Monday, November 30, 2009

Crash of the Tiger

There is a pretty strict division in the news media between 'actual' news and sports news. They need to be in different sections of the paper, in a way that doesn't apply to news about, say, politics and news about education. Television news needs a different person to read off the autocue about rugby than it does to read about healthcare. Unfortunately for this clean division, sometimes 'sportspeople' - that is, people whose only interesting characteristic is that they are good at sport - do things that don't involve sports: Jesse Ryder gets drunk; an NRL team gangrapes has group sex with a teenage girl; Jonah Lomu runs for Prime Minister. And this poses a problem: where to put the story? Sometimes it's clearly a puff piece, or some advertising, and it doesn't matter too much. Sometimes it is actually important, and the whole thing is handled quite poorly. My favourite example was when TV3's sports anchor, a serious man of much gravitas, reported on allegations of sexual assault against a rugby league player, and then segued into the next item with an excited, "But that affair won't be affecting his team going into their big clash this Saturday..."

I bring this all up because on the front page of today's paper - right below the surprising news that Don Brash's review panel has declared that to catch up to Australia we need to punch the poor in the groin - is this article:

That's Tiger Woods, golfer. Let me précis the story for you: he crashed his car and is now fine.

Of course, that's not the whole 'story'. In fact, the bulk of the article is made up of prurient gossip on the love life of a man who can hit a small ball with a stick.
Hollywood entertainment website tmz.com reported Woods argued with his wife, Swedish model Elin Nordegren, about tabloid allegations he had been having an affair, and that she then chased after his car.
A broadsheet newspaper citing a "Hollywood entertainment website" - as opposed to a Hollywood science website - on the front page... I believe this is in Revelation as one of the seven signs of the Apocalypse.
The downmarket National Enquirer reported last week that Woods had been having an affair with party events organiser Rachel Uchitel, a story that could have caused tension in the Woods family home.
The National Enquirer! The National Enquirer. I think even 'Dobbo' is going to be shaking his head at this one.


EDIT: Here's the story on the front page of the Herald website:

In the same vein, I also deny I am having an affair with a New York club hostess. On the contrary, the boiling point of water is 100 degrees celsius.

It's Garth, Jim, but not as we know it

You probably don't need me to tell you that there's been a wee bit of climate change denial - sorry, disagreement - in the Herald recently, mostly centred on the person of Garth George. I've written enough about his views on the climate, but I really had thought that we could ring-fence the issue, preferably by literally putting a fence around him.

Unfortunately, the virus has spread to a place you may never have suspected. I've never understood the point of Jim Hopkins; he's the 'funny man' of the opinion page, but I personally find his writing so interminably self-indulgent - and not in an interesting and droll Steve Braunias way - that, until now, I had never managed to read one of his columns end-to-end. But he's wacky! He goes where serious commentators can't, using the tool of satire to throw the high-and-mighty from their perch! He writes satirical poetry and puts it in his column! And he wears red glasses!

Crazy. Here goes Fridays column, entitled "Dodgy science gets us all off the hook":

We've seen two examples of monetary muckiness recently. In one case, already touched upon, an author embellished his text with words that weren't his own - a hanging offence for students writing a thesis but not, apparently, so grim for those who teach them.

The other concerns a gaggle of Newton's heirs, scientific geezers beavering away, recording data, analysing statistics and reporting only what is provable and true.

Except these crooks haven't. They've cooked the books. They've lied.

They've falsified the facts to induce needless panic and alarum in the bosoms of the groundlings. Along the way, they've blackened the reputations of others who challenged their conclusions, whilst earning for themselves great renown and large amounts of dosh.

When did this happen? Hopkins regales us with examples: the Piltdown Man was a hoax! Of course, the 'discovery' of the Piltdown Man was 'made' by an self-styled 'amateur archaeologist', and before too long actual scientists had shown it to be a fake. Moving on...

But these egregious boffins have done more than remind us that the purest of research is prone to the corruptions of ambition and income. What they've done is wilfully attempt to influence public opinion - and political outcomes - around the world.

For these data-bodgers weren't investigating the mating habits of the Lesser Crested Gobsnot. No, they were climate scientists. Or, more precisely, pseudo-scientists, twisting the truth to produce results which they and their employers desired.

As some playwright said, "ay, there's the rub". I like to think I'm a reasonably skeptical person, but that has limits. It's one thing to say that the structure of modern science institutions - Nobel prizes, Royal Societies, publications in Nature - might alter incentives to a point. It's another thing to say that a vast conspiracy of nearly every climate scientist in the world is trying to destroy the planet, with the result that Jim Hopkins has to turn his lights out when he leaves the room. But here he goes:

What's been revealed, although without enthusiasm by our credulous media, is that an influential cabal of researchers in England and America colluded to mislead us yobbos, perhaps so we'd more readily accept draconian measures like flatulent ETSs and the flying of kaumatua to Copenhagen. [Ah, throw some casual racism in there, excellent.]

