Thursday, April 30, 2009

Surveywatch: Boy Racer Hysteria Edition

There are quite a few interesting questions raised by the Herald reporting on a survey commissioned by the National Foundation for the Deaf.
The foundation commissioned the survey on what noises New Zealanders find most annoying and could be making them physically or mentally ill, in the lead-up to yesterday's inaugural Noise Awareness Day.

Persistent noise has been linked with increased stress levels, headaches, aggressive behaviour, loss of sleep and even heart disease and high blood pressure, the foundation said.
Quite what the link is between 'annoying' and potentially illness-causing is left unclear. What's not unclear is the number one cause of annoying noise.

Boy-racers' exhausts were ranked as the number-one annoying noise in New Zealand, followed closely by dogs barking and car or house alarms.

Snoring, children crying, "body noises" such as chewing or whistling, and other people's mobile phones ringing also ranked in the top 10.

Also in the top 10: immigrants, 'PC gone mad' and the grinding of the gears of Nanny State. Honestly, I would be surprised if more than, say, 20 per cent of New Zealanders heard 'boy racers' on anything like a persistent basis - but then it's hard for me to know, coming from my secret underground news-bunker. I would have thought that, say, 'traffic' would be a more persistent problem. But then I suppose 100% of NZers who turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper can read about how 'boy racers' are more annoying and persistent than Hitler. Also, what kind of grinch finds whistling persistently annoying?
The foundation's executive manager, Marianne Schumacher, said the government should put in place controls to protect citizens from the adverse health effects resulting from long-term noise exposure.
Oh yeah, let's immediately bring in a law to stop whistling - in fact, let's just immediately outlaw "body noises" of any kind. God damn Nanny State telling me what to hear...


Headline from Jarrod Booker's court report: "David Bain said he could be the killer - uncle".

Actual quotes:

"At one stage he said: 'If it was my father, I can never forgive him,"' Mr Boyd [the uncle] said. "I asked him what he meant by 'if'. And he said, well, it was either his father, him, or someone from outside the house.

"And I said to him: 'Well, we know it really wasn't anyone from outside the house, don't we?' And he said yes."

Well I'm not sure how anyone else interprets what he said, but it sounds to me like he thought it was his father. He said it 'could be him' in the sense that it 'could have been me' who nibbled holes in food packets and left tiny faeces in my girlfriend's pantry - but it was probably a mouse.

No mentions of blood for Bainwatch Bloodwatch today, but the mention of a "black baby" more than makes up for it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Zealand's Next Top Blogger

This is just an administrative post, so if you think that administrative issues aren't as important as swine flu then feel free to proceed directly to A couple of criticisms have been made recently in comments that I thought I should address in the hope that I could get "Your Views" on the topics.

1) There has been some criticism that I have been putting too much emphasis on taking the (deserved) piss out of semi-literate racists on "Your Views". Certainly, when I started this blog my intention was to put forward a serious but devastatingly hilarious critique of journalistic and editorial standards at New Zealand's largest daily newspaper. I think that, say, my deconstruction of today's editorial met that standard. Nonetheless, it is hard to stay away from the car wreck that is YV, especially when my piece on the Eskimo lolly controversy quickly became the most popular thing I have ever written. I suppose that different people want different things, so a mix of the two, erm, approaches might be the best way forward. However, if the occasional focus on YV threatens the gravity of the more intellectual content on EtH then that might be a problem.

2) The complaint was made in the comments today, albeit more in reply to Gareth's comment than my piece, that (some of) my criticisms are pretty naive. That is, criticising a private media organisation for trying to sell papers (via, say, sensationalised coverage of issues) is like criticising a fish for swimming, or a YVer for drooling. It's certainly an odd criticism if you are just after an explanation of why the current business model of newspapers pushes them to act more and more tabloidy, or more like television 'news'. But I already know that - as, I suspect, do most people who visit the blog (apart from the guy who keeps googling 'young gay wankers'). My point is, and has always been, that I don't care about the Herald's bottom line unless it is providing a good service - that is, serious and worthy journalism. If they don't, and when they don't, they don't deserve a free ride just because they are trying to make money, any more than a restaurant with crap service deserves your patronage just because they are trying to save on wages. Of course, it's worse with newspapers - a rubbish curry isn't going to lead to a rubbish government. Probably.

Anyway, hopefully these 'replies' seem reasonable. Flame on!

Still got a wee swine cough, thanks for asking

The Herald editorial today is quite interestingly self-aware. Discussing accusations by their own readers - I'm not mentioned by name but they obviously have EtH in the forefront of their minds - that the massive media coverage amounts to scaremongering, they admit that it is a reasonable question:
The New Zealand Herald does not speak for any media but itself. We take care to use terms that accurately represent the degree of risk that public health professionals assess. Words such as "probable", "suspected", "potential" are vital qualifiers to all cases of interest in New Zealand. Even so, comprehensive coverage of the threat, running to several pages of the paper over consecutive days, can make the emergency appear worse than it yet may be.
Their first defence, hinted at in the quote above, is that, while there was a lot of coverage, it wasn't sensationalised; rather, it was a responsible, careful approach to an issue of considerable gravity. Their second defence is in the next paragraph:

But if that is scaremongering, it is singularly ineffective. There is no discernible panic in the community over this potential "pandemic", as the WHO calls these outbreaks. Similarly, there was no panic over Sars, bird flu or the others; just a sensible warning about travel in infected regions and precautions such as stocking antidote medicines as soon as they could be developed.

Far from panic, the popular response to these scares may be becoming too complacent. The WHO, public health agencies and the media may be accused of crying "wolf" so often that one day preventable deaths occur because precautions are ignored. But that seems unlikely. When health authorities ring these alarms they have succeeded in ensuring that quarantine measures are taken and adequate stocks of medicine and other needs are quickly provided. That might not happen if announcements of outbreaks of new and deadly diseases were reported as briefly and quietly as critics seem to think they deserve.

In other words, there needs to be more reporting on these issues because people do not take these outbreaks seriously enough. Whether this argument can be easily generalised - there needs to be so much reporting on, I don't know, celebrity ballroom dancing, because we don't take it seriously enough - is not covered in this editorial. But it probably doesn't surprise you to discover that I think both arguments are complete bollocks.

Regarding sensationalism - where do I start? I've already talked about the scary graphics, not to mention the sheer volume of coverage. I particularly wanted to mention two articles on the 'Flu Alert' page of yesterday's paper. The first, "Shoppers steer clear of pork products", by Lincoln Tan, is basically a big fat lie:
Health experts may have confirmed that swine flu viruses cannot be transmitted by eating pork or pork products, but some Asian supermarket shoppers [wait, is that shoppers at Asian supermarkets or Asians who shop at supermarkets?] remain concerned that Chinese pork luncheon meat sold here could still spread the virus.
Oh man, you would have to be quite stupid to think that eating Chinese pork would give you a Mexican flu ("the virus"). Oh, hang on:

Major Chinese meat processor China Yurun Food Group last week recalled and destroyed 100 boxes of luncheon meat, made from unspecified minced meat from a Chinese slaughterhouse, China's National Business Daily reported.

The meat was found to be contaminated with clenbuterol, a drug given to people to treat asthma and also commonly used to cut body fat, and the recall was unrelated to swine flu.

Oh, so this story actually has nothing to do with swine flu at all. Be honest, Lincoln: this was just a story you were writing anyway, and then swine flu 'happened'. But at least you're not spreading hysteria, right?:
Grocery shopper Casey Scott said she knew the swine flu outbreak did not originate from China, but she was still being cautious and avoiding pork products from the country.

"Better to be safe than sorry," Mrs Scott said.
So, what I am guessing happened here is that Mr Tan went to a supermarket, walked to the meat aisle and asked people about pork and swine flu. Sweet - I would like to ask all my readers not to think of an orange right now. What a ridiculous 'article'.

As for the other article, "Mexican student fears 'freak' reaction when he returns to NZ", here's how I envision its genesis:
Reporter Vaimoana Tapaleao: Oh man, oh man, crap. I need to write a swine flu article and the deadline is an hour away. What the hell am I going to write about?

Person at next desk (let's call them Garth): Well, I have a Mexican student who is going to be boarding with me. You could talk to them...

Vaimoana: Hey, swine flu is from Mexico! Cha-ching!
I wouldn't read the article if I were you. Just skimming it made me feel like I had contracted swine flu.

