District Libraries

March 4th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Dave Armstrong writes in the Dom Post:

And then there was the library. Every Friday night the four Armstrong kids would troop down and get our books. The librarians were friendly and though the library was small, it had a copy of my favourite book – Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. It’s about a steam shovel operator who digs a great big hole but forgets to create a path out. Little did I know that Mike Mulligan would provide me with a perfect metaphor for the Wellington City Council in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

I grew up in Island Bay, and the Island Bay Library was an important part of my childhood. I was a fast reader and would visit there almost every fortnight to borrow more books. Because it was in my neighbourhood, I could walk there on the way home from school. There is no way I would have gone to the central library in town.

But if you investigate further you find that this pillar of the Brooklyn community is at risk from a far greater natural disaster than earthquakes – city councillors. Brooklyn Library’s services have been deliberately run down by cutting staff hours and stock circulation. Though Brooklyn is categorised as a District Centre, which entitles it to a library, this apparently conflicts with the council’s recent Centres Policy, which sees Brooklyn as a Neighbourhood Centre. And under this policy, because Brooklyn is (just) less than 3 kilometres from the city library, then it doesn’t qualify for a library. To think our rates pay for this ridiculously bureaucratic way to define a community. You wouldn’t read about it – especially now that they’re wanting to close libraries.

Wadestown’s excellent library is also under threat, though community facilities portfolio leader Justin Lester said recently that closing Wadestown Library would not be worth “the amount of hurt that you go through trying”. I would prefer that the councillors I elect to say things like “Wadestown Library will close over my dead body” than to tell me that they don’t want to engage in a bitter public fight over its closure.

I doubt there is a lot Dave Armstrong and I agree on politically, but community libraries may just be one of them.

I think it is vital that kids can easily access a local library and borrow books at no or low cost. The benefits of having kids be enthusiastic readers is massive. I do regard this as a clear public good, which should be funded by ratepayers.

Kids should be reading as much as possible. Few families can afford to buy scores of books a year. That is very libraries are so brilliant, with temporary borrowing. They make it easy for all families to have kids who read. Of course there are other barriers such as parental attitudes, but libraries at least remove the barrier of cost.

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Bisley on Armstrong

January 15th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Alexander Bisley interviews playwright Dave Armstrong on plays and humour:

DAVE ARMSTRONG tells me he doesn’t trust those without a sense of humour.  “Never. The trouble with most people who don’t have a sense of humour is they think they have a far better sense of humour than anyone else. People like that either end up as dictators of small African nations or as executives in charge of comedy in television networks.

Heh. I suspect he has someone in mind with this statement.

The friendly basil grower’s TV credits include Skitz, The Semisis, and Bro’town. One of his witty sketches for McPhail and Gadsby noted a shark’s airlift to Southland Hospital after a run in with Jenny Shipley. Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby had many broadcasting complaints (none upheld). A Melbourne critic didn’t realise it was an attack on free market economics and called Armstrong and the Jewish co-writer Danny Mulheron Nazis. “Satire can be easily misunderstood. And the more sophisticated it is the more easily it can be misunderstood. If someone misunderstands my point I often see that as a badge of honour. Even though Gormsby was a satire on free market changes in education, I’ve lost count of the right-wing ACT supporters who absolutely loved it and saw it as an attack on left-wing values.

I think the best humour can appeal to you , even if you disagree with the message. I loved West Wing (more drama but lots of humour) even though it had a liberal bent. I adore South Park because it lampoons conservatives and liberals in equal doses. After they had lampooned several religions, they even had a go at Richard Dawkins and atheists.

The left wing columnist for The Dominion Post elaborates on his disappointment with elements of the left’s censorious and humourless disposition. “The left don’t have a monopoly on humourlessness. If you don’t believe me, read a Treasury report. But there are elements on the left that get offended on other people’s behalf. Good humour keeps people guessing and is unpredictable, so to be too doctrinaire can make things less funny. For example, I used the N-word in a play recently, and even though the audience roared with laughter, almost every liberal critic told me off. They saw red at the mention of the word, yet didn’t realise that I wasn’t insulting Afro-Americans, I was laughing at the way white politicians try to get down with black people and usually do a dreadful job. Check out David Cunliffe speaking at the Avondale Markets on YouTube in a cuzzie-bro accent to see what I mean.”

It is those who get offended on behalf of others who drive me most crazy.

The drole writer of Le Sud wants audience to be entertained and provoked by his new play,Kings of the Gym. “I believe all four characters in this play are likeable, there’s not really a bad guy. Though it’s about PE on the surface, Kings of the Gym is really about tolerance and ideology. Each character is trying to capture the soul of the other characters. They want someone else to think and act like them, and, at the beginning of the play, can’t countenance a different or opposing political, religious or educational point of view. Like most of my plays,Kings of the Gym is hopefully an entertaining and thought-provoking plea for tolerance on all sides, even though it’s initially very intolerant characters who are making it.”

I’m attending the premiere on Saturday. It will be the only day in January in which I’ll actually be in Wellington!

Other formative influences include political satirists Jonathan Swift and Jaroslav Hasek. “I had a very good English teacher at school who introduced me to Swift’s Rules for Servants, which is like a political satirist’s handbook. And I loved Gulliver’s Travels. It’s a great narrative yet fantastic satire at the same time. And I have a soft spot for scatological humour. Hasek, especially in the Good Soldier Schweik and Red Commissar, really understands how authority in institutions like the Army operates. As a leftie, I find Hasek’s ‘party of moderate progress within the law’ very funny as it reminds me of the Labour Party.”

