Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday, January 27: Tigers are dangerous, Asian warming, Nanny-in-Chief and other opinions...

Newsflash - tigers bite: Quite an odd story on the front page of the Herald today - "NZ aid worker mauled in Thai tiger enclosure". The story itself isn't particularly weird - woman pats tiger in its cage, tiger bites woman, woman goes to hospital - but the way it was reported got my news-rage on. Firstly, is this really front page news? I mean, she didn't even die, which might have made it more newsworthy, I suppose. She's also not a celebrity (unfortunately), although perhaps she can now parlay her newfound fame into some kind of reality TV appearance; maybe some kind of crossover with the Lion Man, now that he's out of prison.
Secondly, why the fact that she is an aid worker, as opposed to a plumber or travelling salesperson, is important, I do not know. Is it supposed to make her more sympathetic? It seems like a rather baffling, if harmless, example of that journalistic habit of reporting occupations and other irrelevancies as if they were at the core of people's being. The case that comes to mind recently was the murder of a young woman in Christchurch (!) who happened to be working as a prostitute. Cue endless media coverage of 'murder of a prostitute' rather than 'murder of a person'. How this designation splashed all over the media helped anyone I am uncertain, but it probably didn't make her family feel any better about the whole thing. Of course, there are many more versions of this - 'black presidential candidate Barack Obama', 'transsexual MP Georgina Beyer', and so on - but the best satire of this remains the Onion article "Area Homosexual Saves Four From Fire". Anyway, I digress, but that was a bit strange.
Finally, does the Herald intend this story as some kind of morality tale? Apparently, Ms Corlett intends to sue the operators of the tiger enclosure, despite grown tiger-patting being right up there in my mind with venomous snake-poking and gorilla-taunting as animal-related activities that are best avoided. However, there are no obvious editorial indicators in the text that she was rather foolish, and that much subtlety is not something for which the Herald is famous. Perhaps the Herald just wanted a picture of a tiger on the front page. But at least there was some light entertainment for the patient pop culture junkie: "The [New Zealand] woman touched the tiger on its head and suddenly the sleeve of her arm, or the cloth of her shirt, got into the eye of the tiger and the tiger got irritated."

We like Asians: In case you were wondering what you thought about Asians, the 2008 Perceptions of Asia Report, via this Herald story, is here to tell you. A 1000-person survey, definitely statistically sound and in no way containing leading or ambiguous questions, has determined that "New Zealanders' perceptions of Asians are improving", and I would have to agree - it's been years since an old man on the bus has informed me that Asians are stealing all our jobs. For example, six in 10 NZers said Asian employees raised workplace productivity, the remaining forty percent presumably never having had an Asian co-worker. In other breaking news, NZers feel warmer to Asian immigrants than Australians. 91 percent of people thought Asia was an important export market, with the other 90 people currently resident in North Canterbury.
But it wasn't all good news for Asia. More people felt NZers were 'less warm' than 'more warm' to Chinese people in particular. The contaminated milk scandal was apparently a factor, although there's no news yet of how Chinese people feel about Fonterra's starring role in the whole thing. The other major concern was that "people from China will have too much influence on New Zealand society". Oh dear. Now there is a sentence that refuses to be satirised.
On the other hand, those who felt we had grown warmer to the Chinese felt they had "progressed" and "changed their way of thinking". Yes, we value cultural diversity - we will keep getting warmer to you as long as you keep becoming shorter, straighter-haired versions of us.

The Nanny state: As you may have read in the Weekend Herald, the epic contest to be named "Greatest Living New Zealander" was decided in favour of Helen Clark, who pipped official crazy-person Cpl. Willie Apiata for the coveted title. The white smoke had barely cleared from the chimney of the Herald offices when J. Hill of Irvine, California, wrote in to voice his displeasure. Apparently, this "referendum" is "an acknowledgement of the prevailing sense of life of a pitiable and declining culture." By picking the Queen of the Nanny-State over "the alternative choices of outstanding scientists and businessmen, [NZers] have displayed the nature of any sycophant."
Now, far be it from me to question the importance of an online Herald poll, or indeed to defend the 'nanny state', in so far as it exists, but I fear J. Hill may be overreacting somewhat to this result. Helen Clark beat the field of ten with a total of 25% of the vote, or a massive 3163 votes. This means that around 12,500 people voted in this "referendum". In contrast, about 2.95 million people are on the electoral roll, so about 0.42% of potential voters voted in the poll, and about 0.1% voted for 'The Nanny'. So maybe things aren't quite as bad as J. Hill makes out. As for the outstanding scientists and businessmen people could have voted for... there were no scientists and the outstanding businessman was The Mad Butcher. All J. Hill's letter goes to prove is that the righteous power of news-rage journalism can be used for evil as well as for good - with great power comes great responsibility.

That's an interesting opinion: The opinion page is always a bit of a toss-up, as the crazy and the dull battle to force feed their views to the populace. Naturally, the results aren't always fascinating, but today the Herald plunges bold new depths in interest and relevance: Deryck Shaw's "article" on industry development. I say "article" because I am pretty certain that Shaw - "a director of APR Consultants, a strategic consultancy company specialising in economic development" - has simply cut-and-pasted a section of some industry report into an email and fired it off to the dialogue page, resulting in a dire mix of irrelevance and boredom. Even if I understood half of the jargon in the piece, it's hard to see how I could use my position as unemployed intellectual to implement the kind of vertical integration and sustainable practice that Shaw wants to see in the wool and forestry industries.
I mean, honestly, I don't know who is more to blame - this gent for sending his wisdom to the Herald, or the Herald for bending over and printing it.

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