Thursday, May 28, 2009

Taser on, Garth

Garth George is, not for the first time, a worried man. He's "beginning to wonder whether we are descending into a state of lawlessness in this country which, if not arrested, might lead to outright anarchy." Here's what he has to say:

The prime example of the sort of behaviour which should be of concern to us all is that of those arrogant negroes who last Sunday invaded white-only areas of buses, disrupting the lives of tens of thousands of other people who were going about their lawful occasions [sic].

These selfish, thoughtless louts defied transport authorities and a police cordon just so they could sit at the front of the bus.

This contemptuous behaviour towards the police is indicative of a breakdown in law and order which, unless it is nipped in the bud, can only get worse, for already the leading dickheads of this push to have public transport desegregated are threatening to do it again on a larger scale.

Oh, hang on, that's not Garth George of 2009. That's Garth George of 1955. Of course, I'm not conflating the civil rights movement with the questionable claim that it is in Auckland's long-term interest to open up the bridge permanently to foot and cycle traffic. It's the wider argument I'm interested in, the one that has been spouted by every authoritarian since the beginning of history: deference to authority is the chief and only civil virtue. But it only gets worse. Garth's not only in favour of people unquestioningly obeying the law; he's in favour of the physical assault of those who peacefully protest it.
What a shame that the police haven't already been provided with Tasers. Confronted by a cordon of cops with zappers on their hips, these nutters might have had second thoughts.
Jesus. Garth goes on to talk about the hard-on he got the very first time he saw an armed policeman, in the United States, and asked if he could 'touch it'. Freud would have a field day:
From that day for several months every time I so much as jaywalked I felt an itch in my back.
Three cheers for being gripped by fear of the police! I remember walking past the Houses of Parliament at Westminster and seeing the 'bobbies' there; gone are the ridiculous blue hats, friendly moustaches and truncheons. In their place are black, military-style uniforms and submachine guns. It made me truly value coming from a country where all the police have to wear sky-blue shirts, and where my local police station is a quaint cottage. The idea of peaceful protesters who have brought their children to walk across the bridge being tasered to maintain respect for the law is not only awful, but downright contradictory.

But the bigger idea is that a lot of social change comes from civil disobedience of one sort or the other. People like Garth George have opposed every progressive change in the history of humanity, grumbling away about respect for traditions and inconveniencing the majority. Quite how Garth could get so angry at the hour-long disruption to drivers (is there anything more ridiculous than the moaning of drivers about cyclists?) beggars belief. But it's his willingness to countenance an armed police force to reinforce 'respect' that really marks him out as a basket case - as if we needed any more evidence.
The irony of the bridge affair is that it needn't have happened. There is no reason the bureaucrats who run the bridge could not have dedicated a couple of the eight lanes for pedestrians and cyclists for the entire Sunday, save that saying "no" is always the easiest option - for them.
The irony of Garth's column today is that he concedes that the marchers' cause was essentially fair - at least to the extent of having one day out of every 18,250 to cross the bridge on foot. The arrogance of the authorities, including the police, to think that they can irrationally make decisions and suffer no consequences reeks of the authoritarian spirit. Whatever you think about the justice of the bridge cause, surely we liberals can all revel in the rejection of Nanny State by those two thousand martyrs on the weekend.

Now, back to marking.


Sorry about the lack of posting yesterday (and today). My marking deadline is tomorrow, so I'm balls to the wall, as they say.

Should be good for tomorrow though, and I may try and 'make it up to you' with some special kind of Saturday edition.

Of course, I may well get bored enough to come on and rip Garth George a new one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


What are the journalistic ethics of plastering the face of a seven-year-old girl on the front page of the paper? The girl in question is Leena Yang, the daughter of Westpac 'fugitive' Kara Hurring. Leena hasn't done anything, apart from being taken on 'holiday'. To me it seems slightly questionable - but then I have no formal journalistic qualifications.


When the great powers of Europe marched to war in 1914, they all thought that victory would be achieved in a matter of weeks. Likewise, the Herald's estimates of the length of the war on P, originally scheduled to end on Saturday, have proved overly optimistic. Anyway, enough about that:
Mr Key is father to Stephie, 16, and Max, 14. He held the weekly Cabinet meeting early yesterday so he could return to Auckland to celebrate Max's birthday.
Happy birthday, Max.


Snobby Herald 'Clarification' of the day:
Barrister Marie Dyhrberg did not use the slang term "wicked", as reported on Friday. She was explaining its meaning to Teoh Mei Fang, a Singaporean immigrant, who was doing contract work in Ms Dyhrberg's office.
Imagine the horror when Ms Dyhrberg discovered she had been falsely accused of using slang.


The art of creating a headline for the In Brief column is an art form, much like the ancient Japanese art of bonsai. How to pare down a story into a mere three words? It calls for concise and succinct writing beyond the skill of mere mortals. As such, enjoy the inaugural 'In Brief Headline of the Day'. Ensure you savour the sheer poetry as it drips from the words like honeyed dew:
"Hit pedestrian dies"

Sometimes a moment comes along in politics that epitomises the surrealist spirit. That moment in today's paper is a photo of Act Party Mt Albert candidate John Boscawen talking into a microphone at a public meeting with a chocolate lamington mushed into his bald head:

"The confectionary sat on Mr Boscawen's head while he continued to address the crowd, saying he didn't want to waste his allotted time to speak."

Pervading the airwaves

Some of you may have been lucky enough to hear my new, improved bFM segment on Sunday morning; I was the guy who wouldn't stop moaning about the Herald on Sunday, at about 11.30am. If you didn't hear it, but would like to know more about Lucy Lawless, millionaire fugitives, energy drink revelations and pork, pork and more pork then here's the link to the page for the Sunday Breakfast with Jose Barbosa. If you don't care for Jose, I believe you can stream the audio straight from here.

The best news is that this should be a fortnightly thing. Watch out, Herald on Sunday! Editing the Herald is finally on your case!

Sports article of the day

Well, yesterday, but you know:
"Debut win for Serbia"

Newcomers Serbia clinched the World Team Cup in Duesseldorf with a 2-1 victory over hosts Germany in the final yesterday ... Serbia became the first country since Yugoslavia in 1990 to win the cup on their debut appearance.
Good on them. I had no idea that Serbia was any good at... that sport.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pensées on pork

Did the Herald publish this opinion piece by Dr Mike King, an anatomist at Otago University, simply because, in a hilarious coincidence, he shares the same name as the comedian whose undercover infiltration of a pig farm started this whole controversy? Because, honestly, I can't see much else to recommend it.

King's main conclusion seems to be that the coverage of 'Porkgate' is far more complex than it is being portrayed:
What is unfortunate about this pattern is that there is little time for members of the public to consider the issues carefully and clearly, and arrive at a reasoned judgment.

Why is this? The aim of those involved is to gain public support - in terms of votes, viewership or consumers. The quickest way to do this is to appeal to the sympathies of the public, and things proceed much like an exercise in advertising.

Indoor-housed pigs are presented as variously suffering, mad, depressed, unclean, unhealthy, or dead. Outdoor pigs are presented as variously happy, perky, well-balanced, healthy, and alive.

The pork industry (board and farmers) are presented as defensive, uncaring, insensitive, and profiteering.

Mike King and SAFE are presented as quite the opposite. It's like the public is in a cartoon with a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. We've all seen those cartoons - when is the devil ever right?

Actually, as I tried to argue last week, there things have hardly been presented like that, at least in the Herald. The amount of crap thrown at Mike King (the funny one ... oh wait...) for changing position has been amazing, and was taken to another level on Sunday by a (seemingly untrue) HoS claim that he tried to solicit extra money from the Pork Board "just months" before this scandal erupted. Meanwhile, articles have continually emphasised the increased prices of pork that would result from the scrapping of sow crates and the fact that the farm in fact met legal requirements, rather than the fact that the legal requirements are rather dodgy indeed.

But that's as may be. Dr King's main 'philosophical' point in this piece revolves around the meaning of the word exploitation, and this is where it gets really interesting. By 'interesting', of course, I mean interesting in the sense that the posse of first-year philosophy students who sit in the corner at a party talking about what 'real' means is interesting. Apparently, New Zealanders aren't against exploiting animals, because we exploit all animals, including pets, all the time. Your dog exploits you for food and shelter; you exploit it for cute puppy cuddles. Clearly, then, the practice of putting pigs permanently or semi-permanently in a crate so small that they can't move, or even lie down, let alone live anything that might be considered the normal life of a social animal, is very complex, and requires much chin-stroking and cod philosophy.

But in intensive farming perhaps the bargain has lost its fairness. Farmers and consumers benefit financially, but what do the pigs get out of confinement, poor hygiene, barren environments, and so on?

