The best of The Spinoff this week

Bringing you the best weekly reading from your friendly local website.

Duncan Greive: The extraordinary story of Love Brar, the fraudster who became a pop star

“The clip is one of the most opulent scenes ever filmed in New Zealand. In it Brar and Akhtar perform in a vast garage, filled with vintage Rolls Royces, loaned to the production by a friend of Brar’s. The pair carry shotguns and dance in front of cars with the plates XSWAGX and 1BRARI, which feature on a variety of vehicles in most of his videos. Interspersed are shots of Brar and his distinctive curly moustache, in chic evening wear out front of a mansion. At one point a man with a lush beard pours Moet into what appears to be a bowl of Nutrigrain.

The video made Brar a star, giving him a fanbase around the world and led to offers to play shows in Australia and Canada. Offers he could not fulfil, because he was out on bail, and not allowed to leave the country. It was a maddening paradox – he was building a shiny new identity and reputation just as his previous one threatened to drag him down.”

Toby Manhire: Everybody stop being so mean to ANZ immediately

“How could any right-thinking New Zealander with a pulse not shed a tear nor feel a pang of national shame at hearing of ANZ’s hurt feelings in response to a Reserve Bank plan that would require it to hold more capital. It appears to be deeply glum, upset, betrayed, even. So affronted is it by the Reserve Bank proposal, it might, it might just – it just might! – ‘review and reconsider’ its operations in New Zealand, or, to use the technical language, take its ball and go home.

The meanies at the Reserve Bank have upset them, and now they’re sad. Across New Zealand, kiwis are hanging their heads, and not just because that’s their default anatomical state. We’ve really done it this time.

In a submission to the Reserve Bank on the proposal to raise the big banks’ capital ratio to 16% to limit the impact of a GFC sequel, the group boss of ANZ, Shayne Elliott, said the very ‘size, nature and operations’ of the New Zealand arm of the bank would be up for review should it go ahead.

It’s horrible to see such a plucky upstart so insulted, so unhappy, made to feel so unwelcome. Just because they’re New Zealand’s biggest bank, doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.”

Jack Thomas: I have worked for the last 15 years or so as a professional in various parts of the environmental movement. And I’m sorry.

“I started working for my first major environmental NGO in 2003. I translated the stuff the wildlife boffins were doing into stuff people give money to. The boffins wanted to post out their PhD thesis with an invoice. The fundraisers wanted to send ransom notes with “give us the money or we mince the panda.” I wanted a proper job. I wanted to build myself a future. So I tried for some sort of compromise.

I flew to the Amazon. I helped investigate a new road for trucking the rainforest out and turning it into toilet paper. I flew to Borneo. I visited the orangutan our donors could adopt. It wisely threw its own shit at me until I went away again. I racked up more CO2 emitting air miles with environmental NGOs than for any other reason.

I moved to New Zealand and got married. I worked as a fundraising consultant for several global NGOs. I wrote green sections for magazines and newspapers. I saved up for a house.

In all of these jobs, my bosses told me I shouldn’t scare the horses; I shouldn’t tell the full truth of the encroaching horrors I researched all day. Otherwise, people might give up or — in other words — stop sending us money.

I complied. I wanted the money. And I’m sorry.”

Catherine Woulfe: Rejoice! The best book in the world is being republished today

“It’s hard not to sound like a nitwit when you’re writing about something you love completely. So please bear with me. Because Winter of Fire is my favourite book in the world and I choose to see its re-release as a sign that one thing, at least, is going okay in this mad age.

Winter of Fire is a story about inequality and intuition, about fire and hope and upheaval. It’s set in a winter world where one people, the Quelled, are branded and enslaved, confined to freezing tents and freezing coal mines. Another people, the Chosen, live in wooden houses – wood! In a land of no trees! – warmed by the coal the Quelled provide.

And then there’s Elsha, a Quelled woman who burns with an anger and conviction all her own. ‘Always at the heart of my life there has been fire,’ she says, in the book’s opening sentence. (My other formative heroine, Tessa Duder’s Alex Archer, opens with similarly elemental self-reflection: ‘I have always known that in another life I was – or will be – a dolphin.’)

I still remember reading the next bit for the first time: Elsha is four years old, crouched in the dirt, singing to her scrawny cabbages, when a Chosen man approaches. He has a whip and he wears fancy furred boots. He doesn’t say a word because the Chosen believe Quelled have no speech. He laughs at the little girl. ‘Then he put his boot on my cabbages, ground them hard into the dirt, and turned to go.’

