have been talking of the imminent mass arrival of asylum-seekers by boat since I was a Refugee Status Officer (ie, an immigration official).  Which was – uh – eleven years ago.  So far, no boat.

At the time, the Tampa crisis had exposed Australia as Evil.  New Zealand was the new buzzy destination for asylum-seekers stuck in Southeast Asian megacities.  But no matter where they thought they were sailing on those shitty fishing vessels, they never got anywhere near our shores.

And yet again, during a particularly evil period in Australian refugee policy, with the advent of offshore processing (in violation of international law), “our intelligence is telling us they might have a bit of [a] go down in New Zealand,” according to our Immigration Minister, Another White Guy.

I wonder if this intelligence is yet again, another successful viral marketing campaign by Southeast Asian people-smugglers.

Eleven years ago, the talk by various immigration officers was merely talk of talk. There were rumours of people-smugglers in Southeast Asia preparing ‘steel-hulled’ vessels to brave the high seas, to bring their precious cargo to the shores of Aotearoa. Rumours, I would wager, started by people-smugglers.

Because there was never any boat.

And yet, for some reason, said people-smugglers simply kept raking in the fat cash from desperate asylum-seekers for nought but the promise of a ride in a shitty fishing vessel, which more often than not ended up sinking somewhere off an Indonesian island where you would then drown (or end up in an Indonesian detention centre), and that only sometimes, if you were super lucky, ended you up in Australian waters, where you would then sink, and also maybe drown.  Or end up in an Australian detention centre. Or on Nauru.

And guess what?  Plenty of these sinking, drowning people on these shitty boats, ALREADY THOUGHT they were sailing to New Zealand.  Surviving ones told me so when I went on a resettlement mission to Southeast Asia.  Among them were educated, intelligent, map-literate people, who got on a tiny, crappy, leaky, broken fishing vessel with standing-room only, and were told ‘yo dawgs, next stop New Zealand!’ and they went along with it. Because what choice did they have? They’d paid their money. Refugees are fucking desperate.

So, despite the obvious lack of ability of any of these vessels to get to New Zealand, and precious few of them even to Australia, people still fork over giant stacks of cash and keep getting on those boats.  Because, I reiterate, refugees are fucking desperate.  And people-smugglers are fucking unscrupulous.

So I’m interested: Which option would pose a greater financial incentive to a people-smuggler?

– ACTUALLY save up the capital to invest in an expensive steel-hulled vessel, but only be able to charge passengers a premium once (since if it got to New Zealand it would probably be confiscated by the authorities)
– Pay the captain of a registered vessel enough money to be worth going to jail for if said captain successfully smuggles hundreds of people to New Zealand, once, in a daring George Clooneyesque rakish piratey manner.
– Don’t pay anyone anything and don’t spend any extra money. Instead, just TELL asylum-seekers ‘Oh this boat? Definitely going to New Zealand. Moar money plz’. Especially knowing that it worked eleven years ago just fine.


Baby now less like disabled kitten, more like badly programmed robot

OMG you guys my baby did this awesome thing the other day. I am totally going to tell you about it, and you can’t stop me because this is my blog.

Your first reaction will be to make a barf-face. At least, it should be. I hate it when people tell cute stories about some amazing thing their baby did. Ooh, the baby did a solid poo. Aah, the baby is snoring. Wooooh, the baby threw up then ate its vomit. So I will tell you a similarly banal thing, which you should by rights, then barf upon.