Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The wonder of Google

Sorry if today ends up as some sort of self-indulgent, Canvas-esque lifestyle section, but the Herald was so unimpeachably good today that I really have nothing to say.

Instead, I want to briefly talk about one of the most fun things about having a blog and being unemployed: spending hours poring over the Google Analytics visitor statistics. Especially interesting are the keyword results, which basically show what people have googled to end up at the site. As some light, almost-midweek fare, I thought I would share some of the more interesting search terms that have brought people to EtH:
  • dangerous asians [twice!]
  • "how to play oregon trail"
  • sweet blog
  • 17teens.com
  • affair analogy
  • battleship woman in kitchen
  • beckham 20000
  • cannibals on trial
  • crazy force feeding asians [!]
  • donations for salvation army
  • grumpy old men phrases
  • happy cows and harald [sic]
  • how much money did herald [sic] and kumar 2 make
  • m&s carart metaphor front bumper
  • making out with cannibal 2009
  • ovophobia pronounciation
  • the real cannibal britain
  • tiger kills ostrich
Thanks to everyone who arrived here by clicking on a random google result. I trust you found what you were looking for.

My Views

I was feeling a bit like a day off, but it seems there's no room for slacking in the dog-eat-dog world of unpaid blogging.

1) Because I was bored, I decided to start a new feature where I tally all the advertising in the front section of each day's Herald, feed the results into a supercomputer, and come out with the percentage of the Herald that is advertising. I will then outsource the making of a graph, which may or may not provide insight into the seedy underbelly of newspaper journalism. I'm not sure quite what I'll call it yet. Their Views? Ad Views? Because that's a pun that will never get old.

Anyway, today's Herald was 45% advertising. Because I have only one data set, I thought this might be best represented as a pie chart:
Expect more data to be made available in easy-to-read "Herald Graphic" as it comes to hand.


2) In case you thought I was making up the Herald's, erm, "Victim's Views" policy on crime reporting, there's a nice, brief article - not to be confused with a nice "In Brief" article - in today's paper about Bailey Kurariki. Apparently, the proposed 'three strikes' bill "fits Kurariki", according to an expert on the justice system. And when I say 'expert on the justice system', I mean the mother of the young man Kurariki and others brutally and pointlessly killed. I would be interested to know whether it is the Herald contacting her every time Kurariki gets a mention in the paper, or vice versa - although it doesn't really matter, as it is the Herald who decides to print it in the end.
"A lot of the general public don't know his background and just think, 'Oh he was so young,' and excuse it."
Really? Where are these people? And if there are so many of them, why are they never reported in the paper?

Epilogue: You can imagine my delight when, searching for 'Kurariki' on the Herald site to find that quote, I discovered that he is now the subject of another "Your Views" - just the latest of the 114 Herald articles that mention him by name.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Paul Henry's Views

In case you live in some wonderful, idyllic world where you don't have to hear such ridiculous trash:

Paul Henry angered TVNZ viewers with his antics on Breakfast this week when he insulted a guest speaker and implied that she had a moustache.

Anti-nuclear campaigner Stephanie Mills appeared on the show to speak about the compensation awarded to victims of French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Henry then proceeded to read out several readers' comments despite pleas from co-host Alison Mau and his producers.

[...]

Mau tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Henry and bowed her head as he began to read the first letter.

"I have no idea what Stephanie Mills was thinking going on telly with that enormous moustache. Wax is cheap, you know," Henry read out.

Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. Now, I'm all in favour of free speech. I'm also in favour of edgy humour in general. I don't think a woman with slight facial hair is particularly funny - but then I imagine that quite a few people wouldn't agree with my sense of humour either. And you know how I feel about nanny state - it's PC gone mad. So the worst I can say about Paul Henry's comments decontextualised is that, as far as humour goes, they were pretty lame.

But in this case context is quite important. I realise that Breakfast isn't exactly Close Up... erm... Campbell Live... OK, so there's really no mainstream New Zealand television show that will make that comparison work. Suffice to say that Breakfast is considered 'infotainment', and not exactly issues-driven - who wants to deal with issues that early in the morning, am I right? But if you are going to deal with serious issues, such as allegations that French nuclear testing caused cancer in observers - please, I'm eating my bagel! - you may want to treat them seriously. Otherwise, just have a movie review or talk to a cartoon character or sing a song about puppies. And, for the gods' sake, if you're going to invite people on and interview them about these issues, you could treat them with a modicum of respect. I don't really care if you think that a woman with a moustache is the funniest thing you have ever seen; surely, if you have moved on from kindergarten, you might see that it was inappropriate in the context of a serious interview on the state broadcaster.

So, and now I'm getting to the point, I went to "Your Views" to find the opinions of some people who had moved on from kindergarten and poop jokes. I was sorely disappointed.

"Do you think Paul Henry's 'moustache' comments were amusing or offensive?"

Scott Dawson (Mt Eden): I personally found it humorous and greenpeace of all organisations should be able to have a laugh at themselves. The nation has become too PC, and im sure if Stephanie Mills was to comment on Paul Henry looking like one of the chipmunks with glasses, this would be taken in good humour

Greenpeace, of all organisations! They're always having a laugh. But yes, just the other day I called a black guy 'nigger', and he was FURIOUS, even when I said he could call me 'whitey'! Can't we all just get along?

Too_soft_NZ (Greenlane): This is why this world is screwed up, we are not even allowed to insult people we dont like anymore freely.

And I thought it was the global financial crisis or global warming. When a man can't insult a female guest on the television show he is paid many, many tens of thousands of dollars of (essentially) taxpayer money to host, the terrorists have already won.

Precious (Te Atatu Peninsula): I thought he was funny. I mean, she did have a moustache .

"Wait, this is the thread for 'Did the woman have a moustache or not', right?"

Tim (Auckland Central): It was amusing. Like watching Ricky Gervais. Paul is the only reason I ever watch breakfast.

Yeah, it was just like watching Ricky Gervais. He did that kind of thing all the time all the time on his documentary, The Office.

Deal to Crims (Rotorua) It is the growing number of Kiwis who fail to recognise humour that concerns me most.
Hey - my hair is receding and I get my fair share of jibes but who cares. Some are fat, some are hairy, some are bald some are skinny, some have big noses, but lets see the funny side of it and not be so thin skinned.
Maybe thin-skinned is something we should also take jibes at. The reaction there would be guaranteed.

And remember that time that you went on live television to talk about the serious public policy issue of 'dealing to crims', and the presenter talked at the end of the show about how your bald spot was 'the elephant in the room' and wondered why you couldn't at least wear a wig on television. That was hilarious. At home, I thought you were a stupid, lonely, balding, fat, self-important redneck bastard - but I kept my opinion to myself.


OK, that's probably enough. If you are feeling unreasonably positive about the prospects for humanity, have a read. If you can't get the Herald site at work, you'll find that picking up the phone, dialling a number and then bashing yourself over the head repeatedly with the receiver has a similar effect.

He said, she said

Remember when you were back at primary school, being taught how to write? I do. Now, that was a long time ago, and the lessons might be fading a bit, so when I was reading the lead front-page article in the Herald today, about the serious, pressing and not-at-all-hysteria-driven issue of boy racers, I actually got confused. I could not tell whether I was reading the Herald or Finnegans Wake.

The threat to crush boy racers' cars for repeat offences has moved forward with the Government drafting legislation aimed at getting their souped-up vehicles out of circulation.

Oh yeah. Now what does Police Minister Judith 'Crusher' Collins have to say about this?
Police Minister Judith Collins said legislation currently being written would allow courts to order the crushing of cars belonging to recidivist offenders.
Wait, was that all?

Ms Collins said yesterday that she believed crushing had benefits over selling the seized car and giving the money to charity.

Anything else? Here are the openings of eight consecutive paragraphs in the same article. I kid you not.
  • "At the time, Prime Minister John Key said..."
  • "Ms Collins told the Q and A..."
  • "Ms Collins said the legislation was..."
  • "Ms Collins said crushing was for..."
  • "ACT leader Rodney Hide said Ms Collins..."
  • "Labour law and order spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said..."
  • "Mr Cosgrove said there were..."
  • "Mr Cosgrove said a boy racer's car..."
Well, at least on this occasion we get to hear what opposition parties have to say on the issue. Other than that, I don't really have anything more to tell you about this article than Miss Jones told you in Standard 3.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ask the victims

Gee, do you think that the Herald thinks (or, I suppose, thinks that potential readers think) that sentences for violent offenders are too light? I say this as the Herald reports that Jahche Broughton, a fifteen-year-old boy (fourteen at the time of the attack), was sentenced to life in prison with a 12.5 year non-parole period for the murder of Scottish tourist Karen Aim. This screwed-up young man will be in prison for the rest of his youth, until he is about 27 if he qualifies for parole - it is a life sentence. Now, this is neither the time nor the place to get into some sort of debate about the desirability of long prison terms or the justice system in general. I am more interested in the Herald's practice of 'asking the victim' what they think of sentences. I am yet to see the reply, "I think it's just about right."

