28 March 2013

How to boost your murder rate

Arizona program would give residents free shotguns

TUCSON, Ariz. — A former mayoral candidate in Tucson, Ariz., is launching a privately funded program to provide residents of crime-prone areas with free shotguns so they can defend themselves against criminals.

Shaun McClusky said the program, modeled after one recently started in Houston, would provide training and enough money to buy a basic shotgun to residents who pass background checks, the Arizona Daily Star reported Wednesday.

Donors have committed about $12,000 to the program that McClusky said could start handing out guns within 60 days, the newspaper reported.

McClusky said citizens need to do more to protect themselves because city government is failing to do the job. “We need to take back our city, and it needs to come back to the citizens and not the criminals,” he said.

Several City Council members said the effort is out of touch with community needs and values. “To suggest that giving away ... loaded shotguns in high-crime areas will make anybody safer is pure idiocy,” Councilman Steve Kozachik said.

- Seattle Times, 27 March 2013

27 March 2013

On the demise of the UKBA

Today's news that the UK Border Agency, the government body responsible for immigration matters in the UK, will be split up and re-housed within the Home Office filled me with cheer and a doubtless uncharitable sense of schadenfraude. Finally, the agency that has caused so much angst to its clients and performed so incompetently over many, many years has been held to account and brutally disestablished. Naturally, just because the UKBA's functions have been absorbed by the Home Office it doesn't mean that everything will magically sort itself out - after all, the Home Office hardly has a stellar reputation either. But it's fitting that the UKBA's performance has been so roundly unsatisfactory that it cannot be allowed to exist.  

Of course, this is all personal as far as I'm concerned. The UKBA played a major role in derailing my own plans to become a British citizen and to continue my life in London. Certainly I contributed to the problem with a clerical error that kicked everything off, and the economic downturn that sucked up all the contract work in London also deprived me of a living and made staying in London financially impossible. But it's fair to say that the upheavals I went through in 2009 were all UKBA-related and caused a huge amount of stress that was completely unnecessary. An agency that placed fairness, compassion and service at the heart of its operations would never have behaved in the way the UKBA has over the years.

At the risk of repeating a story oft-listened-to by friends and family, here's a brief summary of my own run-in with the UKBA:

March 2007: Entered the UK on a Highly Skilled Migrant Visa (Tier 1), which meant I could work anywhere in the UK. The initial visa duration was for two years, and would require a renewal application to get me through to the five year requirement for application for UK citizenship.

January 2009: My initial period was shortly coming to an end, so I posted off the application for visa renewal on the UKBA's massive 72-page paper form. Electronic submission was not permitted - it had to be hard copy. Had checked the form numerous time and compared it with the online version on the UKBA website, but failed to notice one particular detail.

March 2009: After two months of waiting with no news, I received a letter from the UKBA announcing that my extension application had been rejected because it was on an outdated form. No other instructions were included in the letter. I hurriedly checked the online version of the form and was horrified to see that the serial number had changed. Comparing the two forms side-by-side I couldn't see any difference between the actual immigration criteria. My work visa being about to expire, and UKBA's rules preventing applicants whose visas had expired from applying within the UK, I was forced to book flights back to New Zealand, from where I would have to re-submit on the correct form. The only saving grace was that the UKBA unexpectedly refunded my hefty visa fee (about £700, from memory). They were usually known for pocketing the fee regardless of the outcome.

April 2009: Arrive back in New Zealand and start work on my new visa application.

May 2009: Couriered revised visa application to the UK High Commission in Canberra, the closest location to New Zealand at which UKBA deign to process visa applications. Used same criteria as my initial  application along with my UK earnings, which showed that I had plenty of 'points' justifying my visa status.  

June 2009: UKBA in Canberra rejected my second application, on the grounds that there was 'reasonable doubt' about my MA qualifications! This because I couldn't post my actual degree certificate, because the framer glued it to the backing board, so instead I had sent my appropriate university transcript. This transcript had been sufficient to get me a visa in 2007, the criteria hadn't changed, and the UKBA's own guidance stated that if proof of qualifications had already been provided in a previous application it didn't need to be provided again. Disgusted with the whole process, I posted my formal appeal letter two days later.

July 2009: Soon discovered that the UKBA section at the High Commission in Canberra neglects correspondence, and as there is no performance measure for speedy results in dealing with visa appeals, there is no incentive for them to actually do the work. They are also almost impossible to contact, with no direct contact details. The most inconvenient way to reach them - sending a fax - appears to be the only way of getting any sort of response. Realise that if the appeal process drags on, I will jeopardise my citizenship requirements - at least five years living in the UK without an absence of longer than six months.