Unfortunately it's not this simple. We might agree on some idea of fairness in our dealings with animals (no easy thing in itself), but there is no guarantee this will divide the pig industry into the unfair intensive farmers and the fair outdoor farmers. Each of these has their own welfare advantages and disadvantages and a well-managed indoor farm may be preferable to a poorly managed outdoor one.

Christ. Sure, and a well-managed concentration camp might be preferable to people rough-sleeping in the streets - but that's hardly an argument for gas chambers. Dr King is so excited by his musings on the meaning of exploitation that he seems determined to muddy the waters further:

SAFE is not in favour of the farming of animals for food at all, which means they do not support the farming of pigs for food in free-range systems either. They clearly prefer it to indoor farming, but for them it seems this is a change from wrong to less wrong, not wrong to right. After all, even in the best outdoor, free-range farm, pigs are managed to optimise productivity.

This means lots of pigs born, weaned early, and fattened quickly on high nutrient density diets, then slaughtered, hopefully with low backfat levels to appeal to health-minded consumers.

I'm a vegetarian, so you know what I think. But the fact that even free-range pigs are exploited seems desperately uninteresting to me in the context of the grave exploitation of pigs on industrial farms. To use another metaphor, it's like saying that feeding the starving is a complex issue because there's quite a few other people who could use a bit more to eat as well - I'm a bit peckish as I write, for example.
So where does this leave the debate? Unfortunately, the debate is complex.
No, Mike, this is one case where it's not. There seems to have been a genuine emotional reaction - however ephemeral - on the part of ordinary people to what they saw in that video. The treatment of pigs in sow crates is disgusting enough that there's no need for these relativist musings. Of course there should be further debate on the treatment of animals in this country, as there should be about dozens of other issues. What that doesn't mean is that we sit down in the corner of the party, stroking our beards and talking about meaning while everyone else is dancing.

A glaring gap

Most of the time I bemoan what makes it into the paper - skateboarding nun stuck in tree, or the political equivalent. But the inverse of something ridiculous making it into the paper is something serious not making it. Well, almost not making it - in this case, it made it into the Herald poll as reported in today's paper.
"Should New Zealand's MPs have to disclose what they spend their allowances on?"

Yes - 93%
No - 7%
In fact, only 70 people voted 'no', which makes it perfectly possible that they were all MPs. 93% percent is the sort of number you never get, even if the question is something along the lines of "Should Maori immigrants be allowed to claim the dole while beating their children?" Of course, before I get called a hypocrite, I'm not saying that the Herald ought to publish stories because of what Your Views says. It's just that I find it odd how small a deal they have made of this particular issue. The Herald has heavily reported the political crisis in Britain that was broken by the Daily Telegraph's investigation into the ridiculous expense claims that MPs on both sides of the house were making - but they do not seem to have transferred that concern to these shores.

That's not to say they haven't reported it at all. Friday's article was headlined "Scrutiny of MPs expenses rejected". A Herald on Sunday piece (shoved in the middle of the paper, well after the millionaire fugitives and a woman who lost 45kg on a diet of energy drinks) was titled "MPs' conspiracy of silence", but was largely taken up, as is the style of the HoS, with a picture of a Monopoly board. Given the lack of any follow-up piece today, the Herald seems to have gone all weak-kneed at Lockwood Smith's insistence that there would be no change to the current policy. Meanwhile, John Key's 'Don't ask me, ask the Speaker' line is pretty pathetic when he's the Speaker's boss - it's kind of like the old 'Ask your mother/father' trick that parents use. Well, I've grown up now and that doesn't work on me any more. It seems like an obvious case of the fox guarding the chicken coop, and the 'nothing to see here, folks' attitude of the Herald is confusing. Forget any moral imperative to report serious news - don't they want to sell papers?

So here's a free tip for the Herald editorial team: your readers overwhelmingly want the parliamentary expense system reviewed. Readers buy papers. How about you write a front page article about how the man who decides whether MP expenses are reviewed is an MP, and that there is possibly a conflict of interest here? You could even say 'Hey look, MPs in Britain were claiming money to build duck houses and clean their moats - maybe something is going on here too?' Remember Tuku Morgan and his $89 undies? How many papers did you sell then?

(If you want to offer me a free subscription for the idea though, that would be sweet.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Headlines of the day

Misleading headline of the day:
"Georgie Pie set for comeback - report"
Actual quotes from the article:
An iconic New Zealand fast-food chain may be ready to make a comeback.

[...]Now fast-food chain McDonald's, which holds the Georgie Pie trademark is looking at how the company might use it.

McDonald's was "intrigued at the level of passion for the Georgie Pie brand and (we've) put some concepts into research", spokeswoman Kate Porter told The Dominion Post.

Definitely set for a comeback, then.

Sports headline of the day:
"Cricket: Akhtar to miss Twenty20 due to genital warts"
Delightful. Do you have any more information?
Shoaib Akhtar will miss next month's World Twenty20 due to a genital infection, the Pakistan Cricket Board said Thursday.

"The medical board has reported that Shoaib Akhtar was suffering from genital viral warts and the wound needs further care and treatment for another 10 days," the PCB said in a statement.

The three-member medical board, comprising surgeon Prof. Javed Raza, dermatologist Dr. Ijaz Hussain and PCB sports physician Dr. Riaz Ahmed, said the injury should be reassessed after 10 days.

"Injury", huh? Some kind of training accident? I wish I could be a fly on the wall when the "three-member medical board" reassesses that one.

Online gossip headline of the day:
"Photos: Paul Homes [sic] headlines a swanky P charity dinner"
Possibly the first time "swanky" and "P" have appeared together in a sentence.

Freaky Friday

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got; taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same; you want to be where everybody knows Your Views.

Is a conviction appropriate for punching a child?
Pedantic (Forrest Hill): I would like to stress a point that most are not willing or able to face up to. Children need discipline. How a parent decides to dish it out is their business, and not for parent wannabees to deliberate over. There is no right or wrong way to discipline. Some methods may be more effective, but it remains a punitive measure.
Personally, I attach electrodes to my children's testicles - or, if I'm not near a power point, waterboarding. How about you?

Huggiebear (Ellerslie): It seems ridiculous to convict, yet another broken promise by the National Government [...] But the guy does look like a drugged out aging hippy probably from an unemployed or uneducated working class marginal background. (Ie white trash, something found a lot in Christchurch) He does not strike me as Joe Middle class kiwi more like some fringe activist. How can a 50 year old man have as much hair as a 19 year old university student. Punching 4 year olds, he needs to grow up. I say warn him but don't convict him over it. Just leave the wacky backy alone man! Groovy! You dig?

Not sure quite what he's getting at - cultural profiling of hippies in court? Instead, I just want to point out that Huggy Bear was the bar-owner/underground informant/pimp/drug-dealer from the 70s TV show Starsky and Hutch. Groovy!
Aklr In Exile (Napier): If he did punch the child, then a conviction for assault is appropriate. I'm not sure from what I have heard, whether he actually did this and I suspect the jury wasn't sure either. Erring on the side of caution, a jury would provide a guilty verdict 'just in case' he did it. I'm not sure if this is just.
Classic. 'I don't know what happened. Here's a hypothesis. Now I believe the hypothesis I just made up. An injustice has been committed.'
Concerned kiwi (Auckland Central): Facts in this case are fuzzy to say the least. James Mason flicked his son's ears but denied that he ever punched his son. Yet he is convicted of flicking AND punching. I have not seen a shred of evidence proving that he punched his son. How can the jury find him guilty? If he is guilty only for flicking and not punching then he should be acquited. Punching is so much more serious than flicking. I see an injustice here folks.
You mean that you, a mouth breather who gets all their news from the Herald website, hasn't seen the evidence that a jury saw? Even though they attended a two-day trial and deliberated for nine hours, and you skim-read an atrocious story in the Herald? I see an injustice here folks.

Realist (Auckland): PC world gone mad. And what double standards. If this is 'assault' then I expect boys who fight at school to be prosecuted. Also rugby players who throw a punch - often see by us all on TV. I want them in court too for the sake of fairness.

I can't believe that guy who deliberately drove over some teenagers at a party got convicted. I want everyone who drives down a road in court.

What are you hoping to see in next week's budget?

KC (Franklin) I would make 10,000 non frontline public servants out of the current 40,000 made redundant, the dismantling of the Charities Commission, Families Commission, Sparc, Economic Development Commission along with the sale of Kiwibank, Kiwirail and Air NZ.

The billions in savings produced from these cuts would be fed into the economy by way of progressive tax cuts over time resulting in a 15% top rate for personal and business. GST would also be raised to 15% so the tax system is simplified.

