Friday, July 30, 2004

Dance of the Two Veils

Something strange is afoot. Leighton Smith and lawyers are in agreement.

We are talking here about the fuss over the burka-ed Muslim women declining to unveil to give evidence in a Court case. This is a good one for talkback land. ‘Either play by our rules or go home’ is pretty much the cry that has been going up from all of our long-time listening, first time calling friends.

The part where it gets odd though is when the bulk of the legal profession find themselves in agreement with the gist of this argument. Strange times indeed when the ultra-careful lawyer types and the exuberantly offensive talk backers see eye-to-eye.

What’s the problem? Don’t we live in a tolerant society were people are free to do what they want, even if what they want to do is be hidden head-to-toe bar a gap for the eyes? Shouldn’t these people, whose right to religious expression New Zealand protects, be allowed to go to Court without stepping out of their customary garb?

Well yes and no. The consensus call seems to be that you can do this anywhere and anytime you want except if you are giving evidence in a trial.
The ability for a Judge and Jury to assess the reliability of a witnesses’ testimony from their delivery - especially how they look how they present it - is an established and vital tenet of our Justice system. And in a country run like ours where an independent Justice system is part of the state apparatus then if you are in this country you have to play by its rules. No choice about it. No person can avoid doing so. It isn’t like choosing between swearing on a bible or taking a non-religious oath, it is an integral part of ascertaining the truth in a case. Part of keeping the just in the Justice System if you will.

A possible parallel, one which follows talkback language, would be a woman from New Zealand heading into a Shar’ia law court in a halter-neck top and mini-skirt - it just simply could not be done. The difference here is we agonise over whether to compel these two women to unveil while there our western dressed woman wouldn’t make it into the room.

So even if it offends inclusive sensibilities it is best not to make the established Justice system bend to accommodate a small group of new citizens. It would be churlish to expect countries you visited to alter to fit your mores, rather than the other way round. But try finding a Judge here with the bravery to say this. According to Defence Lawyer Colin Amery he has been through three Courts looking for a Judge with the mettle to rule either way on whether the veils have to go. Tricky political situation apparently. I hope it isn’t political correctness in play, mainly as it has actually become physically painful to hear the knee-jerk dismissals of such behaviour. I’m actually developing a pre-emptive flinch in response to the torrents I know will follow from an inanely wet action. In fact the usage of ‘politically incorrect’ has become so cartoon-ish that the term itself is in danger of being stripped of what little meaning it had in the first place and becoming an oxy-moron.

Best to remember then that no one is being nasty, no one’s being insensitive, they are just applying the set of rules that run the country to everyone in it. Actually I’d better stop now. This is starting to sound like a one law for all argument. Although you’d hope that this would be the case, ugly politicians have, as with political correctness, made one law for all into an ugly sounding idea.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

How to Train Terrorists and Other Dogs


How to train terrorists and other dogs.

 If you have ten people sitting around a table and one person feeds a dog from the table then the dog will continue to come back for more.
Simple really, but evidently not simple enough for the Philippine government or populace to grasp. This idea is at the heart of the dilemma Manila faced over the abducted man, Angelo de la Cruz.

The story so far - a group of AK-47 wielding aspirant murderers kidnapped de la Cruz. They shot a home-movie with him, except in this amateur theatrical they wear masks on their faces and he wears unspeakable fear. They demand, against a backdrop of a rallying flag, that the Philippines withdraw their troops or they will behead Angelo de la Cruz, who has the unfortunate accident of birth of hailing from that country.

Right, so that was the face of it – head off or head off.
Never mind that the Philippines had only 51 troops stationed in the country. Never mind that they were there to bring stability to the country. Never mind that the troops were due to leave in only one months time anyway. Never mind that Angelo de la Cruz was working for companies that are trying to reconstruct the country with international money. Never mind that it is not the fifteenth century and that pretty much the only people barbarous enough to behead anyone anymore are America’s favourite ally, Saudi Arabia.
No, regardless of all this these dogs too low to show their faces issued this ultimatum. And the Philippines reacted how?  

No matter how many times the other nine people do not feed the dog it will keep coming back and be a nuisance to all.
They fed the dog from the table. They promised to speed up the withdrawal of their troops in return for the safety of their citizen.

This entire issue is one outside of whether the Philippines should have been there in the first place. It is well beside the question of if America should have gone in there. A million miles away. It is a simple, painfully, blindingly simple – you cannot give in to terrorist demands.

