Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971
Your lead story of the 4th July (Hip Trip to Death? Mushroom Mania!) probably served to boost your sales but has contributed only negatively to the growing problem of drug abuse in New Zealand. It serves only to increase curiosity. What we need are facts, not sensationalism.
At first glance it would appear that the article serves to warn those who have heard of the hallucinogenic properties of Fly Agaric and Psilocybe Mexicana that these mushrooms are poisonous. But on looking at the article published in the student newspaper "Salient" on May 5th (yes, two months ago) I find that the toxicity of these fungi was emphasised. I would be surprised if Marie Taylor's "Mushrooms and Toadstools of New Zealand" failed to do the same, even though mention was made of "magical" properties.
How then do you justify the use of more than half of your front page to arouse even more curiosity in drugs?
Further, some parts of the "Sunday Times" article are vague and others are of no obvious relevance.
* Rod Bryant, the author, fails to inform readers as to just how he knows "New Zealand hippies are rushing to buy a book on local toadstools". I would also like to know how Mr Bryant defines hippy". This word is emotionally overcharged with a variety of meanings. To find a journalist using it outside of inverted commas immediately arouses my suspicions.
* I would also appreciate a definition of "rush" as in "Students Rush Magic Mushroom", your billboard headline. As a student, I demand a full explanation of this headline which is libellous in its ambiguity.
* And what is the meaning and purpose of these two paragraphs:
"Psilocybin is one of the hallucinogenic substances derived from toadstools. It is in the same class as Mescaline derived from the peyote cactus."
"The laboratory prepared equivalents are LSD and the similar but more powerful STP."
Anyone who knows the effect on behaviour of Mescaline knows that it is related to Psilocybin because both are hallucinogens. But the similarity ends there. Mescaline belongs to that group of hallucinogens containing a "phenyl ring", Psilocybin to the group containing "indole nuclei". LSD and STP which are also lumped together here can be similarly differentiated. (My source is "The Drug Dilemma" by Sidney Cohen, McGraw-Hill 1969, p.12).
Why LSD and STP should be the "laboratory-prepared equivalents" of Psilocybin and Mescaline when both Psilocybin and Mescalin have been synthesized (the former in the 50's, see "The Chemical Religion" by Peter Turkel, Paulist Press. 1969, p.115: the latter in the 1920's, see "Drugs" by Peter Laurie, Penguin 1969, p.98) is beyond my imagination unless it is a case of name-dropping.
These two paragraphs typify the article's confusion, redundance and lack of thought. We cannot afford this standard of journalism when it comes to drug abuse. Especially as there is no nationwide system of drug education to exploit to good advantage the curiosity aroused in young people.
My letter was sent by registered mail the morning after the article appeared. There have been two editions of the Sunday Times since then, neither of which have made reference to my letter. Neither have I received any explanation as to why the letter was not published. Perhaps because there is no reasonable explanation.
The article is reprehensible, the photograph preposterous. But worse than either is an editorial policy which gives them front page treatment. Because my letter is as much a criticism of the editor as it is of the author, this I suspect is the reason my letter has not appeared. Freedom of the press is coming to mean freedom to inveigh against whom one pleases without allowing the use of one's columns for the victims to defend themselves.
Not that I am defending the Salient article. It was both prejudiced and wasteful. Only one side's views of hallucinogenics was taken into account and the article was of little use or interest to the vast majority of students. However, it is one of the few pro-drug articles I have seen which urges respect for these chemicals and moderation in the use of. More important, though, Salient's circulation is limited to a small section of people who, hopefully, have enough intelligence to take advantage of the information available to them to seek out a second opinion on such topics. The Sunday Times is a family orentiated per. Its circulation exceeds 145,000.
But Rod Bryant's article was not an attack on Salient. Rather the basic story is the claim that "New Zealand Hippies are rushing to buy a book on local toadstools". Even this turns out to be unsubstantiated opinion.