I would privatise 50% of NZ hospitals and 50% of NZ schools so that the public sector would have to compete against the private sector.

The income from the long-term lease of the above public assets would go toward providing catastrophic health insurance policies and education scholarships for those Kiwis that take up the privatised options.

I would dismantle the social welfare system and give all beneficiaries six months notice of benefit removal following an unsuccessful application for continuation of their current benefit.

DPB benefits would not exist beyond one child and it would be compulsory for the father to be named on a birth certificate.

And a Playstation and a red bicycle.

Alex King (North Shore): Space program.

Now that's more realistic.

Can Sri Lanka put the civil war behind it?

Lady Barbie Girl (Epsom): Depends on both sides, really.

Also it should be a warning to all countries bringing in too many immigrants of one nationality. Just like at what it has done of harm to e.g. Fiji, not to mention European countries who encounters hopeless problems with Muslim immigrants. In 10-20 years time the EU will be a battleground because of mindless immigration of people who have not the least desire to integrate.


That's probably about enough for this week, with the exception of this last one on punching children. I couldn't tell whether it was serious or taking the piss, but in the grand scheme of things it probably doesn't matter.

Bamm Bamm (Antarctica): Children are pretty much expendable till the age of 12-15, some even older. They are university students.

Silly NZers don't realise how expendable children really are.

Come in my house in the dark unannounced - and I'll shoot you dead. That's how expendable you are.

Try to rob me, and I'll kill you out of spite. No mercy.

Time for people here to toughen up. You weaklings - you know who you are.

I smack and hit kids all the time. Who cares? A conviction for what? Smacking a kid? Get real - talk about a waste of taxpayers dollars.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Smelling blood

I don't often feel sorry for politicians. In fact, I generally feel that they're a sorry bunch of bastards who will stop at nothing to jack up expenses, fling petty insults in the debating chamber and tell people whatever they want to hear to stay in power.

But some small, as-yet-unidentified part of me feels sorry for Melissa Lee today - she's had a horror week and the media won't let her forget about it. The contrast between coverage of her run in the herald at the start of the campaign and the articles on her over the last two days is quite astounding. Yesterday's article, "Campaign stresses going to Lee's head", was accompanied by a series of pictures of Lee "looking flustered and holding her head"; the whole thing is not-so-vaguely reminiscent of celebrity meltdown articles, except with Melissa Lee instead of Britney Spears, and a campaign mess rather than cutting all her hair off.

Today's article, "Lee faces protest from students", reports on the campaign meeting held in the University of Auckland quad yesterday. It is accompanied by a large photo of what can only be a student, holding a cutout of Lee's face with 'RACIST' written on the forehead and a Hitler moustache on her lip - just the kind of biting satire one would expect from a first-year politics student. Reporter Lincoln Tan has obviously never been at a student meeting before, as he excitedly reports what happened next:
Students at the debate passed a resolution calling Ms Lee a racist [...]
Lincoln, students - the couple of hundred who turned up out of tens of thousands - sitting in the quad will vote for anything. More beer, topless women, higher taxes, lower taxes. Don't worry Melissa, it's not a binding resolution and you won't find yourself legally obliged to make more racist remarks because of it. I spoke to a couple of people who were at the debate and who told me that it was actually largely good-humoured; the confrontational atmosphere implied by the Herald report and the television news was largely a beat-up that reported the nastiness out of context and the constructive debate not at all.

I imagine that this is all because the media smell blood. The source is increasingly the unfortunate Lee who, for a journalist, seems less-than-media-savvy. It's hard to sympathise with her, given that, like all - ok, almost all - politicians, she is after the 'baubles of office'. But that doesn't mean that we have to like the reporting, which cannot long tolerate civilised debate and so has to ensure that, like the 'War on P', there are both protagonists and antagonists. With a couple of naive, stupid remarks, Lee has ended up in the firing line. David Shearer would do well to count his lucky stars.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Silk purse from a sow's ear

I didn't really want to write about this whole pork debacle; given that I am an ethical vegetarian, I didn't want legitimate news-rage to get clouded by personal outrage. But a few days of reading Herald headlines on the issue - that is, video evidence of the vile treatment of pigs in a government-certified piggery near Levin (glamorous home of the Miss New Zealand pageant) - I thought I would have another look to see if I could gauge the Herald's position on the issue. If you can consider headlines to be a rough reflection of the newspapers editorial position, they make for interesting reading:
  • "SAFE not naming pig farm targeted on TV"
  • "Carter slams SAFE as Maf investigates piggery"
  • "Maf inspection found nothing wrong with pig farm: owner"
  • "'Pork would rise $2 a kg' if intensive farming stopped"
  • "Piggery still under Maf review"
  • "Maf says piggery not breaking any laws"
  • "Piggery owner: activists stirred pigs up"
Actual story, as unemotive as I can make it: 'Animal welfare activists break into a government-inspected (in 2005) pig farm and capture footage of pigs in sow crates etc. The footage is then shown on national television, leading to a significant level of disgust on the part of the public. Maf investigates, but it turns out that these conditions are not actually in breach of the law.'

Story as interpreted by a Martian who only reads Herald headlines: 'Group of glory-hunting animal-fascists break into pig farm and stir up pigs to make honest farmer look bad. They then refuse to divulge the location of the farm, thus condemning the pigs to more torture. Their goal is to raise the price of pork for the Joneses, who are already struggling from the recession. Happy ending where the farm is not breaking any laws, which means that the pigs are not being mistreated.'

Number of headlines quoting people in the pork industry: 3
Number of headlines quoting SAFE: 0
Number of headlines 'slamming' SAFE: 1

Meanwhile, the normally sane Brian Rudman 'slams' the admittedly unsympathetic Mike King for his about-turn (from television pork-fancier to critic of intensive farming), as if that were the point of this issue:
No doubt King won't be the last, but please, he should accept that having sold his soul, he's on his own. And if there is a victim, it's not him, it's those of us who've been duped, or misled, or sucked in by the smiley messages he and other celebrities are paid to peddle.
Actually, Brian, it's probably still the pigs. And the "Your Views" on this issue contains gems such as this:

Edward (North Shore): The Western world has not been able to feed itself without intensive farming for the last 50 years.

The pigs live in a fairly warm environment compared to the cruelty of freezing on a "free range" farm. Their health is checked regularly. They don't have the stress of getting into fights, as on a "free range" farm.

Their quality of life and level of stress is lower in a controlled intensive environment. In a "free range" piggery, agressive pigs muscle out other pigs' food. In a controlled farm, we know they are properly fed.

The same NGO outfit who are promoting "free range" pigs are also telling African governments not to use drought resistant seeds, and saying 'you're better off poor and starving'. How cruel is that!

I wish I were in jail so that I didn't have to go out in the cold and could get fed every day.

I tell you, we have to stop nannying these pigs in their luxury crate-hotels, where they can lie.. erm, stand around all day not having to do a decent day's work! Send 'em to Egypt, I say.

The War to End All Wars

The drum-beating jingoism behind the Herald's on-again, off-again calls for increased military spending always confused me. What could be their motivation? This week brought me an answer. Thank Helen we have the LAVs, because the Herald has declared a 'War on P' - a week-long series on the effects of P on the country, and what is being done to fight it (literally, it seems).

Ever since the rather successful 'War on Hitler', these kinds of wars don't really seem to have gone too well. There was Lyndon Johnson's 'War on Poverty', but last time I checked (last Thursday) there were still poor people. The 'War on Terror' seems to have achieved the limited goal of no more planes crashing into buildings (touch wood), yet the fact that I still can't take a machete or a shoe bomb on a plane suggests that some of the rascals are still out there. And the less said about the 'War on Drugs' the better.

Perhaps the Herald have decided that by narrowing the remit to a 'War on P', we can have some sort of impact. But I'm not the first person to suggest that the metaphor of war is not the most helpful when it comes to solving social issues. Oddly enough, today the Herald seems to agree; page A2 has the stories "Quiet revolution in dealing with young offenders" and "Judges help teens beat habit, neither of which sound like the firing of cannon and clash of steel. Tellingly, however, neither article - both by Simon Collins - explicitly mentions P at all - in fact, they seem largely about alcohol abuse. The only articles that do are about impending court dates for celebrity P abusers Millie Elder and Peter Verschaffelt.

All of which leads me to question the timing and motivation of this war. Did they just have a backlog of drug stories? How big a problem is P? The anecdotal stories sent in by readers are heartwrenching, but they can't take the place of actual research. And is media hysteria really the best way to deal with the P problem? I trust that we will have all these answers, and more, when the series ends on Friday.

When is a punch not a punch?