"Woman beaten by boy who murdered tourist says life sentence is 'too light' for what he did to them" says the sub-headline on page A3. In fact, it is the first life sentence ever handed down to someone so young, so I'm not sure what Zara Schofield has in mind. Life without parole? The guillotine? Of course, it's not fair to criticise her for this - she was viciously assaulted by Broughton, and then had to go through the guilt of seeing a friend murdered by the same boy. But this is precisely the reason why civilised societies are based on laws, not emotions - no victim can be expected to be rational and disinterested in their own case. Only yesterday, the Herald printed this article about the murder of methamphetamine dealer Jason Boon. One person was charged with murder and awaits sentencing, while two accomplices were sentenced to nine (about two Bruce Emerys) and eight years for manslaughter. You may notice that the headline, rather than reporting the verdicts or sentences alone, says, "Fatal robbery jail terms 'far too light'". According to whom? According to the mother of the partner of the deceased.

Of course, people should be allowed their opinions if it helps them deal with their grief - although I am suspicious of whether it does or not. This doesn't mean that the Herald should make this the main thrust of their reporting. If a criminologist, a senior policeman or an experienced judge thinks sentences are too light (or heavy), that may be news. If the bereaved do, it's not. As the saying goes, if the Pope says he believes in God, he's just doing his job. If the Pope says he's not sure any more, then I'm interested. For now, I would be much happier if the Herald left victims alone and stopped exploiting their grief to sell newspapers.

No need for spin-doctors

"Spin-doctor jobs on line as Govt orders cuts," reads the main headline on the Herald front page today. Wait, not the band, right? I loved "Two Princes". But no, it's not the band, it's just another political 'spin' term - like rain on your wedding day - straight from John Key's lips to your Herald headline.
"The jobs of more than 300 public service "spin doctors" are up for review after a Government-ordered purge on public relations advisers."
So why are there no scare quotes in the headline, Herald? I mean, you wouldn't want to make it clear that the reason John Key doesn't need any spin doctors is that the Herald does most of that work free of charge. Please don't think I am just National-bashing here - I agree with Key in that I detest the idea that governments should feel the need to 'spin' what they are doing, and I have no real sympathy for the AUTU communications graduates who are going to be laid off. That said, when you're up against the kind of idiotic drivel demonstrated in Your Views, you might think that the only reason we haven't brought back hanging and thrown all immigrants two-to-a-cell in Paremoremo is because of government spin.

No, my problem is that, just like with the "hug a polar bear" 'story' yesterday, the Herald just throws out some National party lines straight from Key's mouth and runs it, with no real consideration or questioning. What exactly is the role that public relations people play in the public service? We are told that they expanded from "less than 50" in "the 1980s" to 448 in 2008, but that is relatively meaningless by itself. How much has the public service in total grown since then? Also, times change - I bet there weren't many people working on climate change in the 1980s either. I imagine to some extent that the expansion of public service PR numbers is in large part a response to the massive increase in private sector PR. And we know that National has no problem with private PR firms, having used the charming PR 'gurus' Crosby/Textor in the election. And while, like I said, I think a lot of government PR (like PR in general) is not only useless but dangerous, a lot of the opposition to it is probably just your typical 'PC gone mad' "Your Views"-style wank. As EtH contributor Ken says:
"Are these the people who make “Come on guys, get fire wise” ads? Fucking nanny state, I’ll have whatever attitude I want to fire safety."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

R U Scrtry of State? ROFL

"Remember the media?", your children and grandchildren may one day ask each other. "They were the parasitic middlemen who stopped the government telling us exactly what was actually happening. ALL HAIL THE HYPNOTOAD."

The problem for politicians has always been that, without media, they had no way of telling the people what they wanted them to know. It's no surprise that, whenever there is a coup or revolution, the first places rebels take over are the television and radio stations and newspapers. These days, as the Herald knows as well as anyone, the very role of traditional media is being challenged, as the internet and other mobile technologies increasingly mean that the government can communicate directly with (potential) voters. So it is surprising to see an AP article in the Herald positively fawning over the US State department's increasing 'cyberspace' presence.

According to the article, there is a cornucopia of information that people can now get online, without the messy necessity of 'journalists' 'asking questions'. There is:
  • The official State department website
  • The 'Dipnote' blog on diplomatic affairs
  • An "interactive" map of Secretary Clinton's travels
  • You can keep up, if you must, with happenings on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Youtube
  • A "text the secretary" hotline, which apparently has received 2000 text messages ("wr r u now LOL")
Apparently, State's Facebook friends have more than doubled since Obama came to office, even though a lot of world leaders still aren't on Facebook, and Ahmedinejad keeps ignoring Clinton's friend requests. "New media is critical in this new era of diplomacy, where smart power and expanded dialogues are essential to achieving our foreign policy goals," said Cheryl Mills, Clinton's longtime confidante and chief of staff. Yes, 'expanded dialogues' are right up there between 'cruise missiles' and 'daisy cutters'.

But that's not the point. The point is that, however crap the Herald may be at conveying what is important, the worst thing it does is when it just regurgitates government press releases and sound bites. Quite what critical commentary one is supposed to get from Hillary Clinton's Twitter I do not know. But when a traditional media outlet, and one that sees itself as New Zealand's 'paper of record', prints an article so lacking in any reflection - there is literally no mention of this whole issue - about an issue that directly threatens their role in society... well, maybe they're not doing their job very well at all. Just get all your news from Facebook instead - personally, I've always wanted to know whether Hillary saw herself as a ninja or a pirate.

John Key hates polar bears

Did you know that part of Labour's climate change policy was paying public servants to hug polar bears? I didn't until this morning. Here's some of the hard-hitting journalism regarding Key's claim:

Prime Minister John Key says several of Labour's "hug a polar bear" programmes are on the hit-list as the Government tries to cut costs.

Mr Key said his ministers had uncovered several ineffective programmes with the "nicest, friendliest sounding names" during detailed reviews of their departments.

"The 'hug a polar bear programme' will survive. It doesn't matter what recession occurs, it sounds like a really nice name.

"But the reality is if you look below the surface, the hug a polar bear programme might not do that much for polar bears. And if it doesn't, then we shouldn't continue to fund it."

Ah, I see, it's a metaphor, despite the Herald not using quote marks in the headline. Also, there is no such programme; it's just something that John Key felt sounded good as a sound bite, and which the Herald bent over and took. So what kinds of programmes are we talking about, Prime Minister?
"Mr Key would not identify the programmes but said there was a series of them."
Ah, ok. To be fair, one mentioned was "the Ministry of the Environment's programme for a carbon-neutral public service":
"It generated a huge number of bureaucratic appointments but a very inconsequential change if any to New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions," Mr Key said.
How huge, well, 20 jobs are being lost due to the restructuring of which this was a part. But Key may be right about this one - it does sound like a silly kind of project that wouldn't contribute much to the environment. Just like banning incandescent light bulbs, right John?

Party on, Garth

Figure 1.

Something strange has been going on with Garth George recently; perhaps he has been a wee bit under the weather. A few weeks ago he wrote his "Opinion" column about his culinary tour of the North Island; last week he snuggled up to John Key - now there's an image* - by going all dreamy over a school visit. Honestly, I've been wondering what happened to the old Garth, with his, shall we say, strident opinions about Labour, socialism, abortion, liberalism, women, immigrants, Maori, welfare, 'climate change', homosexuals, atheists... My hypothesis was actually that he's like a bear, an impression confirmed by his photograph (Figure 1.). You see: in times of lean pickings for (food/angry yelling), such as (winter/National government), (a bear/Garth George) goes into hibernation until a time when he is able to sustain himself again (spring/socialist revolution/the Rapture). But then he comes out with a column like today's: "Abortion idea sends chills up the spine".
"There is something chillingly sinister in the proposal by New Zealand's most spectacularly unsuccessful taxpayer-funded social agency, the Family Planning Council, to be allowed to administer non-surgical abortions."
Goodness, that does sound sinister. Quite why the FPC is our "most spectacularly unsuccessful taxpayer-funded social agency" is left unclear. Maybe it's because they kill babies. Perhaps it's because all the other social agencies are so successful? Maybe Garth is going to write his column on that next week and doesn't want to spoil the surprise. Apparently, the most sinister aspect of the change is that FPC staff will be able to carry out non-surgical abortions themselves, rather than referring the patient (who has probably already been referred "by a school counsellor or public health nurse") to an abortion clinic. But that's really just an excuse for Garth to write about the real problem, which is early-term, non-surgical abortion. And that's just really an excuse to write about the real problem, which is abortion.
"What this means, among other things too horrible to contemplate, is that teenage schoolgirls can be given the abortion pill and go through a medical abortion without their parents' permission or knowledge."
Oh, come on Garth, what are the other things too horrible to contemplate? Undead fetuses out for revenge? The eldritch, non-Euclidean geometry of the sunken city of R'lyeh? Because, honestly, that doesn't sound all that horrible to me.
"To those who see the fetus as simply an inconvenient piece of tissue, such as a cancerous tumour, an RU486 medical abortion may seem easy: You take the pills and that's it."
Oh, come on Garth. you can 'straw man' better than that! I'm sure pro-choice don't see the fetus as anything as benign as a cancerous tumour. To most people who favour progressive abortion law, a fetus is a tiny little illegal immigrant, sucking from the 'taxpayer' and stealing all our wombs. Also, remember that 10 per cent of fetuses are probably gay!
"That's bad enough, but there is also a huge question mark over the safety of the RU486 and Cytotec pills. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration ruled in June 2000 that it would be dangerous for a girl to take those pills unless under strict medical supervision. But such was the outcry from the abortion industry - which slavered at the possibility of only using nurses to perform abortions - that politicians put pressure on the FDA and it had to back off. Since then there have been 12 recorded deaths in the United States of women using RU486, resulting from severe infection in the blood and excessive bleeding during labour."
The best part about this news is that a grand total of zero women ever died of infection or blood loss from back-alley abortions, or in childbirth, giving birth to an unwanted baby. Also, no unwanted babies were ever mistreated by their parents. But really, Garth, you don't care about this, right? I mean, it's not like, if the pill were shown to be 100% safe, you would suddenly be OK with it? Thought not. But I do love the thought of the multi-million dollar 'abortion industry' - in New Zealand, the government agency FPC - "slavering" over the possibility of more abortions. I imagine the nurses involved like to give each other a big high-five after each one.