August 2009: Finally got a brief email reply from Canberra, and although it did deal with my case it was addressed to 'Ms Waller'. Competency alert! No appeal completion date in sight, though.

September 2009: Still no word on appeal, which I had sent four months ago.

October 2009: Finally an email from Canberra - they might get to my appeal in a couple of weeks. Lucky me.

November 2009: UKBA finally emailed to say my appeal had been dealt with and was successful - my visa had been confirmed! Immediately couriered a SASE to Canberra to return my passport in, and hoped it would get back in time for my much-delayed return flight to London. It actually did arrive on time, which was the only time the UKBA did anything quickly in all the occasions I dealt with them. By the time I got back to London I'd been more than six months out of the country so my goal of five years of UK residency leading to a passport and citizenship was over. I would have to start the clock from scratch.

As it happens, my return to the UK coincided with huge public service spending cuts, and I wasn't able to stay in work beyond the autumn of 2010. I stuck it out for as long as possible in the hope that a job would turn up, but in the end I had to throw in the towel and return to New Zealand in June 2011. I landed a good contract at my current workplace within a few weeks of landing back in New Zealand, so I'm not complaining too much! But the fact remains that I would have loved to be a proper Briton with a British passport and dual New Zealand-British citizenship, and the UKBA did everything it could to stop that from happening. It well and truly ruined my year in 2009, and caused huge amounts of stress to me and my family. 

Tellingly, the current criticism of the current UK administration's handling of the UKBA has not revolved around the way in which the organisation has dealt with its applicants, but in the way it has created a huge administrative backlog and failed to turn away 'sufficient' numbers of people at UK borders. If only they knew what a toxic ambassador for Britain the UKBA has been. And that's why I'm raising a glass tonight to celebrate the end of the UKBA. 

Farewell then, UKBA. No-one will miss you! 

24 March 2013

A sunny day on the embankment

Flickr user Travelling-Light posts a shot from his archive featuring the crowd on the grassy embankment at the Basin Reserve in 1992. If it's a test match then it must be the 3rd test against England in February of that year, which petered out to a draw after centuries from Graham Gooch, John Wright, Andrew Jones and Allan Lamb. Or if it was a one-dayer, it would have either been a World Cup match against England (15 March) or a low-scoring affair against Pakistan (Boxing Day). Whichever match it was, it looks like a full house.

22 March 2013

The Sweater

This brings back memories of student days, and is a reminder that so few pop songs are actually allowed to be funny. Canadian singer Meryn Cadell's jaunty spoken-word teenage heartbreak-themed 'The Sweater' from 1991's Angel Food For Thought perfectly encapsulates the parabolic curve of adolescent infatuation and the lightning-fast gossip transmission system that serves every high school in existence. It also sports a delightful punchline. Wikipedia reckons the backing music is sampled (vari-speeded) from Syd Dale's gently sassy 'Walk & Talk'. I picked up my copy of Cadell's CD (the first of three albums, actually) in the now-defunct Marbecks shop in Queen's Arcade in Auckland in 1991 or 1992, and still have it somewhere in storage. Seeing this video again makes me want to listen to its intriguing mix of songs and performance art again. Interestingly, Cadell later transitioned from female to male and lectured in creative writing at the University of British Columbia (although apparently not any more) and still contributes to a steering group for a critical studies in sexuality course, amongst his other work.

Now if the sweater has, like, reindeer on it, or is a funny colour like yellow – I'm sorry you can't get away with a sweater like that. Look for brown or grey or blue. Anything other than that and you know you're dealing with someone who's different. And different is not what you're looking for. 
- Meryn Cadell, 'The Sweater', 1991

18 March 2013

"I'm leaning towards Colossal Velocity"

Alan Partridge re-returns, and this time it's on the big screen! It may or may not be the really rather stirring tale of one chiselled, blue-jeaned middle-aged ex-BBC (but not bitter about it) TV and radio presenter standing up to the villainous villains who hijack his North Norfolk radio station, for some nefarious and dastardly purpose. It's scheduled for release in the UK on 7 August. Now all that remains is to think up a suitably cracking title:

Alan: 'Stop me if you like one: The Norfolk Factor. Gunbird. Hectic Danger Day. Chap of Steel. Colossal Velocity. I've got to say I'm leaning towards Colossal Velocity'.