But I feel like the more serious issue is the editorial's second claim, that massive coverage is justified because there is too little public concern, as there was for SARS, West Nile virus, et cetera et cetera ad nauseam. Maybe there is little public concern because there is very little that most people can actually do about it. But maybe, just maybe, the same "crying 'wolf'" effect that the editorial frets about is caused by the massive coverage of these events when nothing ever comes of them. One can only stand so many reminders of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic every time there's an outbreak of anything. Whoever wrote this editorial was either being rather foolish or rather disingenuous.

Also, a Herald graphic made it look like a woman had sex with a chicken and gave birth to a pig.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine fever

Watching Sunrise this morning in an attempt to gather the necessary motivation to throw myself off a tall building, I was delighted to see one person's response to the swine flu epidemic. Worried by the hysteria, and suffering from flu-like symptoms, she had decided that the best course of action was to email Sunrise to say that she was feeling unwell. Quite what she expected Oliver Driver and Generic Blonde TV Presenter Woman #43 to do about it I am unsure, but it served as a neat metaphor - don't ask me for details - for the coverage of the 'epidemic' in the media.

As 'gazzaj' pointed out yesterday in this very blog, there has been unexpected comic potential in the swine flu 'ticker' on the Herald website. It would essentially follow this logic:
  • Time t - Uh oh, swine flu.
  • Time t+1 - Person x may have swine flu.
  • Time t+2 - Person x doesn't have swine flu.
With the constant stream of news about people with sniffles, the whole thing is certainly manna from heaven for the few people still with jobs in newsrooms. I'm just a little concerned about the meaning of the whole thing. The large Herald graphic on the front page of today's paper doesn't really clear things up. In Canterbury, seven people have apparently been tested with flu symptoms. Right. And how many people in Canterbury would normally show flu symptoms in April? I know they're a hardy breed down south; I just hope that this scare doesn't affect the major local industries - prostitution and racism. Christchurch-baiting aside, I'm a bit unclear in general as to quite what the terminology being used in the media means. The latest Herald update online - there's no point linking to it; seeing as swine flu is the only thing happening in the world at the moment, just go to - is headlined "56 suspected cases of swine flu in New Zealand". Speaking of the 56, here's Health Minister and longtime EtH favourite Tony Ryall:

"These are people who have been in Mexico or the United States in the last two weeks. They are people who may or may not have influenza A."

They may or may not have influenza A - check. But what is the relationship between influenza A and swine flu?
Swine flu - a strain of influenza A - is suspected of causing at least 149 deaths in Mexico and infecting nearly 2000.
So, in other words, these 56 "suspected cases" are people who may or may not have an infection that may or may not be swine flu. In other news, I may or may not have a lottery ticket that may or may not win me a million dollars. I may or may not get an email from the Herald that may or may not offer me the job of my dreams.

Meanwhile, in a heart-wrenching, That's Life-worthy true-life story on the front page, a family is "under attack" - unfortunately not literally - after a young man (aka youth) played football on the weekend after arriving back from Mexico, thus spreading the deadly contagion in a move that may end the world as we know it:

"We feel responsible that we have exposed people and we are also being somewhat attacked for it," the teen's mother, who asked not to be named, told the Herald yesterday.

"We are all running a bit scared because now the media are all after us."

The teenager has also received text messages attacking him.

Uh oh, text bullying.

Mr Corporaal [the boy's coach] said that because the boy reported that his doctor had cleared him to play, he put him on. He played three-quarters of the match and scored a goal.

So it was all worth it in the end.

"The exposure has not come from just this family. I know another family said they went down to the supermarket. A child from another family has gone back to university."

The woman said her son arrived home with a cough - "a small, upper respiratory infection. It's getting better."

So this news article on the front page of New Zealand's largest circulation daily newspaper could have been headlined: "Boy coughs, gets better".

I'm not, of course, complaining about the actions taken by public health authorities - it seems clear that they should treat it with a worst case scenario in mind. The media spreading hysteria with opportunistic reporting? Not so much. It seems to me that pretty much everyone's reaction to this news should be... nothing at all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Like voting, but cheaper

Why bother having a byelection in Mt Albert when we can use the internet instead? No, I'm not referring to some new-fangled 'online' electoral system. I'm talking about "Your Views":
"Who should be the new MP for Mt Albert?"
It's not looking good for the Labour party at the moment, with National candidate Melissa Lee the early frontrunner. It's hard to argue with the experts:

Davedog (Papakura): Melissa Lee. Labour doesn't deserve to hold the seat as their beloved leader spat the dummy after getting thrashed in the election and ran off to try and impose communism on the rest of the world through the corrupt mess called the UN. This selfish career change will cost the taxpayer a lot of money, but she never cared about that did she?

Come on, people. Make your vote - sorry, post - count. If you don't sign up to "Your Views" and post a comment, the communists have already won.

Oh, the glamour

I suppose it's quite a positive, progressive sign that coverage of beauty pageants has been relegated to the 'In Brief' column. But I hardly expected things to go downhill so fast:

Aucklander Katie Taylor, 22, will represent New Zealand at the Miss Universe competition in August in the Bahamas.

She was selected from 15 competitors at the Miss Universe New Zealand contest in Levin on Saturday.

Levin local Priyani Puketapu, 18, was the first runner-up.

"...the Miss Universe New Zealand contest in Levin." That gives me a warm glow inside.


Oh, ok, so here's an awesome article: "How MySpacers would rule the world". There is no byline, which I attribute to the fact that whoever wrote it has since died of shame.

Honestly, who thought this was a good idea. It's a survey. Not even a good, Massey University survey. It doesn't even meet the strict social-scientific requirements of a Herald poll. It's 400 people on MySpace. They decided that if Barack Obama couldn't be their president, it should be Robin Hood.
Comedy films would be the most watched while the nation would be known for its fast food and Italian cuisine. The favourite holiday destination for the MySpace nation would be Australia.
Honestly. I'm quite tired today; I think I may restrict myself to just linking to stupid stuff. Fortunately, there's no shortage of that.

Cry me a river

"Rich List billions burned on recession bonfire" says the Herald today. I've come down with a serious case of swine tall poppy syndrome, so I think it's quite good news. Unfortunately it seems that the bonfire is only metaphorical.
The Rich List's biggest loser, Lakshmi Mittal, lost $43 billion from the collapse of the world steel market this year. However, with a fortune worth $27 billion, he remains the richest person in Britain.
So he'll probably be fine. Anyway, this would be just a class war post if I didn't point out some poor journalism. So...
The number of people on the list has fallen from 75 to 43. Between them, people ranked in the top 100 lost $236 billion.
The number of people in the top 100 fell from 75 to 43? What does that even mean.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Russians are coming!

Remember that time New Zealand almost got invaded? Oh, that's right, it never happened.

Nonetheless, the Herald editorial board is banging the war drums:
It has been 10 years since a major inquiry took a broad look at the Defence Force. During that time, much has changed. No longer does this region enjoy the "benign strategic environment" that underpinned the Clark Government's transformation of the armed forces into peacekeepers. Indeed, the level of unrest in the Asia-Pacific area calls into question the very basis of that policy. As such, a white paper review of the Defence Force is extremely timely.
Oh right. The level of unrest in the Asia-Pacific area. Well, there was the Fijian coup, I guess. Umm. Separatism in Indonesia, I suppose that might be considered Asia-Pacific. Ongoing peacekeeping operations in East Timor, but then peacekeeping operations generally need peacekeepers. Insurgency in Pakistan? Does that count? It's in Asia, so does that mean it's 'Asia-Pacific'? Anyway, the author of the editorial doesn't give any examples of how the region has suddenly become so unstable - but he (military jingoism is usually the preserve of males) is more than happy for this alleged instability to radically alter the way we defend New Zealand.

Wayne Mapp's defence review, despite its 'timeliness', leaves quite a lot to be desired:
Unfortunately, also, the Defence Minister has placed constraints on the review's authors. Excluded from examination, says Wayne Mapp, will be the reconstruction of the Air Force's strike wing. The review will also labour under the knowledge that there is unlikely to be a "significant increase" in the inadequate 1 per cent of gross domestic product that New Zealand has spent on defence over the past 15 years.
So, Editor, which of these regional conflicts would be aided by New Zealand having a combat air force? Perhaps our jets could have strafed the Fijian Parliament, assuming they could have somehow flown there. If the wild fantasies of redneck survivalists come true and, I dunno, China invades, I suspect that a squadron of Skyhawks isn't going to have a great deal of impact on the outcome. The myth used to be passed around that, should we find ourselves in a sticky situation, our allies would only help us if we helped ourselves - that is, if we funded a viable combat force, however inefficient. Surely - and I admit I'm no expert - we could better ensure the intervention of friends when Chinese destroyers turn up in the Waitemata Harbour by helping with peacekeeping and other multilateral initiatives, not to mention just being a 'nice guy' on the world stage. As for raising the 'inadequate' (I'm sorry, when did it prove to be inadequate?) 1 per cent of gross domestic product, where would you like the money to come from? Sorry Herald, you can't just say 'cut spending on Nanny State', that's not an actual thing.