'"Safe and accessible abortion services are an integral part of good reproductive health care. Applying for this licence is consistent with that philosophy of access and choice.' [Family Planning president Linda Penno]

That is a classic example of Family Planning's Orwellian dissimulation and it takes imagination to realise that she is talking about legalised murder."

I love it when rabid rightwing conservatives call up St George on their side. I bet that George Orwell, the liberal socialist who volunteered to fight the fascists and clericalists in Spain would have loved Garth's views on just about anything. But, more to the point, anything can be Orwellian if you disagree with it; it's like a 'highbrow' substitute for 'PC gone mad'. I'm sorry that she didn't flat out say that she hates babies and families and really likes killing both, Garth, but you've got to understand that she has a public face to maintain.

I think I've said just about all I need. There's no need to have a debate on the moral justifiability of abortion here. The only question is whether, now that Garth is 'back on form', is that more or less reason to wish he weren't on the opinion page at all?


*Disclaimer: Garth George is 100% straight, so don't even think about it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Zealanders are wankers and rugby is gay

Ok, how angry/jealous am I?

It seems all a blogger has to do to get mentioned in the Herald is to a) be Australian and b) write some crap about how New Zealand is a bit rubbish. There have now been two articles, now including a link, and a freaking Your Views about this non-story. Meanwhile, I sit here breaking my balls about actual issues (and Viva), and what do I get? Nada.

You would think at least another newspaper would pick it up...

Who watches the Vivawatch?

Highlights from today's atrocities:
  • "Channel your inner Dorothy Gale", the dirt-poor farm girl from Depression-era Kansas, with a pair of red shoes for the reasonable price of $1150. Call Ashley Ardrey (a shop, I assume, not a person) on (09) 3091955 if you like hurling abuse down a phoneline.
  • "If you're troubled by your lipstick bleeding, then DuWop's Reverse Lipliner [$50] may be worth a try." If, like me, you're troubled by your brain melting, see a doctor.
  • "For an air of brooding elegance, follow fashion's flirtation with all things gothic." All things gothic, Viva? The Gothic alphabet? Ribbed vaults? Flying buttresses?
  • "Which style tribe will you belong to this winter?" The "Femme Fatale"? The "Neo-Goth"? The Visigoth? Ngai Tahu? Or will you just wear normal clothes like a normal human being?
  • Need a way (or 20 ways) to "instantly update your look for the new season"? You could "buy a pantsuit" to really cash in on Hillary Clinton-fever. Oh crap, they anticipated my joke in the text. Oh well, I've made it now.
  • Wearing a handful of "cocktail rings", whatever they are, is "an easy way to change your look". In this case, from normal person to 1970s pimp stereotype. Other easy ways to change your look: wear several hats at once; more than one pair of shoes; eight pantsuits, harnessing the style power of the octopus.
  • Poppy King, who sounds (and looks) more like an opium plantation than an actual person "knows the power of a good lipstick". Her favourite accessory? She's taking advice from Viva - "Handbags, handbags and more handbags." Sorry, I can't bring myself to transcribe any more. You're just going to have to go and buy your own copy.
  • On another page, someone has cut a hole in the middle of a picnic blanket and is charging $665.
  • One Zoe Walker turns out to have been quite disappointed by the Twilight movie. No, not because she is a grown woman and the movie was made for 13-year-olds; because she was disappointed that the vampire didn't live in a castle filled with bollocks. No, you won't look creepy when you put a $590 silver skull in your lounge, or black candlesticks and plates with a skeleton glaring at you on the dinner table. Although it might look a bit odd when teenagers stop thinking vampires are cool and turn their attention to, I don't know, fairies or Obama or accountants.

Fish, barrels, yes yes. That's it for this week. Someone suggested Vivawatch should have a theme tune that could blare out of your speakers while you read it. Suggestions welcome.

"Who is worse: foreigners or Foreign Affairs?"

Ok, so I wasn't going to write about the ridiculous kerfuffle from last week about foreign affairs officials and 'hardline' sentencing. But here I am.
"Foreign Affairs officials are warning the Government that its hardline sentencing and non-parole policy risk damaging New Zealand's international reputation.

They say National's "no parole for the worst murderers" policy and the proposed "three strikes and you're out" law could breach international obligations on torture and civil rights."
The article itself is fine, read out of context. The context, however, wasn't that flash. A relatively minor memo was thrown onto the front page and then thrown to the "Your Views" hounds. The 'great' thing about YV, and other such fora, is that you don't even need to pose the question in a sensational way. You don't need to ask "Are all immigrants terrorist-loving, dole-bludging, non-English-speaking, job-stealing terrorists?". You can just ask "Are immigrants a positive for New Zealand" and get precisely the same responses. So when "Your Views" asked "Would hardline sentencing damage NZ's international reputation?", they may as well have asked, "Should we put up murderers in fancy hotels and make the victim's elderly mother spoon-feed them ice cream?".

Interestingly, people seem to have found it very difficult to understand quite what the MFAT memo was saying. The reason I am writing about this today is that, on the "Readers' Forum", Claire Somers of Hamiltron (City of the Future) says:
If Phil Goff [not the person who wrote the memo, but who cares, right?] believes people anywhere concern themselves with NZ or its legal system, he is out of touch with our country's unimportance.
People's seem to interpret MFAT as worried that tourists might not want to come because we're too mean to criminals, or that overseas bloggers might start slagging off New Zealand on their blogs. Meanwhile, people with brains can immediately tell that they are pointing out that these laws may breach international covenants which New Zealand has signed. So other countries don't have to care about our legal system, Claire; they just have to care about countries sticking with international agreements. You may not, and in fact almost certainly don't, care about the people who live down the road from you - and they probably don't care for you - but that doesn't mean you shouldn't care about any agreements or contracts you have with them. There, was that simple enough.

People are mental, and that's not the Herald's fault. What is the Herald's fault is that they consciously (surely) throw the equivalent of a red rag to a bull and confuse what is a significant, if slightly dull, issue.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Vanload of PC Gone Mad

Thanks to Jo for reminding me about this terrific example of reporting. Regarding the fatal stabbing by one youth by another youth:

"The court heard Davis armed himself with a knife after a vanload of Polynesians turned up uninvited to a party he was attending in London St, Herne Bay.

He went to confront them and they left without any trouble, but instead of putting the knife back in the kitchen Davis put it in his pocket."

A vanload of Polynesians, you say? I do believe that a vanload is the collective noun/SI unit for Polynesians. As Jo says, that's quite the provocation. But I'm less concerned with the man's defence than I am with the Herald journalist, Andrew Koubaridis - possibly a Greek! - being quite happy to mention that this group of people not even materially involved in the crime were Polynesian.

That's right - my main concern is that we're not told which Polynesian island they are from. If they were white, you could bet your bottom dollar that we'd be told if they were Irish, of Scots descent, or mainly English. But because of the liberal media, I don't know if this vanload were Samoan, Tongan or miscellaneous. It's PC gone mad, I tells ya!

Also: Nanny state.

Readers' Forum

The Herald "Readers' Forum", the renamed letters page - it's PC gone mad, I tell you! - would be far more accurately named if most of the people who contributed could actually read.

And now, without further ado, the 1st Annual Weekly Readers' Forum Awards:

Henry Ford Award for Efficiency: Jo Smith, Napier
"I was appalled at the lack of food and drink stalls at the [Whenuapai] air show. I queued 40 minutes for coffee, 70 minutes for a hotdog, 35 minutes for a juice and 20 minutes for a coke, all separately."
On the upside, Jo, I bet it was some hotdog. But thanks for letting everyone know, anyway. Please submit your story of hardship to That's Life and collect your $200.