[Via Callow]

17 March 2013

What if Auckland's Subways were really subways?

Taking a leaf out of this Baltimore map by Burgersub illustrating what that city's underground network might look like if every Subway sandwich shop was actually a subway station, here's my attempt at replicating the same idea for Auckland. Did you know there are 94 Subways in Auckland? Of course I knew they were ubiquitous, but I didn't realise there were nearly a hundred of them. Wonder if they'll still be a fixture in five or 10 years time, or whether they'll go the way of Georgie Pie and the almost-vanished Cobb & Co? You'll need to zoom in or maximise the map view to get a decent look at the nine lines.  

View Auckland Subway(s) in a larger map

There are a few caveats on this map, of course. It's meant to be a bit of fun and not a serious plan for an underground network. Auckland clearly lacks the 10 or so million population required to justify a system of this size. I've left out the shop in Warkworth in the far north (sorry Warkworth!) because they were a long way out and I didn't want to get fiddly with the Google Maps line-drawing interface. I've also changed a few of the names of the shops from the Subway store finder, to make them sound a little more like underground stations that are representative of the neighbourhood they serve.

If I find time to draw up proper transit maps I'll post them here, but in the meantime, here's a list of the lines and stations:

LINE 1 (Dark Blue) - Kumeu to Howick via Queen St, Newmarket & Onehunga

Kumeu, Westgate, Te Atatu North, Rosebank Rd, Unitec, Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Victoria Park, Victoria St West, Queen St, Vector Arena, Quay St, Parnell Rise, Newmarket North, Newmarket Broadway, Newmarket South, Royal Oak, Onehunga (Dress-Smart), Te Papapa, Sylvia Park, Pakuranga, Highland Park, Howick.

LINE 2 (Yellow) - Britomart to Auckland International Airport via Newmarket, Onehunga & Mangere

Britomart, Fort St, Queen St, Midcity, St James, Symonds St (University), Auckland Hospital, Newmarket Broadway, Ellerslie, Penrose, Onehunga, Mangere Bridge, Mangere, Auckland Domestic, Auckland International.   

LINE 3 (Dark Green) - Albany to Lynfield via Takapuna, Devonport, Queen St & Mt Eden

Albany Westfield, Albany Mercari Way, William Pickering Dr, Glenfield (Westfield), Smales Farm Park, Takapuna, Devonport, Quay St, Vector Arena, Queen St, Victoria St West, K Rd, Kingsland, Dominion Rd (Eden Park), Mt Roskill, Stoddard Rd, Lynfield. 

LINE 4 (Red) - Orewa to Glen Innes via North Shore, Queen St, Newmarket & Ellerslie

Orewa, Whangaparaoa, Northcross, Millennium, Constellation Dr, Wairau Park, Wairau Valley, Smales Farm Park, AUT North Shore, Fanshawe St, Victoria Park, Midcity, Stanley St (Tennis Centre), Parnell Rise, Newmarket North, Newmarket Broadway, Ellerslie, Mt Wellington, Glen Innes.

LINE 5 (Orange) - Te Atatu North to Newmarket via New Lynn & St Lukes

Te Atatu North, Lincoln North, Lincoln Rd, West Plaza, Kelston, Titirangi, New Lynn, St Lukes (Westfield), Dominion Rd, Mt Eden, Newmarket Broadway.

LINE 6 (Purple) - Glen Innes to Auckland International Airport via Botany & Manukau

Glen Innes, Highland Park, Botany Northpark, Botany Town, Flatbush, Manukau (Westfield), Lambie Dr, Auckland Domestic, Auckland International.

LINE 7 (Light Green) - Viaduct Basin to Bombay or Waiuku via Newmarket, Sylvia Pk & Papakura

Viaduct Basin, Britomart, Vector Arena, Quay St, Parnell Rise, Newmarket North, Newmarket Broadway, Ellerslie, Mt Wellington, Sylvia Park, Otahuhu, Papatoetoe, Manukau (Westfield), Manukau Events Centre, Manurewa, Takanini, Papakura, Great South Rd, and then either terminating at Bombay or Waiuku via Pukekohe.

LINE 8 (Light Blue) - Unitec to Clendon Pk via Mt Roskill, Sylvia Pk & Manukau

Unitec, St Lukes (Westfield), Mt Roskill, Royal Oak, Penrose, Sylvia Park, Highbrook, East Tamaki, Flatbush, Manukau (Westfield), Manukau Events Centre, Manurewa, Clendon Park.