By dealing with these terrorists the Philippines has unwittingly accomplished two things; they have made the deaths of other hostages whose Governments did not acquiesce to demands worth nothing and they have further endangered the lives of every foreign national in Iraq who now all face a higher likelihood of abduction and death.
This may sound drastic but is not. Again, beside any question of the legitimacy of foreign nationals’ presence in Iraq this is a matter of policy. Do you, as the Australian Foreign Minister put it, let gunmen dictate a nation’s foreign policy? If just one country does then you will find, just as with the dog at the table, the gunmen will keep trying it.  

It takes all ten people not feeding the dog to stop the cur from annoying you at meal times.
Not that the Philippines are alone in callous short-term self-interest. The Spaniards got the whole thing started. 
It has all been downhill since the Madrid bombings altered the course of the Spanish elections. The catastrophic campaign advertisement from an al-Qaida affiliate granted the Socialists a greater majority than they had expected and brought about the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.

To step back and look at this transaction the Spanish accepted a very bad deal. At the cost of 191 mostly Spanish lives and the injury of another 2000 Spain did what the perpetrators of the act wanted. And what, past embarrassment, did Spain get back?

They got, if you remember the habits of dogs and terrorists, the chance to have the same horrors threatened or used against them next time unscrupulous people don’t like what they are doing. And further to this they get the special consolation of aiding and abetting the spread of terror tactics.

The kind of people who make a living out of making condescending cover-all statements, glasshouse notwithstanding, like to say that the Arab world detests weakness in its leaders and sees compromise and nuance as signs of this detestable weakness. Quite apart from attempting to speak for a world, as these are the actions of disparate elements that happen to be mainly Arab, I don’t think this mantra-like incantation fits in terrorist cases. No, it is more a case of terrorists loving weakness. They see weakness and they exploit it as unthinkingly as a dog. Way to give a dog a bone.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Huge things are going on in little old NZ. You know this is the case when you turn on CNN and there is Helen Clark (our Helen!) drawling in nuu zeelund to all the world. A quick switch of the remote and there she is doing the same thing on BBC world. In fact she is all over my brand new SKY Digital platform. Which disturbed me really, because when our flat first decided to get SKY this most certainly was not the kind of female over-exposure we had envisaged.

But what was going on? She was, as far as I could tell, giving Israel a telling off.
That’s right, Israel. The guys with an estimated 200 nuclear weapons. The guys who on three occasions have beaten off a handful of armies from more populous countries and taken their territory. The same Israel that has a nasty habit of sending helicopter gun-ships to clear up arguments. Something was up.

Turns out Israel’s secret service had been trying to procure New Zealand passports. And not just any passport, the passport of a wheelchair bound cerebral palsy sufferer. Not cricket in any jurisdiction. At least that is what our Government reckoned. I’m staying out of pointing the finger on this one – Mossad have a track record of pursuing enemies to the end of the earth, or South America depending on whatever is closer, and making their displeasure known. Down Mossad. Nice Mossad. Anyway they wanted these passports because we are known to be such an unthreatening nation that carriers of such get an easy reception around the world. To read into this we are known as being so impotent that dangerous people, wolves if you will, want to dress up in our sheeps clothing. Which makes it even odder for Helen to be ticking off Israel. What are we meant to do about it?

Well in the time honoured tradition of scorned people everywhere we are not going to invite Israelis over to our place anymore. Honestly, the lynchpin in our sanctions on this rogue nation was to un-extend the possibility of an invitation to their head of state to visit us when he visits Australia later in the year.
To which, and you may think I’m making this up, but I promise I’m not, the head of state has responded with something along the lines of: “well I didn’t even want to, or plan to, come to NZ anyway”.
Way to go New Zealand: cancel a trip that wasn’t happening - you can’t snub someone who is already snubbing you. But it isn’t like we can do anything else.

Which is the thing really. We have a bad track record of ‘showing them’. Once the French came along and blew up a boat in one of our harbours killing a man in the process. A rugby field up north was also dug up to hide the dynamite beforehand and that garnered similar outrage. To show the world how angry we are about this terrorist action we call it the Rainbow Warrior Incident. That’ll scare them. Maybe we can call this passport case the Moonbeam Vegetable Incident or perhaps the Sunshine Cripple Case.

Further to our shame when we caught those French murderers we caved in to French government demand after French government demand until, and you’re excused if you stop believing me here, we toyed with the idea of extraditing the killers to a Club Med Resort Island. And then we went ahead and did so.

