Hard News by Russell Brown

Brute Farce

I groaned when I opened the paper last week to read that Susan Wood and Paul Holmes will be required - by subpoena if necessary - to give evidence to the Parliamentary select committee inquiry into TVNZ. The word "sideshow" comes to mind. Are our members of Parliament actually trying to miss the point?

As someone who works in the industry said to me, it's already shaping up as a farce.

Great weekend for sport, wasn't it? First the All Blacks, looking like the "C" team by the time the final whistle went, scratched their way to Grand Slam glory versus Scotland, and then the Kiwis opened a can of vintage whup-ass on the Kangaroos. Wow.

The English press is still disinclined to show good grace about the rugby. In the Times, John Aizlewood had a sneer in the guise of offering a background to the haka, concluding with this nugget:

They're still doing it today, which is sweet, although the new Kapa O Pango was unveiled to an overseas audience in South Africa in August. In the country with the world's second-highest murder rate, it climaxed with a throat-slitting gesture. This has upset many rugby purists, who feel that it oversteps the mark in its aggressive gesture and has little to do with the sporting dance that set out to inspire generations of All Black teams. The jury is definitely out on this one. Watch this space.

This, folks, is just making shit up. Kapa o Pango was not unveiled in South Africa, but at Carisbrook, in Dunedin. It has never been performed in South Africa. And so far as I know, there was no complaint made or offence taken thousands of kilometres away in the republic. But don't let that stop you, chaps ...

There was also some more of the wink-and-nudge stuff about Polynesians in the All Blacks. Having belatedly shown some grace in his assessment of the current All Black side, Stephen Jones also said this:

Fiji had two contenders, of whom the super-charged Sisa Koyamaibole makes the team - way above the next No 8s in line. A second excellent Fijian forward, the lock Ifereimi Rawaqa, was edged out of my squad, but only just. Coming across these players reminds you yet again that Fiji and Samoa can still produce some gems, and it makes you even more angry that their key players have been annexed by New Zealand for so long.

And an Observer story contained this passage:

The fact remains that an All Blacks starting XV - with 13 changes from the team that started at Twickenham - including a 19-year-old on debut at full-back, finished off the grand slam with a final tally of 138 points scored against 39 conceded. They scored 16 tries to three. No one played better, or more confidently, than the debutant, Isaia Toeva, whose deft handling figured in two tries. Like many of the tourists he is Samoa-born.

And there lies the key to assessing New Zealand's current pre-eminence. When one thinks back 27 years to the previous grand slam team it is to a side, captained by Graham Mourie, that was full of Anglo-Saxon names and rangy body shapes, much like that of Colin 'Pinetree' Meads. Now the Polynesian influence runs through the team from front row to fullback, and the alchemy of two races has delivered power, passion, and poise under pressure. It is a potent mix.

Like "many" of the tourists? Like, five from a party of 35. Collins, So'oialo, Toeava, Masoe and Muliaina: all of whom (with the possible exception of Masoe, who I'm not sure about) went to school here and have represented New Zealand through age-grade and schools teams. Is anyone really suggesting they should have been denied the chance to be All Blacks?

In addition, Taumoepeau and Lauaki were born in Tonga, and Rokococko and Sivivatu were born in Fiji - as far as I can tell, all of them also attended school here (Joe, who played for New Zealand Schools three years in a row, came here with his family at the age of five). However much it may confuse the British, they are Pacific Islanders and New Zealanders.

I find the hypocrisy here really annoying. Britain's most celebrated track athlete, Linford Christie, was born in Jamaica. The great black footballer Cyrille Regis was born in French Guyana. Liverpool and England player John Barnes was born in Kingston, Jamaica. The England cricketer Gladstone Small was born in Barbados. There are many other examples. I can't recall a whispering campaign to suggest that they were anything other than British.

I see the press has got onto the trials of Matt Bowden's would-be ecstasy substitute, Ease, being conducted via Biggie.co.n [NB: Just to make clear - Biggie have been in touch to say that they carried a Stargate banner ad, but apart from that have no connection with the Ease people or the trials.] David Fisher also wrote an account (not online) of necking some at home with a mate, and feeling quite nice.

I've tried Ease too (like Mr Fisher, purely for purposes of journalistic inquiry): it's really pretty good; like ecstasy without the rushes and wonky eyes, but with a similar sense of well-being and sociability. And I got up the next morning and did a full day's work. It seems much less noxious than the piperazine-based pills currently widely available, so there would be a certain irony in it not being eventually declared legal. On the other hand, Matt Bowden may well be right in saying that it lacks the neurotoxic effects of ecstasy, but I would like to know exactly what it is sooner rather than later.

On a related tip, David Amsden has an interesting piece on Salon about the booming use in America of respectable drugs of social adaptation sold by pharmaceutical companies, and wonders at the distinctions between the recreational and the medical:

It seems especially stubborn -- dare I say immature -- that the medical community refuses to acknowledge just how much certain psychotropic drugs blur the line between the biochemical and societal. Even more peculiar is that while we usher in a state of being permanently medicated, selective dosing is still viewed as "recreational" and "risky." What's interesting about ADD drugs is that they are remarkably effective regardless of how your brain looks when scanned, achieving what for centuries we've turned to coffee to accomplish, with about the same potential for side effects.

So here's a radical thought: Why not just put them in the same category? After all, what's worse, continuing to find ways to define the everyday in terms of disorders until we're all taking pills to curb the effects of other pills, or admitting that we've synthesized substances that can help, from time to time, in different doses for both adults and children, take the edge off in a way that doesn't throw you off track? To me it seems more honest this way, more grown-up, and less likely to rouse our collective inner voices into an anxious chorus constantly wondering what's "wrong" with us.

The argument against this pro-enhancement mind-set, of course, is that it breeds addiction. Though to refute this, one need only look at a fact D.A.R.E. counselors hate to admit about illegal drugs -- that most people who do them never become addicted, that many people smoke pot and do coke much the way they "drink responsibly," and for many of the same reasons (relaxation, focus, confidence boosting) that people ask their doctors if a variety of pills is right for them. Really, it comes down to whether we want to view lifestyle pharmaceuticals as something indulged in passively or actively -- a healthy reinvention of adulthood or a submissive rejection of the difficulties and responsibilities that come with growing up. There are no easy answers here, but until these questions are the ones brought up on the "Today" show -- instead of the dog-and-pony act of whether the drugs are being "abused" -- we are, as a psychiatrist might say, in a state of denial.

Meanwhile, scary bastards like this are still charging around on P binges. To be honest, I have never encountered a violent P-head; I have, however, endured some hideous bores. Too much P makes people vocalise their interior monologue - and the interior monologue of a P-head is numbingly banal.

And Blogging It Real's bennyasena finds some reefer madness reporting in Gisborne.

One to file under just fuck off: music and film industry interests want the European Parliament to extend the scope of anti-terrorism laws to help them prosecute illegal downloaders. Because they're exactly the same as people who commit mass-murder, aren't they?

Good piece from British Tory MP and Spectator editor Boris Johnson about the bomb-al-Jazeera memo and the Blair government's move to close down the issue by invoking the Official Secrets Act. Johnson says he'll risk jail by publishing the suppressed information.

Anyway, on a happier note, my warmest congratulations to the Phoenix Foundation and SJD for their theatre gig at the St James on Friday night. It was a novel experience to be seated comfortably at a table with clear sightlines of a superb production. SJD in particular seemed to reinvent themselves for the occasion: not folky or white-funky so much as out-and-out grunty. Nice one. Please do it again.