Thursday, September 29, 2005

Verbal fisticuffs and communal crucifixion

Two things;

My fabulous New Zealand publication (freelance cheques, yes please!) the New Zealand Listener has run my George Galloway vs Christopher Hitchens piece. A cracking "debate" marred only by no engagement with the actual issue. Magnificent example of spectacle over substance. Enjoy.

Learning to respect the old school, and not take advice like "this is a class where you can take risk" at face value. A piece I wrote for the legendary (83 and counting) Judith Crist. She asked for a building profile, so I personified my School and painted it rather unflatteringly as a vain tart. It got ripped to shreds in public, called "repulsive", and "weak". Written comments (at the end) weren't any better. That piece is here.

Oh well, back to the drawing board.

If anyone actually reads this, could they drop me an email? Tah.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

First I take Manhattan

My first column is out. Highlights:

As I leave the overnight red-eye flight to head into the city that never sleeps, I feel like a zombie. The temperature is 30˚ and humid, and my first-floor apartment, with its barred window overlooking rusty fire-escapes, lacks air-conditioning. First, I get a fan. Then I buy cold beer.

An Egyptian-born deli owner on Broadway greets me at five past midnight with a broken smile that flashes gold. "Ah, very good choice!" he says, as I plonk a six-pack onto the counter. Remembering a Monty Python line that's always worked wonders in New Zealand, I quip: "I'm buying foreign, because I heard all American beer is like f---ing close to water!"

His smile remains, but the eyes are no longer friendly. The bottles in question are Kronenberg 1664. The label reads: "Bi̬re Рbottled in France." First, I smear his adopted country's beer, and then I take the piss.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Matt RW1 - "Dog-gone, dedicated"

Dog-gone, dedicated
Sept. 9, 2005
By Matt Nippert

NEW YORK - While Sirius may be enjoying the big dog house in the sky, countless other canines can now enjoy a park on terra firma after Battery Park City dedicated a dog run to the famous yellow Labrador on Thursday.

The Port Authority police dog was lost in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks when his handler, Sergeant David Lim, spent time rescuing people instead of letting his partner out of his basement cage.

The Sirius Dog Run, at the corner at the corner of Liberty St. and South End Ave., is now open to two and four-legged members of the public.

Sirius and Lim had been together for one-and-a-half years, ever since they graduated from dog-handling school together. “It usually takes three and a half months to complete the course, depending on how smart the dog is,” said Lim.

And how smart was Sirius?

“Ask any handler, and they’ll give you the same answer: ‘My dog is the smartest,’” Said Lim.

His wife, Diane Lim, insists on some objectivity. “He was a big, dumb, dog. He walked into a fire hydrant the first day we got him. He had his head down, sniffing the ground, and then - Bam! - but he could find bombs.”

Both Lim, then a K-9 officer, and Sirius, worked at the World Trade Center on explosives-detection duty. The Port Authority has employed canine explosive teams since the 1993 bombing.

Kenneth J. Ringler Jr, executive director of the Port Authority, heaped praise on both Mr. Lim and his best friend. “Sirius was really on the front line in protecting us against terrible acts,” Ringler said.

Lim was, according to Ringler, “Truly a hero on that day. He stayed in that building and got people out – I know colleagues he saved – while his partner was still in his cage.”

Sirius has been replaced now, by a black Labrador named Sprig. But memories of their 9-11 dog remain, and Diane Lim often gets their names confused.

“It’s so hard, so much talking about Sirius,” she said.

Mr. and Mrs. Lim, Long Island residents and married for 19 years, will remember Sirius as the dog that didn’t quite know his own size.

“At home he was just a big, 100 pound teddy bear. He would jump up into your lap and crush you because he thought he was a lap-dog,” said Mr. Lim.

“Or a little Pekinese,” added his wife.

The dog run, located in Monsignor Kowsky Plaza, isn’t large, but is welcomed by Battery Park residents. “The run is great, not just for dog-owners, but also the temporarily dog-deprived,” said Jeff Galloway, co-president of the Battery Park City dog association.

And Mrs. Lim said that the run would get used by Sprig. “If David is at the World Trade Center and has Sirius - I mean Sprig - Jeeze, I did it again...”

The dedication ceremony was attended by four flag-bearers, and a 10-strong pipe-band, from the Port Authority Police. The band played “God Bless America” marching in, and “America” marching out. Dressed in kilts and tassels, one piper was later overheard saying, “I can’t believe I got dressed up like this for a dog.”

Then there’s the national anthem, the concluding reverie disrupted by the yapping of seven nearby Chihuahua’s packed into a pram. One wears a sombrero, another a cowboy hat, and yet another sports a frilly green collar.

The pack of small dogs belongs to Charles Johnston, who wears an vivid-orange Hawaiian shirt and has a stuffed toy tiger stashed in the bottom compartment of his pram.

Johnston, 73, and suffering from early-stage Parkinson’s disease, said he was there to sell one of his puppies, Susie Q.