Metaphor of the week: Glen Weir, Sandringham
"It's great to have the opportunity to consider our attitude to giving. Rather than ideologically quarantine the germ of generosity, we should let it infect us and change our hearts."

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad Award for Effectively Denying the Holocaust: James Newman, Mt Maunganui
"Why would anyone be worried about the police being given an extra tool to put away criminals by allowing the taking of DNA samples from any person breaking the law? If you have nothing to hide, there is no problem."

"Back to the Future" Award for Lateral Thinking: Mohammed Yakub, Mangere East
"In these hard times, perhaps the Government should bring back the old 1c, 2c and 5c coins."
No.


Forrest Gump Award for Confusing Fantasy and Reality: Lucy Paterson, Mt Albert
"[Regarding the proposed National Cycleway] Message to John Key: 'If you build it, they will come' - Field of Dreams."
Sigh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009: I'm a celebrity! Get me out there!

"Celebrity endorsements should be used to push more than brands and politicians should be using them to engage voters in the political process, a marketing academic says."
Yes, you read that right - "marketing academic".

"However, in research to be published in the European Journal of Marketing, the former Waikato University student has found good reason to turn that assumption [that celebrities lacked credibility with voters] on its head. Using advertisements which featured celebrities and non-celebrities, he asked 316 participants whether they would vote for the British Conservative Party.

He found that while endorsements did not work on those who rated themselves as having a high level of political understanding, for those who knew or cared little about politics the effects of having a celebrity on board made them more likely to vote for the party."

So, Dr Ekant Veer, you think that these are just the sorts of voters we ought to be getting out? Because whenever there is an election I know that I always wish that there were more people cancelling out my vote because they thought they were actually voting for celebrity ballroom dancing. How else do you explain Rodney Hide's continued presence in parliament?

The justification for using celebrities, Dr Veer says, is that they will help to raise historically low voter turnout rates. Now, I have my suspicions about his methodology; it's all very well people saying they will vote Conservative if there are celebrities, but will they bother to leave the house on the day, especially if there's good telly on? But that aside, is seeing Valerie Vili or some All Black or Edmund Hillary's corpse on TV a good reason to vote? Are the kinds of people who will be motivated out of their chair by some gurning celebrity responsible citizens? Democracy isn't a contest that countries win when everyone shows up - it's a means to an end, the least bad way of finding out what a country's government ought to be doing. Dr Veer says that figures showing only 62 per cent of people registered in Maori electorates voted in 2008. Yes, that's bad - but maybe it means we need to do more to actually connect those people with political processes and society at large, not lure them out with promises of a glimpse of a Shortland Street 'star'.

I repeat: a "marketing academic".

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009: Four things I hate about you

1) Questions about immigration are bound to bring up some stupidity, even when it's not about 'cheeky darkies' coming here, but rather the constant diaspora of young New Zealanders leaving the country. National would always say it was because our taxes were too high. Labour would say it was because of high student loans. Charlie Devenish, of Christchurch (get your own newspaper!), thinks it is because of global warming.
"Before the election, John Key spoke of the need to stem the flow of our best and brightest overseas. What he failed to realise was the best and brightest are informed, and care deeply, about the future of not just New Zealand but the Earth and all its inhabitants.
Rolling out ... a bevy of measures that, ultimately, undermine the future wellbeing of the Earth ... is not the way to entice New Zealanders home.
It seems the most proactive way New Zealand's educated youth can act on Earth's most pressing issues ... is by moving to countries with leaders who are good enough and bright enough to do the right thing: drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels."

That's funny. I always thought that everyone moved to London for the bright lights and big city glitz - not to mention the quality newspapers. Clearly they are moving there because of Gordon Brown's policy of building more coal power stations accords with their sentiments toward Gaea.

Seriously, it's knobs like this guy who put the 'mentalist' in environmentalist. See what I did there?


2) Just read this:

"Google was forced to remove photographs of naked children from its Street View service last night as a row over internet privacy escalated into one about public safety.

The Independent on Sunday alerted the internet search giant after finding images of the toddlers, playing at a family summer picnic in a garden square in north London, captured permanently on the revolutionary mapping system.

Britain's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, is considering an investigation into Google if more images of naked children are found to have been picked up by its cameras and made available to internet users.

Google has had hundreds of requests for images to be removed since it launched Street View on Thursday, including pictures of members of the public leaving sex shops or vomiting in the street. But the pictures of young children suggest the service could be exploited for more sinister purposes."

Jesus. Christ. "Breaking news: paedophiles stalking Google Street View". Because spending countless hours going through thousands of miles of streets in the hope of finding a small, blurry, low-res picture of a naked toddler seems like an efficient way of finding child porn.
"The picture had been found by this newspaper within only 10 minutes, suggesting there could be many similar images on the website."
I found a picture of Big Ben within only 10 minutes, suggesting there could be many similar images on the website.


3) I know I'm breaking my own moratorium on reporting Josef Fritzl gossip, but I find the latest turn the case has taken to be grimly humorous. "Fears mount for Fritzl's mental health", says the article, which continues to say that his "mental health had deteriorated since the verdict".

So there are worries about the mental health of a man who imprisoned and sexually enslaved his daughter, keeping his second family locked in a secure basement?? In other news, Hitler may not have had all his marbles, and Einstein was rather clever.


4) You would think that, if any country could do with some positive press in the media at the moment, it would be Israel. That would explain their latest policy of "bursting balloons at a schoolyard celebration":

At one [Palestinian cultural] event, teenage girls at an east Jerusalem Catholic school released a few dozen balloons in the red, white, green and black colours of the Palestinian flag over the walled Old City. Israeli military police and soldiers quickly moved into the schoolyard and popped the remaining balloons, students said.

Zein, an 18-year-old student, said the police popped them with their hands and told them they weren't allowed to release them into the air.

This makes perfect sense, and dovetails nicely with other recent Israeli policies of stealing candy from children, kicking puppies and telling Heath Ledger jokes.

Monday, March 23, 2009: Zoo's clues

I know that I said I wouldn't write about zoos anymore - but the Herald keeps taunting me with bad articles about zoos. This one today, from AP, is quite bizarre; headlined "Modern zoos more sensitive to animal needs", it gives me weird chills down my spine. No, that's not quite it. It's more like I've just taken some pills from an unlabelled bottle at the back of a friend's medicine cabinet - I am anxious about them starting to kick in, but I'm not quite sure what the effects will be.

The headline itself is a bit problematic. I would suspect that a more accurate title would be "Modern zoos less crazily insensitive to animal needs". But that's not what I'm here to tell you about.

The tone of the article isn't quite right either, approximating that of a wide-eyed 15-year-old with a free zoo ticket, writing for the school newspaper. But that's not what I'm here to tell you about either.

The most interesting thing about the article is that you can do a little experiment with it:
  • Replace all the mentions of "zoo" with "prison".
  • Replace "zookeepers" with "guards".
  • Replace "zoo animals" with "inmates", "lions" with "murderers", "giraffes" with "rapists", and "Asian black bears" with "Asian and black criminals".
Now read through the article and see if you can trick yourself into believing you are reading an article about the successes of a progressive, humane and efficient private prison system.

Monday, March 23, 2009: Herald exclusive: Herald bad

Remember Bailey Kurariki, New Zealand's Youngest Murderer (TM), the 12-year-old devil spawn who single-handedly killed a man? Oh right, that person doesn't exist. He was convicted of manslaughter for his part in the group killing - what happened to the rest of the group? I demand some sort of Where Are They Now? TV special - of Michael Choy and served more time as a 12-year-old than Bruce Emery will for his 'manslaughter' of Pihema Cameron. Anyway, the media did a real job on this Kurariki. I'm not trying to defend or take anything away from the brutal and senseless killing of Michael Choy - in fact, I'm depressed that I even have to point that out, lest rabid "Your Viewers" think I am advocating a knighthood for Kurariki - but the way the Herald and others turned a hugely screwed-up child into New Zealand's public enemy number one is something for which they should be ashamed.

So it was delightful to see the Herald reporting on comments made by Kim Workman, a penal reform campaigner, who has suggested that the treatment of Kurariki, including treatment by the media, since he has come out of prison has damaged the rehabilitation work done in his last years in prison. The story is accompanied by a large photo of Kurariki outside court last week; the photo's attribution reads "Picture/ Herald on Sunday". Sigh. The headline last week was "Kurariki lashes out at media", after he spat at and jostled at 'journalists' outside the court. I would have thought the opposite was a pretty good description of his media demonisation.
But no, I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley or take him home to meet my parents.

Monday, March 23, 2009: Surveying my land

How many times do I have to tell you, Herald? Reporting the results is not a news story, let alone a front-page story - even if the results show that most people are absolute mentalists. After all, I already knew that. The headline pun is bad enough - "NZ going cooler on warming - survey". (Perhaps it's being caused by egg-chaser Stacey Jones in the 'article' to the left - "He's back, and he's hot." Nice Oxford comma, by the way.)