LINE 9 (White) - Browns Bay to Highbury shops in Birkenhead via Albany

Browns Bay, Northcross, Oteha Valley, Albany (Westfield), Albany Mercari Way, William Pickering Dr, Glenfield (Westfield), Highbury

See also:
Blog: Avondale to Onehunga tramlink, 31 October 2010
Blog: Christchurch commuter rail, 20 October 2010
Blog: New trams for Auckland?, 27 June 2010

16 March 2013

Basin Reserve, 2nd Test, Day 3

View from the Vance Stand
New Zealand commenced Day 3 of the 2nd Test against England at 66/3 with Kane Williamson and Dean Brownlie at the crease, hoping to bat long and profitably to gnaw away at England's massive lead. The weather was perfect for batting, but England's bowlers proved too much for New Zealand to deal with. Both overnight batsmen fell in the morning session, and then England throttled the New Zealand innings in the session after lunch, dismissing New Zealand for 254 on the stroke of tea. Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling both impressed at the crease, managing scores of 69 and 60 respectively, and Williamson notched up a well-made 42; Stuart Broad was the tormentor-in-chief, taking 51 for six.  The New Zealand effort was poor, leading to a first innings deficit of 211, and after tea England's captain Alastair Cook enforced the follow-on. This decision was rewarded with Hamish Rutherford's wicket, a brilliant close-in catch from Ian Bell off the bowling of Monty Panesar, before the day closed with New Zealand's second innings at 77/1, still in deficit by 134. Panesar's fielding provided some light relief for the crowd, when he flubbed a simple catch and failed to outstrip a meandering four-ball in a long chase to the deep forward boundary.

Most of the Basin crowd seemed to consist of English supporters, but fortunately the noisier ones tended to congregate over on the southeastern bank. I should add that they seemed very well behaved, but I was glad to be over a hundred metres from the trumpet player, who blasted out singalonga-brass tunes and TV themes for the lads on tour to chant along to.

This was my first time seeing a match from a seat in the Vance Stand, named after Wellington cricket stalwart R.A. Vance (1924-94), who played for the province for 15 years and sired one of the participants of the famous 77-run over in 1990. It affords an excellent view, although the rusty supports probably need looking at if it's to avoid going the same way as the currently off-limits Museum Stand. From my position at the very top of the stand, seated with visiting pals Anne & Cecil down from Auckland, it was possible to survey the whole ground, and beyond to the planned site of the reviled and misguided Basin Reserve flyover. The top of the Vance also turned out to be a meeting place for several cricket personages: first the row in front of us sported New Zealand director of cricket John Buchanan, and later injured batsman Martin Guptill and her off the telly, cricket presenter Laura McGoldrick.

(Click photos to enlarge)

Broad to Williamson: the ball the batsman fell caught & bowled for 42

Barmy Army supporters' flags

Michael Atherton & David Lloyd

McCullum departs for 69

Bob Willis & Nick Knight

That polar bear costume has got to be hot inside

Spot the height differential: Williamson & Fulton depart at close of play

See also:
Blog: Day 3, 3rd test against South Africa, 25 March 2012
Blog: Day 4, 3rd test against South Africa, 26 March 2012
Blog: Lord's - at the home of cricket, 21 May 2008

11 March 2013

A legal genius at work

Tough swearing - 'Gentlemen of the jury,' said a Tuscarora lawyer, 'what kind of swearing has been done in this case? Here we have a physician - a man who, from his high and noble calling, should be regarded as one who would scorn to stain his name with perjury, or be guilty of giving utterance to an untruth; but what did he testify, gentlemen? I put the question to him plainly, as all you heard, "Where was this man stabbed?" And what was his reply? Unblushingly, his features as cool as though out from marble, he replied that the man was stabbed about an inch and a half to the left of the medial line, and about an inch below the diaphragm, and yet we have proved by three witnesses that he was stabbed just below the Young America Hoisting Works'.
- Evening Post, 7 December 1878 (via Papers Past)

This tale from Tuscarora, Nevada, a mining boom town that later became a virtual ghost town, would have originated in one of the new town's two recently-established newspapers, the Tuscarora Times and the Mining Review. The Young America was one of the many mines in the area, alongside the Warsaw, Susan Jane, Occidental, May-be-so, and Revenue Mines, and itself was later was renamed the Independence.  A useful blog records a great deal of the history of Tuscarora, which doesn't mention the homicide above, but does mention this charming case from a year later:

An incident in 1879 brought about great interest because of its bizarre nature. A local woman was married but shortly afterward left her husband because she found that he was actually female. The husband, known as Sam Pollard, was believed to be male by his fellow miners. He, or she, took advantage and gave lectures, half dressed as a man and the other as a woman. Pollard, whose real name turned out to be Sarah, had devised the scheme to protect her from her father. The residents, while troubled by the disguise, generally accepted her.   
The local woman, Marancy Hughes, wrote outlining her complaint to the Tuscarora Times, which story was picked up and presumably printed all over the world. On the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island the Grey River Argus of 27 August 1878 reported that Hughes claimed she was motivated by 'no feeling of revenge in this matter, but by a desire to be set right before the public'. The paper also records her affidavit:

State of Nevada - County of Elko - ss - Marancy Hughes, being duly sworn, deposes and says that the person between whom and deponent a marriage ceremony was performed in Tuscarora on the 29th day of September, 1877, and who went by the name of Samuel M. Pollard, is a woman, and that her true name is Sarah Maud Pollard - MARANCY HUGHES. Subscribed and sworn to before me, this 17th day of May, 1878 - CHARLES E. ABBOT, Justice of the Peace in and for the County of Elko.

10 March 2013


It's way more fun for Mila Kunis, in the midst of a mammoth round of Oz the Great and Powerful promo interviews, to be asked questions like those of Radio 1's plucky but erratic Chris Stark, who prefers to address burning issues like Watford FC, Jagerbombs and the joys of Nando's. As they near the end of the allotted interview time Kunis reels off a perfect one-minute precis of the answers to the questions he should've been asking, and then they get back to the all-important topic of seeing whether she'll come as a plus one to his mate Dekko's wedding.

08 March 2013

Doctor My Eyes

In mid-1971 American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne was recording his debut solo album. One of the tracks he laid down for his self-titled 10-song LP was 'Doctor My Eyes', a prime example of an upbeat pop song with deceptively bleak lyrics:
Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Apparently an early draft of the lyrics were even darker. The song closes with the plea: 'Doctor, my eyes cannot see the sky / Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry?' Hardly the sort of jaunty, uplifting material you'd expect to hear on Top of the Pops. But 'Doctor My Eyes' stands out for its sheer catchiness, from its driving up-tempo beat, gorgeous and slightly hurried guitar solo, and the added star power of Graham Nash and David Crosby singing backing vocals. It became the first single from Browne's album and reached no.8 on the US Hot 100 singles chart. Here's a top live performance of the track during a British tour in 1978, recorded for posterity by the BBC and featuring two blistering guitar solos from David Lindley (and also followed by 'These Days', a Browne composition first made famous by Nico in 1967, a recording on which Browne played the guitar):

'Doctor My Eyes's pop hook must have somehow caught the ear of Motown's hitmakers 'The Corporation' and Hal Davis, in 1971, who were producing the Jackson 5's fifth studio album, Lookin' Through The Window, which was recorded in late 1971 and early 1972. In December 1971 the Jacksons recorded their version of Doctor My Eyes and the track became one of 11 featured on the album when it was released on 23 May 1972. The Jacksons' version is representative of their material at the time, turning up the bubblegum with its 'bo-bo-bo-bo' intro and bridge, and highlighting the helium voice of 13-year-old Michael Jackson pitching up to the chorus. The fuzz-toned guitar breaks and studio strings show the Motown production machine working on overdrive to turn out a stomping pop floor-filler with no hint of the melancholic underpinnings of the original. The Jacksons' version was only released as a single in Europe, where it proved a success, charting at no.9 in the UK in February 1973, a month dominated by glam rock and The Strawbs' class-warfare 'Part Of The Union'.

See also:
Music: Doctor My Eyes (Jackson Browne, album version, 1972)
Blog: Beck + Sound + Vision, 16 February 2013
Blog: So Long You Pretty Thing (Capital Children's Choir), 7 February 2013
Blog: Mohammad's Radio (Warren Zevon & Jackson Browne, 1976)

07 March 2013

The Brotherhood of Tramps

In Michael Bellesiles' 1877: America's Year of Living Violently, the author recounts the tale of one of that year's many crises, real or imagined: the Tramp Scare, in which the newspapers whipped up a frenzy of speculation about the criminal intent of homeless labourers forced to wander across America searching for work due to the crippling Long Depression of 1873 to 1879.