He’s not a dog-breeder by choice. “They just happen to me!” he said. His other three Chihuahua’s have been left at home; two are pregnant, he says, and the third, Brandy, is an alcoholic.

“By the time I’ve turned around and asked my wife whether there’s enough for a second whiskey sour, Brandy’s swiped the first. I can’t bring her out in public.”

Johnston said small dogs were adorable, but also therapy.

“Every day is an adventure. It causes someone who might need psychiatric help to become reborn.”

But finally, after speeches and a plaque-unveiling, refreshments befitting a police K-9 memorial were served: coffee, donuts and dog biscuits.

World famous in New Zealand

On journalism:

"You can't teach talent, which you need a modicum of, but you can teach accuracy, discipline, and the ability to marshal enormous amounts of research material and start shitting out bite-sized chunks. The talent to be able to spot, and elicit, that "money" quote.

"The stuff I really love is indirect quotes, where the journalist has involved himself so much in the issue that he can write it the whole way through and every so often he'll have a half-sentence quote, just something that sounds really fucking cool, something really colourful.

"He'll just tell the story, as opposed to the daily news style, where you have A saying this and B saying this. This is the journalist saying 'I know this subject and this is the way I see it'. If they're good, they'll be able to get across the balance of the story and a few of the nuances inside the issue, and they won't be a slave to transcribing. I hate that shit."

From a profile of none other than myself in my old student magazine Salient, that came out a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, my head grows with each passing moment.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Matt - RW1 "Confusion on the orange line"

Confusion on the orange line
By Matt Nippert
Aug. 19, 2005

NEW YORK - If passengerss on the B-train are anything to go by, Homeland Security might want to consult legendary 1930s New York Times columnist Simeon Strunksy who wrote: "People who want to understand democracy should spend less time in the library with Aristotle and more time on the buses and in the subway." Commuters riding the orange subway line, in a city under constant orange alert, just don't get the terror warning system.

"I don't worry whether it's orange, or brown, or whatever. Because I don't understand it, it doesn't mean anything to me," said Jeanette Williams, a 42 year-old electrician and New Jersey resident. She waves her hand dismissively at the constant orange klaxon, "I just don't get it."

Williams, commuting home after completing a 12-hour shift renovating Walton High School looks like a tough woman. Braids tied beneath a black bandana, and respectively a gold and silver chain on her left and right wrists, she said when the media is flooded with warnings, the result is often panic, not alertness. "Everyone is fuckin' scared, doesn't want to go to work, and for what?" Williams said.

A sample of six commuters riding the B-train to the Bronx were unanimous in being unable to tell this reporter what this alert level meant. And, apart from patience with bag searches - on par with the Yankees in terms of subway conversation-kindlers - they didn't know what the color orange encouraged them to do.

Chris Young, a 37 year-old actor, wearing a baseball cap and red-and-white striped shirt, said while he does take note of the constant warnings, he's not sure of what to do about them. "It is making me a little hesitant; it's always in the back of my mind. I know it means we're supposed to be on an elevated level, but that really means nothing to me," said Young, a resident of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The advisory system unveiled to great fanfare by Tom Ridge in 2002 stretches from green "low risk", through blue "guarded", yellow "elevated", orange "high", and finally to red "severe". According to the department's website, orange alert requires, in addition to patience and understanding during bag-searches, people to "exercise caution" when traveling and review family emergency plans.

Al Carter, 68 and retired of Harlem, was catching the subway north to pick up a doctor's prescription. He thought orange was "The highest alert level." Not that this dire warning, or in light of London, means he's changed his habits. Ambling along the platform in a brown Black Bear Golf Club polo shirt and black peaked cap, he said: "I just keep going where I have to go, and pray that it doesn't happen again."

Terror prevention activities, like searches, should be constant, Williams said, not limited to high-profile color-coded warnings. "You go to work and there's this big ol' warning. It should be like it every day."

And even the most visible aspect of the alert status, bag-searches by the Transit Police, seems to occur more often in the Bronx than downtown, Williams said. "Maybe they're richer, maybe they pay more for their stuff, maybe there's a lot of stuff going on uptown, I don't know," she said.

Williams, who normally takes a car to work, said she was only on the subway because her car was under repair. "Well, I'm glad I'm driving, because you don't get any of this freakiness," she said.

But Jason Knight, a 42 year-old writer from South Jamaica, Queens, believes the city is facing problems closer to hand than transnational terror. Wearing black slacks, a well-cut black business suit jacket, and a white T-shirt for contrast, Knight was a big fan of the old 42nd Street. "The cinemas, the porn - it was great," he said.

Surrounded by four plastic bags filled with papers and books, he points to the clean-up of the red-light district as a symptom of New York City losing its exciting edge. Forget Osama bin Laden, Knight reckons former Mayor Rudolf Guliani deserves the title of man most destructive to the Big Apple. Knight said, "He turned it from Paradise to Boresville."