Christ, it just goes on.
Those restrictions suggest a continuation of the miserly approach that has undermined this country's defence preparedness in that period. Add to this ill-considered purchases, such as the Army's 105 light armoured vehicles (LAVs), and it is little wonder Defence Force morale is low.
That's funny - when I was (briefly) doing Army training, every soldier and officer I talked to had a massive hard-on for the LAVs. But it doesn't matter; the problem is that defense policy probably shouldn't be determined by trying to please soldiers. In the same way, you can increase the defence budget as much as you like, and you still won't be able to fulfill all your strategic goals - funnily enough, strategic goals seem to increase the more tools you have. The US spends more on 'defence' than the next 10+ countries combined, and they are still massively 'under-resourced'.

But this is all a side issue. The main problem with the editorial is the bizarre claim, mentioned above, that the Pacific region is in danger of falling into anarchy:
The Clark Government was able to emasculate much of the Defence Force because most people bought into the idea that this was a uniquely stable region. That has been found to be a hopelessly optimistic assessment.
In 1885 and after, hysteria over alleged, but false, Russian invasion plans led to the construction and maintenance of the gun complex at North Head. In 2009, the Herald is hoping that hysteria over regional breakdown and - whisper it - China or, more laughably, Indonesia's evil intentions can raise public concern to the point where we can pay for more white elephants.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Party on, Garth

An extra-special edition of 'Party on, Garth' today, as Wayne's World was actually on TV last night.

One would have thought that if there were one topic that would avoid controversy, it would be the annual celebrations/commemorations at Gallipoli. I mean, what could be less controversial than going to a foreign country, visiting the point where we attempted to invade that country during Europe's last great dynastic war, costing the lives of considerably more Turks than 'Allies', and acting like we own the place? Anyway, Garth George takes on this challenge with gusto.

His nominal target is Robin Klitscher, the president of the RSA. Mr Klitscher has apparently warned young New Zealanders to steer clear of Gallipoli around Anzac Day, lest their rowdy behaviour detract from the gravity of the commemorations.

"Bullshit," says Garth:
On the contrary, when I attended the 90th anniversary observances at Anzac Cove and Chunuk Bair in 2005 I found their reception invariably welcoming and friendly.

The Turkish authorities are highly organised and well-practised at catering for the invasion that comes at this time every year and, if some of their internal security troops and highway police are a tad abrupt, rude and autocratic, they are no different from authorities anywhere.
More or less prepared than they were for the invasion in 1915, Garth?

Of course, Mr Klitscher isn't the real target of Garth's ire. At the end of the piece, he gives the game away:
It was comforting to see them there, free of schoolteachers and university pedants, for they were unable to avoid a stern and valid on-the-spot lesson in their nation's fundamental history.

[...] They want to connect with their nation's history, some with their family history too. They are not taken in by the milk-sop pacifism preached in their schoolrooms and lecture halls, or by the politically correct gaps in the laundered history they have been taught.
As a university pedant myself, I am highly offended. I have personally taught many an impressionable first-year to spit on veterans and burp during the national anthem. It shames me to see all my good work going to waste when these youths descend on Gallipoli. I'm a bit confused about the "politically correct gaps in the laundered history," however. Does this mean there are gaps where the history ought to have been laundered, like when the bourgeois hausfrau uses 'other leading brands' in a washing powder commercial? Or has the laundering just removed bits of the history? I recommend going back to the good old days of being taught about the good ol' tommies fighting tooth and nail against the huns, and how the Maori arrived in New Zealand to kill off the peace-loving Moriori, when they should have known that it was Queen Victoria's land in the first place.

God damned Nanny historical research, telling me I'm an old bigot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Inuit Pie

I've mentioned before that I love stories where both sides of an argument are ridiculous. One of the lead stories on last night's TV news, appearing merely on page A2 of the Herald today, is the harrowing tale of Canadian tourist Seeka Parsons who was shocked to discover Eskimo lollies on sale in New Zealand:
The word Eskimo was unacceptable in her country and carried with it negative racial connotations, she told the Taranaki Daily News.

The correct term was Inuit, Ms Parsons said. "I was taken aback. When I was a little girl white kids in the community used to tease me about it in a bad way. It's just not the correct term," she said.

She also believed the shape of the lolly was an unfair stereotype of her people.

Oh dear. There's a point here, obviously - we probably wouldn't think that some liquorice shapes called 'Gollolliewogs' were particularly appropriate. Or, I don't know, 'Jewbes', chewy, expensive Semitic shapes marketed by Hitler Sweets Ltd. So why does it seem to me like Ms Parson's complaint is a bit frivolous? I don't even really like the lollies. Perhaps because New Zealanders really know nothing about the inhabitants of the Arctic region and their culture, they're not like real people who get offended by things. Or perhaps 'Eskimo' just really isn't up there with World's Worst Insults.

For such a stupid issue, a lot of the debate seems quite wrong-headed.

But Cadbury Australia and New Zealand communications manager Daniel Ellis said Cadbury/Pascall did not intend to rename or remove the product.

"Pascall Eskimos are an iconic New Zealand lolly and have been enjoyed by millions of New Zealanders since they first hit shop shelves way back in 1955," he said.

"They continue to be incredibly popular today. Last year, we produced almost 19 million individual Eskimos."

Because that means they're not racist, right? Sigh.

Anyway, guess where this 'debate' ended up. It actually produced one of the most enlightening and informative YV debates of recent times:

Neevey (Onehunga): yeah change it to inuits

Good idea, that'll fix everything.
Tracey Cooper (Albany): So, do we now have supermodels who are going to be mortally offended by lollipops - or perhaps we may have some lazy islanders who could be upset by say coconut rough or pineapple lumps [...]
Oops - your fly's undone and your racism is showing.

stuart allen (United Kingdom): [...] I'm sure that someone, somewhere in the world is going to be offended by something else in the world. As a hetrosexual should I be offended that in NZ my icecream is given to me on a Gaytime cone? Hell no! I love them.

Yeah, that's right, Stuart. You love the cone.

karen hawxhurst (United States of America): [...] Amazing what people find the need to get upset about in this day and age. Surely there are far more pressing matters up for discussion! And how on earth does naming a lolly or an ice-cream for that matter become racist? Again, amazing!

How does it become racist? It's easy. Ching Chong Chinaman icecream. Lazy Gummi Dole-bludging Maoris. Now you try.

JD (Opawa): How dare a visitor to this country be so insensitive to OUR culture.

Eskimo - Eskimo - ESKIMO!

We pride ourselves at offending everyone where I come from.

Well remind me not to visit Opawa any time soon.

Sasha Siale (Queensland): Oh dear,here goes another issue risen which will not stop the crime in the worlds! Eskimoes are one of my favourite childhood lollies must I say.
I feel insulted just for being told to name it something else. Not very good!

Sasha's criteria for whether or not an issue is worth discussing: Will it stop the crime in the worlds? If not, she'll be offended that you wasted her valuable crime-solving time by bringing it up.
Block of Cheese (Auckland): Hmmmmm this is an interesting one. It doesn't really bother me because I don't eat them. [...]
Thank you for your valuable contribution, 'Block of Cheese'. I don't know you, so it doesn't bother me if a husky Uzbek attaches electrodes to your testicles and administers a hearty shock.
Tracey Thomson (Remuera): I would probably be offended if I went to Canadia and found Pakeha lollies for sale. Level of offence would depend on the shape of the lollies.
I know that I would be very offended if I went to Canadia and the Pakeha lollies were shaped anything like Tracey Thomson.
pippynz (Morningside, Auckland): If this is the only thing she takes back from NZ, then I feel sorry for the little fluffy-bonneted girl. [...]
Not only are New Zealanders not racist, we're not condescending either.

Luigi (Auckland): Here we go again. the "PC" brigade is now on the band wagon because one Canadian tourist has decided that there is an offensive "link" between an Eskimo lolly and her Inuit roots. [...]
This is PC gone mad again and should be treated accordingly. I had hoped that this PC c**p was dumped by the majority of New Zealanders (Kiwis) at the last election. Clearly not by all.

Luigi, the dirty wog who should be fixing my plumbing, is sick of the PC brigade. You know, the PC brigade who are demanding that Pascall's change the name of the lollies? And when I say 'brigade', I mean 'one tourist'.