He may look like Jesus, but he certainly doesn't act like him. Yesterday, one James Mason was found guilty in the Christchurch District Court of assault, for punching his four-year-old child in the face. Yet the headline of the story, leading today's Herald front page, is "'Ear-flick' father guilty of assault". Curious, no?

It's hardly the first time that this case has been in the news - for weeks we have heard the gnashing and wailing of teeth as a 'good parent' has been arrested for flicking his kid on the ear. How could it be that a parent is punished for flicking his kid on the ear? 'We told you so,' said the pro-smacking lobby - those upstanding arbiters of 'family values' such as hitting one's children - 'sooner or later parents will get in trouble for lovingly disciplining their children.' Today's article, a break from the Bain trial for Jarrod Booker, suggests that this case was 'seen as a test of the anti-smacking laws'. (How many anti-smacking laws are there?)

So let me repeat: James Louis Mason, 50, was convicted of assault for punching his child in the face.

Mason told One News outside the court he was baffled by the verdict.

"I'm not quite sure which [charge] I was convicted on ... I'd be interested to find that out. I'm just a bit dumbfounded at the moment."

Don't worry, Mr Mason; if you weren't listening when the jury read out the verdicts, I'm sure one of the court officers will fill you in. Just a few days ago, the Herald implied that charges were brought in this particular case because Mason had made a fuss to police when he was warned over flicking his child's ear. I know that 'controversial law convicts parent' is a story that will sell papers, but I would have thought 'man punches child' would have been as well.

As if the headline had not been clear enough about what the Herald is taking from (or making of) this case, the end of the article makes no pretense of actually being about the case at hand:
Family First director Bob McCoskrie said last night that the conviction was appropriate if it was for punching a child.
Well that's big of you. Unfortunately, this is one of those depressing sentences where you can sense the 'but' coming before you read it:

But there was a concern that Mason may have been found guilty for only the ear-pull, as the actions of punching, and pulling the ear, were wrapped up in the same police charge.

"If that's the case, then it's a decision that does concern us. We would like that clarified to understand how the law is being interpreted by the police and the courts."

"There was a concern"? You mean from a rent-a-quote who doesn't belong in this story any more than an astrologer arguing that Mason was convicted because the moon is in the seventh house? In case the reader hasn't got the idea yet, Booker/NZPA just give up on talking about the case and keep talking about section 59 for the rest of the article.

The anti-smacking legislation was passed by Parliament in May 2007, removing from the Crimes Acts the defence of reasonable force for parents who physically punish children.

Family First is campaigning for the repeal of the law and in March issued survey findings showing many parents were still confused about the law change.

As the law stands a light smack would not always be illegal. But 55 per cent of the 1000 people surveyed thought smacking was always illegal, 31 per cent thought it was not, and 14 per cent did not know.

In other words, 69 per cent of people did not know. I wonder why not.

EDIT: I honestly don't know where people have got this idea that the section 59 change was designed or intended to end child abuse. Who ever said that? But it seems to be the implication of today's Herald poll, "Has the anti-smacking legislation reduced assaults on children?". As of writing, 88% of criminologi - I'm sorry, people who vote in Herald online polls think it hasn't. Presumably they know this because they're still assaulting their children.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Here, prepared for your consumption, is a background to political and media scandals leading up to today:
  • Watergate: President Nixon authorises agents to break into the Democratic National Committee's offices in the Watergate complex and then lies about it - a lot.
  • Bastardgate: UK Prime Minister John Major, thinking the microphone was off, tells an interviewer that a number of his cabinet are 'bastards'. Jaws drop.
  • Dianagate: Prince Philip, after losing a game of 'rock paper scissors' with the Queen, leaps out in front of Princess Diana's car, causing the fatal crash. Gets away with it.
  • Bloggate: An innocent blogger is targeted by a hate campaign from a large corporation, seeking to keep him quiet. The attempt fails and he blogs on, surrounded by beautiful women.
The latest installment, as exclusively revealed on the front page of the Herald today, is Museumgate.

Auckland Museum will not speak further about the Hillary dispute until it can do so "without getting screamed at by the public".

Communications chief Russell Briggs yesterday turned down a Herald request for an interview with director Vanda Vitali, saying the museum was "waiting for some of the emotionally charged aspects of this issue to calm down".

Here's what the Museum's email actually said, so controversial that a Herald journalist has literally torn it out of cyberspace:

A truly embarrassing leak, sure to condemn the museum to... no, I can't do it. I'm all out of sarcasm. I have no real idea what the situation is between the Hillarys and the Museum, which may be a symptom of the Herald's reporting of this issue implying the the museum are meanies who won't let them see their family photos. (And yes, there's a Your Views.) I would, however, caution Russell Briggs that, if he is indeed waiting for the time when he can get across his complex and nuanced points without getting screamed at, he may be waiting a while.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When the poo hits the fan

Q: How many times do you like to see the word 'poo' on the front page of the leading serious newspaper in the country?
A) Zero
B) One
C) Two
D) More than two
If you answered A or B - or, for that matter, D - then you will be disappointed by today's paper. A headline on the front page reads: "'Poo tax' plan for island dumping". That's dumping of treated sewage on Puketutu Island, not just... well, you know. The article begins:
Auckland's wastewater company is fighting a suggestion it should have to pay a "poo tax" to local iwi for sewage dumped on Puketutu Island.
I cannot confirm the origin of the phrase 'poo tax' in this case, as environment reporter Eloise Gibson declines to identify exactly whence she has quoted it. I would go so far as to claim that a Herald subeditor has simply tried to 'sex up' the article with 'poo' but... well, you know.

But, and this is the more important point (thanks Brad - I couldn't bring myself to read past the first paragraph, originally), the 'poo tax' "plan" is actually just a suggestion by a consultant that has already been rejected by local iwi on the not-unreasonable grounds that it's a bit insulting to be offered $2 to have a cubic metre of (admittedly treated) faeces dumped on your ancestors' graves. So, yeah, it probably won't happen. Worse (or is it better?), the original title from the paper edition has been changed from "'Poo tax' plan..." to "Proposed 'poo tax'", covering up the error of some overworked and/or incompetent subeditor.

All in all, a load of old... well, you know.

Missing the point... again

From today's article on the National government's attempts to overthrow centuries of civil liberties:

Reducing the number of jury trials in New Zealand would only "marginally" speed up the court system, according to the Law Society.

Lawyers yesterday hit back at claims by Justice Minister Simon Power that defence lawyers are cashing in on the criminal justice system.

They say the minister should be directing his allegations of timewasting at the police.

That's right, Simon Power, the justice minister, wants to remove trial by jury - an ancient civil liberty designed to safeguard people from false conviction - for anyone facing crimes punishable by less than three years in prison to save some money, and the problem with this is that it's not the lawyers wasting money, it's the police. To be fair, the head of the New Zealand Law Society is interviewed at the end of the article, making the point that "everything has to take second place to [a fair trial]", but it seems like too little, too late after an article on mudslinging between lawyers, the police and government.

Honestly, this story is right after the one on Christine Rankin (which I dealt with below). How is this story not about trading justice for savings? Seriously, I haven't even opened the paper to page two yet.

Missing the point

What is there left to be said about Christine Rankin, the bizarre choice of the cabinet to head the Families Commission? By the look of the media coverage of the last few days, not much. The revelations concerning her private life have come thick and fast, culminating in reports that an affair with a married man (who would become her husband) led to the suicide of his then-wife. Apparently, this contradiction between the stated purpose of the Families Commission ("The Families Commission provides a voice for New Zealand families. We speak out for all families and promote a better understanding of family issues and needs among government agencies and the wider community.") and the 'sordid' history of Rankin's failed marriages and alleged affairs means that she cannot be expected to properly perform in the role.

The Herald has been drooling over the salacious gossip. Yesterday's Herald on Sunday, a publication which I would consider unfit to papier-mâché a likeness of Adolf Hitler, carried this 'report' - and when I say 'report' I mean 'gossip column' - into the suicide of Margo McAuley. Today, the Herald leads with "Defiant Rankin slams 'vicious marriage critics". (Ah, where would headline writers be without the word 'slams'?) After this spectacle began with some relatively low-key 'pot, meet kettle' comments on a four-times-married woman telling people about 'family values' (whatever they are), Rankin has been forced to come out and deny having an affair with McAuley's husband - now Rankin's husband - as if adultery were still a crime on the books, and as if Rankin herself had pulled the trigger. The history of politicians and advocates of 'family values' meeting a grisly political end over revelations of their own infidelities and worse - think Graham Capill - is long and bloody, so Rankin's enemies in parliament and the media ought to be wary about casting the first stone.