There were some verifiable crimes committed by gangs of tramps, though they were rarely as dramatic or as violent as the most repeated stories. For instance, in late September a group originally reported to consist of twenty tramps robbed a building at Warrenton Junction, Virginia, and then attempted to board a passing train. Railroad employees seized what turned out to be six tramps and turned them over to authorities. Not much of a gang, these six starving tramps came from six different cities and had just recently met. A few days later five tramps attempting to board a train near Manassas were chased off by the conductor - not much of a story had the miscreants not been tramps who appeared to be operating with criminal intent. Similarly, there may be another way of looking at a story the Inter Ocean published in its crime column on the "Ingratitude of a Tramp" named Barth Hayes who was given a job by R.B. Watkins of Dixon, Illinois. Hayes repaid this kindness when "Mrs Watkins eloped with him". 
By the summer of 1877 this certainty that tramping represented a giant criminal conspiracy had reached the point that papers began reporting evidence of an extensive "brotherhood of tramps" that ominously exchanges "confidences and items of information", dividing the country into criminal fiefdoms. This brotherhood made its headquarters in New York City, from which an estimated fifteen thousand professional tramps fanned out every summer to commit crimes. Though this was a significant understatement of the number of tramps in the country, these outlaws constituted "a formidable force to let loose on the country". By splitting up, this tramp army could cover an extensive territory, ensuring that no one grasped the true size of their criminal conspiracy. Another common story reported that the state of Massachusetts or the mayor of Lowell sent undercover detectives pretending to be tramps to infiltrate this dangerous "swarm". The detectives learned from other tramps - who, one assumes, recognised cops when they saw them - that the vagrants maintained "a perfectly organised brotherhood" that controlled all illegal activity in the Northeast. "They are under orders of a chief and each tramp has a special duty assigned to him" in a precise criminal division of labour. Members of the brotherhood of tramps "are even instructed what to steal and whom to steal it from," and have secret signs and words. 
- Michael Bellesiles, 1877: America's Year of Living Violently, New York, 2010, p.119-120.  

New Zealand's newspapers were always desperate for dramatic news from overseas, and their search was aided by the arrival of the overseas telegraph cable connecting New Zealand to Australia and the rest of the wired world in 1876. While New Zealand newspapers printed stories about the famous Great Railroad Strike of 1877, a search of Papers Past for 1877 reveals no tramp-related stories from America for that year. The Otago Witness of 15 September 1877 did cover the strike disturbances, reporting that:

Fearful riots, caused by strikes, occurred all through the States. At the end of July at Chicago and St Louis three-fourths of the manufactories were stopped. The military were called out and fired on the mob at Chicago, killing fifteen and wounding over fifty. Riots occurred at Harrisburgh, Columbia, Toledo, Detroit, Sc[r]anton, Pittsburgh, Omaha, Jackson, Indianapolis, and a score of other towns. At Baltimore 8000 miners struck. A Cabinet Council was held at Washington to devise measures for the public safety. Detachments of military were sent in all directions. The destruction of property was enormous.
Wellington's Evening Post of 7 December 1878 contains a string of brief jokes of interest to the readers of the time, gleaned from an American newspaper shipped in from San Francisco or off the wires. It contained the following example of political humour, which illustrates a typical attitude to organised labour at the time:

The American Communist - The Baltimore Gazette describes the average Communist as an 'ignorant man, with warts on his nose, a vagabond from birth, who hasn't made up his mind to take to the country as a tramp, and who lacks both the nerve and ingenuity to become a burglar'.
And an edition of the Evening Post a few months earlier on 8 June 1878 may not have contained useful information regarding the tramp scare in America, but it did offer this pithy 'witticism' as the very last item on its cover page:

What is the difference between a tramp and a Grocer who weighs his vegetables? One beats his way and the other weighs his beet.
Boom boom! Wait, that's terrible.

See also:
History: Michael Bellesiles, 'The Year 1877 Looks Awfully Familiar Today', 17 May 2010
HistoryOn the road - the professional swagger, Te Ara
BiographyEdmond 'Shiner' Slattery, NZ's most famous tramp (b.1839/40 d.1927)

05 March 2013

"His behaviour in the field was erratic at best"

In anticipation of the Bafta game awards ceremony in London tonight, hosted by comedian and game aficionado Dara O'Briain, this Guardian interview is a useful introduction to O'Briain's long-standing fascination with the game industry and its products. Ah yes, I too have fond memories of playing Impossible Mission on the C64 at friends' places after school or at birthday parties - although unlike O'Briain, I never got close to finishing the game and to hear the mad scientist complaining.

