Review: Where underpants come from by underground

Writer Joe Bennett’s energy and enthusiasm is legendary, captured not only in his regular television appearances but also in his newspaper columns. His sentences race wildly like a high speed chase, weaving through ideas, from one thought to the next, ceasing abruptly with a bizarre observation. It is his ability to describe scenes and experiences which I love, as he will use the most inappropriate words to most aptly convey what he means. It is truly a wonder how he does it.

Where underpants come from follows Bennett’s exploration through China, as he searches for the raw materials that constitute his $8.59 underwear  purchased from the Warehouse. The underwear serve as the vehicle for Bennett’s investigation into globalisation and China’s evergrowing role in the world, as well as the country’s social, historical, political, religious and economic makeup.

His energy and enthusiasm are what makes his quest possible, as he convinces firstly the Warehouse, and then their numerous suppliers, to allow him to see how his cotton undies got from the cotton fields of China to the shelves of New Zealand. What to some may sound like a boring story, Bennett ensures is anything but, with typically bright descriptions bringing his observations to life. For example, a maitresse ‘d at a Shanghai restaurant is described as “wearing what looks like the uniform of a London parking warden and her hair is tied back in a manner that the Soviet Union’s champion woman tractor driver of 1956 would have found just a little severe”. From then on she is referred to as the “tractor-driving champ”. Genius.

I’ll be hunting down Bennett’s numerous other books to give me more late night laughs.


Review: Perfect Hostage – Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma and the Generals by underground

Perfect Hostage: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma and the Generals

by Justin Wintle


The problem with reading many non-fiction books is that you know how it is going to end. Reading a history of World War Two, for example, you know will know before hand who will be victorious and who will be defeated come 1945. Such is the case with Perfect Hostage, Justin Winton’s biography of Burma’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi. As you read this book, such is the brilliance of the writing and the subject, you will be pulled by every ebb and flow of Burma’s people struggle to gain democracy. But alas, any optimism you may feel will be short-lived, as no sooner then the military given its people basic rights it again tightens its iron grip on the country. And of course, you know that to this day, Burma, or Myanmar as the junta calls it, remains impoverished due to the tyranny of the military and Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.

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Robert Fisk Interview Hyatt Auckland 9/9/08 by underground

A couple of years back I finished my BA in History and Sociology and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Disillusioned, I spent two years working full time in a book store. I flirted with the idea of secondary school teaching until I read Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilisation. People had suggested I look into journalism as a career before, but it was not until I read Fisk’s book on the history of the Middle East that I felt compelled to get into journalism. I loved the passion with which he writes with, the attention to detail, the sympathy he has for those who suffer in the troubled region. His knowledge on the area is unparalleled. I found his reporting inspiring. I feel I owe Fisk a lot, so imagine my delight when I was given the chance to interview my hero for Te Waha Nui.

This is the transcript from my 45 minute interview with the Independent’s Robert Fisk. Please forgive any grammatical errors – it took me eight hours to transcribe! Enjoy. Continue reading

War, Propaganda and the Media by underground

War, Propaganda and the Media

How can the media be used to peddle propaganda in a liberal democracy?

The notorious Nazi Party Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, once said, “it is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion” (1948). He also likened the press to a “great keyboard on which the government can play.” Goebbels was a master of manipulation and is largely credited with selling the Nazi cause to the German populace.

In her 2007 book A Russian Diary, Anna Politkovskaya wrote of the overwhelming influence President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin had over all aspects of Russian society, from business, to individual lives, to the media. A journalist writing for the Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta, Politkovskaya described the pro-Putin stance of the media: “As election day approaches, the television news bulletins increasingly resemble heartening dispatches on Putin’s achievements”(2007, p. 67). She recalls occasions of press censorship, threats from political leaders and an occasion where journalists were even detained for filming an anti-Putin demonstration. Those in the media that do not apply self-censorship and question the Kremlin risk losing their jobs. “Where freedom is, there is low pay, irregularly paid. The big time is the mass media that play ball with the Kremlin”(2007 p.154). Politkovskaya made a name for herself as a journalist who would tell the truth no matter what, reporting on the situation in Chechnya and the Caucasus, and the truth behind scandals such as the Dubrovka theatre siege in 2002 and the Beslan school siege in 2005 (2007, p. 44-45). Refusing to be silenced ultimately took her life; Politkovskaya was murdered outside her Moscow apartment in October 2006.

However, in liberal democracies the overt propaganda of the sort Goebbels used to great effect in Germany, or the political pressure placed on journalists like Politkovskaya in Russia would not be possible. But it would naïve to believe democratic governments are unable to use the media to sell their policies to the voting masses. And as we have seen in recent years with the “War on Terror” and the Iraq War, the media can be as complicit as their governments in deceiving the public. Continue reading

Credibility of a creep by underground

Polls conducted by the likes of Readers Digest magazine and others frequently find journalists alongside lawyers and used car salesmen as the publics’ least trusted professions. Considering that journalism students study ethics and are usually idealist people concerned with objectivity and impartiality (we are also naive!), from where does the public get this perception? Much of it must be for the gutter journalism that dominates the television in particular. Insensitive interviews, sensationalist stories, the hounding of victims and the pursuit of tragedy give viewers the impression of journalists as cold-hearted egocentric vampires. All it takes are a few bad eggs, and all journalists are unfairly smeared as untrustworthy. There is one I consider to be particularly rotten.

Ian Wishart. Helen Clark was kind when she called him a creep. I can think of another word starting with C that would be more appropriate. Continue reading

“But it says so in the bible” by underground

This post is of a reply I wrote to another blogger’s post. Having some objections with the argument put forward, I considered a counter-argument. Hoping that my disagreements would encourage some debate, I sent the comment to her. Unfortunately she did not address my concerns. I am interested in creating healthy debate, so I’m posting both her initial post and my response. As her opinions are commonly held, I would like to know how a theist would address my response. Continue reading

The Crusade of the Nonbelievers by underground

As the onslaught of atheist book releases continues, I will attempt to briefly review those books that I have tackled in my pursuit of knowing exactly what I do believe as an atheist.

It was an Australian comedian who alerted me to my own ignorance. In the hilarious TV series “John Safran vs God“, John goes around taking the piss out of various religions, all in a fairly good-natured manner. He highlights the absurdity of some faiths and the hypocrisy of others. Great viewing for people of all faiths and no faith. After years of being out of bounds, religions finally got the satirical critique they deserve. Atheism did not get off easy though either. In one stinging segment, he singled out atheists for their arrogance, pointing out that most atheists happily ridicule fantastical creation myths, but have no grasp of their own belief in the beginning of the universe or man. Could they describe the Big Bang theory or evolution?

At the time I was a convinced atheist, but although I knew what I did not believe in and why, I had little to no idea what I did believe in. A dozen books later, I think I might be a little a closer to knowing what I believe. Continue reading