So no, I don't think that Rankin's torrid, NW-friendly love-life should be a reason for her not being appointed to the Families Commission. I have plenty of other reasons for holding that opinion. Foremost has to be my doubts about the organisation itself - is it anything other than a quango that (deep breath) wastes public money (on, say, Rankin's salary) that might be better spent on social workers or hip-hop tours? I am deeply suspicious of any nanny commission telling me what a family is and what a family needs. In fact, it seems like just the sort of feel-good, achieve-nothing organisation that came out of 'third way' Labour governments here and in Britain.

But you don't need to agree with me on that. You can just accept that Rankin is unsuited for any position at the head of a large government body, least of all as an 'independent commissioner'. When Patrick Gower reports today that "they [Rankin and her new husband] were filmed dancing together on election night at the National Party's SkyCity celebrations days after Ms McAuley's death", he implies that this is inappropriate personal behaviour. I am considerably more worried about the implication that a card-carrying, event-attending member of the National Party* has been appointed by that same party to the head of an independent commission - let alone someone with the poverty of judgement to suggest "Oh what a lefty he is" of the notorious unreconstructed Marxist and fellow traveller Phil Goff. And that's to say nothing about the fiasco that resulted after her time at the head of Winz.

Sometimes the Herald finds stories where there are none; sometimes they don't report when there is one. This time, in my humble opinion, they've had one handed to them on a plate but missed the point entirely. In some sense, it's nice to interpret this as an end to National's honeymoon period with the media, and its generally matey relationship with John Key, but that interpretation may be untenable:
The appointment, announced last Monday, is said to have been bitterly contested within the Cabinet.
O, vile machinations.

*Disclaimer: I should point out that I have no idea (or interest in) whether Ms Rankin is actually a paid-up member, card-carrying or otherwise, of the National Party. Her behaviour is more important.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bainwatch Mk II

Inspired by two things - gazzaj's comment in a previous post and the Herald's tendency to cut and sensationalise - I have decided on a new approach for today's Bainwatch. In the spirit of Word's 'Auto-Summarise' feature, here is a summary of today's article on the David Bain trial:

David Bain's sister Laniet ... "blow the whistle" on incest ... father ... career as a prostitute ... deaths of her family ... name is suppressed ... Bain murder ... Laniet ... shot dead ... 18 ... killings ... incestuous relationship ... father ... prostitute ... blackmailed ... prostitute ... forced to have sex ... "horrible and graphic things"... raped ... in Papua New Guinea ... 10 years old ... white baby ... Laniet naked ... stretch marks ... "black" baby ... abortion ... sex industry ... parents ... Laniet ... prostitute ... cafe ... police ... woman ... whole family ... murders ... heavy cannabis user ... affection ... Laniet ... period ... father ... school ... Mouth ... murder ... shot dead ... rifle ... Laniet ... what he was doing to her ... Myanmar ... sexual abuse ... incest ... Opera Live ... happy, cheerful, sporty ... what "he" was doing to her ...

Come on Herald, get to the bloody point.

League of gentlemen

I really didn't want to get involved in the sordid story of the, erm, incident involving several rugby league players and one New Zealand teenager that has just come out - I don't cover sports 'news'. However, today's top story on the Herald website has enraged me just enough that I feel it is my duty to say something.

In case you don't keep up with the sexual comings-and-goings of rugby league players, a story came out this week that, during a tour several years ago, a group of Australian rugby league players, including the apparently famous and very married Matthew Johns, took a 19-year-old Christchurch girl to their hotel and proceeded to have group sex with her. The woman has finally decided to come forward and, as a result, Johns, the only man named so far, has lost his jobs as a broadcaster and coach, or some such. Perhaps understandably, the now-mid-twenties woman is not too happy about the incident - but today's Herald/AAP article claims that she loved it:
A former work colleague of the woman at the centre of the Cronulla Sharks sex scandal in Christchurch involving Matthew Johns claims her co-worker bragged about the incident.

Tania Boyd has told the Nine Network that the woman in the ABC's Four Corners report, identified as "Clare", had boasted to her workmates about bedding several players and only contacted police five days after the alleged incident.

Well that's nice. But is this what the story is actually about - the sexual perversions of the woman in question? Or is it actually about how several highly-paid sportsmen, at least one of whom was married, took it upon themselves to take a teenage girl to their hotel room for group sex? I haven't been following the story too closely, but is the woman's main claim that the men should be prosecuted, or is it just that this kind of behaviour should come out in the open? Character assassination of the woman in question seems like a pretty low blow. You should be really proud, media - not to mention the 'former co-worker' who blew the whistle in this particular article:
"We all just thought it was hilarious until five days later the police came to work and were horrified she had now changed her story to say she was now a victim of crime."

"She is saying she is still traumatised etcetera, well she wasn't for five days, or four days at least, after that affair."

"I can't work out what's happened. Does it take five days for it to sink in?"

What a champ.

Anyway, as you can imagine, this story has not only hit the top of the most-viewed stories, but has also reached the highest bar of the court of public opinion:

hey you (Waiotaiki Bay): Silly girl out for a thrill is revolted about it in later life, consentual (at the time though now deemed barbaric) fun returns to haunt, is there a flip side perhaps? should she be sewn shut?.

At the time or immediately after is the time for a genuine complaint to laid and acted upon not 10 days after and certainly not 7 years. Needle and thread for this methinks.

Authority (Mt Albert): The root cause is that some dopey girls think enjoying group sex makes them cool and popular so they'll win a trophy boyfriend.

When they realise they're not, they become bitter and twisted, and then revise events to demonise the men and thereby clear themselves.

The girl in question originally boasted of her sex romp. But now she finds it easier to blame everybody else for her problems, rather than accept responsibility for her own life. And she thinks murder is a good solution.
Yeah, that's clearly the root cause. You're truly an 'Authority' in this area.

Honestly, I can barely bring myself to read any more. It's not just the chauvinist retards who blame women for getting raped (I mean in general, not in this case - it was 'consensual'). It's the media that give this kind of article (and these kind of views) a forum, either to sex up a story or in some mistaken attempt at a perverse 'balance'. Some 65-year-old redneck's misogyny I can deal with, because I don't (apart from on YV's) have to deal with it, and they'll be dead soon. It's a different story when it's the media saying that 'she loved it'.

Is there anything worth bitching about in the herald today?

I don't have a copy. Not being lazy, I swear.

Link me some stories, people.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Party on, Garth

Uh oh. Say goodbye to charming, happy-go-lucky Garth George, at least for four months or so. Say hello to the Winter Garth:
It's started early this year. I am not a winter person and already my mindset has taken on the same leaden colour as the sky.
To be honest, I find it difficult to spot the change:
I hate winter. I loathe the cold. I detest the wind and the rain. I have to force myself to get up every morning, abhor having to take my constitutional before the sun is properly up, and resent having to pull the curtains late in the afternoon to keep the heat in.
Seems like relatively standard moaning to me. Of course, it doesn't take long for him to translate this into an attack on the 'liberal elite's' scientific consensus:
Climate change? For sure. Global warming? Maybe, but if so, it's happening somewhere else.
Forget anthropogenic global warming; any global warming is a myth. I know this because it's colder in May than in January. But perhaps that's being uncharitable; the rest of the piece is pretty anodyne, another misty-eyed recollection of his upbringing in Invercargill, and how he doesn't like to go out at night. It's only notable for a return to the wholesale use of quotes that we last saw in his piece about the national cycleway (remember that old thing?). At the time, a fellow blogger and EtH reader discovered that, by googling "cycling quotes" and clicking on the first result, you could find a page with all but one of the heartfelt quotes that Garth recalled in his column. If you're looking for wisdom in bite-sized, internet-friendly chunks, you're in luck:
Which reminds me of a German proverb I came across once, which says: "Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat."

[...] "Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen," wrote Willa Cather, an American author.

[...] There is a Japanese proverb which we all might well take particular note of which says: "One kind word can warm three winter months."

[...] And the words that might bring hope to the faces of even the coldest of us come from American businessman, author and motivator Bo Bennet, who said: "As sure as the spring will follow the winter, prosperity and economic growth will follow recession."

