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Hard News: Burn & Get Fried

Approved: kiwifruit
Subject: HARD NEWS 05/04/02 - Burn & Get Fried

HARD NEWS is first broadcast in Auckland on 95bFM around 9.30am on Fridays and replayed around 5.15pm Friday and 10am Sunday on The Culture Bunker. You can listen to 95bFM live on the Internet. Point your web browser to http://www.95bfm.co.nz. You will need an MP3 player. Currently New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT.

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... it was the Easter of forgetting. The loss of the old certainty that, on Good Friday, everything that could conceivably be opened would be shut was telling. So you could buy wine if a waiter brought it, or even at the rugby, but not across the road at retail - a situation which confused the hell out of some of my friends.

Further undone by the Stealth Easter, we, in our droves, forgot to go to the Easter Show or on holiday - to the extent that the Easter Weekend road toll of two was the lowest since records began. And then, in the midst of it, the Queen Mother passed away and the media and the politicians made an absolute fetish of going through the motions, even if no one quite believed it all.

Easter is, of course, symbolic of rebirth, which may or may not have been the cue for the country's leading Catholic convert, Jim Anderton, to arrange his own political resurrection.

I've admired Anderton's performance as Deputy Prime Minister, and I'm no great fan of Alliance party president Matt McCarten - especially after watching him showboating at the Wake Up Auckland march, running up and down the fringe making sure *everyone* noticed him. But Anderton has been too disingenuous by half.

There are some fine people in the Alliance. And there are people active on the left of it that I wouldn't want to be in the room with, let alone a political party.

But Anderton's alleged attempts at reconciliation - the last of which was the jolly proposal that the 30 elected members of the Alliance council resign en masse - have been farcical.

His earlier letter to Alliance members seeking their support was preposterous in its wording. It all appears to have been a matter of trying to claim the moral high ground as a way of marking time while a loophole was divined in the party-hopping legislation for which he, ironically, campaigned.

So, now, the Alliance will have two leaders: one chosen by sitting MPs - of whom Anderton has a majority on his side, with five set to join the New Jim Party and two sympathetic - to stay the right side of the Electoral Integrity Act. And another - Laila Harre - elected by the party machine. The Democrats have left the Alliance, but the two Democrat-affiliated MPs haven't - because if they did, they'd have to resign from Parliament under the same Act.

If you look hard enough, there is a philosophical dispute in here, and perhaps some form of managed split was the only viable result. But in perversely declaring that black is white, Honest Jim just looks devious.

So will this coalition suffer as much as the last one did from party-hopping? Nope. Jenny Shipley was in it up to her elbows in the wooing of Alamein Kopu and the rather less disgraceful recruitment of Winston's "tight five". The Labour leadership has, publicly at least, stayed well clear of this mess. And virtually everyone who voted Alliance in 1999 would endorse the continuing support of the government - something that couldn't be said of Alliance and New Zealand First voters last time around.

The attacking options of Bill English are also limited. He can't decently call for an early election because on current polling he'd be obliterated.

So what does the left want? There was a clue in Chris Trotter's intriguing guest column in this month's Metro. Trotter recalled Matt McCarten's mayoral campaign launch and the thrill of a genuine left-wing political movement - no centre about it - getting up on its hind legs.

Unfortunately, the upshot - taken with the far left's idiocy in Eden-Albert - was John Banks for mayor. That's the problem.

Banks was back in the news this week, when he was rapped by the Advertising Standards Complaints Board. He appeared in a 30 minute infomercial to endorse Nature Bee Potentiated Bee Pollen and its health-giving qualities. Unfortunately, viewers weren't told that Banks owns the company that markets this miracle cure. Nor that another woman who attested to its qualities in the ad was employed by Banks' company. So much for the honest, decent what-you-see-is-what-you-get mayor.

The bee bollocks doesn't stop there, unfortunately. Claims made about Nature Bee led to a formal complaint of scientific misconduct involving Canterbury University. That was two years ago, and so far as I know the university authorities haven't been able to produce a ruling. They're frightened of legal action, apparently.

The Listener forged into another health issue - of sorts - this week, with a spectacular cover featuring one of those little glass pipes that are so popular right now: "Inside the methamphetamine craze," it reads. "Social evil or moral panic?"

As the story indicated, it's a bit of both, really. Last Saturday's papers eagerly reported an unusually big haul of "party drug" hospital admissions - 10 from the one pre-Easter dance party in central Auckland - but rather buried the information that all 10 involved overdoses of either GHB or alcohol.

The fact is that unless you are utterly, utterly out of luck, a recreational dose of either speed - or any form - or Ecstasy will do you no real harm. But when it comes to the drug du jour - crystal methamphetamine - more people than usual seem to forget the rules. Or perhaps they never knew them. The extraordinary element of the boom in "burn" is the way it has crossed over to the kind of people who never previously went near powders and crystals, let alone sucked 'em down through a crack pipe.

Some friends of mine live opposite a park in West Auckland. Almost every morning, they see people - people in suits, often - pull up, get out the pipe and get a hit before they hit the morning traffic. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "rush hour" - but, frankly, I can't imagine anything worse than getting a faceful of meth and going to the office. Bad scene.

This isn't without precedent. LSD has been a Class A drug for decades, but that didn't stop New Zealanders being the world's highest per-capita users of that. Bad guys used to ram-raid chemist in search of codeine. Now - bizarrely - they grab the Sudafed. The domestic cooking-up of amphetamine has its precedent in homebake heroin and, if we're to be honest, the home-brewing of beer and spirits through New Zealand's decades of partial prohibition. Demand will not be denied.

The particular problem with burn is that it can seem so benign, so lacking in consequences, as if it really is something you can do every day. Thus do the housewives get hooked.

But there is no free lunch. Think of speed as a bank loan. You don't get to keep the money. You pay it back. With interest. G'bye!

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