Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shock horror

Wow - it's great to be back! I hope you enjoy the fruits of the massive site redesign that's kept the blog out for a couple of months.

In one of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide books - don't ask me which one - Arthur Dent finds himself living on a primitive planet where he becomes renowned as the inventor and finest practitioner of the sandwich. Also on this planet are birds - again, the name escapes me - that are stoic and unruffled in the face of stampeding wildebeest-creatures, but shocked by something as common as the sun rising, or a falling leaf.

The lead story in today's Herald reminded me of these birds:

Shock, you say? Did the building arise overnight? Were the plans for it a secret?

A $218 million prison development towering over the Southern Motorway and casting a shadow across Mt Eden has horrified residents, principals and community leaders.

They are appalled by the project at Mt Eden Prison, and one city councillor believes the new block has grown higher than initial plans indicated it would.

One councillor? Do the others agree? Did anyone actually look at the initial plans, which I assume are in the public domain, and check to see if it has grown higher? Can I write this whole post in rhetorical questions? Perhaps one of the two journalists assigned to this 'breaking' story could have had a look to confirm.

Many of the cells will be above the level of the adjacent motorway.

That is of concern to Mayor John Banks, who last night blasted the new-look jail as a "an architectural monstrosity".

"For people coming into the city, it says: 'Welcome to the aspirational capital of New Zealand, where you jail people ... and it's great'," he said.

"I can only hope that we are not going to see people with their noses pressed against the bars.

"It just should not have happened and I railed against it before it rose from the ground."

Of course, NIMBY-ism about prisons is nothing new. In fact, it's one of the classic mainstays of local politics. Unfortunately for Mayor Banks, the upcoming supercity means that he can't just claim anymore that we should bung a prison in Manukau or Henderson - or even Rodney. Where does he propose we should put them? Oh, I don't know. Maybe we could bury them underground - then we wouldn't have to be offended by seeing people's FACES through the BARS. Christ.
And God forbid that the Auckland Central Remand Prison be located in Auckland Central - you know, near the courts where remand prisoners will be attending. Remand prisoners who might be on their third strike. Under the legislation passed by the National Party two days ago. The National Party in which John Banks used to be a minister.
However, the Corrections Department said last night that windows would be frosted and inmates would not be able to see through them. There would also be "acoustic buffering" to dampen noise created by rowdy prisoners.
Oh good, because I'd hate to be driving in my car along the Southern Motorway and have to hear a rowdy prisoner.

Now here's the best part of the article:

Neighbouring Auckland Grammar is also worried by the development. In a letter to Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews, board of trustees chairman Jeff Blackburn raised three issues over the "scale of the redevelopment" on the site.

These were the security risks posed by a shared boundary fence, the prospect of shade ruining sports fields and the potential for prisoners to look onto the school's grounds and for sound to carry from the new tower.

"It will add a degree of shading which may make the provision of winter sports fields impossible," Mr Blackburn wrote.

[...Councillor Fryer said,] "It is a well-attended school and the fields are really important. And if it's being overshadowed, it means that grass isn't growing properly. They [the fields] become more muddy, and that isn't good for sport."

Disclaimer: I attended Auckland Grammar School, and to this day I receive (unsuccessful) pleas for donations for such worthy causes as a new sports pavilion for one of the most privileged schools in the country. So this part of the article made me chuckle. The shared boundary fence is nothing new, even if the article implies it is; kids would regularly kick or throw balls too hard, and they would end up in the prison. Sometimes they would be thrown back, and we liked to imagine some grizzled con taking pity on us, wry smile on his face as he returned our prized sports equipment.

The next 'issue' is even more cringeworthy: "the potential for prisoners to look onto the school's grounds". Christ on a bike! Prisoners (some of them probably poor too) looking at Auckland Grammar students! Surely they could have faced the windows towards St Peter's instead.

But it's the sports fields that really cap it off. For one thing, it's only one of the three large sports fields at the school. For another - it's sports! It's not as if the students can't learn maths (possibly because they're put off by the noise of rowdy prisoners?). I particularly like Cr Fryer's "well-attended school" euphemism. What do you mean exactly, councillor?