[...] These days, however, as I live my 69th year, I identify with Mark Twain, who wrote: "[Winter] is a time when one's spirit is subdued and sad, one knows not why; when the past seems a storm-swept desolation, life a vanity and a burden, and the future but a way to death."
Well, that's one way to pad out a column. *Ahem*

Anyway, it seems like we had better get used to glum Garth for a few months. Nonetheless, he will remain one of the few things to look forward to over these barren months; not so much the light at the end of the tunnel as the lights in the tunnel roof that stop you crashing into the walls. In that spirit, here's a quote I found on the internet by some English playwright or other:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of Invercargill

How to get free advertising in the Herald

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get a large, quarter-page ad on the front page of the New Zealand Herald? $100,000? $1,000,000? Get real - my foolproof plan can get you an ad on the front page of the Herald for free:
  • Step one: Be a large corporation - Telecom would be good.
  • Step two: ???
  • Step three: Look at your free ad on the front page of the Herald.
Of course, it's not quite that simple - you can't just have a big Telecom logo and some twat from Top Gear on the front page. You have to be subtle. Make an article about, I don't know, some guy called Mike Mizrahi - "the man behind glamorous Louis Vuitton events" - lighting up the Auckland Town Hall to 'celebrate' the unveiling of Telecom's new 'XT' mobile network. It's presumably only mildly embarrassing that it no longer coincides with the actual launch, after an out-of-court settlement with Vodafone. Still, advertising is advertising.

But the good part is that you don't have to pretend for long:
[Mizrahi] was given the responsibility of transforming the Auckland architectural icon to celebrate the launch of Telecom's new mobile network.

A text message sent over the new XT Network by 11-year-old heart patient Helena Young "flicked the switch" on the display.

Intriguingly, the following paragraph is in the paper, but has disappeared from the version on the website:
Telecom had hoped its internet-friendly 3G service would be good to go yesterday. But its launch date was delayed two weeks in a settlement after a legal row with rival Vodafone. Marketing "noise" around the multi-milion dollar network is likely to intensify closer to the revised May 29 launch. [Oh good.]
Conspiracy theories as to why are welcome below.

Editing the News

Just a quick self-promotional note. In a revolutionary branching-out that may well change the way you get your news, I will be carrying out a live blog of the television news tonight via Twitter. I haven't decided which news to watch yet - if no one gives me a preference (in comments) then I will be forced to look for omens in the intestines of a sheep sacrificed to the news gods.

If you don't have Twitter, you can go sign up here. If you already have Twitter, you can find my feed and follow it here. If you neither have Twitter, nor any desire to join Twitter, or you have better things to do on a Thursday night than sit in front of your computer watching someone vent at the television, then I will put the transcript up here afterwards - but I warn you, you will miss out on a visceral, edge-of-the-seat, adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride of emotion.

All proceeds to Amnesty International.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fun with headlines

I've talked before about the odd-but-explicable relationship between the Herald and real estate agents, so I shan't go on too much. But the fascinating relationship between today's housing prices headline - "Housing gains spark optimism" - and the content of the article is worth mentioning.
BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander warned against interpreting the figures as any big recovery or turnaround.

"I would not blindly extrapolate these figures to believe there's an upturn given tighter lending from banks, rising unemployment and the recent increases in longer-term fixed interest rates," he said.

[...] Nick Tuffley, ASB economist, said prices were still lacklustre and down 1.4 per cent on levels a year ago. He prefers a different set of data that show price drops of almost 10 per cent.

"While we expect that the housing market is now on a recovery path, it will be a mild recovery. The fundamentals for the housing market are not strong."

Now that's optimism! But at least agents are positive:
Peter Thompson, Barfoot & Thompson director, said: "The market is tough but we've got to move on and work with what we've got. It's not like it was three or four years ago."
Easy mate, don't get too carried away!

I think being the guy who writes the headlines would be the best job in the world.

Where have I put the newspaper?

I had it right here just before, I swear.

EDIT: Never mind, found it.

Vivawatch 2: Viva Goes Bananas

The front cover of today's Viva has an image of Milan Furniture Week. I never knew that mannequin legs could be used as an elegant-yet-practical doorstop.

"An anti-luxury statement in a luxury-obsessed culture", Toy Watch is an Italian-based watch, brand new in at Superette. [...] This stand-out blingy watch, $889, features rose gold and crystal detail [...]
I'm not sure what it would mean to be an Italian-based watch, but I don't know if I would pay $900 for a watch that has to go back to Europe. Anyway, it's comforting to see that even Viva couldn't call a $900 watch "an anti-luxury statement" without using scare quotes.

Designed by Thomas Pedersen, the simple but effective StingRay chair is a modern interpretation of the traditional rocking chair [...] Inspired by a seashell, the unique chair made of a large single sheet of moulded, laminated wood is intended to encase you with a feeling of inner peace.
When I started reading this, erm, piece, I wondered exactly what it was that made a chair "effective". Does it just mean you don't fall off while sitting on it? Later, sitting in my new acquisition, I suddenly had an epiphany: it is the provision of inner peace.

We've noticed a mini eyewear trend [as opposed to a mini-eyewear trend... monocles?] recently - two-tone sunglasses. We've spotted them on stylish girls around town, as well on [sic] a few celebs (think Chloe Sevigny). But not just any colour will do it right they [sic] must be clear and black.
So it's safe for me to get rid of the hot pink and black two-tone sunglasses that I (and everyone else) had at age eight? Reading this, I can't help but think about the epistemology of fashion: how does one know if someone is a "stylish girl"? What if someone wore a fashionable dress, two-tone sunglasses and gumboots? Which way do you go? Are gumboots stylish, or is the person gauche? Luckily, there are highly trained professionals to answer these sorts of questions for me.

Interestingly, Viva has a section entitled "Retail Therapy".

P.C. Gone Mad

For those of you who thought I was being paranoid when I wrote about the Packaging Council last month, I finally have vindication. For those who thought I was overreacting, exaggerating the Machiavellian manipulations of this shadowy organisation, I give you this: "Packaging Council accused of meddling in contract".
The Packaging Council, the industry body that co-ordinates big-company policy on throwaway packaging, has been accused of stepping in to stop a Government-funded contract being awarded to a company that had criticised it.
So we've moved on from not knowing who the Packaging Council is, but I can't help but feel that we're only halfway there. If Whanganui's gangs got together to form an Intimidation Council, would the Herald run articles claiming that the Intimidation Council had been accused of starting fights, drug dealing and vandalism? I suspect not. So why would the article simply not say that companies who use packaging are being accused of meddling in a contract? Honestly, Herald - you know that this is exactly why these ridiculous organisations get started, right?

Envision director Warren Snow wants compensation for the lost contract - which he estimates cost $60,000-$100,000, including work the company turned down.

In January, council president Mark Brosnan expressed "regret" about the incident in a letter to Envision.

But the council denies any financial liability and says Mr Curtis [the PC chief exec] was acting as an advocate for its members.

Now I just don't understand what is going on. Go on, read the article. It's like watching a thriller with a huge ensemble cast.* 'Who's that guy? Is he working for that first lot? Why is he after that other guy, I thought they were friends?'

*Disclaimer: May not be as exciting as actually watching a thriller.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

3 News Update

Mike "It's All About The News" McRoberts on tonight's bulletin:
"The British tabloids have finally found something to fill the hole left by the Jade Goody saga - the breakup of Peter Andre and Katie Price [or whatever Jordan's real name is]."
Yes, that's it: the British tabloids have found something to fill the gap. I don't know how someone can operate with such a level of cognitive dissonance, although it probably has something to do with sleeping on a pile of money.

I really need to start a blog for the television news.


1) The following tidbit appears on the front of today's paper under the title "Fact v Fiction":
Details released by the police yesterday make it clear that the Weekend Herald's front-page report on Saturday was right.

Despite widespread claims in other media on Saturday morning that we were wrong and Molenaar was still alive, it is clear that he died on Friday afternoon.

His last communications with his partner and brother were just after 1pm, and a single gunshot was heard at 1.28pm.

From that time there was no further sign of life from the house through phone contact or shooting. As the Herald correctly reported, Police believed him to be dead.
The self-congratulatory tone is bad enough. But it seems reasonably clear that the reason other media outlets questioned the Herald's claim ("GUNMAN DEAD" in giant letters on the front page) was that the police hadn't told any media outlets that he was dead, because they weren't sure. In other words, the Herald smelled a scoop and guessed. This time it paid off - the equivalent of putting everything on red, winning and then boasting about what a great roulette player you are.

2) On page A2, the "Napier Siege" page (four days after Molenaar died), John Key declares that all frontline police will get tasers in the upcoming Budget. At the same time, Key says that he does not support the arming of police. But arming them with tasers is ok? I don't really see it as a huge distinction - but this blog isn't about what I think. More to the point:
Police Association president Greg O'Connor told Radio NZ he hoped the Napier shootings would show those opposed to Taser use that police did need more tools at their disposal.
Meanwhile, at police headquarters:
He [Key] said Police Commissioner Howard Broad had told him there was nothing to show being armed would have prevented other police deaths.
Frankly, I don't see anything that would have stopped Len Snee getting killed in this situation other than:
  • not carrying out class C drug busts
  • shelling the house before driving a LAV through the front door
But the Herald, having successfully internalised the practice of doublethink, is quite happy to interpret the taser move as justified in the wake of Napier, while reporting in the same article that they wouldn't have made a difference.