It's also a pretty good excuse to link to the article's clip from his 2010 Live at the Apollo segment on gaming, which as he points out is great craic for 70 percent of the audience but leaves the other 30 percent wondering what passes for comedy these days. (n.b. contains some adult material). It does make you wonder why so many games have crouching as an integral game mechanic, and why they make the controls so hard in Metal Gear Solid - 'He spent most of his time waddling around the battlefield for no reason! He was toggling maps, then items, then weapons, then items, then maps; he had no idea where he was going...'


See also:
GamesSuper Monsters Ate My Condo, Wellington-designed Bafta nominee
Games: The new kings of Ireland (Crusader Kings 2), 7 July 2012
Games: The city stretches on and on (Sim City 4), 25 January 2010

02 March 2013

"If you put a mattress on your wedding list people will think you're dirty"

When we got hitched we had a wedding list at John Lewis. (I know! It's all I've ever dreamed of). My partner and I hadn't bought anything new in nine years. We were living like Stig of the Dump, just waiting for the day we could go to John Lewis. It was the happiest day of my life... SECOND happiest day of my life (I must stop saying that).

But when I went to John Lewis on the second happiest day of my life, I made a crucial mistake. I took my mum with me. Now, she's a wonderful woman, but dear god can she rain on a parade.

We stood in John Lewis and she said, 'Do you know what you want on your wedding list?' and I said, 'Yes... I've thought of nothing else. I want a mattress'.

'You can't have a mattress on your wedding list'.


'Because people will look at your wedding list and they will judge you. And if you put a mattress on your wedding list people will think you're dirty'.

'Sorry? If I put a mattress on my wedding list you're saying that my friends will think I've wet the bed?'


'Fine. What can I have on my wedding list then, Mother?' - I was calling her Mother by that point, like Norman Bates in Psycho.


'Do you know how many people have been round to my house for dinner in nine years? I'll tell you: no-one. No-one has been round to my house for dinner in nine years. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's because I let the cats lie on the dining table and I feed them with my mouth, like Lady and the Tramp. Are you telling me that if I buy nice plates people will ignore the fact I'm essentially French kissing a cat?'


'Fine.'  I put the crockery on the wedding list.

'What else do I need on my wedding list? Tell me, Mother.' - and she appeared with four tiny silver spoons, fifty quid a pop.

'What are they?'

'Mustard spoons!'

'I don't like mustard. My partner doesn't like mustard. Why do I need mustard spoons?'

'Because people will look at your wedding list and they will judge you. And if you have condiment cutlery, people will think you're better than you actually are.'

I put them on the wedding list, and Sandi Toksvig bought them for me.

- Susan Calman, 'Susan Calman Is Convicted', BBC Radio 4, 18 February 2013 

01 March 2013

Confessions of a former classroom bank monitor

Much as they'd like to be a central part of our lives, the banks we use to house our funds and borrow money from are functional aspects of our lives with minimal emotional ties. It's hard to feel close to a corporate entity that's gouging you with excessive fees. This is particularly true in Australia and New Zealand, both of which are dominated by the Australian-owned banks, about which a 2011 Australian Senate inquiry report observed that 'their very high profits are ultimately paid for by households and small businesses. They are also a reflection that competition is not as keen as it should be'. In New Zealand few banks are locally owned, so the profits from most are repatriated to Australian owners, which is another reason to feel something less than loyalty to banking brands.

Nevertheless, until today I have spent 34 years with the same bank. I joined the Auckland Savings Bank in 1979 and that commercial relationship has persisted for my entire adult life. Its name has changed in the meantime, of course. First it shifted to 'ASB', which is fair enough, and then to the tautological 'ASB Bank' (where the B stands for 'bank'), and then back to ASB when everyone realised that they were being made fun of.

I was never particularly fussed about the peculiarly stereotypical and therefore somewhat creepy 'Goldstein' adverts for ASB that ad companies with a vested interest assured us that New Zealanders 'loved'. Actor Stephen Mellor did a perfectly decent job as the bumbling but likeable American banker parachuted into faraway New Zealand, but the whole notion of depicting a banker with a presumably Jewish name struck me as strange, even in isolated and innocent New Zealand.

