Monday, August 17, 2009

The Hanged Man

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I discovered one shade of this truth when I was 12 years old and almost got kicked out of summer camp for organising a seance. I was fresh out of an Anglican Boarding School, hyped up on daily chapel and divinity classes (This was before I lost my Christianity. Back then, an afterlife still existed).

Nana had died earlier in the year and in retrospect I wasn't handling it well at all. So. At summer camp somewhere on the outskirts of Wanganui, not a hundred miles from James K Baxter's beloved Jerusalem or the township of Ratana, a thought comes into my head to try to contact Nana with a seance.

Now I didn't know the specifics of how to conduct a seance. Google was still fifteen years into the future. I'd read a bit about how Houdini used to go along to myth bust them way back when, so I knew the basic set-up. Darkness was required. It was daytime so the curtains were drawn, a candle lit. A personal belonging was brought to focus, in this case a jersey Nana had knitted. There was a bit of chanting involved, as well as the usual appeal to absent things.

The poor bloody camp leaders probably thought there was some standard hanky panky occurring behind those closed dorm blinds. Quite what they thought when they burst in to break up a seance, Dagg only knows. More metaphysical than physical, they were hard pressed to find any harm done. These things weren't covered in the rules. It was near the end of camp anyway, so they let it slide.

Which brings me to Trevor Mallard.

DPF has laid down the gauntlet: "Almost every blog on the right has said they agree with Trevor. Interestingly I have not yet seen much reaction from left blogs." Allow me to give it a go.

Dim Post has kindly pointed to Stuff's release of the judge's court notes in this case, which helped immensely. Short answer is: Shut up, Trev.

Maybe Mallard is trying to out-brainfart Chris Carter. The title of this ignominious post, "It would have been prison if they weren’t Maori", gives away two points. Firstly, Mallard had not read the court notes, giving him about as much jurisprudential insight as the next talkback caller. It's something Winston Peters might say.

The notes make clear that there is no precedent readily at hand to compare this mess to. White, brown, whatever, NO-ONE had died on the record quite like this before.

Secondly, there are some places I refuse to live. Wainuiomata is one of them. Surrounded by hills, it's a dead end. It's the end of the line. It's not somewhere you go, but where you end up. Maybe it's just the economic reality of cheap labour, sitting on the same low rung all their lives.

But I'm impressed with the stoicism of someone who can live there, let alone keep their family in the neighbourhood. The two main players in this sad drama are working poor. Under other circumstances, these are the very people Labour would once claim to represent.

Judge Simon France gives some discussion to sentencing in paragraph 99. Jail, in the circumstances, would seem the stupidest place to put them. The whole fabric of that prefabricated whanau would collapse. Let's face it, there were more than the accused in that room when it happened.

It's not ritual if you're making it up as you go along. No money was at stake, neither was it an overt power play. Jon Rawiri was already head of the family. It was a unique mixture of grief, desperation, love and tragedy. As if there's ever such a thing as a happy ending in Wainuiomata.

Ten years ago, before the Clark government mucked things up, Judge France would have probably given the accused a suspended sentence. But Helen Bloody Clark came along and got rid of suspended sentences when home detention came in. Little wonder then that Left blogs are having a hard time coming to grips with Mallard's crack. Labour would rather ditch their support for the working class rather than cross the albatross of Helen Clark's legacy.

Until they can exorcise that demon, I'll keep my vote elsewhere. Hell, I might even write to Simon Power asking if he wants to bring back suspended sentences. I'm sure the Nats won't mind repealing yet another Labour initiative.