Bruce f (Te Kuiti): I find the terms English toffee, Scottish shortbread, Welsh rarebit, Irish cream, Kiwifruit, Australian Coon cheese, etc., all very offensive! Come off it you P.C. clowns. Wait until my mate Eskimo Joe hears about this.

He's right. I lived in Glasgow for quite a while, and if you call a Scottish guy in the street Scottish, he will stab you in the mouth.
WelshJerry (Waiheke Island): I am an Inuit from Nunuvthat originally, now living in your beautiful town of Huntley. When I first came here I was shocked to see Eskimo sweets on the shelves, but I was persuaded to try one, and found them so delicious that I was able to put aside my concerns that they carried racist overtones. I now enjoy a packet of Eskimos every week, and my children are addicted to them.
I have my suspicions that this poster may not be all that he seems:
  • He misspells Nunavut.
  • His name is clearly Welshjerry, not Inuitjerry.
  • He claims to live both in Huntly and on Waiheke.
  • He refers to Huntly as 'beautiful'.
As such, I reject his hypothesis that the lollies are too delicious to be racist.

I could go on - this is without doubt the most hilarious YV I have ever read. I suspect that, because I don't really care about the issue, I can better recognise the innate idiocy of the comments. So much joy from such a stupid story - I'm far too amused to even get angry at why the Herald reported this and then courted its redneck demographic by putting it on "Your Views". To finish up, here is celebrity actor Roger Moore, now ensconced in charming Te Atatu, sharing his two incomprehensible cents:

Roger Moore (Te Atatu South): All i can say if that is all people have to moan about in todays world they must lead a pretty boring life.
It is a lolly for petes sake that has been around for years next thing you will have boeing complaining that jet planes are offensive get a life

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Readers in high places

"Burn 'em as fuel - group's plan for plastic bags" is the headline to today's story on plastic bags, firmly entrenched at the top of the front page. Following up on yesterday's article, we discover that the Packaging Council have declared that they want to burn plastic rather than have it end up on landfills. Maybe it's just me, but if someone asked me what the eco-friendly approach to dealing with plastic rubbish was, I wouldn't answer 'just burn it'. Of course, that is why we have experts. Quite who the Packaging Council have slept with to get all this media coverage I don't know, but what is particularly interesting to me, and therefore to you, are the differences between today's article and yesterday's, both by Eloise Gibson.

You may have read my post yesterday about the mysterious workings of the shadowy Packaging Council, and Eloise Gibson's failed attempt to let anyone know who or what they were. Here were some points that I made about the article:
  • The Packaging Council were mentioned with no introduction.
  • They were discussed in the context of deals with the Warehouse, Progressive Enterprises et al. without mentioning that they were made up of those very companies.
  • The pronouncements were not cited as from a spokesperson, but rather from the Council itself.
In today's article, however:
  • The PC are described, rather interestingly - and not to say rather euphemistically - in the first paragraph as a 'packaging body'. Eloise goes on to say:
    The Packaging Council, which describes itself as "the industry's voice on policies affecting packaging and packaging waste", wants to reduce the environmental effect of packaging by promoting alternatives.
    Maybe they do, maybe they don't. Maybe, like any good industry body or professional group, they just want to look like they're doing something proactive so as to avoid outside regulation but at least she has taken my lead and said something about who or what the PC are. What's more: funnily enough, the reporter chooses to cite the very same sentence that appeared on these hallowed (web)pages yesterday. Weird!
  • We suddenly find out that the Warehouse, Foodstuffs and Progressive are all members of the PC, as discovered and then uncovered by the investigations of yours truly.
  • We can now put a name to the bleak, corporate face: executive direct Paul Curtis. Now, that wasn't so hard, was it? If you're interested, I can also put a face and a shirt to the name:

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Although I suppose I would still prefer a job.

"Even when it was the bears, I knew it was the immigints!"

Hey, remember when the Herald sacked their cartoonist because of his 'anti-semitic' cartoons? It turns out that, if you're a Herald cartoonist, it's ok to be racist as long as they're brown and stealing all our jobs. Nice one, Emmerson:

Only 1% of the population may be overstayers, Emmerson, but remember: statistics show overstayers are 66% more likely to spontaneously blow up in a crowded market.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Secret Packaging Overlords

Sure, household use of plastic carrier bags may only account for 0.88% of domestic and commercial waste - but the ever-increasing campaign to get rid of Nanny Plastic Bag is deemed front page news today. I don't care so much about the article itself; rather, I am concerned with reporter Eloise Gibson's quoting of the shadowy-sounding Packaging Council. I have never heard of this organisation, who evidently care so much about packaging that they have formed some kind of grassroots local body government to discuss it, possibly led by a Packaging Mayor.

According to the 'story', with the Warehouse and Foodstuffs starting to directly charge customers the heat is on Progressive Enterprises - the friendly faces behind Foodtown, Countdown and Woolworths - to keep in step. That's all very well, albeit arguably not news, but it gets interesting a few paragraphs in:
The Warehouse, Progressive, Foodstuffs and other retailers have signed a voluntary agreement with the Packaging Council reduce use of plastic bags.
I'm sorry, with whom? Who is this Packaging Council, and whom do they represent? What's their angle?
The Packaging Council says the 2004 voluntary agreement has taken 100 million bags out of circulation and is on track to reach a 20 per cent reduction by July.

[...] The Packaging Council says people would use more plastic bin liners if they cannot get free plastics bags to use as rubbish bags.

[...] The Packaging Council wants more effort to be put into increasing the number of bags that are recycled.
You had better believe that the Packaging Council gets what it wants - or else. I think it's cute how the Council is quoted directly, rather than via a spokesperson - it really gives it that conspiracy feel. But it's nice that the Herald is canvassing not only the supermarkets, but also some sort of independent think-tank.

Oh, hang on. The Packaging Council website (investigative journalism!) rather gives the game away:
The Packaging Council of New Zealand is industry’s voice on policies affecting packaging and packaging waste. We are the focal point for providing impartial, factual information on packaging and the impact of packaging on the environment.
Ah, the industry's voice. Members of the Packaging Council include:
  • The Warehouse
  • Foodstuffs
  • Progressive Enterprises
So, Eloise, when you say that "the Warehouse, Progressive, Foodstuffs and other retailers have signed a voluntary agreement with the Packaging Council reduce [sic] use of plastic bags", what you mean is that they have signed deals with themselves to do whatever makes the most money. So, yeah. Next time you talk about some group no one has ever heard of on the front page of the Herald, maybe you should tell your readers who they are, so they may have some idea why they say what they do. I would have thought Journalism 101 at AUTU would have covered that.

Reading the tealeaves

Some questions one can expect to be answered well and thoroughly on "Your Views", such as "Should criminals have to do the time?". With others, I question the judgement of the rabid, syphilitic monkey who decides what topics to post. One might think that choosing between different hydroelectric options on the Clutha River would best be done by people who know something - anything - about hydroelectric power, but no:
"What is the best hydro-electric option for the Clutha River?"
Go on, read it, get educated.

In an exclusive leak, here are some other upcoming topics for YV to decide:
  • "How much dark matter is in the universe?"
  • "How would you perfect cold fusion?"
  • "What number am I thinking of?"

JG Ballard, 1930-2009

The Guardian's obituary is here (because I imagine there won't be a Herald one).

Forgive the indulgence, but Ballard was probably my favourite living author (aside from Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling, of course). If you're into post-modern futuristic dreamscapes, erotic car crashes, the geometry of sex and titles like "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan", head down to your local Paper Plus and have a look.

I hereby declare a minute's blogging silence.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Newspapers in glass houses...

From an article in the Herald entitled "Have I got very little news for you" that has mysteriously not turned up online:

In a satirical jibe at stringent censorship imposed by Fiji's military government, the Daily Post newspaper has been filling the space with some non-news.

Headlines in Wednesday's edition included "Man gets on bus", over an item reading: "In what is believed to be the first incident of its kind, a man got on a bus yesterday. 'It was easy,' he said. 'I just lifted one leg up and then the other and I was on'."

Another headed "Breakfast as usual" began: "It was breakfast as usual for the staff of this newspaper. 'I had leftover roti from last night,' senior reporter Manueli told his colleague."

Now where have I seen this kind of thing before...