On the Thursday following the Sunday Times article I contacted the publishers of Marie, Taylor's book. A.H. & A.W. Reed Ltd informed me that the book, which was released in March, was selling "quite slowly despite good critical reviews".
The following book sellers were also contacted: Whitcombe & Tombs, London Bookshops Cuba Street and Kirkcaidies, Unity Books, Technical Books, Roy Parsons, University Bookshop, Sweet & Maxwell on the Terrace, and Beacon Bookshop. All but the last two were stocking the book. In answer to "how has the book been selling?" all the stockists reported slow sales, much the same as any other book on flora and fauna. Whitcombes had noticed a slight increase in sales after the Sunday Times article.
I did not bother asking the University Bookship whether "students" had bought the three copies they had managed to dispose of. When I asked the other shops "what kind of people have been buying the book?" most sought clarification. "Were they 'hippies' or 'student types'?"
"Just the opposite," replied one manager. Without exception the book-sellers had sold what few copies they could to "ordinary people". When I told one lady that "hippies" were supposed to be rushing to buy the book she replied, "Utter rubbish!"
In fairness I must point out that an assistant at one of the stores had noticed a "few longhaired people" looking at the book. But they most definitely had not brought it.
I took the opportunity to inspect the book. As suspected, the author leaves one in no doubt as to the toxicity of the "magic" mushrooms.
The following edition of the Sunday Times (July 11th) contains another Rod Bryant drug-Story, "Little Pill—Lethal Push". It was not quite as bad as the previous one, but then it was shorter. We are told that there is a particularly bad kind of LSD, Strawberry Alarm Clock, going around Wellington at the moment. By some strange coincidence the Sports Post of the previous week (July 3rd) had told us exactly the same thing.
The following quote is from Rod Bryant's story: "The student health service at Victoria University has been consulted by people suffering from bad trips. But it is said drug users are scared to ask medical help for the risk of being handed over to the police."
I went to check it out with Dr Fleming. He had spoken to a reporter on the phone. He had been asked if he had noticed any increase in the incidence of bad trips over the last three weeks. Doctor Fleming replied that he had not, that in fact such cases were unusual. Moreover, that the amount of attention paid to them by the press was quite disproportionate. The context implies that the student health service thinks drug users are scared to ask for medical assistance for fear of being handed over to the police. Dr Fleming made no such claim. Rather, he pointed that the experience of the student health service suggested a low level of drug use on campus.
Rod Bryant ignored these statements on the low level of campus drug use and chose to quote Dr Fleming out of context to lend credence to his Strawberry Alarm Clock story, even though what Dr Fleming had to say on the incidence of bad trips lent no support to the story.
All of this leads me to suspect just what Rod Bryant's "informants on the Wellington drug scene" did say, in fact, whether, these informants really exist. It also leads me to doubt that Rod Bryant "spoke to three people who had bad trips on Strawberry Alarm Clock". Please don't get me wrong, I don't doubt quite a few people have had bad trips on this acid, just that Mr Bryant has spoken to them.
Salient challenges Rod Bryant to produce these informants and unfortunate trippers to a member of its staff or, say, a minister, layer, or doctor mutually agreed upon. We trust the Sunday Times will be as to publish the results of this challenge as Salient is.
Thank you for printing my review of Poetry New Zealand with so many spelling mistakes. It added considerably to the flavour. However my name was inadvertently omitted. As I would hate anybody else to have his life endangered by some misapplication of repercussion, and as I love to see my name in print, would appreciate it if you printed this admission.