My first advertising connection with the brand was of course the cheerful Kashin the elephant, whose trunk-tied cartoon image appeared on the cardboard envelope that protected my first bank booklet. My early banking history revolved around school at Mairangi Bay Primary, where I had an early taste of responsibility as the class bank monitor. ASB's school banking service had been instituted in 1926 to encourage young savers to start banking and hopefully stay with the bank. My role in this multi-generational corporate indoctrination campaign involved the not particularly onerous duty of collecting my classmates' Kashin envelopes with booklets and deposits safely folded within, tying them up in the red canvas bag provided for the purpose, and delivering them to the school office, where presumably a lowly-ranked bank clerk collected them. The booklets were later returned to us and we were able to admire the steady growth of our bank balances, in keeping with the noble virtue of thrifty accumulation. I don't know what other children were saving - it didn't occur to me for a moment that I might've illicitly snooped into their sacrosanct envelopes - but my own contributions were a steady 50 cents a week, at least for the first few months while I could still convince my mother to stump up the Endeavour-stamped coin.

The early indoctrination certainly worked. I stayed with ASB. And stayed, and stayed some more. In primary school I had memorised my bank account number. Now that's convenient.

I almost never withdrew money from my account when I was young. For starters, there wasn't much of it. But in addition, why would you? If you withdrew the money then you wouldn't have any left! One rare exception was for a demolition derby car set, the main attraction of which was that the two cars had detachable plastic parts that flew off when they smashed into one another. It was a bonus in my eyes that the two cars were also cleverly designed to resemble the General Lee (which I never knew was a Dodge Charger until this very moment) and a VW Beetle. That required a trip to the bank to withdraw a whopping thirty dollars, an unthinkably huge sum in my mind at the time.

Later during my university years I stayed with the bank because there were convenient 'money machines' (does any other country refer to ATMs in this quaint way?) around the campus. And, if I remember correctly, because at some point in the 1990s the bank introduced transaction charges but due to a clerical error my account remained listed as a fee-free youth account. Every little bit helps when you're a student!

During my time in the UK I used HSBC, and for some reason I quite liked the historical associations of banking with the venerable Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, established in 1865. Although in actuality that status was thrust upon me, because I was initially a customer of the similarly historic Midland Bank, which was founded in Birmingham in 1836 and swallowed up by HSBC in 1992; the Midland brand was 'retired' by HSBC in 1999, and its customers suddenly became HSBC customers. While it managed to keep its own name, a similar change in ownership happened to ASB when a 75 percent share was sold offshore to the Commonwealth Bank in Australia in 1989, and the remainder sold to the same owner in 2000. It hardly inspires much loyalty when ownership of a New Zealand institution founded in 1847 goes overseas.

This is part of the reason I joined Kiwibank for my recently established mortgage. For the time being at least, Kiwibank is 100 percent New Zealand owned, which creates a more tangible economic link to the local economy than a foreign-owned revenue generator. And as we recently saw when Australian owners closed down the highly-regarded National Bank brand in favour of the unloved ANZ brand, it seems that Australian bank owners are often out of touch with what New Zealand customers want. Witness their demonstrative, wearisome new ads featuring the very shouty Brian Blessed - these are the sorts of chest-beating ads that go down well in Australia.

On the foundation of the Auckland Savings Bank, the newspaper The New Zealander observed (in its edition of 2 June 1847):
Whatever may be our differences of opinion on other subjects, municipal, political, or religious, we can surely join with respect to this, in approval and hearty good wishes for success. Even our congratulations on that success would be hardly premature, for such institutions are no longer a doubtful experiment. With respect to their own internal economy, the soundness of the system upon which they are conducted has been ascertained; and they have been found of assured and proved efficacy in ameliorating, not only the worldly condition, but the morals of those classes for whose benefit they are especially designed. 
Their peculiar influence in checking, not only waste and unthrift, but likewise intemperance, and the crapulous manner of life induced by what is commonly called "living from hand to mouth"; their power in raising that feeling of self-respect, that consciousness of a position in the world, to be maintained and even bettered, which generally follows hard upon the acquisition of property, has been too long acknowledged to need being insisted on here by us.

This lunchtime I popped into the Lambton Quay branch of ASB and closed my accounts for good. So farewell then, ASB. You kept my money safe for a third of a century, and I suppose I emerged having well and truly checked any rogue elements of waste and unthrift, which is not a bad thing.

See also:
Obituary: Kashin the Elephant (1968-2009), 24 August 2009
Advert: National Bank - Henry Marries Teller, 1969
TV: 'Enos', Dukes of Hazzard spin-off series, 1980-81
TV: Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Enos' (clip)