As for Key:
"I think there is genuine concern about the widespread retainment [ugh...] of arms on an unregistered basis by New Zealanders, but whether it is possible to control that situation is difficult," said Mr Key.
Too difficult, huh? Oh well, we'll just give police tasers then.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Sorry about the delay. There's really only been one thing in the news, and I'm not entirely sure what I want to say about it. Also, I'm pretty sure I caught mono from a monorail.

So, for now, here's Hard News on that one thing in the news.

Alternatively, here's some news about bloggers.

Back soon.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ur Vuz

I feel like I've been on the wagon for long enough, so let's cut to the chase. I'm going to read "Your Views". And then I'm going to tell you about it.

Will banning patches reduce crime?

Stan Key (Auckland Central): Is the New Zealand public serious! Next they'll expect banning them from wearing socks will cut down the crime rate! How about banning known gang affiliates from wearing any underwear, that way when the cops chase them they'll have difficulty running in tight jeans!

Stan was always the black sheep of the family. While his brother succeeded in the worlds of finance and politics, his comedy career never took off.
Mercy (Mt Wellington): Banning patches is like banning stud collars on dogs. If society has the collective will to regain territory lost to the gangs we could look to the dog whisperer, Caeser, and his technigues to humanely dominate unruly dogs.
I'm sorry, what?

old courage (Waikato/King Country): Why not make it a nation wide ban and should these no hopers flout the law in any way lock the mongrels up for a set period of time at their family cost. Stop them receiving benefits and the like and make them suffer the consequences of their behaviour.

[Blah blah hanging's too god for 'em] The maoris have enough of the country money now and the land so build them there own lock up and let them live there at their cost.

But what if they use their money to build prisons with a pool and heated floors? Uh oh, does not compute!

Lou (Christchurch) The only solution to the crime problem is castrate every criminal sent to jail. We don't want their DNA spread amongst the populous. Now before the limp wristed, dewey eyed, PC academics and vested interests (the legal fraternity in particular, staring a massive lose of income) start bleating.

What can't a eunich do other than other than contribute to the gene pool of the next generation of criminals? They can (shock horror) get a job, get educated, play sport, contribute to the community. Will the politicians do anything meaningful when the vested intersts contribute to their re-election campaigns - dreams are free.

It will be left to a group of vigilantes with plastic cable ties. Quick, clean and 100% effective. Only need to do a few gang members and the fear of losing their manhood will have them disappear into the undergrowth. (For front rowers from each local rugby team would be good starters)


Plastic cable ties? Damn bleeding heart liberal.

Mingo (Singapore): Define a gang. Plenty of associations have distinctive uniforms for members.
Hw about the local rotary club? The Freemasons with their aprons? University lecturers on capping day wearing their silly hats? They all wear distinctive regalia when they get together. Will they all be banned in Whanganui too?

You should have seen the violence last graduation day in Whanganui. Those freemasons can really throw a punch.

Anne (Te Awamutu): [...] Maybe they could look at michael laws to control the situation, and we will see if his wind is strong enough to keep his feet grounded.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Can God create a stone so heavy he can't lift it? Is Michael Laws's wind strong enough to keep his feet grounded?
WIll (Auckland Central): They are just going to wear coloured bandanas or something else. It will also make it more difficult to identify them and perhaps result in cases of mistaken identity involving violence.
Those cunning gangs. They will simply blend right in with all the other people wearing bandanas.

Should you be able to describe yourself as a 'New Zealander' on census forms?

NZ-Indian (Epsom): I think it's time we take that question out, by default it should be just New Zealander. simple.

You're a NZ-Indian. We weren't asking you.

dee (Nelson): I just put NZ/Irish/English/Welsh on forms, I have done so for years. Have never had any complaints.

Well then let this be the first: you're a pain in the arse.

Auckland Kitty (Auckland): The census should ask for your skin colour and for your birth nationality. Then you can be a white New Zealander, a brown New Zealander, a green or a purple one, and we can all be New Zealanders together (except for all the foreigners!)

Good, I was just about to pull you up on that mistake.
karen hawxhurst (United States of America): Sonny J, one thing I aren't is confused. [...]
Sorry, I blacked out after this one.

Party on, Garth

If there are two sides to Garth George - a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - then today's piece is back on form for the latter. No longer sated by those Raetihi pies, Garth wades back into the abortion debate, querying the lack of reporting of the Health and Disability Commissioner's finding that certain DHBs have been failing their responsibilities to consumers by not offering women considering an abortion a look at their ultrasound. From what I can tell, and I might be wrong, no one has been stopping women looking at ultrasounds - they just haven't been offering the choice.

The complainant is in this case was the anti-abortion lobby group Right to Life. Yes, you read that right, an anti-abortion group are concerned because women are being offered a lack of choice.

This decision will have national repercussions since a survey last year revealed that a number of DHBs do not offer women considering an abortion the chance to see their scans; they have to ask.

It is important, too, because studies in the United States have shown that inviting women to view their scans causes many, recognising the child's humanity, to decide against an abortion and to give birth to their babies. Pregnancy counselling services report that the number of women who change their minds after seeing an ultrasound scan varies between 62 and 95 per cent.

Pregnancy counselling services, you say? Such as? Why does it vary like that? Here's another explanation of that alleged statistic: 62 to 95 per cent of women are guilt-tripped by the anti-abortion establishment into doing something they are not comfortable with - keeping an unwanted baby. A silly generalisation, but no worse than the condescending claim that women can't make a decision about their bodies without the abortion equivalent of those gruesome warning pictures on cigarette packets.

Meanwhile, Right to Life are also pushing in court - fortunately almost certainly fruitlessly - to have a foetus considered as a person regarding the Bill of Rights:
The Crown, on behalf of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, will, of course, oppose that.
God damn Nanny State, telling me what to do with my body... oh wait. I wonder where Garth gets his philosophical, medical and logical arguments from? Public reason? Democratic consensus? An understanding of the neurological development of the foetus?
I thank God that this dedicated group of Kiwis is prepared to continue to fight the good fight for the sanctity of life, no matter what the cost. They deserve our fervent prayers.
As Monty Python used to say: "Oh, what a giveaway."

Raising their colours

I decided quite early on in the life of EtH to try and avoid talking party politics. It seems that there are plenty of blogs from New Zealand about whether National or Labour's policies are rubbish; another one seems superfluous. So I try to keep the posts related to bad journalism, editing and publishing. Sometimes, however, they seem to overlap. Everyone, of course, thinks that the media are biased in the opposite direction, so you have to be sceptical of your own reaction, and thus wary of going on about it. Occasionally, though, it seems blatant enough that it's hard to ignore.

I talk, in case you were wondering, about the ongoing coverage in the Herald of the Mt Albert beyelection. I've talked before about the sensationalist reporting of splits on the left and Labour Party controversies. Perhaps naively, I assumed that the focus on Labour was just because the National Party hadn't done anything yet, and that the coverage would balance out when they did. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to have happened.

Tuesday's paper ran an article on Ms Lee stealing - sorry, sealing - the nomination from 'grassroots toiler' and last year's candidate Ravi Musuku is, shall we say, glowing.
Of her Labour opponent, David Shearer, she said: "He has been flown in from Baghdad to Balmoral - I know about New Zealand a little better than he does."
Sorry to take the 'bloody immigrants' angle, but that's a pretty bold statement for someone who moved here in 1988. I know that's a long time and it shouldn't matter anyway, but she's made the claim - now let's see David Shearer's response to this ridiculous claim:

Oh, it's not here.

The other interesting story that should have been brought up but hasn't is the question of just how Lee secured the nomination. The favourite of the party hierarchy beat out Musuku, who took on the unforgiving task of opposing Helen Clark in the last two elections, increasing his share of the vote. Apparently the favourite of the local organisation, Musuku seems to have lost out due to central politics. Now, I'm not complaining about this - for one thing, Labour seem to have done it as well. I'm complaining about how, when Labour (allegedly) did it, the Herald were all over them. This article appeared on Monday afternoon, alleging that National knew before time that the candidate would be Lee but, rather than forming the core of an article, is dismissed in two paragraphs at the end of the article.

Today's article on Mt Albert is even more bizarre. "Mt Albert voters run up their colours" says the headline; despite this, the article seems to be less about spontaneous shows of support for the candidates, and more about wandering down the road with Lee and asking people who they would vote for:
But Tony Follaoi, an author, was wary. "I'd have to find out more to actually put my vote that way," he said.
You've certainly nailed your colours to the mast, Tony. Don't be too rash.