On the back of all this it is no surprise that the Israelis thought us a soft option. The best thing to come out of it all would have to be the lengths to which one of the passport fraudsters – Urie Kelman - went to in order to keep his appearance secret. He wore ski masks, balaclavas, beanies, hats, glasses, in fact everything up to a Groucho Marx mask. In court he had his hand over his face for the entire 125 minutes. Israel, however, will still not confirm that they were their spies that got caught. If they aren’t spies then maybe they should stop acting like they fell out of a cheap cold war thriller.

Which is, last of all, the craziest thing in the whole process – we caught their spies. Little old NZ. Big Bad Mossad. And NZ, like a little David killed their Goliath. Alhough we can’t take that metaphor too far – David was the Jew in the original.

Go Helen though. Seeing there is very little else we could do except bluster at Israel you really let them have it. And, might I add, at some danger to yourself, considering Israel’s propensity to deal to dissenters by gunship or bulldozer. Come to think of it you weren’t speeding to get to the rugby at all where you? …………………

Friday, July 16, 2004

It's Party Time

So Tariana Turia has been delivered back into parliament bringing along with her a brand new Maori Party.
Even though only 9 thousand or so bothered voting in this by-election, and that National and Labour did not even bother contesting it, this birth of a new voice for Maori is one of those real big significant moments you hear about. Historical like. Although so far those it purports to represent are not receiving much of a service.

This Maori Party is an odd beast. The Te Tai Hauaura electorate voted it into being site-unseen. In a novel twist on the electoral process the party did not actually present any policy for people to vote on. None at all. They promised, however, that once they were voted in they’d set about working out what they stood for. People may suspect that this is how politics really works but parties are rarely, if ever, this open about it.

The reason they could do this is because the electorate was actually voting to let everyone know what they didn’t like. They didn’t like how Tariana Turia had been treated by that Helen Clark bully, (making her lie down in limos – the indignity) and they didn’t like the Foreshore and Seabed legislation.

So The Maori Party was voted into being not because people knew what it stood for, but because they knew what it stood against.

Simple really and fair enough too. Except, now that they are a party in Parliament they seem to have already forgotten what it was that they were busy standing against.

In some of their first public pronouncements as a living breathing political entity they have gone to serious lengths to assure the country, and Maoridom in particular, that they aren’t very happy with Labour. No surprises there. What is surprising is that they’ve repeatedly stressed that they are very open to working with National after the next election.
Aye? Come again?
It pays here to take a couple of steps back and do some obvious-stating.

The Maori party is there, principally, because Turia’s electorate did not want the Foreshore and Seabed Bill passed. Neither, come to mention it, did the National party. But the rather important detail they differ over is that Turia’s support base didn’t like it because they thought it took too much away from Maori, while National did not like it because they thought it gave away too much to Maori.

Not natural partners by any stretch of the imagination. In fact National were probably more surprised by these statements of intent than the Maori electorate. I am glad I am not on the Maori roll because if this was the first sentient actions of my best option for parliamentary representation I’d be declaring myself jedi on the next census.

There is in fact a touch of the mythical to the whole process. Just the action of calling yourself The Maori Party is to deal in fantasy. If someone were silly enough to set up the Pakeha Party they wouldn’t necessarily get my vote. The very idea that someone could presume to speak for a large group with something so arbitrary in common would guarantee they didn’t. That someone already has set up the NZ Pakeha party only serves to prove the point – I won’t be voting National anytime soon, well not until I’m older and richer anyway.

The Maori vote, however, is not mythical like a dragon. I say this because it evidently does exist – there are seven special electorates, and because it doesn’t hoard treasure - if you don’t believe me just look at the Tainui Treaty settlement and where all the money in that has gone.
Although it isn’t dragon mythical the Maori vote it is still taken to flights of fancy – as in electing NZ First in a clean sweep a couple of elections ago.
This action of electing seven NZ First MPs in 1996 conclusively proves a couple of things about the Maori electorate:
Firstly it shows that it is a lot more exciting than the General electorate. The only comparable behaviour found in the General electorate is the rise of United Future. The difference being that while no one can remember who is in United Future, no-one will ever forget the NZ First Maori MPs. Especially not Tuku Morgan and his brother-in-law Tau Henare. Indeed Winston Peters, no shrinking violet himself, was so badly burnt by the whole experience that after that debacle he decided to no longer contest the Maori seats, and later decided he wanted to do away with the seats altogether.

And the second thing the NZ First clean sweep proves is that the Maori electorate is not stupid: the very next election it didn’t return a single one of those seven MPs.

