Music Monday: Madness

The Auckland housing market is utterly broken. Today, with the assistance of my friend Chris, we’re going to play “Would you rather . . . ?”

Would you rather own a charming family bungalow in Auckland with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a lovely garden, and a pool . . . (Price tag US$2.545 million)

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. . . or a legit mansion in Minneapolis with 6 bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms, and room for an elaborate hedge maze. (Price tag US$1.75 million)

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That gives you enough left over to buy a cute little Minneapolis 4-bed 4.5 bath for US$789,900, to bring in some rental income.

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Too rich for your budget? I can do you an Auckland 1930s California Bungalow with 5 bedrooms, one family bathroom plus ensuite, a back lawn and a shed for only US$1.5 million.

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Aaaand this is why I am leaving.

I won’t lie. I still feel like a loser who will always have to confess in a whisper, with a hitch in my voice, “Yeah, I couldn’t make it in Auckland.”

Wish me luck

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Pasture against snow: The Tararua range from the Wairarapa, by Virginia McMillan via Wikimedia, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I’m supposed to be flying south tomorrow to look at some houses. And I say “supposed to be” because this has been the news headline all day:

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The strongest winter storm in years has just blown in. I’m going to the North island, not the South island, but snow is anticipated as far north as the Tararuas. Spoiler: exactly where I’m headed.

So I could be waiting at the airport all day, or heading back home before I’ve even started. I’m packing paperbacks so I don’t have to worry about a depleting battery. Cross your fingers for me.

An apology from the NZ Parliament to gay men. And one from me too.

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In 1986 New Zealand Parliament passed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, making it no longer illegal for Kiwi men to be criminalized for having consensual sex. It wasn’t just the men involved, either, but their families and friends: if you allowed gay sex to occur on your property you could lose your house. Gay men killed themselves rather than face a life where they would be reviled for being themselves. Prior to 1961 sodomy was punishable in NZ by life imprisonment. Suicide is arguably preferable.

This week the New Zealand Parliament offered a formal apology to all men who were convicted under anti-sodomy laws. Justice Minister Amy Adams explained the government “recognises the tremendous hurt and suffering those men and their families have gone through, and the continued effects the convictions have had on them.”

Labour MP Grant Robertson said, “Let us be clear, the illegality of homosexuality, the arrests and imprisonments and fear of that happening did not just ruin lives and destroy potential. It killed people . . . Hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives have been lost because of the shame, the stigma and the hurt caused by this Parliament and the way society viewed them as criminals. It is for all of that that we must apologise.”

The apology accompanies a unanimously passed law allowing convicted men to apply for a pardon. Families of deceased men can apply for a pardon on their behalf. Kudos to Wiremu Demchick, who started the Campaign to Pardon Gays in Aotearoa in 2014, gaining the support of the Green Party, and organizing a petition presented to parliament in 2016.

I owe a personal apology to those men. To all gay men.

In 1985 the Christian-based Coalition of Concerned Citizens organized a petition against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, which was then working its was through the committee process. The group’s leader, Keith Hay, was steadfastly against legalizing gay sex: “Homosexuality is definitely sinful. If this legislation is passed you might come home and find a man on the back of your son. Legally there. It will be happening under the trees and bushes.” The Coalition was strongly influenced by the work of American psychologist Paul Cameron, who equated homosexuality with paedophilia.

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One of Paul Cameron’s publications

One day in 1985, in high school science class, my best friend pulled a sheet of paper from her bag and slid it across to me. “You have to sign this,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The government wants to make being gay legal,” she said. “We have to stop them.” Disgust shuddered across her face.

My first thought was, What’s ‘gay’? 

Yes, this was a real thing I didn’t know.

If you’re my age you don’t need to imagine a world without any representation of gay men and women. There were no gay TV characters, no out gay men as part of the community. 1980s New Zealand was incredibly oppressive about all kinds of sexual issues. I didn’t know what a condom looked like. Girls who ‘got into trouble’ had to leave school for “Bethany,” a mysterious live-in hostel. Sometimes mothers went into hospital for ‘women’s issues.’ We had no idea what these issues might be, or if we would also inevitably have them too. All we knew about was rugby, Knight Rider, and the Saturday night top 20 countdown.

I don’t know how many of those 800,000 signatures against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill were those of high school kids, but I know at least some were.

Because  I signed.

She was my best friend. I wanted to please her.

I didn’t want to show my ignorance.

I didn’t want to stand out.

I didn’t want to be ‘for’ something that was apparently disgusting.

And I signed.

It’s the single most shameful act of my life.

Three other girls at the table signed the petition. Others overheard and got up from their tables to come over and sign. Finally someone handed the form to Jo, a quiet girl, whose friends were all in other classes.

Jo shoved the paper away. “I’m not signing that,” she snapped. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

My body still remembers the swell of shock that flowed through me, that someone would refuse to go along with the crowd. That saying, “No,” was a thing that was allowed. That someone would stand up and voice an unpopular opinion. That there was someone who thought being ‘gay,’ whatever that was, was okay, when clearly enough people were concerned about to it have organized a petition.

Thank you, Jo, for showing me what is was to be brave.

I was a fucking idiot and I signed, and became one of the ignorant, howling mob holding pitchforks.

I’m so, so sorry.

McMansion Hell will prevail

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One of my favorite blogs is McMansion Hell. But if you follow that link today you’ll find no blog there. That’s because Zillow doesn’t like Wagner mocking its clients’ houses, and is threatening to sue McMansion Hell because Zillow doesn’t understand the nature of US copyright law i.e. 1) Zillow doesn’t own the copyright to the photos on its site and therefore has no standing to sue 2) Kate Wagner, the genius behind Mcmansion Hell,definitely did not “violate the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse act” in copying the images from the site, and 3) fair use is a thing.