So yes - Herald, don't pretend that surveys are news. But I reserve the right to complain about the statistics themselves, as well. I know that the survey wasn't commissioned or conducted by the Herald, but I still choose to blame them for the results because, if people don't care about the potential of 'climate change', aka massive, irreversible ecological disaster, it can largely be attributed to the reporting of the media: instead of having a weekly half-page in the middle of the paper where a bourgeois talks about composting her brioche, they could have a massive headline saying "HOLY SHIT" across the top of the front page every day. They could appeal to stupid-people demographics across the political spectrum by running pictures (artists' impressions, naturally) both of polar bear cubs melting and boatloads of Bangladeshi refugees from flooding turning up on our shores and stealing our jobs. Now, where was I...

That's right, survey results:
  • 87 per cent of people "thought New Zealand should take steps to manage climate change 'very soon' or 'in coming years'." That's nice. Coming years. Presumably the rest thought we should wait until we are underwater, then build a time machine and go back and fix it.
  • Oddly enough after that statistic, 34 per cent of people in the same survey thought New Zealand were doing enough to manage climate change. Wait, remind me what we're doing again? I believe John Key altered his Hummer to run on biofuels.
  • "Climate change was ranked 6th on a list of problems that could effect people and their families," behind fuel prices, the recession and being stabbed to death by an immigrant. Funnily enough, this corresponds exactly with the frequency of front page stories in the New Zealand Herald.*
*Disclaimer: May not exactly correspond.

Monday, March 23, 2009: Add it like Beckham

Sometimes even the most egregious examples of shoddy journalism escape my news-view. So thanks to Luke for emailing me this one.

You'll all remember this story from last week, if you have eyes and/or ears:
"Two senior Auckland Regional Council executives quit yesterday after the David Beckham soccer match fiasco in which the council-owned Mt Smart Stadium lost $1.79 million."
Wowsers, that's a lot of money. How did they lose that much?
The game, which drew only 16,600 people instead of the 20,000, needed to break even.
There are two 'interesting' things to be said about that sentence. Firstly, it's a total grammatical abortion. "The game ... needed to break even"? Or what? Two senior ARC executives would quit? Oh, it's all very well having hindsight, Herald. And to whom does "the 20,000" refer? It sounds like a reference to some millenarian cult preparing to ascend to heaven via top-notch use of the dead ball.

Secondly, and more importantly, if they lost $1.8m and needed 3400 more people to break even, those 3400 people would have been paying $530 a ticket. Perhaps that's why they didn't get more people in the first place? But then maybe I am missing something. Maybe, if they achieved the magic number of 20,000, David Beckham was going to walk to the center circle at halftime and lay a solid gold Faberge egg, which would then be auctioned off to the highest bidder.*

Thanks again to Luke. Feel free to email through any news-rageworthy items to the address on the right.

*Come to think of it, the footage would probably have been worth something as well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009: MMMMM et al.

MMMMM Views: By the time you read this, I will probably have passed 5000 views (erm, total), which I choose to interpret as a major milestone. So yes, thanks to everyone for reading and ensuring that I didn't just give up the moment I had about ten other things on. Next stop: 10,000 views and John Campbell getting fired.

(And replaced by me. In case you couldn't work out what I was getting at.)


Slumblog multimediaire: Disappointed that it's already Friday and, as such, you have to go two days without posts? Don't worry, there are other ways - multimedia ways - to get your dirty fix.
  • I will, as usual, be on Jose's Sunday Breakfast, Sunday mornings 9-12 on bFM. If you don't have three hours to sit around twiddling your thumbs, I should be on between 10-11.
  • There's a reasonable chance that I'll briefly be on Radio New Zealand's Mediawatch show on National Radio on Sunday morning between, say, 9 and 10. No guarantees. You can check here for radio frequencies where you are, or just go here after the show and stream it.
  • If you have twenty minutes spare - and, let's face it, if you're here you probably do - you could do worse than watch this segment from last week's Media 7 programme, on school violence and crimes against statistics. The highlight comes at about 14:40, when the host mentions how the story of the dodgy school violence statistics was 'broken' by a humble news-rage blog. Or you could just watch Media 7, either on TVNZ 7 or TVNZ On Demand. But I can't guarantee celebrities ballroom dancing.

Can't take my eyes off of you: One last tidbit before I must adieu. Any "Your Views" questions gets the cranks out, but it takes something about law & order to start an unholy shitfight. Actually, it's less of a fight, and more just a torrent of shit (now I regret that metaphor). So here's a couple of 'highlights' from the YV on 'Would hardline sentencing harm New Zealand's international reputation'. The answer is apparently (c) - 'the death penalty's too good for 'em'. Check it out if you think you need some perspective.

marty28 (Christchurch): The only reputation that NZ has on crime is that we are too soft. Bring back the death penalty, life means life, sale of assets for those that loose an appeal to cover legal aid, shared prison cells and no luxury items, incl cigarettes, in prisons.

With drugs being a big problem, all drug trafficers should be put away for life, or deported to a prison in their home country so we don't have to pay.

Convicted poor parents should be sterilised to prevent them from breeding further, which will also help break the cycle.


albert k (Howick) If toughline sentencing would damage reputation of NZ, wondered how come countries in the Middle East, Singapore & China are able to attract so many visitors /tourists /expatriates?

I say, we will get more visitors and foreign students if we can prove that NZ is tough on crims by putting them away from society for a long long time.


Fed Up (Christchurch) What a load of garbage coming from these Nanny Beauracrats from Foreign Affairs, they must have been appointed by the previous Nanny Govt. Have they seen damage to the USA who have sentences that fit the crime, and they believe your rights are gone when you are convicted of a crime, and I couldn't agree with them more. Time to get new people in Govt Departments that haven't got these Nanny Ideas.

Friday, March 20, 2009: Trial by media

You may have noticed there is some sort of murder trial going on in New Zealand at the moment, and by 'may have noticed' I mean 'must have been training in the Ureweras not to have noticed'.
Bain home smothered in blood, court told. Jury shown gruesome video footage of corpses after shooting rampage.
Should you be surprised that a significant amount of blood was present at the scene of a multiple murder, or at the presence of corpses, this would have been news to you. Well done Herald. However, if you are not a jellyfish who managed to fail jellyfish NCEA, then you will be aware of these things. In fact, while you may be interested in the fact that David Bain is being retried - was there a grave miscarriage of justice in the original trial?; was the Attorney-General right to order a retrial? - it's rather more difficult to justify needing to know what happened every day in the courtroom. Presumably, the people who need a hugely thorough knowledge of the case are the men and women of the jury, and the judge. Anyone reading in the paper about it is going to come away with a much shallower knowledge of the case - a knowledge that can, of course, easily be swayed by poor reporting. Sensational headlines, daily coverage regardless of the news value of what has happened, 'Bainwatch' on the website keeping you up to the minute and encouraging the belief that, in a long trial, there is constantly going to be something to excite (which then fuels the need for sensationalism) - I dare say that the Herald has covered most bases here.

Speaking of which, you may also be aware of a trial going on in Austria - that of Joseph Fritzl, the charming individual who kept his daughter in his basement for 24 years and who is being charged with murder, rape and enslavement, in addition to other counts. Yes, of course you are aware of him. Exactly what purpose, apart from voyeurism, does the media coverage of the trial serve? Is this some systematic problem that needs to be rooted out, an expose of a serious underground problem? Probably not. Despite the attempts of the British gutter press to claim that it's all part of some Freudian obsession with Hitler -he was Austrian, remember? OMG! - it's a story about a crazy nutjob who did some pretty despicable acts. Perhaps it's 'natural' to want to hear about something so beyond our frame of reference, but it's not clear that responsible journalism ought to be dedicated to satisfying our primeval urges. Surely that's what Facebook hate groups are for.

Friday, March 20, 2009: Talking smack

Hey, remember when all those good, white, middle-class parents got thrown in Paremoremo and stabbed with a sharpened toothbrush because they slapped their child's hand? Or maybe you are too busy fending off gangs of ill-disciplined toddlers roaming the streets of Remuera. That's right, just when you thought it was safe to raise your child again, the Herald runs a story about a poll commissioned, surprisingly enough, by a 'pro-family' lobby group - Family First NZ. You can find the poll results (although distressingly little about the methodology) here, but the finding the Herald chooses to report is that:

"As the law stands there are some circumstances where a light smack would not be illegal. Fifty-five 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."

And what does this mean?
"'This proves just how confusing the law is to parents and it is this confusion that is causing huge harm,' said Family First national director Bob McCoskrie."
And why, I wonder, would people be confused by this simplest of bills? It couldn't, I suppose, have anything to do with a massive misinformation campaign led by conservative groups and happily facilitated by the mass media, including the Herald. So it seems a little odd for the Herald to report that people were confused - was that not your intention when you carried out some of the worst reporting of a New Zealand issue I have ever seen? The next bit made me laugh as well:

"To add to the confusion, a survey undertaken by the Office of the Children's Commissioner in November last year found that 43 per cent of those surveyed who knew of the law change supported it."