But what about The Maori Party’s mixed or still to be made-up messages? It isn’t, strange as it may seem, too much to worry about. By the next election they will, hopefully, have things like guiding principles. Though of course to survive for long they’ll want to stick to them. It might pay to remember that the electorate that just voted Tariana Turia and The Maori party in, Te Tai Hauauru, has the same name as the place Tuku Morgan first stood.

So what, finally, to make of the Maori Party’s counter-intuitive advances to National?

Well it seems to be a severe case of sour-grapes. Turia and company are still livid with Labour. Even so the party probably don’t seriously believe they could work with National. They’re trying to indicate a willingness to do so, basically, to piss Labour off and make them do the wooing. Not a big and clever tactic but a tactic none the less.

In any event, for The Maori electorate’s sake this had better not be a bit of the old my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend philosophy. This approach would hold up fine, except The Maori Party seems to have forgotten, or not realised, that in this case their enemy’s enemy is also their natural predator.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Prison Style

There has been a lot of bruhaha recently over Dr Don’s speech to the Sensible Sentencing Trust. After the reversal of the National Party’s fortunes brought about by the now infamous Orewa race-relations speech there was a more than a wee bit of expectation riding on this, the second effort in the Brash big five.

So how did it go down? What did he say? Why do we care?
Firstly – not as well as they’d hoped
Secondly – lock them up then lock them up some more
Third answer – because if we’re not careful he is very likely to be the next PM.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am in fact a fan of Dr Brash. I love the idea of a libertarian in charge of the only big conservative party. It is great news.

Dr Don is all for letting people be. He has a good track record too - he voted for the Civil Unions Bill, he voted for Prostitution Reform, he was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; he is genuinely tolerant of other creeds, races and sexualities, and, lest we forget, he has a wife from Singapore.

With the exception of his wife’s origin, which doesn’t really prove anything, this is all the best news you could hope to hear. It could easily be worse – you only have to look so far as Australia, a country pretty similar to our own to see how.
In party political terms Brash is in the same position here as John Howard is there, and look at Howard – nuke-mad, ambivalent at best to homosexuality, the man is conservative in the worst sense of the word.
Howard is a guy who doesn’t know how to say sorry on behalf of Australia’s past to their first people, the Aborigines. He can’t or won’t say sorry for little things like removing their land and killing a huge number in massacres and, believe it or not, hunting trips. Then there is the little matter of not having Aborigines as citizens right up until the late sixties.
Oh yes, and John Howard wants to be America’s Sheriff. Quite apart from the camp overtones, I don’t know if anyone thinks that such a good idea.

Right. So even if this might say more about Australia in general than Howard in particular it is luckier than we often credit to have someone so socially liberal as Dr Don Brash in charge of the Conservative forces.

Until, that is, he starts coming out with the kind of Old Testament solutions to social problems that would make John Howard blush. Which is pretty much what this speech on Law and Order, or rather Crime and Punishment, was all about. Actually that could be revised again – Order and Punishment were at the heart of it.

Dr Don signalled in this speech that he wants to lock people up for longer. He wants to offer criminals fewer second chances – none if they’re violent offenders. Also he’d like to lower the qualifying age to be a criminal, maybe introduce some hard labour and build more prisons to house all of these criminals serving longer sentences.

If these seem like overly simplistic reductions then that is because they are overly simplistic policies being advocated; Dr Brash likes things to be as simple as black or white. Which is odd when you consider that in these policies he is particularly quiet about colour. When you are outlining plans to double the prison population it might just pay to have a look at who it is going to affect. If you did you could find yourself wondering aloud why 80% of the people in jail are Maori and Pacific Islanders. Wondering about or trying to work out ways to reduce these numbers would, you’d think, be priority number one. But, just as in the Orewa speech, professing colour-blindness is a much simpler solution.

Deciding 12 year olds are adult criminals is plain scary. It’s a special kind of politician who tries to lower the age that a child can be tried as an adult. Tough gig really to be 12, not able to vote, smoke, drink, have sex, get married, have a credit card or see The Day After Tomorrow at the movies, but under Dr Brash 12 year olds can feel free to be tried and punished as adults.

Hard labour is a goodie. In order to introduce hard labour New Zealand would have to repeal a United Nations convention. This would have the effect of putting us is in the company of such natural partners as North Korea, Soviet splinter republics and despotic regimes aplenty. Although the United Nations is, in general, a toothless talk shop and about as effective as United Future, these conventions are about the human rights of prisoners. Enforced vocational training is one thing, breaking rocks on a chain gang is quite another. Apparently the National party strategy room has decided that international opprobrium is a small price to pay for a couple of percentage points in the polls.

