Gordon Campbell on Iran killing its rappers, and searching for the invisible Dr. Reti

Image Toomaj

As hideous as David Seymour can be, it is worth keeping in mind occasionally that there are even worse political figures (and regimes) out there. Iran for instance, is about to execute the country’s leading hip hop musician Toomaj Salehi, for writing and performing raps that “corrupt” the nation’s youth. He did so via his popular critiques of the strict hijab policies that killed Mahsa Amini. Also, Toomaj has dared to repeatedly criticise the country’s ghoulish Supreme Leader.

There’s a good backgrounder here to his situation, although it needs updating in light of the current death sentence. In his 2021 hit track “Mouse Hole”( the video has English subtitles) Toomaj fearlessly called out the regime and its enablers. The track also denounced the injustices enforced by the mullahs, who long ago lost any moral authority they might once have had. Here’s “Mouse Hole.”

I have no way of telling how poetically Toomaj uses his language. Yet given that ordinary Iranians still celebrate great Persian poets like Hafez and Saadi, I’m pretty sure that Toomaj’s wordplay is more complex than a literal English translation can convey.

What he was saying in that English translation though is so bold and so confrontational, it puts to shame the macho blustering of so many Western rap artists. Not for nothing, Toomaj’s defiance of the regime has earned him praise as the “world’s bravest rapper.” Once again though, the mullahs have chosen to kill their critics.

The incredible shrinking Dr Reti

Health Minister Dr. Shane Reti is rarely sighted at the best of times, but of late – as the headlines about the state of public health have got worse and worse – Reti has been only a ghostly presence of the government’s front bench, in a case of the incredible shrinking Minister. Meanwhile, leaked documents have revealed planned funding cuts of over $100 million to public hospitals that are already sinking under the pressure of unmet needs.

Tales of intolerable treatment delays have multiplied here and here

Nationwide, the quality of palliative care is under threat. Because of the funding cuts, vacant roles in public hospitals will not be filled.

Overtime has been frozen, and contract renewals are being deferred with the potential loss overseas of some of our scarce trained medical staff. Here’s a recent example you may have already seen:

I’m a newly qualified medical specialist currently working in a public hospital on a fixed term contract. Apparently, there’s a severe shortage of doctors in my field, according to a recent independent report. This is reflected in the wait-lists for patients to even get a first consultation, let alone treatment.

I was informed yesterday that the current government has put a freeze on new hiring in the health sector, and that my fixed term contact cannot be extended to a permanent position, as was planned originally. When my contract ends, I will need to decide whether to work solely in the private sector, or move to Australia. Its confusing to read articles about difficulties about retaining doctors in NZ [and] about the government spending money to recruit from overseas. Yet in reality, you have NZ trained NZ doctors in specialities happy to wprk in public [health] but cannot, because of lack of funding.

These problems are being replicated in the nursing workforce. Large numbers of internationally trained nurses able and willing to work are being prevented from doing so –sometimes because the jobs promised to them by immigration agents do not exist, sometimes due to the funding constraints in public health, and sometimes due to delays in work visa processing – which the government’s public service job cuts are likely to make even worse.

To state the obvious: the imposing of funding austerity on public health is extremely shortsighted. Our population is ageing, rapidly. The number of New Zealanders aged 65+ is sharply increasing, inevitably leading to greater complexities in patient care. More patients are presenting with multiple health problems and chronic illnesses bound to generate additional costs across the public health system.

Already, there are calls for the government (a) to subsidise a wider range of costly drug treatments for conditions that afflict a minority of patients (b) to subsidise more private sector health providers c) to fund the capital building needs of a crowded health sector and (d) to fund the purchase of the costly new equipment for modern diagnosis and treatment.

So much for the government’s promise that its programme of cuts will not affect the delivery of front-line services.

And then..the nurses

Nurses, of course, are not only providers of front-line care in hospitals, aged care facilities and other long-term care institutions. Increasingly, nurses provide expertise and support in primary care settings and within the home, given the rise in home care. Yet despite the snowballing nature of New Zealand’s health needs, the Luxon administration is imposing a hiring freeze and funding cuts on the health system – mainly in order to deliver tax cuts that will further undermine the government’s ability to meet such needs in future. No wonder Dr Shane Reti is hiding in the political equivalent of a broom cupboard.

Copyright vs Parody

With the rise of AI, any music that’s “in the style of” might sound bad, in a bad way. On his There I Ruined It website though, the US musician Dustin Ballard has been creating musical parodies the old-fashioned way, by playing it all himself. His comic genius lies in his ability to juxtapose musical styles we know so well, with jarringly incongruous songs. Here for example, is sensitive Simon and Garfunkel doing a rendition of Sir Mix a Lot’s classic hip-hop ode to women with big butts:

There’s more on his website, including Hank Williams(!) singing “Straight Outa Compton.” For variation, there’s this terrific parody of What Bro Country Music Sounds Like to People Who Don’t Like Bro Country Music:

And finally, this little item speaks for itself:

Footnote: Because US copyright law is heavily weighted against artists, and in favour of the corporations that own them, YouTube’s fear of music industry litigation means that it tends to take down material at the first sign of industry displeasure. As Mike Masnick’s Techdirt site says, this is why Dustin Ballard felt compelled to add a long copyright law message at the end of his video of the Beachboys performing Jay Z’s “99 Problems” ….

Ballard felt he had to pre-emptively explain to Youtube that parody is protected as “fair use” under US copyright law. That fact was established by the landmark case brought (unsuccessfully!) by big time music publisher Acuff-Rose against hip hop provocateurs 2 Live Crew for their bad boys rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” Yet for all the legal hassles that can befall satirists and parodists in Western culture, at least they don’t risk the same fate as Toomaj Salehi.