It all started on Wednesday night. There I was, sitting, watching television, minding my own business. Then it hit me. "Breaking News", said Nightline (if that's what they still call it): "something has happened." That something involved Tony Veitch, a person who, not being much into New Zealand sport, I had only vaguely heard of. My lack of familiarity with this individual notwithstanding, 3 News had decided that a reporter needed to be sent to stand outside the Auckland District Court to deliver the shocking news that some sort of decision had been made regarding Tony Veitch's trial. She (the reporter) didn't know what the news was, but her keen journalistic instincts told her that there was some. Before long I was swept up in the next story, an important update on the new presidential dog (don't get me started). But I knew something big was about to go down.

I was right. Last night's 3 News dedicated the first ten minutes of the programme - a programme that, once you take out ads, weather, sport and witty banter, lasts about 18 minutes - to the Veitch case. Scout's honour, that's the truth. I sat in my chair, gripping the armrests, the other people in the room shrinking in horror as the air turned increasingly blue. But I knew what I would have to do. So as I picked up my copy of the Herald this morning, a smile of grim satisfaction spread across my face. Veitchgate dominated the front page. Veitchgate was page A2. I cackled to myself, wiping the drool from my maddened lips with an increasingly sodden handkerchief...

Anyway, I trust we're all on the same page with this. In case you have spent the last wee while being waterboarded in a secret CIA detention camp in Uzbekistan, Tony Veitch is a former sports presenter most famous (to me) for comparing tennis's Williams sisters to apes.* Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to injuring his former partner with reckless disregard; to the laypeople among us, he kicked his girlfriend in the back. So yes, not a very nice guy; but if everyone who got convicted of some kind of serious assault got on the news... well, people might have to look out the window to find out what the weather was like. Meanwhile, the Herald used no fewer than five journalists on the various Veitch stories yesterday. So what's the big deal?

One doesn't have to be a genius to work it out - although it helps. Celebrity is news. Even better, a bunch of celebrities wrote to support this celebrity, which means that reporter Jared Savage (and/or a subeditor, of course) gets to write about celebrities, add in a little list of celebrities in a box for those too busy or starstruck to read his article, and put in photos of his two favourite celebrities. Apparently he is a lovely guy, who would never kick a woman in the back. Mr Savage also unironically reports on the "media frenzy" around the news:

Nearly 30 reporters and photographers swarmed to a car that pulled up outside the Auckland District Court in the mistaken belief that Veitch had arrived.

The door opened to reveal Mark Sainsbury, from TVNZ's Close Up. He was later joined by TV3 rival John Campbell in a sign this was big news.

It was standing room only inside the courtroom as journalists jockeyed for position and lawyers from unrelated cases poked their noses through the court door.

Veitch's media minder Glenda Hughes sat at the back, with gossip columnist Bridget Saunders nearby and detectives guarding the empty seat where Kristin Dunne-Powell would sit in the front row.

Bridget Saunders! It looks like she's really stolen a march on Herald gossip queen Rachel Glucina. The reporting on reporting amuses me; I sometimes wonder if you could maintain a bunch of reporters who only reported on what the other reporters were reporting on, or whether that would collapse the space-time continuum.

In conclusion, no one should be surprised that a (minor) celebrity court case makes the news. What appals me is the sheer scale of the coverage, as if John Key had burned down an orphanage. In my heart of hearts, I pray that it is just a slow news day. To finish, I turn to the "Your Views" question on 'Veitchy': should he get another chance in the media?
50nine (Kaikoura) The past is over and his former gilrfriend is still alive. Of course Tony should work for TV One again. We all like him - he's a nice guy like Paul.
She's still alive, after all; it's so easy to get carried away with this sort of thing.

* Or something along those lines - please don't sue me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do the crime, do the time

As far as shake-ups of the prison system go, it's not huge - but the news that Corrections Minister Judith Collins is going to consider implementing a Maori Party proposal to open a rehabilitation centre for a few dozen Maori inmates who have served most of their sentence and met good behaviour criteria has still been deemed the most newsworthy story of the day. Now why could that be?

The article itself, by the reliable Patrick Gower, is pretty good, apart from the kneejerk consultation of Act MP/Sensible Sentencing Trust moaner/general sourpuss David Garrett, but the subeditor on the story has really gone to town on it. The headline, "Minister backs separate prison unit for Maori" seems dangerously misleading; there are apparently 4188 Maori inmates in New Zealand, and 60 beds in the proposed centre - maybe the rest of them will sleep on the deck chairs by the pool. And the sub-headline - "Collins keen on idea of fewer jailers and more 'healers' if it can help reduce crime rate" - seems determined to to infuriate the various rednecks and racists who populate the seedy world of "Your Views". Speaking of which...

It turns out to be quite a 'fun' game to read the Herald and try to guess which articles are going to be posted as "Your Views" questions. This one jumped right out at me as meeting a bunch of the criteria: law and order issue; government being 'soft on crime'; bludging Maori. And guess what - when I clicked the shortcut button that takes me right into the centre of the swirling maelstrom of fury and bad grammar, there it was: "Do you think an 'alternative rehabilitation centre' will help reduce Maori crime rates?" Hold your nose people:
Mumbles (Mt Eden): [...] There would also be inconsistencies in sentencing, a European rapist may get 14 years but a Maori rapist gets "healing" and a conference in a quasi marae ?
Yes, because that's exactly what the article said.

Fed Up (Christchurch): What next, seperate prisons for Gangs also. I thought we voted out the PC Nannies, but it appears this Government are now becoming just as bad as the last lot, giving in to Minority Groups.

Sorry, if you do the crime you do he time, regardless of race creed or colour. What next? Maori Child care centres, Maori Courts, Seperate Maori Toilets, sound familiar, this is what South Africa got away from, but it was White everything. This country is becoming a Racist State against everyone other than Maori.

You're right - bloody Nanny Maoris. First they steal all our money in Treaty 'settlements', now they are stealing all our prison population. But it's worse than you think - the Maori-only prison will have Maori-only toilets. Someone call Nelson Mandela at once.

Duncan Smith (Onehunga): [...] The people running it, who dont give a flying banana about rehabilitation, just their salaries and their new high profile positions will promptly embezzle as much as possible.
The "prisoners" will be forgotton, with it becomming a holiday camp for them - lounging by the pool, smoking P, all at the taxpayers expense.
[...]Differential treatment based on race is racism. One country, one law - you don't like it - move!

I love how Duncan's conception of prison seems awfully like a hip hop video. And how are they supposed to move if they are locked up in prison? You didn't think it through, Duncan.

Now, of course it's fun to point and laugh at the people on YV. But the main culprit here is the Herald; when you take what is a good article about a topic of reasonable interest - although all that has happened is that a minister is interested in hearing more about a proposal - and make it the main story with a misleading headline, then throw it on YV, you do journalism a disservice. Lock 'em up and throw away the key - hanging's too good for 'em.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Readers' Bore-um

Like sands in the hourglass, these are the Views of Idiots:
It was refreshing to view the "pondlife" of Auckland politics from a distance over Easter. The conclusion of a clear-thinking group of Kiwis gathered around the barbecue at Lake Rotoiti on Saturday night was simple: by virtue of self-interest, none of the current mayoral incumbents is eligible for the job at the helm of the Super City.

[...] Barack Obama and John Key have lifted the bar in politics. This is Auckland's opportunity to step up and shine, and here are the people we think have the credentials for the task: Kevin Roberts and Chris Liddell.

Sally Elton, Devonport.
Wow, to be a fly on the wall at that barbecue! I like her ideas so much that I can't see why we don't just appoint Sally and her clear-thinking friends to the role of joint-mayor, especially since I fear that Kevin Roberts and Chris Liddell (the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and CFO of Microsoft respectively) may be unwilling to leave their current positions. But Sally is right - Auckland does need to step up and shine. After the inspirational Barack Obama, America's first black president, and the equally inspirational John Key, our first black prime minister, we should not compromise. Let us immediately run a "Your Views" on the topic of who our fantasy mayor should be. My 'vote' is for Zac Efron - he's a dreamboat.

Why do heads of state always have to meet in some huge, over-populated city for their big pow-wows? I suggest that they have a chat with the King of Saudi Arabia and see if they can go out in the desert. There would be no fools causing mayhem. If one did sneak through he would deeply regret it.

Susan Lawrence, Kohimarama.
Yeah, and why is it that thieves don't have their hands chopped off? Maybe John Key could have a chat to the King of Saudi Arabia about that too. But seriously, Susan, you're right. All this democracy and transparency business must stop.

When are Ellis, Workman, Bott, Wilson and their ilk [a ragtag bunch of lawyers and penal reform/civil liberties campaigners] going to describe their group [I don't think they really have a group] correctly: the Council for Criminal Rights, a group with no regard for the actions and consequences of criminals on their victims.