When delivering a speech on public security, which is what this speech was billed as, maybe you’d want to concentrate on how best to stop these thing happening. I’d hate to seem a bit naive, but it seems silly to discuss solutions to crime without looking at causes and methods of prevention: who is doing it and how to stop it. These questions are especially important when you consider that it costs 50,000 dollars a year to house an inmate. And that approach doesn’t seem to be ridding us of violent crime all that successfully at the moment. But what people want to hear, it appears, is how many more are going to be locked up and for how much longer. Brilliant.

Around about here it might be fair to wonder if there isn’t something ugly in Wellington’s water. All the parties in Parliament, with the exception of the Greens, who believe in cuddling to cut crime or something like that, are competing to show us who takes the toughest line on crime, whose punishments are meaner and who wields the biggest stick. Generally people who spend too much time touting their stick size are desperately trying to compensate for something.

Quite beside all this you have to wonder how National’s poll rise is being sustained. I might be a bit slow on the uptake here, but as far as I can work out it runs like this: National under Brash is literally plundering the policies of ACT and NZ First. And on the back of stealing the unattractive ideas of the two most unattractive parties in parliament they have pretty much doubled their support in 6 months. Go figure.

So that was big speech number two. Report card - poor to middling, must do more homework and stop stealing the sweets off the other parties.
But then again that was the report card to speech number one and we all know that did National very little harm at all, thank you very much.

The further three speeches we have to look forward to, if that is the right expression, are going to be on welfare, education and economics. Now I’ve no crystal ball and freely admit that I am the last person to be able to tell you what is happening in Dr Don’s head but I think it is safe to pick the likely tenor of these next speeches:

Welfare – get the buggers on the dole to do some bloody work
Education – In my day we learnt our three Rs and so should you
Economics – If you work harder, save more and if you don’t have to pay so much bloody tax you’ll have more money.

So there you go. You heard it here first.
Actually that’s not quite right – you’ve heard it all before – it is exactly, spot-on, entirely the kind of thing your redneck uncle has been saying all your life – and, bang there we go, that mindset, on current polling, might just be our next government. Food for thought indeed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The following is a transcript of the last broadcast interview Michael King gave before his untimely passing. It aired March 25, 2004, on 95bFM. The interview was conducted by Simon Pound and transcribed by Matt Nippert.

Simon Pound: It must have been a hard time of late with Janet Frame's death, but perhaps there's some consolation your biography helped cement her place in the New Zealand imagination.

Michael King: Well I'd like to think it had that effect. At least it means Janet got the degree of recognition and appreciation that she deserved before she died. Because if Janet had died 30 or 40 years ago she'd always be known as that crazy old woman who was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and wrote some funny books. It's really only been in the last 10 years that her reputation has consolidated and been fully recognized in New Zealand.

SP: And it must have been quite a wonderful occasion to receive the Prime Minister's Award for services to the arts in her company.

MK: In her company, and in the company of Hone Tuwhare, it was marvellous. They were the other two winners, and they were two writers who are a generation ahead of me, and who I absolutely revere and respect. It was wonderful, yes.

SP: You've said that the reason you write books for a general audience, rather than academics, is that you feel people need to hear the stories and you need to get the widest access possible.

MK: Yes, I still think that's a scholarly function, because my books, I hope, are written in a scholarly way. The point I've always made is that I'm writing for a general audience, rather than just for an audience of academics or fellow historians.

SP: The best thing history can provide, I guess which is a sense of context for New Zealand readers.

MK: I hope so, and indeed in current affairs or history, like the seabed and foreshore debate, only make sense in the context of history, so you need that background.

SP: That's one other things that you've been known for over the years, taking a sociological viewpoint and examining what it means to be Pakeha in New Zealand. What do you think, now, today, what it means to be a New Zealander in general, and a Pakeha specifically?

MK: A huge change has taken place in my lifetime. When I was a child in the 1940s and early 1950s, my parents and grandparents spoke of Britain as home, and New Zealand had this strong sense of identity and coherence as being part of the commonwealth and a the identity of its people as being British. That of course has changed. I doubt if you'd find anybody now who would see the New Zealand identity in that way. So what's happened is that since that time we've become conscious of the fact we've got two major cultural streams. The Maori or indigenous one, and the other one that I chose to call Pakeha, and I've got no problem with that particular name. I'm astonished that some people do.

SP: By that you mean all other immigrants, not just a purely white term?