A single email, one of many leaked by hackers and reprinted in the Guardian last weekend, proves the point: "I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

"Mike's trick?" "Adding in?" "Hide the decline?" Such words warrant only the opprobrium of their author's peers. But no whistles were blown on this gravy train. Instead, these co-conspirators acted as warm-mongers, shouting "Fire" in the scientific theatre although they knew there was no blaze.

This has all been dealt with by far more qualified people on the internet and elsewhere already, but let's look at these three shameful phrases with a more charitable eye:
  • "trick": The art, knack, or faculty of doing something skilfully or successfully. (OED)
  • "adding in [the real temps]": "Would you mind adding in the flour to the cake mix?"
  • "hide the decline": Maybe, you know, it's an apparent decline - like hiding a mirage.
Even if, of course, this email does flag an egregious violation of scientific ethics and procedure, you would think that it would discredit the scientists involved, and perhaps make us a little more skeptical of the science in general. But that's not enough for Jim Hopkins:

This is wonderful news, folks. Truly, it is!! As Madoff was to money, these cons are to climate. They've given sackcloth and ashes such a bad name no one will want to wear it.

Because we now know all this hand- wringing, finger-pointing, cringing, wimpish, guilt-inducing "We're to blame and it's killing the planet" palaver, embraced as a new religion by countless control-freaks, wowsers and old, bewildered hippies is based on totally dodgy data.

It's bollocks!! The "facts" are a crock!! Whoopee!!! Send those pseuds a huge bunch of flowers and a note saying, "Thanks for letting us off the hook."

See, the interesting part of this is that he is so over the top that, even at this stage of the article, I couldn't tell whether he was going to get to the end and say, "But anyway folks, this is all a ridiculous non-controversy that I have skewered with my pointed wit See you next week."He couldn't possibly be trying to argue that these emails mean that climate change isn't happening. Could he?

Because we are. You may not believe it yet - and certainly most journalists won't. "Where there's muck, there's money," definitely applies in their industry. It feeds on the apocalyptic. And global warming was the KFC of disasters, a cataclysm so yummy no scribe could resist it.

Especially since the usual suspects; big business, Uncle Sam, globalisation, flash motor cars, fast food - all things most journalists instinctively dislike and wish to demonise - were allegedly the root of the evil.

[...] So it will take the scribes some time to overcome their addiction. "It won't happen overnight," as Witi would have it, "but it will happen". And when it does, look out, for the wrath of the writers will be swift and savage. No one suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous reporting more intensely than a fallen angel.

What does that even mean? Just because you wear red glasses doesn't mean you don't have to make any sense. In a sense, Hopkins is worse than Garth George. At least the latter doesn't dress his rubbish up in purple prose - he's just a man who tells it like it is, or at least like it was in the 1950s. You don't have to untangle metaphor after turgid metaphor to work out that he's not keen on male homosexuality.

Lucky then he's only published every fortnight.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

They must be taking the piss



After that weekend, I'm taking a break from thinking about the Herald for a couple of days. Feel free to email me anything truly astoundingly bad, and I'll write something up from my wireless-broadband-capable Fijian beach hut.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

So what did you do yesterday?

I went to a protest. Cheers to Kieran Whelan - here are his amazing photos of the march on Flickr - for one or two of the pics.

This handsome man has a point.

This sign ended up in a lot of photos.

Yeah, I think that decision has been taken. This clown, riding in front of the march on a tiny motorcycle, really summed up the march for me.

"DISCUSTING IGNORANCE"

MP John Boscawen (bottom right) faces the full force of satire. The gent on the left told Prime News that he was calling for a referendum of Carly Binding, but stuff.co.nz still reported this:
Some of the more unusual placards included 'Bring Back Dancing with the Stars' and one calling for a referendum on former TrueBliss singer Carly Binding.
More piss-poor journalism from the MSM.

Random man in the crowd to me: "There are a lot of intelligent people here today, you know."

I'm sure they just needed a good smack.

Thanks for clearing up this vexed semantic issue.

Just FYI.


The reporting on the protest was quite interesting. TV3's report seemed to take it all rather seriously, while One News managed to call it what it was - a bizarre mishmash of various interest groups with no more coherent overall position than feeling that history is passing them by. The One News clip has the added bonus of briefly featuring me.