There is a bit of info on the afore-mentioned party here.

Armstrong is confident about theatre’s future. “Definitely. People have been predicting theatre’s demise for years—talkies, television, Cinemascope and 3D were all going to destroy theatre. But theatre’s still here and I reckon always will be, along with the book and the newspaper. Theatre allows writers to experiment and do things relatively cheaply, which can make it quite a radical and subversive medium. The minute lots of money is involved, people are less likely to take risks. I’ve had far less censorship or people wanted me to change things in theatre compared to other mediums like television. And theatre can be a good living for a writer. Many New Zealand plays make more money at the box office than New Zealand movies.”

That’s an interesting assertion. But quite believable.

If a play has full houses for a month, and it is in Circa One, then that is 30 x 242 x $45, or around $330,000. And that is just for one city. Of course not all plays have full houses and same tickets are discounted. I’m not sure what the average occupancy is for theatres, but plan to find out. I’m actually very interested in the economics and logistics of theatre as well as the actual productions themselves.

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Armstrong gets Jetstarred

September 4th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Dave Armstrong writes:

It was meant to be a family reunion commemorating the death of a beloved relative. Air tickets were booked and the two sisters, both working their guts out in part-time jobs to put themselves through university, arrived at Wellington Airport on Sunday morning in plenty of time for their flight to Auckland.

But then they were Jetstarred. All Jetstar flights to Auckland that day had been cancelled. Fog? A crack in the tail of the plane? A terrorist alert at Auckland airport? After much obfuscation the reason was given – “engineering problems”. Sometimes an indicator light fails and passengers patiently wait a few minutes before take- off for the fault to be fixed. But every Jetstar flight that day cancelled due to a single engineering problem? What happened – did a wing fall off? …

Realising the reunion could be missed, tears flowed, friends were called, credit card numbers were yelled over the phone and eventually the girls got to Auckland. Everyone said: “Thank God for Air New Zealand even if it does cost an arm and a leg to fly at short notice”.

If this was a one-off incident I would simply dismiss it as one of the perils of air travel, but the same family got Jetstarred the same way three months earlier. Around the same time my niece tried to return from Australia for a long weekend. By the time her delayed Jetstar flight actually left Melbourne it was so late she would have had to turn around again on arrival in Auckland so she spent what little was left of her weekend telling her Facebook friends she would never fly Jetstar again.

My policy is to never fly Jetstar (inside NZ, they seem fine in Australia) unless there is no other flight available. I also have a standing policy that if an organisation wants me to travel to speak at their conference, that they must not book me on Jetstar.

But there is one reason I am grateful to Jetstar. Every time a Tory argues that the private sector does things more efficiently than the public, I say “What about Jetstar and Air New Zealand?” and the conversation turns to the weather.

Air NZ is of course a great example of the Mixed Ownership Model :-)

I would point out that Air NZ have consistently had good service – both as 100% privately owned, and as a MOM.

Have you ever tried flying to Gisborne at short notice? It’ll cost you slightly more than going to Samoa and slightly less than Perth. Because Air New Zealand has a monopoly on most regional routes, they charge like wounded bulls. Is this an example of a state enterprise using its monopoly to rip off people in the regions? Possibly, but it could also be what happens when private investors buy part of a state asset. The state may want to provide an affordable service but private investors will be looking to maximise profit – even if it means gouging Gizzy.

I think it is simply just because no one else wants to fly to Gisborne. The problem is not what percentage of an airline is owned by the state (SOEs act just as commercially as the private sector), but the lack of competition. And I say you are more likely to get fairer competition when the Government that sets the competition rules does not own one of the companies involved.

What would be wonderful is a state airline with the level of service that Air New Zealand provides, but that is also affordable to those on low incomes and in the regions. You may be right to think that I’m dreaming, and that it will only happen when pigs can fly Jetstar.

Having checked the Air NZ website, there are some pretty decent fares from Wellington to Gisborne. You can fly up there for $89 and back for $109 if you book well enough in advance.

When I fly to Auckland, I often find the four taxi trips costs me more than the return airfare!

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The Basils

December 27th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Dave Armstrong in the Dom Post gives out his Basil awards. Quite a few I agree with:

Basil Fawlty worst comeback of the year: First equal: Don Brash and Martin Crowe. While Crowe briefly filled every unfit middle-aged Kiwi bloke with hope, Brash showed us why we should never listen to a politician who says he has done his own private polling.

Oh you can listen to them, but demand a copy of the results and the questions asked.

Basil politician of the year: John Key: Hard to go past a politician who increased his party’s vote and held up the Centre-Right share despite tough times.

Basil local MP of the Year: Annette King: from bowling clubs to school prize-givings to theatre events, she seems to attend everything.

I suspect clones.

Pruned Basil best losing local election candidates: First equal: Paul Foster-Bell and James Shaw. The Wellington Central campaign was dominated by policies not personalities. Nice.

A few people have remarked on that.

Basil wreath for civic stupidity: First equal: the murderous bus lanes on Manners St; the clumsy education campaign for recycle bins.

Maybe they should put up a big flashing sign in Manners Street with a running total of the number of people killed, just injured and near misses with the buses. I did prefer the old Manners Mall.

Purple Basil for most tiring local issue: The Wellywood sign – where normally law-abiding people considered the use of explosives.

Explosives would have been overkill. A chainsaw though ….

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