MK: No, no, no. Pakeha can have two meanings in its Maori usage. It can refer to people who came in origin from Europe, but it's also used in the sense of Maori and non-Maori. So that anything in New Zealand that is not specifically Maori would, in the Maori language, be identified as Pakeha. So I would use that word now for mainstream New Zealand culture. And I would regard it, as I've said in other forums and at other times, I don't regard it anymore as an imported culture or tauiwi, foreign, culture. I regard Pakeha culture now as a second indigenous culture. Although it has its origins in Europe, it's vastly changed in the 150 years or so that Pakeha have been in New Zealand. It's changed in interaction with Maori culture and in interaction with the land. Most New Zealand Pakeha people now when they go back to their countries of origin, they may feel some sense of affinity there - but they don't think that it's home.

SP: In saying that, identity is still emerging, it's still coming together. It's a very positive tone, your book, it seems to be saying "look there are troubles, but we're all in this together and we're not doing that bad a job." Do you think [that with] the divisiveness stirred up by the Orewa speech, we do need to appreciate the fact we're all together in this?

MK: Yes, of course we do. I also think you can't measure the seriousness of the problem by the intensity of the rhetoric. It's less than a decade ago when there was a huge argument going on over the National Government's fiscal envelope proposal, when they were saying they would restrict Waitangi Treaty settlements to a total of a billion dollars. That caused an uproar at hui up and down the country, it caused Sir Charles Bennett to say that he would advise Maori not to fight for New Zealand again. And yes, it was one of those issues that was talked through and eventually laid to rest as I'm sure this one will be. I see the great continuities in New Zealand history as being decency and common sense and up until now when we've confronted these things we've been able to talk them through, and I'm sure we will with this issue as well.

This interview transcript has also been posted on Fighting Talk

This is an older story I did on a trip turbodating - originally appeared in remix magazine

Our Man Goes Turbodating.
Are more people alone these days? With the huge divorce rates and the ever shrinking marriage numbers it would certainly seem so. One truism is that there is always someone around to make a dollar out of that basic human wish to cohabitate. As a result there are classified ads, dating agencies, table for six and other even older professions.
And now something about our career and entertainment driven lives has thrown up a new mutation. Recently we have seen the emergence of the marriage between the game show and the search for love. Reality TV does have a lot to answer for, but not nearly so much as those who watch these shows and make them popular. Shows such as Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor have taken elements from Survivor, It’s in the Bag and Blind Date chucked them all together and altered the face of dating. It would seem that although we’d love life to imitate art, it in practice resembles crap TV.
Turbodating is one such attempt to cater for the enthusiasm rich and time poor. It is the perfect example of the acceptance of Reality TV premises as a way to live your life. Anyway, the general idea is that you take ten woman seeking men, add ten men seeking women and run a series of seven minute dates. You rate each other as you go, and if you made the right match you progress to the second round.
In practise they spread the women around the room to ten stations, and have the blokes traipse around like travelling salesmen. You meet, chat, sparkle, and charm if you can and then at the end of your seven minutes move to repeat the process. Every participant is furnished with a scorecard listing the names of all the members of the opposite sex, with a corresponding blank box. To say scorecard is misleading though as no scores are recorded, only a very direct Yes or No. At the end of the evening the cards are collected by the organisers, and only if both man and woman have indicated Yes do any numbers get swapped. To increase safety, and one suspects the relevance of the organisers, this is done by e-mail on the following day. In cases of one party saying Yes and the other No then no numbers will be swapped. This last situation is referred to with a lovely euphemism as a partial match.
Well it is all very good in theory, seven minutes isn’t too long if the person is abominable, and is only a teaser if you are interested. It is safe, there is free flowing booze and all quite novel. But to really know if it is any good you’ve really got to go. So I did, fortune favouring the brave and all that.