J. Bradley, Christchurch [!]
They could do, but then they might get confused with the other CCR, a group with no regard for the consequences of awesome rock n' roll on music fans.

Sweating the small stuff

Misleading headline of the day: "Kiwi dies after attack in Bali".

Know the odds:

The two Queensland finalists for the "best job in the world" are among the top contenders to win the dream gig, according to the bookies and a talent casting director.

While interpreter Clare Wang, 30, of Taiwan is currently the bookies' stand-out leader, with odds of A$3.50 ($4.32), Queenslander James Hill is the second favourite to win the competition, at A$5.

So... if I bet NZD$1, I get $4.32? No. You don't understand what odds are, do you?

Surveywatch: You all know how much I love survey results being published as news, so you will realise how delighted I was to read this 'article' today. Jesus, the tedium! Here are some highlights from the article, which was about a survey of Wellington apartment-dwellers, and which someone at an Auckland newspaper thought was interesting, informative and relevant:
In the results released last month, the council said the typical city apartment dweller was most likely to be a New Zealand European male or female, aged between 24 and 35, with a professional job in the downtown area.
Male or female, you say? Thank God this research was commissioned.
The majority of those surveyed (73 per cent) worked or studied in the central city area.
Newsflash: city apartment dwellers tend to work in the city. Honestly, it just goes on about this survey for literally hundreds of words. Go on, look at it. Here's the link again. Go now.

Big News in the Bay: "Actor takes Easter break", the Herald is excited to report. And by report I mean 'steal from Hawke's Bay Today'. The actor in question is one John Hannah, a man of whom I have never heard, but evidently someone who is a big fish in the small puddle of Napier.

Hannah, actress wife Joanna Roth and 5-year-old twins Gabriel and Astrid were noticed by fan Marianne Gannaway in a cafe on Saturday.

"I was so sure it was John Hannah so on a pretend trip to the loo, I nervously asked him if he was indeed John Hannah," Ms Gannaway posted on a fan website.

Ah, cultural cringe.

How to write a political article, by Claire Trevett

Step 1. Take an event that is entirely normal - the Greens, the country's third-largest political party, running a candidate in a byelection.

Step 2. Make up some sort of controversy to sex it up - alleged approaches from "Labour people" to ask the Greens not to run a candidate against them.

Step 3. Dedicate a third of the article to what someone who is completely uninvolved and uninformed about the made-up controversy - Rodney Hide - thinks about the made-up controversy.

Step 4. Collect undeserved paycheck.

Quite why the Green Party running a candidate in the Mt Albert byelection is news is never adequately explained. The approaches to the Greens consisted of "'informal discussion round the traps' between Labour and the Greens about potential vote-splitting". Here is an informal discussion about vote-splitting:
Phil Goff: Hey, we're both centre-left parties. I hope there's no vote-splitting in this byelection.

Russel Norman: Yeah, same.
And as for Rodney 'The Values Party' Hide, I have no idea how he weaseled his way into the story to deliver the fascinating news that Act would also stand a candidate. But he did manage to give his views on the controversial approaches that almost certainly didn't happen:

If Labour had tried to encourage the Greens not to stand or to get their candidate to encourage voters to support Labour's candidate it showed they were concerned about losing the seat [said Hide].

"It's a bit poor of Labour to be running so scared that they're trying to restrict the democratic options of Mt Albert."

Well it's lucky that Rodney's job (and party) don't rely on National, shall we say, taking it easy in Epsom at the election. Because that would make him a hypocrite.

Editing the News

Even more than the newspaper, television news faces a dilemma: how to report horrible tragedies and hilarious/cute human interest stories in the same bulletin. The approach they seem to have settled on is to smile when they are talking about a party for dogs, then put on a serious, frowny face when they report, say, a tsunami. But last night's TV3 news had an especially delightful example. During banter between the main presenters and the sports presenter, the latter came out with this gem about some rugby league player (don't ask me who):
"He's facing a sexual assault charge, but that hasn't cramped his style on the field."
Oh, good. Because I wouldn't want anything as minor as an alleged sexual assault to affect a game of rugby in any way. And yes, to make it better, the lead item on the news was: an (unrelated) sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl.

Practice with me now - smiley face, frowny face, smiley face, frowny face...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Good Monday

None of you are at work, so why should I have to be?

See you all tomorrow!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Viewsday

It's Good Friday today, which means that there is no Herald. Does anyone else feel a certain emptiness? Fortunately, I plan to fill that emptiness with "Your Views":

Is National working with the Green Party a good idea?

John Shen (Auckland Central): I personally dislike how green party does things.

part-time green party salespersons on the street trying to convince you to donate them by automatic payment.

"Do you care about the enviorment?" they'd ask. But i wonder how much of those money are actually going to the enviornment. I bet they spend the most of it on administration cost and politic crap.
Hi John. You seem to have confused the Green Party with Greenpeace. Please don't vote.

geo (Tauranga): No harm in that as long as they stay strong and not let the likes of Sue Bradford tell them what to do. The way this Government is heading, I am inclined to vote them out in the next election. Imagine being called a "rick p****" and "should not be trusted" and then go on to offer his nemenis Cullen a well paid job to grease his ever growing retirement bank account. Sucks! Now the Greens want their say. Why not sit back and let the Greens, Maoris and Act parties run the Nation?

Rick Penis? Is that it? And how dare Michael Cullen save for his retirement? Sucks!

David (Linwood): Green party appeared to be strong to something about it in 3 main issues to overcome as they would not give up until these issues done and implement monitoring themselves.

It appear they're perseverance.

It appear so.

Kiwicafe (Featherston): Green By Name, Green By Nature, pun intended.
They are the Non Nurture Party
The Sidelined Party
Do Nothing But Interfere Party
If Anyone is To Smack It's Us Party
Smack By Any Other Name Party
Smack And Go To Jail Party
No Fun Party
A Party Of Pills . the list is endless

No, please, go on. The Party Hearty? Tupperware Party? Also, you lose a point for not mentioning 'Nanny State Party'.

Mancy Horliss (Remuera): A marriage between the Greens and National was always in the offing - especially with there being a John Key and a Keith Locke. Don't be surprised if National and the Greens re-brand themselves as The Key'n'Locke Party.

Ha ha, I see what you did there. But seriously, I'll probably still be surprised if that happens.

Anyway, happy Easter and/or Passover everyone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Praise on, Garth

It's Easter (well, almost - it's Maundy Thursday, on which you are apparently supposed to visit seven churches; I'm up to four) so the Herald opinion page is chock-full of articles on religion. Well, there are two of them - three if you consider a large picture of a church to be an article.

The death of Our Lord has got Garth George in a good mood. I can't really be bothered talking about the whole article, but here are some choice quotes that you can contextualise as you wish:
  • "There is always a temptation - and plenty of Christians have given in to it - to use the words of scripture to suit a particular doctrinal, social or political position."
  • "And that means we have to be patient and kind and generous and humble and courteous and unselfish and good-tempered and guileless and sincere, which is what being loving means."
  • "The only way we can attract people to Christ is to be attractive people."
That's Garth George - patient, generous, courteous, good-tempered and attractive. Quite why the Herald lets him publish whatever crap he wants every week is beyond me. Quite possibly people are afraid to tell him otherwise.

In other news, I'm running a sweepstake on what he will write about next week. Personally, I can't decide between gardening and rape.*

*In terms of what he will write about, obviously.

The Origins of Violence, by Susan Underwood

Your correspondent Tracy Cannon asks where violence comes from. It comes from a lack of self-discipline.

Women are murdered because they have had the audacity to end a relationship, people are attacked in the street for looking sideways at someone. It all stems from attackers acting out their anger without a vestige of restraint in their behaviour.

We were taught self-discipline as children when we were given a smack on the back of the leg for throwing a tantrum because we could not get our own way. We were taught that life is not fair, things do not always go your own way and that, as a child, you must learn to get over it. Violence comes from this lack of self-discipline and restraint, not the smack.

Susan Underwood, Orewa
Thanks Susan. Violence began in 2007 with the passage of the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill. That's that sorted then - to think I thought it was a complicated phenomenon. Be sure to keep reading the Herald Readers' Forum to catch Susan's thoughts on solving the economic crisis and perfecting cold fusion.

Crime and Punishment Part II

While I was writing my rant about the Herald's treatment of crime and violence yesterday, Jasmatbhai Patel, the man beaten up for dinging someone's BMW, died in hospital. 'Christ, what an awful, pointless waste of two lives', was what I thought as I read the article; my mind boggled as I tried to comprehend what might motivate someone to beat someone to death, let alone an elderly man over a minor accident.