"'Only 28 per cent were opposed to the law change. The remainder were neutral,' Commissioner Cindy Kiro said."

It's quite interesting noting the different results. I suspect that the surveys' methodologies would make interesting reading - well, as far as statistical methodologies go. I suspect that the Family First NZ survey contained terms like: 'Nanny State'; 'Helengrad'; and 'PC gone mad'. These may have influenced the results.

Interestingly - again - another piece, published today, suggested that "the New Zealand Health Survey 2006/07 showed only one in 22 parents considered physical punishment was an effective form of discipline," which supports my hypothesis that the media may have banged on about Section 59 so much that even the words conjure up a picture of Stalin with Hitler's head attacking people with a samurai sword. But ACT MP John Boscawen is unfazed, and is putting forward a member's bill to change the law back. But why now, John?

"'The Labour 'we know best' government is out and National is now in,' he said.

'Perhaps we will now begin to see an end to the madness of the past nine years where politicians saw fit to tell New Zealanders how to live their lives.'"

I guess it's a shame National voted for Section 59 too then, isn't it. I guess I am slightly comforted, having read this hilarious piece, that National are taking the piss out of ACT. So, you know, it could be worse.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday, March 2009: Front page fury

1) Is it uninteresting or obvious or just too easy for me to get angry a) at the fact that the Herald has to have a human interest story + photo on every front page or b) the actual human interest story + photo that the Herald has on a particular day? Today, a couple won tickets to the Rugby World Cup final in 2011. Of course, statistics suggest they'll probably be divorced by then, but never mind. In a lot of ways it's no different to your typical human interest story, and thus no more rageworthy than any other - except when it turns into an ad for Heineken:
"The tickets, a prize in a Heineken-sponsored competition, were presented to the pair at Wellington's Westpac Stadium yesterday. Heineken New Zealand managing director Brian Blake said the company was keen to get New Zealanders into the stadium for the final, and would provide more opportunities to score tickets in the remaining 905 days before the final."
Well I'm glad they're thinking of us. Just an unexpected side effect that they got themselves on the front page of the paper, then.


2) Check out this headline: "Workers growing older than their years - study". Intriguing. In tomorrow's news: "Workers growing taller than their height - study". So that's one stupid thing. I can't really be bothered going into the article - I have bigger fish to fry in today's paper (figuratively) - but basically, it says that people are unhealthy. Why they have to put it in terms of being older than your age and talk about "penalty years" I don't know. I suppose that if they didn't come out with something like that, and instead announced findings that most people were just fat and lazy, Southern Cross Healthcare wouldn't have paid tns Conversa tens of thousands of dollars.


3) Not on the front page, but I thought I would mention it: "George W. Bush said he would not criticise President Barack Obama because he 'deserves my silence'". Well that's nice. He goes on to say that "he planned to write a book about the 12 toughest decisions he made in office". Now, like with most George Bush comments, there are numerous rich veins of satire one might choose to exploit. I'm going to go with this: did anyone else read that sentence and imagine a twelve page, cardboard picture book with big numbers on each page and a pictures of a monkey, you know, hunting for WMDs?

I also had ideas about pretzels, Segways and Karl Rove.

Thursday, March 2009: Charity

If you've ever talked to a rich person, you'll know how they always say that they hate getting tax cuts. Why? Because they can never bring themselves to spend them, right? So John Key is encouraging people to think about giving them to 'charity' instead. Ok.

I have so much to say about this that I don't really know where to begin. Perhaps numbering my thoughts individually will help avoid an incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness tirade.

1) I have no problem, or at least no problem in principle, with tax cuts. I do have a problem with tax cuts favouring the wealthy - I think that supply-side economics is pretty discredited by now. And I certainly have a problem with giving rich people tax cuts in a recession. As Phil Goff points out, rich people spend less as a proportion of their income, and are able to save or invest the rest. If those investments go offshore then, good as it may be in the long term, it does nothing to stimulate the New Zealand economy in the short term, which surely is the point of economic stimulus. Because, after all, John Key is pushing these cuts as stimulus, even though I would chance a pretty heavy bet that they would have happened recession or not. So these cuts were a dodgy proposition in the first place. But that's old news.

2) The second issue here is the exhortation for people who can afford it - that is, almost everyone who happens to be in line for these cuts - to give their refunds to charity. On the surface, this seems noble - we all know that the City Mission or the Cancer Society or donkey shelters could use the money. But, of course, the money is just being redirected - tax money that was going to go towards providing social services is now going to (relatively) wealthy taxpayers, who will then decide whether or not they deign to give it to charity or, instead, spend it on diamond-studded golf tees and gold-plated boat shoes. But wait - there's more. Charities are great. Greenpeace saves whales; that's fantastic. The SPCA helps puppies; cute! The local church helps hasten the Second Coming and Armageddon; sacred! They're all charities. But none of them are (directly) going to provide the same services that will be lost because of lower tax income. Oh well, there's no bed for me at the local hospital because of tax cuts, but at least someone's charitable donation to the University means that the Vice-Chancellor now has a throne with a plasma TV on each arm. Say what you like about the efficiency and efficacy of government spending relative to that of private organisations - actually, don't, because most of it will probably be complete bollocks - but what money does reach charities is unlikely to end up in the places where it does the most good for the worst off.

3) But perhaps what alarms me most about this whole development is John Key's idea of New Zealand being more like America, where there is *ahem* a "culture of giving". Yes, that's right, America, the richest country in the world, where 20 per cent of children (and 40 per cent of black children) grow up in poverty, and with the largest gap between rich and poor in the world. Over there, charitable giving really plugs the gaps left by social services. Apparently, Americans give twice as much as New Zealanders to charity. There could be a few reasons for this.
  • Maybe Americans are much nicer people than us.
  • Perhaps they pay much lower taxes for social services?
  • God told them to.
  • Did the hundreds of homeless people outside their front door guilt trip them?
Or maybe, as John Armstrong points out, 'charitable giving' includes giving to any non-profit organisation including "universities ... economic think-tanks, medical research institutions and the like". So when I endow Harvard with $10m so they'll name a chair after me, that counts? Hey, why didn't you say this whole charity thing was so lucrative! Hey, Brian Tamaki - what's the going rate to be ordained a bishop these days? But that's not all: as Armstrong also points out, the US has massive tax breaks for these kind of donations; tax breaks which the government here is intending to emulate. Excellent. So there's less tax revenue because of the tax cuts, then people give some of the money to 'charity' and then, because of that, there is less tax revenue. Then there's the whole thing about how, in the US, the poorest 20% of the population actually give more (as a percentage of income) to charity than the wealthiest 20% - and that includes Bill Gates, so I'm pretty sure some rich people are actually embezzling money from charities and harvesting orphans' kidneys to make that statistic work.

4) I'm also reasonably confident that when John Key says that "60 per cent of the population donated in some way each year without knowing they could claim some of the amount back as a rebate," those 60 per cent of people are the ones who give $5 to the Salvation Army or the Foundation for the Blind, rather than the type of people who have five accountants to do their taxes. So how that is going to work as a further incentive, I don't know. Hey, and you know what else? I'm with Michael Cullen when he said that he was unsure why giving to charity meant not having to pay some of your taxes. If you want to give donkeys a home or protect owls or fund the Maxim Institute, good on you. But it's not clear why you no longer have to pay for police or hospitals or education. Yes yes, I know it's about incentivising behaviour, but I think that other ways of incentivising charitable giving might screw over the poor less. We could give a big gold star to the people who give the most, for example. Or, you know, a knighthood.

Anyway, sorry if that got a bit incoherent. I feel better now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wednesday, March 18: Got the "Your Views" blues

Everyone knows that a thousand monkeys hammering away at a thousand keyboards will eventually write Hamlet or the Da Vinci Code. But the other, less-reported (!) side of the story is that for every Hamlet or Da Vinci Code produced there will also be hundreds upon hundreds of "Your Views" comments. Hold on to your hats, people, as we take a whirlwind tour of what people have been shouting at each other over the internet in the past week or so.


Has daylight saving gone on too long?

"Lucy in the Sky (Auckland Central): I see little point to [sic] having an extra hour of daylight in the evening. It's [sic] main effect on me is that I use far more power in the morning than normal, as I have to run my morning lights for an hour longer, use more electricity to heat the house in the mornings with the fan oven on full just to keep the house warm until the sun comes up. And of course, having to wait an extra hour in the evening for it to go dark, which is the whole point of an evening, that it gets dark, as opposed to say, daytime."
1) You live in Auckland and in summer you need to turn your oven onto full to heat your house?

2) You heat your house with your oven??

3) I'm with you on the evening thing though. It's so annoying waiting around for it to get dark. I just sit there, rocking back and forth, shouting "Hurry up, damn you! Get to the bloody point!" at the sun.
"Droddles (Remuera): Hate it. The extra daylight hours wreaks havoc on my curtains, carpet and furniture fabrics."
Droddles. Droddles, Droddles, Droddles. You don't hate daylight saving. You hate summer.