I’d like to say I turned up without any expectations, with an open mind, no preconceptions. However, the fact is that I had spent the preceding week speculating and pre-judging terrifically. It went so far that I actually had money riding on meeting an overweight Dental receptionist from Botany Downs.
The event was held early in the week at a suitably innocuous inner city suburban Bar, which I will identify only as having a name so improbably and absolutely 80’s so as to make me wonder if this wasn’t a candid camera type set up. In fact between the internet-only contact with the organisers, the credit-card billing and the final disclosure of venue and time just 24 hours before the event the whole affair had a tinge of skull-duggery or at the very least felt as if it had arrived in discreet brown paper packaging.
The evening I selected catered for those between 25 and 35. Unsurprisingly the crowd was at least 75 percent That side of thirty. Still, I felt my youthful male vigour wouldn’t count against me… and perhaps something about a woman’s sexual peak being around thirty also passed through my mind.....
There was something amusingly schoolyard about the initial awkward atmosphere. Before the festivities began everyone turned up, one by one of course, and the boys chatted to the boys while the girls also stuck to themselves. Body language in these situations is always telling. The men stood with that curious blokes-around-the-barbeque stance that men unknown to each other always assume. You know the one, the hand in the pocket, the beer firmly grasped, the conversation strictly sports or work. The ladies seemed to be commenting on clothes and much polite laughter and soft shoulder touching paired with significant craning of necks was going on. I say seemed as too open a gawk would have broken the subtle rules of engagement that had emerged. To look too closely at this stage of proceedings you would seem to be either over eager or reminiscent of a lion searching out the lame gazelle. That’s not to say no appraisals were going on as the whole process resembles a job interview and performance review rolled into one.
In keeping with the schoolyard feel a bell was rung and our attention required. The organisers then set out the Rules for the evening: no talking about your jobs, no mention of last names and nothing unsavoury thank you very much. Toilet breaks were promised and play lunch was provided in the form of roving trays of nibbly things.
The pitfalls of food then. As ever these morsels were badly matched to well mannered consumption. I’m sure that somewhere there lurks a secret covenant between event caterers everywhere. Something that sets out that all snacks, nibbles and canapés must have poppy seeds to lodge between teeth, crumbly biscuits to attach to woollen clothing, inappropriately sized portions that are just to big to politely wolf in one but too small to reasonably bite twice and of course grapes with plentiful pips. Then they never provide anywhere to dump napkins, skewers or any other associated debris. It doesn’t matter what type of occasion it is the food always presents an embarrassing obstacle. This was no different. Whilst in the company of one of the ten she took something from the proffered tray while I declined. Embarrassed, she then murmured something like I was ‘not to think her greedy’. I hadn’t thought her greedy but I now certainly thought that comment inane. Perhaps we should dispense with food all together and stick to alcohol, justifiably known as the social lubricant. The other benefit being that which Groucho Marks maintained – ‘I drink to make other people interesting’.
That’s not to say the Turbodaters were not interesting. Whenever I’ve spoken with people about the evening the first question has always been on the calibre of the participants. There seems to be a deep seated curiosity and suspicion over who actually goes to these things. A couple of factors in the way Turbodating is put together work to weed out the less desirable. Firstly it costs $75 bucks. That may not seem like much but you have to have the available disposable income to part with that amount on what is literally a site unseen basis. This means that you are serious enough to pay for the privilege of taking that risk. And more importantly, that you are so confidant of appearing attractive and interesting to others that you’ll effectively bet money on it. Also not that many people are happy putting themselves into a series of potentially awkward seven minute appraisals where they will then be given a pass or fail grade. Just to ten times break the ice takes a bit of courage and for that reason the scared and socially inept would tend to give this particular dating scenario a miss. Perhaps it is this group, unable or unwilling to make actual human to human contact that trawls the internet sites.
Now I’m not wishing to appear rude, but the blokes just didn’t inspire that much confidence. They were all solid, upstanding blokes. No significant or at least obvious disfigurements, no facial tics. No fatties, no shorties, no Hawaiian shirts. All very standard. Hell they even looked the same, thanks to that awful kind of inept youthful smart casual wardrobe that afflicts those around thirty. Between the pants that look like cargo pants without all the pockets and the striped or block coloured shirts that are made to be worn out, they looked like they all lived near the same shopping mall. Though I suppose these days shopping malls are so generic that everyone sort of does. The general feeling was that this was a bunch of good guys, beta males. But I guess Turbodating isn’t where you go to meet Clark Gable.
From what I could gather of their jobs they all pulled in a reasonably good wicket. Amongst them one was a stockbroker; one looked honestly like the most stereotypical accountant; one travelled regularly between here and Australia. They all were well spoken, seemed intelligent enough and there were no louts. As you can see as a cross section of men in general they failed abysmally but as for men you may wish to have 2.2 children with they shaped up admirably. One of the ten men got a case of cold feet and failed to show, earning all women present a ten dollar refund. And unwittingly emphasising the basic reliable impression these blokes radiated. Cruel material for the undercover journo seemed in very short supply here, though I’m sure these guys would have a thing or two to say about the ponce in the fashionable suit and baby blue shoes.
The women were much more interesting. As with everyone it would be lovely if I didn’t immediately compartmentalize, rate, sort and generally check people out when I met them. But I do, you do, we all do. So, one was hot by any standard. Two more were highly attractive and the rest were as entirely defect free as the blokes. As with women in general their clothes styles varied, much as their overall attractiveness, from the fantastic to the frumpy. Another group of successful professionals amongst which there was to be found: a singer, a lawyer, a café owner and a marketing manager.
Because of the restrictions on conversation every mini-date seemed to start with questioning how they heard about Turbodating or why they came. With the first person I spoke with the question was very much why. I left thinking she may have been a plant of some sort as she was pretty much the opposite of any preconception you could have had. When you first meet someone in a place like Auckland, that is smaller than we can ever give credit to, the first thing you do is try to find common ground. What do you do, What School, when at Uni, worked where, go to which bars. This is always followed by Do you know so and so? And chances are if you don’t know so and so you do know their brother. That’s just how it goes. But to try to follow the rules and to preserve anonymity all such approaches were out of bounds. Which left a lot of questions about travel, general interests, What is on your reading list? Tame stuff, but as a weeder-outer it certainly works.