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Wagner doesn’t only mock. She’s written some in-depth and very readable articles about domestic architecture, and is the reason I now own A Field Guide to American Houses.I wish I could link you to one. But I can’t, because Zillow, and fuck them for that. (Wagner is also the reason I look at any tiny framed print on a large wall and think “An art!” )

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So bookmark McMansion Hell, and when Zillow inevitably cower back into their burrow and the site is restored, go check it out. In the meantime you could just go and marvel at this New Zealand McMansion I actually wanted to submit to Wagner today. I’ll just have to make up my own snarky commentary.

Interestingly, fair use is not a thing in New Zealand. Hairy Mclary is a beloved canine character from a best-selling series of children’s books. The publisher just successfully demanded an art work by Kiwi street artist Milton Springsteen be pulled from a charity auction for flood victims because it breached copyright. A spokesperson for Penguin Random House said, “it was probably a simple oversight on the part of the artist,” and “the artist would appreciate the need to accept artistic copyright.”


Milton Springsteen’s Beefed Up, and Kiwi icon Rita Angus’s seminal Cass (1936).

It might be true that “New Zealand copyright law [has] no defence for appropriation art” but the law is an ass. So is Zillow.


Update: 30 June

Zillow released this statement today:

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Surprisingly, Emily Heffter emailed me a copy directly, which I guess they did to everyone who blogged about the issue. Makes me feel like my insignificant singular voice adds some tiny contribution to resisting our dystopian times.

McMansion Hell will be posting tomorrow as scheduled. Check them out.

It’s a piefee

This is a piefee. It’s a latte served in a chocolate-lined sweet pie crust.

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Photo by Tasteful Bakehouse.

Tasteful Bakehouse on Karangahape Road has made a local media splash with their 2017 creation. My only beef with it is meat pies are far more of a Kiwi culinary tradition than sweet pies. Sweet pies exist, but more people grew up on apple crumble than apple pie. To me this is a coffee tart. A toffee? A tarfee? Cofart?

I feel 100% certain if I google I am going to find this idea has been done in a thousand other media posts in dozens of countries before now, but I refuse to burst the bubble of Chamnan Ly from Tasteful Bakehouse. Good on you, mate.


Amazon Australia is going to crush large Kiwi retailers

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The “Stone Store” Kerikeri. New Zealand’s first store, built in 1832. I bet it had quicker cross-town delivery times in 1832 than Farmers do now. Photo by Jennifer Whiting on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Mainstream New Zealand retailers suck at online service. Small specialty retailers have had to step up their game since the late 90s and in general they are awesome. I buy my fountain pen ink from a place call Inkt. They dispatch the same day I order and I receive it the very next day. I get Leuchtturm journals from locals Philatelic Distributors, and also get these the next day.

In contrast, on 16 April I ordered face cleanser online from Farmers Trading Company because it was 30% off. It should arrive some time this week. Maybe. With luck. Farmers – and why, yes, it did start its life as a mail order supplier for literal farmers, in 1906, how did you guess? – is a national mid range department store – the only national mid-range department store. They offer delivery for $7 in 4-7 working days. Seven working days? Over a week to ship goods by courier from a warehouse in Auckland to another part of Auckland?

It gets worse. I could choose to collect my purchase in store. Ok, more hassle, but at least it would be quicker and cheaper than waiting for that courier, right? Wrong. Click and collect costs $5 and still takes 4-7 working days. That’s insane. Why does it cost me five dollars to collect from the store? I’m saving you labor costs, Farmers! You’re practically begging me to find an alternative supplier.

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So as a consumer it’s great news that Amazon Australia announced this week they’re expanding to include retail services. They’ve been around since 2012, but you could only buy ebooks there. Now they’re going to offer everything, and it’s going to change the retail landscape not only in Australia, but also in New Zealand. Internet shopping already killed Kiwi legend Kirkaldie and Stains after 152 years of trading. South Island department store chain Arthur Barnett got bought out by competitor H &  J Smith in 2015. Auckland’s Smith and Caughey’s (est. 1808) hangs on for now – mainly because they own land and buildings in Auckland’s CBD.

Responsive companies will survive and thrive, but more than a couple of large Kiwi retailers will be pricking their ears for the hoofbeats of Death’s mount in 2018.

And if Amazon Australia means I won’t have to pay for the privilege of collecting products from a store I will be fucking cheering.

[Update: I finally received my Farmers parcel on 1 May. This is not an unusual experience.]

Music Monday: 80s flashback with DD Smash

We had a hell of a week here in Auckland. The wettest March in 58 years, and all in a few days.


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Pic by Lawrence Smith for Fairfax Media
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Pic by Lawrence Smith for Fairfax Media

A tiny town called Whangamata got three months’ rainfall. The media started calling the storm the Tasman Tempest (the Tasman is the ocean between Australia and New Zealand. Fun fact: my pen name was going to be M. Tasman but a friend suggested Americans had no idea the Tasman was a sea.) A sinkhole opened in New Lynn and 300 homes were flooded.

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Lightning hit the substation near my home, but I was lucky enough not to be one of the many who lost power. I spent the six days of the storm tucked up at home, safe and warm, with books, the internet, and copious supplies of hummus and hot-smoked salmon. I am so damn lucky and privileged it’s insane.

Let me share with you the first song I have a conscious memory of being #1 on the NZ charts. The production values give you a good idea of the state of NZ music in the 80s, and the way Kiwi music legend Dave Dobbyn randomly flourishes a prop handgun would no longer be regarded so cavalierly.  Here’s DD Smash with 1983 hit Outlook for Thursday.