Nodev8 (Bay Of Plenty): Far too long, alright for those who can lie in bed till 7.00 to avoid stumbling around in the dark then go cavorting in the early evening. Spare a thought for those required to prepare for and travel to work at 6AM. Never saw any particular value in daylight saving or having a life dictated by the state clock.

Yeah, Nodev8, stick it to the Man! I'm so sick of the Nanny State Clock telling me what the time is!


Do you support The Warehouse's move to charge for plastic bags?

Just one very long one here:

"Lesley (North Shore): No I do not support The Warehouse charging 10c for a plastic bag. Why don't they just change to the plastic bags that decompose? The Warehouse will be making extra money out of this supposedly eco-friendly initiative. Who are these people driving this ill-informed anti-plastic campaign?

Those who manufacturer the 'greenie' anti-plastic cloth bags are doing very well no doubt.I like my plastic bags. Very few plastic bags in my household go to waste because I never buy plastic bags.

Why are plastic disposable nappies not being targeted in the same way? They make up heaps more plastic rubbish in land fills. The Warehouse has been a leader in many things and some not so good. I remember clearly how The Warehouse wrecked the joy of Christmas when they decided to open Boxing Day with massive sales.

I had purchased a boogie board Christmas Eve. Boxing day it was half price. I was so brassed off I took it back - got a refund - and purchased it again at half price. Nanny State may have gone but there is another to take her place - The Warehouse and Retailers Association and now, after Nick Smith's comments(dare I say it)the new government that I voted in is showing a bit of nannyi"

I'm not sure who to blame for this disastrous initiative. Is it the money-grubbing Shylocks in charge of the Warehouse, laughing all the way to the bank with their massive plastic bag profits? Is it 'Big Paper' putting plastic down? Or is it the powerful recycling-industrial complex and its behind-the-scenes machinations? Seriously, this isn't the only idiot who thinks that Warehouse bags used to be free, but will now cost money. Where did the bags come from before, Lesley? Did they just appear magically at the checkout? Have you even heard of the concept of economics? But my favourite thing about this "view" is how Lesley veers quite rapidly off topic. Pretty soon the Warehouse is stealing Christmas, ruining Easter and molesting Bambi. But that's only the start; by the final paragraph he (surely it must be a he) is in full flow. He's not happy that he got a half-price boogie board - it is probably the fault of Nanny State. The cherry on top is the fact that Lesley was so furious that he could not finish the last sentence. In my mind, I like to picture Lesley mashing his face against the keyboard in rage and accidentally submitting his comment before he could properly finish. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.


Does New Zealand need an anti-terror squad?

"Concerned kiwi (Auckland Central): If we don't have one, at least give the impression that we do. Terrorists are targeting passive countries like ours to plot their next attack. Okay, there's no proof this is happening here nor are we the target but let's not encourage them and advertise our position."
That's amazing. Go on, read it again. This comment rewards repeat viewings. The only problem with Concerned kiwi's comment is that Osama bin Laden reads "Your Views"and now he's going to know that we are only pretending to have an anti-terror squad. Okay, there's no proof of that.

Kingi, however, begs to differ:

"Kingi (Auckland): New Zealand needs an anti terroist squad to be on standby 24/7 when called upon by the Police. The boy racer lynch mob is a prime example, where Police Officers are outnumbered and unarmed. Their lives are threathened, they are under assault and the public are at great risk.

NZ security is paramount for our country when global terroism is rife. NZ is easy pickings, a soft target, with border control and immigration slack. People movers are in and out, sitters are in wait, illegal immigrants are being sought in numbers. False passports are widespread with a growing number of asylum seekers and too many undesirables
allowed to enter the country. Foreignors increase each year changing cultural balance.

New Zealand have enemies, and friends that are not really friends. Sport venues are a place of terroism which is why this unit should be in place for the Rugby world Cup.

More emphasis should be placed on NZ national security and tighter restrictions with anything coming in and out of the country. The shores should be closely monitored and the anti terroist squad should be trained and prepared for anything should boats be a target."

It's worse than I had feared. Sitters are in wait. Illegal immigrants are being sought in numbers. We have friends that are not really friends - just like that dream I had as a child where my mum was paying my friends to hang out with me. Sports venues are a place for "terroism" - at least they are are when the All Blacks get beaten! Ho ho. This would be an excellent example of the widespread irrational paranoia, happily fostered by the media, about crime, immigration, terrorism and the "boy racer lynch mob", but it's just too charming. Look how Kingi spells terror "terro" every time! Awww.

Fortunately, Clare is here to settle the question once and for all:

Clare Swinney (Whangarei): The New Zealand people do not need an 'anti-terror' squad. The 7/7 bombings, Oklahoma City bombings, 9/11 attacks and many other terror events have been proven to be inside jobs used to justify the setting up of a police state, surveillance grid and invade countries for their oil. Even the BBC series 'The Power of Nightmares' revealed the War on Terror is a scam.

People need to ask themselves what the real reason for this squad is. Look into what the elite bankers' have planned for us under the "New World Order." It is tyrannical. Ask yourself: "Is the Government expecting resistance to what they plan to do and is this squad really to provide protection for the government?"

Ah, ok, it's been proven to be an inside job. Never mind. The bankers just want an anti-terror squad, presumably to protect them from getting lynched by the public on the way to cash their bonus cheques.


Wednesday, March 18: Scrutinisingtheherald

"MPs are not immune to secret scrutiny", shouts the Herald editorial today:
"When the Green MP Keith Locke complained recently that the Security Intelligence Service was keeping a file on him, many might have wondered what was wrong with that."
Really?
"In Parliament, he is a frequent critic of Western intelligence efforts and could be expected to attract more of the service's attention than most MPs."
Really?
Am I really blowing this thing way out proportion? Yes, as a commentator here said yesterday, Keith Locke was a bit of a nutter in his support for communist governments. But it's another thing to suggest that wacky fellow travellers are either a direct danger to the country or even some kind of fifth column intent on bringing down democracy. The writer of the editorial seems to think that it's just not a big issue: "the question is about nothing more sinister than keeping a record". Oh good, so having government agents tracking my movements and reporting on me is no different to the government having my birth certificate. That's a relief.
"One of the principles that distinguishes a liberal democracy from totalitarianism is the ability to ensure domestic spying agencies cannot become an arm of the ruling party."
Really? I would have thought that one of the principles that distinguishes a liberal democracy from totalitarianism is the idea that people should be free to dissent from the government, and even the system of government, as much as they like without having to worry about attracting the attention of government spies. Am I going insane here?

In other news, since I started writing this blog I have noticed a definite increase in the number of black helicopters flying overhead.

Wednesday, March 18: Other front page nonsense

1) From the 'why don't people respect the police anymore' file:

"Police officers are likely to face drug and alcohol tests to ensure they are not under the influence during "critical incidents" such as the shooting of Steven Wallace.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority's review of Mr Wallace's death in a confrontation with police in 2000, calls for mandatory testing after such incidents.

It says this would 'protect officers from false allegations that they were or may have been impaired by alcohol and/or drugs'."

OK... But it would also protect the public from officers who had been drinking or taking drugs, right?


2) Because you have to have one stupid story on the front page every day, the Herald steals a Daily Torygraph article about the fight to combat malaria. Well, that's pretty important - it certainly seems that, in terms of cost-benefit analysis, fighting malaria is about the best and easiest thing we can do to help people. It's a shame that more money is spent fighting male pattern baldness. But I digress. I'm no scientist or doctor, but I suspect that, if you asked me what was the most efficient, effective and practical way to stop malaria, I would not answer 'lasers'. Apparently, however, that is the answer from two charming gents who worked on the 'Star Wars' laser missile defence system in the 1980s. I suppose when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but this seems slightly ridiculous:

The laser works by detecting the audio frequency created by the beating of mosquito wings. A computer triggers the laser beam which burns the wings off the mosquito and kills it.
Well, let's compare this to my checklist for a successful malaria solution:

  • Cheap to make? Check
  • Reliable in a tropical environment? Check
  • Easily repairable by illiterate farmers should something go wrong? Check
  • No need for electricity so it can be used in rural areas? Check
Of course, maybe I've got this all wrong and it will actually be an orbital system, zapping mosquitoes from low geostationary orbits over Africa. Now that's progress.

Wednesday, March 18: Fun with statistics

An article on the Herald front page today discusses the alleged links between working nights and breast cancer, on which basis the Danish government has paid compensation to "40 women who developed breast cancer after working night shifts in state sector jobs:
"One report on which the IARC [International Agency for Research on Cancer] based its findings showed a 36 per cent greater risk of breast cancer for women who had worked night shifts for more than 30 years, compared with women who had never worked nights."
Professor Neil Pearce of Massey University says that the 36 per cent increase, while not trivial, is "not huge". But it's not clear that reporter Martin Johnson picked up on that message when he put 36% in big red letters in a special side box. People in general don't understand statistics, and you can bet that there are a considerable number of people who have read that and immediately thought that this statistic means:
  • 36 per cent of women who work nights will get breast cancer
  • if you work a single night shift, you will be 36 per cent more likely to get breast cancer
  • 36 per cent of women work night shifts
  • 36 per cent of night shifts will give you breast cancer
  • working night shifts will give 36 per cent of your breasts cancer
  • reading about night shifts will give you 36 cancers
But seriously now, folks. The reason that 36 per cent is "not huge" is that the base rate (the percentage of women who get breast cancer normally) is relatively low - although obviously still far too high. Not much multiplied by 1.36 is still not that much. Worth looking into, both by scientists and policy makers? Definitely. Worth putting in big red letters under a scary headline on the front page? Probably not.