At the end of the evening the cards were collected and we were invited to step into the bar next door and enjoy an informal. Pretty much everyone did move next door to the new, restriction free environment. Again schoolyard rules prevailed and an anxiousness over whom to address and how. After having just emerged from the heavily structured nature of Turbodating everyone was at a bit of a loss. The desire to not offend was strong. Everyone felt that they were in effect giving up some pride in attending an organised dating event and were therefore acutely aware of peoples’ sensitivities. Add in the fact that everyone in the room had in the last two hours either passed or failed everyone else and you don’t know yet whether you were a passer or a failer in their eyes and the element of the unknown became somewhat oppressive.
Enter alcohol. It turned out in the free form conversation that we then cautiously picked our way through that pretty much everyone had had a stiff drink or two before coming along. Funny this, but that made everyone feel a bit better, to know that everyone was nervous, that no-one was at any advantage or impervious to the nerves. Even among a group of competent professionals who probably hadn’t been in an environment of such spoonfeeding and awkwardness in years. We’ll do odd things to ourselves if we think the gains are worth it.

And were they? Having entered into this evening with a story and an off the beaten track experience as my objective I was pleasantly surprised. It was quite fun. No seven minutes was too long, no partner uninteresting, no male or female objectionable. I can see that for some people this could be a very useful way to meet new people.
Perhaps for people that have reached or are in a static period in their social life. As in they have been in the same job for years, their social circle has shrunk, they are not meeting many new single and interested people. In any of these cases it would be great. Personally I found the whole event far too contrived, and try as the organisers might have to avoid this, patronising. The only way to have made this experience any less organic, natural and real would have been to have cameras rolling, and in a way I guess, this article is that camera. So if we do want dating and who knows what other elements of our lives to take on the same feel as being a Big Brother inmate this really is perfect. To be fair no-one there was looking at it in these terms; they were sincerely interested in meeting people in a different way or determined to have a bit of fun, not take it too seriously.

On the day following the event I received a call from the organisers. Attending as I did on somewhat false pretences I hadn’t indicated Yes or No for anyone. This, they informed me, was not good enough. I was to furnish them with my favourites or that would not be fair to those who entered into the event innocently.
Apparently somewhat more than half of them were charitable enough to send a Yes my way, which may bring the taste of the assembled ladies into significant question. Suitably chastened I picked three, as much to not be rude as of seriousness. I’d got a bit inventive you see when in my mini dates, all in the purpose of self-amusement, and I haven’t a good enough memory to make it as a polygamist liar. Between fudging my age and glossing over insincerity I didn’t feel it would be quite right to pursue anything, as interesting as the people may have been.
Then my big mouth, not for the first time, dropped me in it. I ended up talking Turbodating with a friend, live to air on Auckland’s’ best radio station, b. I only mentioned one of the participants in enough detail for her to identify herself. One who also happened to be one who I had ticked, who therefore had my e-mail address. With characteristic charm and tact I think I described her as hot or stunning or something equally cringe worthy, and then proceeded to doubt her story that friends had paid for her to go as a birthday surprise. Smooth, I know. The next day checking my e-mail one single worded subject line leapt out – Sprung!
None too impressed was she either. Having just listened to me blow my cover she thought she’d give me a piece of her mind, though not without a flirtatious tone. What are the odds? I hadn’t contacted anyone for the reasons above, but, as my return email said, having caught me out, you’re now entirely fair game. Numbers have been exchanged, who knows; maybe this Turbodating doesn’t have to be entirely inorganic.