Having just read the review of Frank McKay's Poetry New Zealand I am prompted to list my own 'Cynical Observations'.
|1.||The review was unsigned. Would the reviewer kindly identify himself.|
|2.||The favoured poets Pasley, List, Brunton, Wedde, etc. are believed to belong to a 'group'.|
|3.||The group that I can be said to belong to was saying much the same things about our elders, but with more wit, about twenty years ago.|
|4.||The praise of Denis Glover was so gratuitous as to be insulting.|
|5.||James Baxter was not mentioned. Was this because he is too much of a tribal hero to be knocked?|
|6.||The anonymous reviewer was probably a rejected contributor.|
John Hales Replies
|1.||See my letter.|
|2.||When I read through the volume some few poets stood out from the rest, either because they were different (Doyle, Brunton, List) or because they were doing the old thing in a better way (Smithyman, Wedde, Glover, Pasley). The poets mentioned in Alistair Campbell's letter have the same single characteristic: they were young.|
|3.||This proves how out-of-date the volume is.|
|4.||I did not intend it so.|
|5.||James Baxter wrote three mediocre poems.|
|6.||I was not a rejected contributor; I was not a contributor; I would have been rejected if I had been a contributor: I am not a poet; I have no intentions of becoming a poet; I am nothing but a poor anonymous public servant.|
Would you please correct your mistake and publish the name of the reviewer of Frank Mackay's "Poetry Yearbook"? I am presuming of course, that you would not accept, nor publish intentionally unsigned reviews.
Although it was very flattering read that your reporter has cristened my little bon mots 'Munzisms', modesty compells me to assure your readers that these Munzisms owe more to your reporter's illiterate inability to understand and reproduce a straight tale than to my own very medicore rhetorical talents. Your-reporter's journalistic incompetence is a walking demonstration of the unsatisfactory nature of our present system of tertiary education.
Listening to that now infamous 'discussion', which I originally anticipated might contribute to some understanding of present political attitudes to that contemporary monster "the drug problem", I was skilfully swayed to the point of chunderous disgust. Apparently that dapper little streak of military multitudiness considers his self supposed intimate knowledge of the subject and his irreproachable social conscience commendable grounds for introducing a bill disguised to legislate (in unspecific and uninformed terms) against this mighty menace.
In fact not only is he a political decoy fervently waging a Bartlettion battle against this social scourge (while ministerial mental eunichs introduce even more ignorant and repressive drug legislation), but he also happens to be an incredibly inept political decoy. I don't particularly mind such decoys, but painfully ill-informed, stuttering decoys in the Gill mould tend to piss me off.
The "bad manners" which he was finally reduced to complain of were mild response to the verbal and mental constipation which charaterised his entire performance. That such a non-eventful evangelist should be given a hearing is an insult to the university's existence. I trust any future Parliamentary puppets who so condescendingly favour us with their company will at least be able to curl their self-righteous tongues around a piece of factual evidence to support their attempts to morally re-arm our threatened society. Meanwhile we eagerly await a definition of "bad manners" in the honourable gentleman's next bill - no doubt designed to prevent the asking of relevant questions on prospective legislation.
How gracious were those staff members and student representatives in conceding that students require a longer period of time for their understanding of languages to mature, and how pathetically blind they were in maintaining that this was not the case for literature. One cannot but be complete idiot not to see that feeling for literature, and the ability to express it are dependent on an intangible maturing over a long period of time. What is then the lecturer's place in this? We have here the rare brilliant lecturer who can actually communicate feeling to the student, by awakening emotion in him which would otherwise if ever, have been awakened by the complex process of the mind working in conjunction with the environment. (This is called inspired teaching). Then there is the competent lecturer who provides bases and angles which more or less set the student on the light path for this process. There is finally the incompetent, who actually stifles this process by keeping his teaching on a superficial level. Now, as the competent is in the majority, how can the student's feelings develop in be course of one or two months study of any particular work? This is ludicrous. We are confusing the issue of mediocrity and nervous pressure being induced by short, high-pressure finals with that of aiming to achieve the greatest maturity in feeling and thought. These can be reconciled, Why not longer and more papers in finals, grouped at the end of the year, decreasing the pressure on students and at the same time enabling them to express themselves in depth and thus show the results of a year's maturing? This obviously begs the question: are all the staff capable of setting and marking papers of greater depth? But at any rate we have at present too much mediocrity to want a system that would increase mediocrity. Why not decrease it?