Sorry if my usual wry cynicism has been replaced by empathy. But this is exactly the point that I was trying to make yesterday. It's because of the strong emotional impact that these stories have that we - and by we, I mean the Herald, oddly enough - have to be particularly careful with how they are reported. There are many issues here; one is that, to me, 'level of emotional engagement' seems to be the appropriate criterion for an article appearing in Woman's Day, not a 'serious' newspaper. Another is that when everyone, including the people at the Herald, know that the media coverage of crime strongly, and often misleadingly, influences public opinion (and then leads to rubbish like the 'three strikes' law, not to mention people being afraid to leave their homes), crime reporting ought to be held to particularly high standards.

That's what I said yesterday - or, at least, that's what I meant. A couple of anonymous people had issues in the comments with what I said. One person, apparently mistaking EtH for a site that talks about every article the Herald runs, complained that if all my complaints were taken into account the Herald would come out as a wad of blank paper every day. (Some may claim that would be an improvement, har har.) I read over my article again and struggled to find the part where I argued that violent crime ought not to be reported - I merely claimed that it should be reported in a more considered and less sensationalised way. As to his/her question about what I want in a newspaper:
  • coverage of local politics and issues, which I generally feel the Herald does reasonably well, which is why I rarely write about it (sorry).
  • some critical analysis and investigation of national politics, which the Herald is generally terrible at.
  • coverage of world news more robust than stealing articles from the Daily Telegraph on Madonna adopting a baby.
  • a cryptic crossword.
Another person complained thusly:
Anonymous said...

"The first thing that ought to be said is that one's chances of being murdered are (and were even at the peak) pretty microscopic... murder probably deserves far less of the front page than it gets for that fact alone."

I see. Should newspapers across the world ignore them then, cos they don't happen that often? Should we have more stories about people going to the shops, because that happens quite a bit? Should all stories be given prominence based on 'how often they happen'?

This seems to be a rather creative interpretation of what I said. My point, I thought, was clear - I was talking about the link between people reading sensationalised reports of violent crime and believing in a (false) rise in murder rates - you never hear the Herald say that you're very unlikely to be murdered. Anonymous's claim that I am basically arguing that "all stories [should] be given prominence based on 'how often they happen'" seems like a fairly radical straw man argument to me - I don't know what else anyone thinks, but feel free to throw in your two cents. Let me re-iterate: I believe that violent crime ought to be reported differently, not 'not at all', precisely because of the powerful impact the reporting has on people - even grumpy old me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Viva la Vivawatch

Last week's Viva was the recession issue. The makers of the, er, supplement finally recognised the effect of the economic crisis, and that certain economic factors may have changed for the long term. This week, the first page advertises a $1029 handbag and a $1950 pair of boots.

Anyway, you know, whatevs.

Crime and Punishment

"A minor crash, a punch and a fight for life" is how the Herald headlines the lead story today. I'm no subeditor, but I suppose "Man attacked after car crash" doesn't look quite as good. The rest of the article is your standard post-assault report; the lack of much of interest to say means that the usual comments are dredged up from friends and neighbours - the victim was "a friendly and quiet man who loved gardening" and who "would never hurt a fly", as if brutally beating (it's now a murder case as the man has since died) a 78-year-old man would be otherwise OK. The Herald broke out the red ink for the "ROAD RAGE" header, because that is a category of story on the same level as 'Politics' or 'Health'. But then, of course, the country and the media are gripped in road rage fever, while I would hazard a guess that 99.9% of New Zealanders' road trips end in nothing more outrageous than pulling (or receiving) the fingers. But that's certainly not front page news.

And this is the point. I'm not claiming that murders and crime in general aren't news of importance to people - they certainly are. I'm simply claiming that they're not the only news in town, and they shouldn't trump other things of more real importance to more people. I guess that I am also saying that they are poorly reported as well, but that's another issue. It seems clear that this emphasis on violence is no mistake - unfortunately, blood sells. Also unfortunate is the amount of influence the media has over peoples' beliefs in this area. For example, a survey of New Zealanders, published in Monday's Herald, found that only 11 per cent of New Zealand city-dwellers felt safe in their city centre at night - and they cited "media coverage of crime" as one of the major reasons.

A fascinating article in yesterday's paper - yes, yesterday's New Zealand Herald - had more on this phenomenon:

An institute survey of 1400 people in four parts of New Zealand - including South Auckland - found that 80 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the country's crime rate was rising. Only 4 per cent disagreed.

Yet the same survey - which has yet to be published - found that only a quarter of the people surveyed believed crime was rising in their own neighbourhoods.

When asked where they got their information about the national crime rate, people said from the media.

So, most people can't see any increase in crime in their own neighbourhoods - it's just the other places in the country where their only reference is the media. The reason for the publication of the survey results is that someone (it's unclear from the article whether it is the police themselves or criminologist Michael Rowe) has analysed police statistics showing that the murder rate has halved over the past 20 years, from a peak of 21 per million people between 1985 and 1992 to 12 per million today. The first thing that ought to be said is that one's chances of being murdered are (and were even at the peak) pretty microscopic, and murder probably deserves far less of the front page than it gets for that fact alone. The second, and possibly more important, point is that the mainstream media, led by New Zealand's Newspaper of Record (TM), are telling the country - albeit (mostly) implicitly - that murders and violent crime in general are radically on the rise. But they're not; you're only half as likely to get murdered in New Zealand today than you were 20 years ago. So why does the media not reflect that?

I've already given my answer - blood sells. Even this article, with its fascinating, iconoclastic statistics, is poor in other areas; the second half of the article is dedicated to detailed consideration of why the statistics might be misleading, even though Dr Rowe implies that, if anything, the statistics would underrepresent the drop since the 1980s. No consideration is given either to why the rate might have dropped or why people think the opposite, apart from that last, anaemic sentence that stands out at the end of the quote above like a sore thumb. Infuriatingly, the article in the paper ends with this ad for the Herald website, which manages to give the finger to any intelligent person who read the article:
What's the answer to violent crime? Have your say at

Another serious issue is that, given how much column space the Herald dedicates to crime and violence, very little investigative journalism seems to be done on it. Why has it taken so long to find out about the murder statistics? Why have they come from an academic, rather than a journalist? The question must be asked again about the article directly next door on page A5 - evidently less important than boy racers, and knights and dames - which reports that an Official Information Act request by a penal reform group called Rethinking Crime and Punishment (RCP) has led to the finding that ACT's proposed 'three strikes' law would not actually have saved any lives. During the election, Rodney Hide claimed that 77 lives would have been saved if a 'three strikes' law had been in place, because the murderers would already have been in prison. RCP's figures show that this is complete bollocks, and none of those killers would have been in prison due to 'three strikes'. To be fair, the article - especially the headline, "'Three strikes' comes a cropper" - and today's analysis by Patrick Gower both come down on ACT and say it damages the policy's credibility. But the damage has largely been done - Hide and his crony David Garrett are already in parliament. The time for the Herald to blow the whistle on these numbers was during the election, when Hide made the brazen claim. Again, it was left up to non-journalists to break this significant story.

I would like to think that more debate will follow in the media about these statistics, the media's use - or non-use - of them, and the way that they negatively influence both political discourse and people's general happiness. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lend me your eyes

Moaning pensioners: According to an OECD survey, a lower proportion (equal with the Netherlands and the Czech Republic) of pensioners are below the poverty line than in any other OECD country.
Michael Littlewood, co-director of the University of Auckland Retirement Policy and Research Centre, said: "There are several possible explanations for New Zealand's favourable international position but the most obvious difference between New Zealand and the other 29 OECD countries is the simple, generous New Zealand superannuation pension."
Well, that's good news, right? But trust old people to see the dark cloud next to their silver lining:
However, social policy researcher Charles Waldegrave said if the study were to use the official New Zealand poverty threshold (60 per cent of disposable income levels), New Zealand would place last in the same study. "Most of our superannuants sit in the band between 50 and 60 per cent of median household income."
So... what if the other countries in the study used those same criteria? Would we still come last? Thanks anyway, Charles.
Grey Power president Les Howard said that older people still struggled financially in New Zealand because of flaws in our superannuation system and the effect of the economic downturn.
He's right. I hereby recommend that all old people move to one of those countries that have not been affected by the economic downturn. You know... those ones... over there...

Think tank wank:
Remember popular British PM Tony Blair? Remember how popular he ended up? Remember all those popular initiatives he introduced? Private financing of public projects (or is it the other way around?); Anti-Social Behaviour Orders; the Iraq War. Well, one of the people behind all this innovation is here to advise our government on how to shoot themselves in the foot. What is his innovation? Innovation.