Oh it is on, raged 11 year-old me. I strode across that field and stood beside the little girl, the two of us snarling and spitting. And Elsha and I have been together ever since.”

Getty Images.

Tony Burton: Crocodile in the river: How public servants avoid being eaten by the OIA

“Public servants experience the OIA the way savannah animals experience crocodiles lurking under the surface of a river. The animals have to go to the river but do so aware that random attacks are a moment of inattention away. If this metaphor seems over the top, I invite the reader to look over the last few weeks of everything they wrote, typed or texted. Imagine someone had a legal right to publish any three consecutive words, without context or explanation, and with the potential that you might lose your job. Would that make you a little more guarded about what you wrote? Within the public service, versions of this thought experiment are called the ‘Dom Post test’.

Unsurprisingly public servants take steps to avoid the crocodile.”

Julienne Molineaux: There’s a land in the South Pacific where you can vote based on owning property

Spoiler: it’s New Zealand. Julienne Molineaux explains the strange relic in the local body electoral system.

Don Rowe: The day the books stopped working

“The options are mind boggling: the Western Canon in every pocket! Books cheaper than pie! Erotic fiction in public places! But traditionalists, nay purists, those acolytes of the physical tome, have a new argument against techno-texts should they need it – their physical books don’t ever just up and ‘disappear’. They don’t just ‘stop working’. Penguin aren’t knocking on your door with a baseball bat and a rubbish sack to take every book you’ve ever paid for, read or loved – unlike Microsoft, who kind of are.”

Pallas Hupé Cotter: Plastic bags are just the start: The paralysing guilt of supermarket shopping

“Of course, I’m trying to balance my diet with more plant-based food (but you already suspected that, didn’t you). There are, therefore, lots of herbs and vegetables that I really want but aren’t sold loose. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re about to suggest – just go somewhere else. Be aware that I no longer live in an urban setting with several choices of food outlets, but in a small-ish rural town. There are options here; I’ve been impressed. But they are still limited. I had a regular subscription to an organic box of veggies (a little shout-out for my friends at Bounty Box) when I lived in Wellington, and now I have a plan for a kitchen garden. But it’s winter, we just built and moved into our new home, outside it still looks like a gravel pit…and my attempts at growing things have all been very mixed.

You hear it, don’t you? All those “reasons” just become justifications and excuses. Sound familiar? Bottom line, I know that I’m guilty of giving in to the lure of convenience. I’d much prefer to spend my time at my computer, writing and working, instead of doing my own sustainable sourcing or micro-farming.

But I am doing my level best to not use or buy so many plastics. I rinse and reuse bags that ingredients come in. Just last week on Twitter, I shared, in a retweet of someone else’s struggle, that I have a special wooden drying rack for my bags. She wanted to see a picture of it because she might 3d print her own version. I decided not to point out that it would be printed out of plastic, because obviously it would be constantly re-used itself. But this right there is the issue! There’s always more you could, or should do.”

Anjum Rahman: Your email confirms you are lining up beside the populists and fascists

“Recent reporting has joined the dots between groups in New Zealand targeting the UN Global Compact on Migration and neo-Nazi groups offshore. This prompted me to recall an exchange I had at the end of 2018, when I received a message from a mainstream political group promoting a petition against the UN pact. I replied to the email, expressing my disgust and disappointment. A representative wrote back defending their position. As I explained in my response — an abridged version of which is published below — the links between the groups peddling racial hatred were already clear.”

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Alex Casey: How to have an extremely large weekend in Hawke’s Bay

“With only one weekend to see it all, it was a tall task. Especially because my partner Joe, who you might describe as a 30 year-old as set in his ways as, say, an ancient mariner who hasn’t interacted with society for half a century, was refusing to try any wine in Wine Country. “I will throw up,” he threatened, digging his heels in before we had even landed. That night, over a six course “chef’s choice” menu at Bistronomy, I got to work eroding his resistance to the finer things in life.

All soft lighting and fancy wood accents, I felt welcome in Bistronomy thanks to the equally terrified-looking couple on a date next to us. She ordered a lemon, lime and bitters and he ordered a whiskey and coke, stunned to discover that it came with a free slice of lemon. These were my people. The waitress came over and I panic-ordered a gin and tonic, making a weird joke about how that’s what a flapper in the 1930s would order.

I have since learned that is both historically inaccurate and just a really unfunny thing to say.”


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