The principal of nearby St Peter's College, Kieran Fouhy, said the prison redevelopment was "a crazy waste of money".

"Philosophically, it seems crazy that you're paying $100,000 a year to fund one prisoner when you could fund 20 rugby teams across the road, you know, or two teachers."

Well now I'm confused. This seems like something of a non sequitur - less a critique of the development and more of our current penal system. Or is the principal just confused? It reminds me of a letter I chopped out of the Herald a while back:

In other news, I've decided that the Herald should only cost about 5c to knock together every day so I don't know why I'm paying more than that.

Speaking of non sequiturs:

Newmarket Business Association chief Cameron Brewer was a lone voice of support for the project. He said the $250 million-plus being spent on upgrading the site "is arguably going to improve the area aesthetically".

"What [the] block rising from the ashes does is clearly remind people travelling through Spaghetti Junction in particular that there is a prison in the neighbourhood."

Well, that's a truly bold 'voice of support', especially from a man whose professional responsibility it is to have a massive hard-on for anything happening in the vicinity of Newmarket. If there's one thing I'm sure potential Newmarket shoppers want, I imagine it's a reminder that there's a prison in the neighbourhood.

What a bizarre article. I don't know what angle I love the most: the 'shock' at a development that's been ongoing for months; the barely-concealed cap-doffing to local elites; the contradictions about the penal system; the confused trailing off at the end of the article, presumably once the two journalists realised the story was complete bollocks.

Oh Herald. How I've missed you.


  1. I for one have very much missed you, James. Never leave us again.

  2. Welcome back - incredible as it sounds, it seems like the newspapers have become worse since you've been away.

  3. Welcome back. And what a goldmine of idiocy here for you to get to grips with - I knew this was a classic in the making from the moment I saw the front page.

    "Well now I'm confused. This seems like something of a non sequitur - less a critique of the development and more of our current penal system. Or is the principal just confused?"

    SPC old boy here. I wasn't sure if he meant the money should be spent to address possible causes of crime (laudable) or simply that the money should be spent on other things instead on prisoners, but quite possibly it's confusion, or just plain clumsy expression of a point. Mr Fouhy means well, I'm certain, but this is very much along the lines of the mysterious pronouncements he'd sometimes include in the school newsletter editorials.

    And Mr Brewer:

    "Well, that's a truly bold 'voice of support', especially from a man whose professional responsibility it is to have a massive hard-on for anything happening in the vicinity of Newmarket."

    Yes. I wondered whether this was actually a Melissa Lee crimestopping superhighway moment on his part, but otherwise it's a real mystery.

    Also loved the comment from the guy who thought it would be better for Auckland's image to put the prison near our international airport rather than in a semi-industrial zone off Khyber Pass Road.

  4. Well I'm angry. Where have you been, young man?

    And what kind of time do you call this? Your Mum's been worried sick I tell ya.

  5. YAY! You're back :-D

  6. From Mostly Harmless, Lamuella's Pikka birds are the ones shocked by the sun's movement, but unperturbed by the thundering migration of the Perfectly Normal Beasts. Now people can ask, and you can say you don't care, rather than that you don't know.

  7. "never leave us again" hear hear.

    Glad to see you back!


  8. And I'm just loving that massive site design.

  9. I was offended by this story without even reading it...

    Since when does the Herald use the horrible American headline shorthand of ", " for "and"? I don't recall seeing it before, but then I only buy it once a week.

  10. John Banks sudden interest and loudmouthed grandstanding on this issue is nothing but blatant electioneering.

  11. What I like about it most is that John Banks is speaking out in opposition when the prison is being built in the area of which he is, theoretically (when he can spare a moment from his busy schedule of posh social engagements which get him into the photo page in Metro, electioneering, and running several businesses) Mayor.

    Where has he been for the last 3 years while the council was (supposedly) granting this building consents and allowing it to be built? What will he speak out against next - Auckland City Council's decision last week to allow cars with 2 passengers in them into the bus lanes on Remuera Road? Why didn't the journalist think to ask him this question at least once?