And let's remember - this 36 per cent figure comes from a single study. And the contrast in criteria used by the original study and the Herald article (via a Massey University study - *ahem*) is informative: in the original report, 'night workers' were women who had worked night shifts for more than 30 years; in the Massey study quoted by the Herald and then extrapolated to find how many 'night workers' there are, it was anyone who had worked a night shift in the last four weeks. But that didn't stop the Herald putting (imagine big, red letters here) "50,000 women and 120,000 men work night shifts [in New Zealand]".

36 percent of 50,000 is 18,000. Oh. My. God...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009: Spying on MPs - bad; spying - good

Recently, Keith Locke - the long-time dissident, former (I assume) Maoist and now Green MP - requested his own surveillance file from the SIS. He was rather disturbed to discover not only that he had been watched and commented on since he was a child, but that the surveillance had continued for a time after he had been elected to parliament. John Key, along with other MPs, were right(eous)ly shocked by this discovery. Today the Herald reports that, following a report from the Gestapo-reminiscent "Inspector General of Intelligence and Security", Key has endorsed the recommendations that surveillance of sitting MPs be placed under much stricter guidelines. Which is all very well. Locke himself says that:
"MPs must be free to criticise the government of the day without being viewed as a security risk, as was the case with me."
Now here is what Keith Locke, John Key or the Herald - or, apparently, anyone that reporter Claire Trevett has talked to - does not say:
"New Zealanders must be free to criticise the government of the day without being viewed as a security risk, as was the case with me."
That's not totally fair - Locke is reported as calling for an inquiry into why so many files are kept on "legitimate dissenters" - oh yes, Trevett was sure to put that in scare quotes. Am I the only crazy person who things that it was scary that Locke was watched from childhood for being a dissident? It's not like this is totally new - it was only recently that the police were exposed for infiltrating such radical revolutionary groups as Greenpeace. Obviously I'm not claiming that no one ought to be monitored at all, but it seems like the way things are working is out of wack with any concept of proportionality or probable cause. Was Keith Locke or Greenpeace ever likely to try and violently overthrow the government or, I don't know, launch a terrorist attack? It seems pretty implausible. Quite why it should matter in a democracy that Locke became part of the structure of government is beyond me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009: Great news

According to the Herald this morning:
Television New Zealand is cutting a swathe through its daytime programming and axing 90 staff as it fights to meet the Government's tough profit demands.
As a result, 17 newsroom staff - including 11 journalists - are being sacked. Now, some of them probably deserve it, but it is a disturbing trend. It's not like I would have thought that the problems with TV news were down to a surfeit of journalists. But the most disturbing aspect of the story is this:
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that TVNZ had told the Government the job losses reflected changes in the industry and speeded up changes that were already planned for later on.
Ignore for now the atrocious use of the 'word' "speeded" for now - we can probably blame that on our eloquent Prime Minister. The big worry ought to be that loss of journalists - as opposed to, say, Susan Wood - is the way the industry is going. Of course, this banal to some degree; I suspect that no reflective person relies on TV news for actual information about what is happening in the world. But I do think it is a problem that our PM (as well as, evidently, the TVNZ board) thinks that our state broadcaster has no role other than to follow industry trends. If you're not going to be any better than commercial broadcasters, then why bother with a state broadcaster at all??

Unless Labour are right, of course, and John Key is setting up TVNZ for sale. Honestly, I'm almost past caring. I suspect that replacing the rubbish human interest stories that constitute One News with more weather and celebrity ballroom dancing wouldn't make a lot of difference.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009: Bits and bobs

1) It's funny when you make an ironic joke, and then you find out that someone else actually thinks it. Surveying the Indian-dominated crowd at the cricket at Eden Park on Saturday, I grumpily remarked to my companions that all these Indians were coming to my country and stealing all my cricket support, despite the fact that we had all decamped to Northland for the weekend rather than attend the match ourselves. You know, if they love India so much, why don't they go back there? It looked pretty good in that Slumdog Millionaire movie. And then, on the letters page today:

"It is surprising that so many immigrants give vocal and visible support to teams from their countries of origin, rather than New Zealand. Surely having made the decision to come here, they should support this country passionately."
Patrick Rossiter, Lynfield

'Nuff said.

2) While I suppose it is good and humbling to be reminded that there are as many stupid people on the left as there are on the right, it can also be a bit depressing - especially when you figure that, for a lot of people, "we" are all lumped together as commie scum. Gary Saoirse, of Kingsland, is "delighted" that free trade talks with the US have been delayed, apparently because it is "the same corrupt market system" as that which has lead to all the "starvation, mass unemployment and ecological armageddon" we have been noticing recently - you may have seen the Four Horsemen riding through the sky last week. Quite how Gary thinks that a free trade scheme between America and New Zealand, two wealthy countries, is going to cause (or be otherwise complicit in) any starvation is beyond me. Without wanting to perpetuate a mainstream media stereotype of the anti-globalisation left, perhaps throwing a brick through a Starbucks window will ease his frustration.

3) Not from the Herald, but it was amusing to watch a rather inappropriate award after the cricket on Saturday night; 'former' alcoholic Jesse Ryder - a man who has been dropped more than once for his heavy drinking - was named man of the match, and handed not only a large novelty cheque, but also a bottle of bubbly. It's like giving Charlie Sheen an Emmy and, as an added bonus, a hooker.

Monday, March 16, 2009: Republican traitors

Garth George's rant on Thursday in favour of the reinstatement of titular honours, like most of his rants, managed to rope in some collateral targets. When, last year, he denounced the alleged rise in violence against children, he took out people who were pro-choice and liberals in general. When he bitched last week about Labour stealing all our honours, it was 'republicans' and anti-monarchists who took a hit. Fortunately, just as the pro-death abortionists hit back last time, the chairman of the 'Republican Movement', Lewis Holden, has written in to the Herald to fight back today let him have it, Lewis!

Except he doesn't. I know that, so far, I seem to be rather more radically opposed to titles, and the honours system in general, than most people. I just don't really see the point. But Mr Holden is quite happy to have New Zealand's own titles and honour system. He even claims that the republican movement is not even anti-royalty; well, I am - a bigger bunch of inbred racists, snobs and wankers I have never seen - so what movement should I join? Does Mr Holden really seek to defeat Garth George in single written combat by being nice? He's going to get chewed up and spat out alive.

But there's another question I want answered: why does everyone just assume we need a head of state? Am I that stupid that I can't see the reason? I am sick of pro-status quo people arguing that we would just be swapping a queen for a president. Why? My friend, a law student, said that if there were no head of state, they would have to reword a bunch of laws. My reply was: you're a law student - what the hell are you complaining about? Anyway, if anyone can answer my deep existential questions, please do.

Monday, March 16, 2009: Train explosion

I love trains. I have ridden in luxury in Morocco on spotless carriages, empty because no one can afford to catch the train; instead, people hurtle down dodgy roads at 140 km/h in a 1970s Mercedes packed with seven people. I have experienced the seductive TGV, which is less like catching a noisy, shaking train and more like going into a room, sitting down, and getting out in another part of the country a few hours later. Unfortunately, I have also experienced Auckland trains; proceeding from downtown to Newmarket at what might charitably be described as a walking pace, I felt less than wrapped up in the mystique of the Orient Express or the Trans-Siberian. On the surface, this might be a good argument for pouring more government money into Auckland's train network - it could certainly use some investment. I'm not so sure that a city like Auckland is ever going to catch on to train, honestly - at least not with the right incentives.

Which brings me to my actual point. Today's Herald leads with good tidings - the government has indicated that they (under the guise of Kiwirail) may be prepared to purchase the proposed electric trains to expand Auckland's network; previously, the $1bn project was to have been partly funded by a regional tax on petrol and diesel. Good news, says the Herald, because now we don't have to pay - the government will. With taxes. That we pay. Auckland must supply, what, a third of taxes? (I can't be bothered looking it up; it's not really that important.) So we do pay for that bit. But now our trains, which we won't catch anyway, are going to be (even further) subsidised by people from Gore and Gisborne and Greymouth. Bully for us, I suppose.

But the other problem is about incentives. A further tax on petrol, especially if people knew it was being spent on trains, would presumably have encouraged people to use the trains, creating a virtuous circle that might, just might, end up with rail being able to exist without the kind of massive subsidies that we are talking about. But then it could be worse - we could have to pay for the trains and live in Gore.