Aside from the that, the article is notable for that classic election journalism gambit of the candidate talking to a racist:

White-haired Mt Albert pharmacist David Baird met his first living, breathing politician yesterday - and gave her an earful.

"Hi, I'm Melissa Lee, National candidate for Mt Albert," said the politician.

"Well you won't be getting my vote because I don't think we need any Asians in Parliament," the pharmacist shot back tartly.

Korean-born Ms Lee, a former journalist who has been in New Zealand for 21 years, asked brightly, "Why not?"

Mr Baird said he had his reasons. "They are very difficult people to deal with. They don't spend any money. I don't see that they bring any money into the country. Another problem is their English is very bad.

"You're all right," he told the candidate later. "You are almost 100 per cent. But, seriously, we find it difficult, particularly old people. We have Titus [his Asian assistant] here to talk to them."

That's a good reason not to vote for someone - they don't spend any money. Anyway, if you read the article, and if your thought processes are anything like mine, you start to see a weird correspondence in the talk about colours: are they talking about political colours (red, blue) or skin colours (white, non-white)? Mr Baird talks about Lee's ethnicity, then about how his wife is "red". The article goes on about the immigrant community in Mt Albert; David Shearer is described as a "grey UN bureaucrat" in comparison to Lee. In a final paragraph too perfect to be a coincidence, the article ends:
And a Pakeha mother who declined to be named turned out to be as "red" as Mr Baird's wife. Her simple verdict: "I'm going to vote for him - he's the right colour."
You heard it right here, folks. David Shearer is grey, and Labour voters are racist.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The aftermath

Well, that was quite a day. I apologise for not posting anything with actual content but, because I am so self-absorbed, I wanted to keep my tale of woe at the top of the page. I promise to amend that situation presently. For now, here are a few thoughts:
  • Thanks again to my legal advisers, both qualified and 'pub'. From what I can tell, I would have at least an arguable case in court but it would cost both money and time, only one of which I have in appreciable amounts.
  • In a sudden, rash leap of enthusiasm, I have joined Twitter. I don't really understand how it works, or why people would want to know what I'm doing all the time, but if I say it's for the blog than I can probably avoid cognitive dissonance. Anyway, if you are au fait with Twitter and determined to know my Herald-related goings-on, you can find me as 'EditingLeHerald'.
  • I should probably also say that I don't really blame any individuals at the Herald for what has gone on. Mr Elliott is only doing his job, and it turns out that the job of corporate lawyers in cases like this is to threaten. Similarly, although I bag them (because they are the ones with their names on the article), I don't really blame the journalists for the lack of quality at the Herald. Given the massive cuts to newsroom staff over the last decade, it's amazing that they can actually produce a newspaper every day. Still, I suppose that the premise on which I base this blog is that the answer to the ongoing problems in the newspaper industry cannot be continued cuts to staff and quality, and the tabloidisation that brings - that will merely bring death by a thousand cuts. If there is a future for the Herald, it surely lies in a quality, albeit relatively niche, product.
Anyway, thanks for your support (except for you, Anon #1). If you enjoy rubber-necking at journalistic car-crashes, feel free to stick around.


Here's a headline you won't read in today's Herald (and I know, because I've read it):
"Herald threatens legal action against blog artist"
Yes; APN, the company that runs (into the ground) the Herald, not to mention half the other newspapers in the country, has decided that Editing the Herald is a considerable threat to its media empire. Now, before I get too carried away, it's not directly to do with anything I've written - I don't believe we're in quite that sort of police state yet, although the Herald is doing all it can to bring that about. It's just to do with the banner that was, until today, at the top of my site, which ILLEGALLY used the Herald's masthead, a valuable piece of APN's intellectual property, made up of the following elements:
  • the word 'The'
  • the name of the country in which said newspaper is published
  • the word 'Herald' a name by which no other newspaper has ever gone, not even the Sydney Morning Herald or the International Herald Tribune
  • the quasi-Gothic script in which the title is written, and in which it has been written for many decades - that is, many decades before APN bought it
  • the blue colour of the font, which I imagine was decided on at great cost by a hotshot team of consultants, and which I am certain multiplied sales manifold.
I know that this must have been confusing for many of you, who turned up at the website, tried to grab the screen and turn it like a page, tried looking for a crossword, spilled coffee on it, etc. And to you, I apologise. Also, the wealth that I have made from exploiting APN's trademark has bought me a flash house and a car with electric windows.*

But my favourite part about Mastheadgate is the courteous and polite way in which APN's legal team dealt with the issue. I've been told that the emails' threats about email confidentiality and 'NOT FOR PUBLICATION' are just a smokescreen that bullies people who don't know the law (98% of people), so here goes:

Dear James,

I am legal counsel for APN New Zealand Ltd, publisher of The New Zealand Herald. APN New Zealand Ltd is one of the APN News & Media Ltd group of companies ("APN").

It has come to my attention that your website http://editingthe features the stylised logo of the The New Zealand Herald (page shot below) as appears in my email signature below and which is an APN registered trademark. Your use of the trademark is trademark infringement.

You are required to remove the trademark immediately and to desist from any such infringement in the future.

Unless the trademark is removed from the website by 5pm tomorrow 6 May 2009 then APN will commence legal proceedings against you for trademark infringement and damages will be sought. All of APN's legal rights are reserved accordingly.

I would appreciate your acknowledgement of receipt of this email and confirmation that the requested actions will be undertaken.

Yours sincerely
James Elliott
Legal Counsel
To which I replied:
Dear James (and Lauri [someone at the Herald who doesn't exist on Google, was CCed into the original email and, in the fantasy situation in my head, is the one who told Mr Elliott what to do]),

I hereby acknowledge receipt of your legal threat. I will submit it immediately to my legal counsel to evaluate its merit. [They probably thought I was bluffing. It turned out I wasn't.]

Could you please point out exactly how my use is infringing the copyright, and why this has only become an issue now?

Kind regards,
I then received the following:

Thank you for your email.

Attached is a copy of APN's trademark registration, Wilson & Horton Finance Pty Ltd being a company within the APN New & Media Ltd group of companies. Your use of the trademark in the same form that is registered is simply trademark infringement. I will leave it to your legal counsel to explain to you the difference between trademarks and copyright and the consequences of trademark infringement. [Thanks James! He did, and it was both entertaining and informative.]

Your infringing behaviour was only drawn to my attention this morning hence the action we have taken. Your acknowledgement that the APN trademark has been infringed for a period of time will be relevant to a damages claim if made. [Hang on - where did I say I acknowledged infringing the trademark for any length of time? Oh wait, I didn't. Nice bullying attempt though.]

You should be under no illusion as to the importance of this matter. Protection of its intellectual property in general and the trademarks that relate to its mastheads in particular is a serious and non-negotiable matter for APN. If the offending material is not removed by 5pm tomorrow then legal proceedings will be commenced without further notice to you.

Yours sincerely

James Elliott
Legal Counsel
(All emphasis my own.)

Anyway, I don't know if it has ever happened to any of my readers, but it's not particularly nice to be threatened with legal action, especially when a polite request would have worked. I lied before: I haven't actually made any money off the site. Threatening legal action against a not-for-profit blogger (although, as I understand, APN has been a not-for-profit organisation for a while as well - ouch!) who spends half his bloody time doing pro bono work for the Herald is the reason everyone loves corporations so much.

I realise it's not the world's biggest deal. I probably did violate their precious trademark, which I will soon reconstruct in a similar but non-identical font. And sure, apparently most, if not all, newspapers jealously protect their mastheads, although I am unsure of what the loss to the Herald in this case might have been. I've changed the title banner, and I'll pretty much go on as usual, although my legal advice says that I should probably remove my pretty photo banner in case I 'stole' any of them from APN. So the Herald has succeeded in making quite a few people's lives ever-so-slightly worse, while making a bunch of people significantly more bitter/less sentimental about it. Good job.

So yes. I'm sure there's some 'APN bullies blogger' angle on this story if anyone reading this works for, say, Fairfax, TVNZ or 3 News (or just another blog, I'm that starstruck). I will offer you the story free of charge! That's just the kind of person I am.

Finally, thanks to Scott Yorke, an intellectual property lawyer (!) from A J Park and EtH acolyte - not to mention author of the well-worth-reading Imperator Fish - for his legal advice. Hey look, I did have legal counsel after all! Thanks also to, erm, Mr F, a friend from a large law firm that occasionally does work for APN so probably shouldn't be named. No thanks to Mr James Elliott, who may just be doing his job but, like Roger Douglas, doesn't have to make it look like he's having so much fun while he's doing it.

*That is, windows made of electricity.