Apparently social innovation is the key to beating the economic crisis, according to Young Foundation founder Geoff Mulgan, rather than bailing out carmakers and retail banks. Which, funnily enough, is exactly what his (and Blair's) own government is doing at the moment, so perhaps he would be of more use over there.

Anyway, what a load of wank.

Welcome back to Rebecca Barry, opinion columnist. Today's opinion: aren't scooters great? Thanks for that. Please don't click the link.

Editing the Telegraph:
Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on the New Zealand Herald:
The Herald was traditionally seen as a staid centre-right newspaper, and given the nickname "Granny Herald" into the 1990s. This changed with the acquisition of the paper by Independent News & Media in 1996, and today the Herald is generally editorially centre-left on international geopolitics, diplomacy, and military matters, often printing material from British newspapers such as The Independent and The Observer...
Centre-left, you say? Damn librul media. Anyway, this made me laugh when I read it, having looked through the World section of yesterday's paper. Only nine things happened in the world on Sunday, and three of them involved Barack Obama. One of them was what his wife wore. But I digress. The point is that eight of those nine articles were sourced from the Daily/Sunday Telegraph - aka the Torygraph, the broadsheet of the conservative political right. It's not so much that I care about the bias of the world section - it's not as if I get my world news from the Herald - but more that they seem to be more concerned with bulk-buying from one news outlet than getting the 'best' coverage of world events. Today all the world articles are sourced either from the Telegraph or Associated Press, the ultimate source for lazy editors. Perhaps the Telegraph are running some sort of 'buy one, get one free' scheme. At any rate, the Herald need to update their Wikipedia page.



"Knight is right - old-style honours suit new candidates", says a frontpage headline on today's Herald. Quite why the Herald has such a hard-on over the whole titles issue is beyond me, unless the editorial board are scoping for a title themselves.
More than half the 85 honours recipients offered the option of becoming knights or dames say they want the titles.
Is that news? I don't just mean, 'Should we be surprised that most people want something rather than nothing?'. I more mean 'Should we be particularly interested that the huge milestone of half the potential recipients saying yes has been passed?'. But I am also interested in what the people have to say about accepting the honour.
  • Maori leader 'Sir' Harawira Gardiner: "I think it's not mine to turn down. A lot of people have worked hard alongside me and this is a recognition of that." [Although I don't believe they get to use the title.]
  • Rugby player and man-about-town Colin Meads has not accepted "yet", which doesn't sound like news until one realises that every utterance from the man is considered gospel by the Herald. I suggest a 24-hour Meadswatch, with a reporter live on the scene day and night until he makes up his mind.
  • Business leader Eion Edgar has said yes - "a decision that had been made easier by a push from friends, family and the wider community": "The day after it was announced I was a recipient, I must have got more than 80 texts, emails and calls saying 'Please accept'." But how many did he receive saying to turn it down? Typically poor investigative journalism from the Herald.
  • Winemaker George Fistonich: "We thought it was good for the wine industry and also for our family to accept to, so I have."
So no one actually just wants to be called 'Sir' then. And yes, I know that if people came out and said that I would hassle them as well. Looks like being a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit is a truly tough no-win situation!

Possibly the most interesting part of the story is how the Herald seems to think that the fact people are accepting the titles means that the reversion to titles was a good policy. In the same way, people accepting their tax cuts is a good indicator that they are justified. I thereby propose bringing back all feudal titles to New Zealand. We'll then see if it turns out that someone becoming Grand Archduke - to be addressed by the hoi polloi as 'Your Grace' - helps the wine industry.

House prices

Sorry about the absence - I've been helping my girlfriend move house for the last two days. Now, where were we?

I don't normally care what's written in the Weekend Herald. The Saturday edition generally makes the weekday paper look good, although neither of them really measure up to the sheer perfection of the Herald on Sunday. Anyway, the lead article in Saturday's paper screamed that the housing market was suddenly booming - "Auckland house sales soared 65pc in March, firm reports". The firm in question was none other than real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson, a company which definitely has no interest in the public thinking it's a great time to buy and sell houses. It's not a new thing in the Herald - ever since property prices started dropping, the Herald has been running puff pieces talking up the prospects for the real estate market.

In Saturday's piece, economist Gareth Morgan - seemingly the go-to guy for economic comment ever since his son made him rich by selling Trade Me, but also seemingly a reasonably onto-it person - said " the sales figures were not something to get excited about."
"It's a long haul this whole recession ... I don't see the data as significant in terms of signalling any turning point.
That would explain, then, why the Herald led with this story, with the numbers (increased numbers of house sales over last month and last year) in giant red letters on the front page. But the Herald does warn us not to get too excited:
[...] some economists are warning sellers and buyers not to get too excited yet.

In fact, every single person quoted in the article who is not in the real estate industry warns that the data are essentially meaningless in terms of long-term trends. To be fair, and as is reasonably common in the Herald, the headlines write cheques that the article can't cash. Although the real estate agents are obviously gagging to get on the front page and tell people to leap into the market, they're not completely unreasonable. According to the chief executive of Harcourts:
"We're judging the sales numbers against historically low levels. So while
they're better than they have been, it's not time for people to jump up and down
and say we're on the cusp of another wave.

Nonetheless, there is an element of "Fishmongers declare fish is delicious" in this 'story'. Quite why this article exists in the form and place it does is an interesting question. Essentially it's not much of a story, according to almost everyone involved; it's more of an ad for real estate agents. Why would the Herald run this as a lead? Well, according to the editorial in this week's Listener - like 90% of the print media in this country, an APN stablemate of the Herald - major newspapers are heavily reliant on real estate ads, like those in the Herald Homes supplement in Saturday's paper. The terrible state of the housing market, and thence the shrinking of the real estate advertising budget, has made things worse for newspapers in a time of crisis for print journalism. But I'll be damned if I have any sympathy for the people making these decisions.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Comment is free

In an interesting and labour-saving development, a Herald article on the economic cost of sick days sparked quite a discussion in the comments thread of something I wrote yesterday about something completely different. This is the labour-saving bit now:
Gwan said...

May I draw your attention to the article on how it's allegedly cheaper to skive off work? The Herald's inability to comprehend basic maths strikes again...

Anonymous said...

the numbers seem fairly solid, if you think there are 1.3 million people working in new zealand.

but it's one of those numbers-that-mean-absolutely-nothing stories.

and the answer to all of them? so f*cking what?

Anonymous said...

actually, I take that back. the story doesn't state how large the NZ workforce is. first, big mistake.

second: WTF are the 700 and 900 about? per day? per week? per year? and they conflict with the $1500 figure stated in the intro. where does that one come from?

in conclusion: bollocks.

gazzaj said...

The problem with the maths is that in terms of *total* cost over the whole workforce, people turning up to work sick costs more, because it happens more often - 11.1 days/year vs 4.2.

But in terms of an individual person on an individual day it (obviously) costs more to take a sicky than it does to turn up to work - but the headline says the exact opposite.

There aren't enough numbers quoted to check their maths, but basically everything in the article is consistent, just contradicted by the headline, which is not what the study says at all. The Herald is blatantly lying to you.

Anyway the whole thing *is* bollocks because it's all built on the assumption that a sick worker is "half as productive" as a well one. I don't know about you but I doubt a lot of scientific research went into coming up with that number.

Wansbone said...

To start with I gave the benefit of the doubt to the reporter, and assumed that there was something study about people coming in sick lengthen their own period of sickness, and make other people sick.

But based on the final two paragraph summarising the reports conclusions, I think the report must have simply been about working out the cost to ill health on the economy. And the reporter just didn't get it. You would think reporters would run their draft stories past their interviewees if they weren't sure...

Gwan said...

Yeah from the headline I would have assumed that that would be the story as well, but apparently not. If you can't work out that coming in sick = (allegedly) 50% productivity loss but not coming in at all = 100% productivity loss then you're a tard frankly.

Anonymous said...

I noticed the article refered to pulling a sicky, which I thought meant taking a day off work and claiming illness rather than actually necessarily being ill. Meaning that the article claimed people who turned up to work ill were less productive than people who stayed home healthy (or just feeling lazy).

To be fair to the Herald, the original NZPA article and headline was atrocious, and reporter Isaac Davison - in the adapted piece that is in the physical paper today - has done a reasonable job of polishing a turd, even if he's just polished it with another turd, Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly. Anyway, thanks to all who contributed to the discussion, and sorry I couldn't write anything you actually wanted to talk about.