Once José sorts out the link, I'll put up our discussion of the march from the bFM Sunday Breakfast this morning.

Overall, just about the best day ever.

100,000

On January 19, 2009, I must have been rather bored. It was the day that I decided that, rather than just complaining orally about what was in the newspaper, I would put it down in writing:
Auckland, brought to you by Sir Edmund Hillary: Of course, this isn't strictly news but, for some unknown reason, bored people have been writing in to the Letters page with their wonderful suggestions as to how to further honour the most-honoured New Zealander: rename One Tree Hill 'Mt Hillary; rename the airport 'Sir Edmund Hillary International Airport', presumably to commemorate his legendary love of flying; or how about renaming Auckland 'Hillary City'. Hillary fucking City!
The worst part is not, of course, that the man had more honours than any NZer since Ernest Rutherford (a point made recently by Helen Clark - you could almost hear the sigh in her voice while reading her quote), but that he actually said he didn't want any of this. He was fundamentally a humble man who wanted his memorial to be a continuation of his charitable work, rather than wasting money on a statue. So, NZ Herald, for the love of God, enough with the letters!
A couple of weeks later, when I added a visitor counter to the site, I was astonished to find more than twenty people had visited in a day. Back then it was almost entirely my friends - now I have no idea what sort of weirdos and perverts are reading this blog. What I do know is that yesterday Editing the Herald got its 100,000th "unique visit", whatever that means, and it seems like some sort of milestone.

Before I get too self-indulgent, I wanted to thank everyone who comes and reads the blog, who comments on the posts, and who emails me encouragement, abuse or material. A special shout-out to my mystery fan in Bahrain - 111 visits! - and all those who end up here after googling "gay wankers" or "cannibalism 2009".

Now, I'm sure I have something better to write about...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Q.E.D.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. It's like Your Views - but I'm already signed up!

"REPEAL SECTION 51"

Today's front page describes the conviction of a woman for beating her ten-year-old son with a hose; she now faces 15 months in prison. Whether sending her to prison, rather than some other sort of punishment, is a good idea either for the taxpayer or for the family is one question, but what is for certain is this: her lawyer couldn't use the defence that she had used reasonable force to discipline her children. Why not? Oh, because section 59 removed that defence! Perhaps it might not have come off - she is from South Auckland so she probably couldn't afford a fancy lawyer - but you can bet they would have tried.

Not that the Herald makes any mention of that.

Meanwhile, on page A2 there is a hilarious turn of events which actually makes me love the Herald. Embedded in an article entitled, "Boycott march, kids' advocate urges", is a small table:

"Demanding the right to hit?", I thought? That's going to piss them off, given how fine a line the organisers have been treading. They have taken pains to give the impression that the march is about democracy, rather than about hitting kids - presumably in the full knowledge that people won't march for abstract concepts, and most of them will be there (probably dragging their kids along) to endorse physical discipline.

As busy as I am, I've taken some time to troll the Facebook group for the March for Democracy. In fact, I was honoured to see some of my own words up there!

Thanks Stephen - AKA WITI IHIMAERA.

But I digress. This morning sees this post from one Glyn McLean:

The heading on the box at the end of the story containing details of the march in my original copy was simply "March for Democracy". It was changed by a subeditor to, "Demanding the right to hit."
This confirms two things:
  • The Herald does, in fact, employ subeditors at least once a week.
  • Sometimes those subeditors are awesome.
Anyway, if Glyn is outraged by poor journalism at the Herald, I have just the site for him.


Tomorrow is shaping up to be quite the event. The MetService is predicting a balmy 22 degrees, fine spells with cloudy breaks. Apparently, the march will be followed by a concert 'outside the Town Hall', whatever that means - Aotea Square is almost entirely taken up with construction works. There'll be, I don't know, balloons and clowns and racists. Do come, and bring a hilarious sign or banner to win... a mystery prize: YOUR photo on Editing the Herald.

The march supposedly starts at 1.30pm tomorrow (Saturday) from the corner of Queen St and Fort St. And remember:
If a binding referendum told you to do it, you'd have to come.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Party on, Garth

Perhaps Garth is reading Editing the Herald after all. In today's column he tries it out on the Weekend Herald. Of course, it's more reading the paper and then moaning out society going down the tubes.

It takes me anything up to three hours to read the Weekend Herald - quite rightly named New Zealand's best newspaper - but half an hour into it on Saturday I began to wonder just how long we can keep going before our intractable social problems overwhelm us completely.

By the time I reached the end of the Review section, I was tempted to give thanks that I'm as old as I am and might well be gone from this world before they reach that stage.

Well at least there's something we can agree on. The view that things are just continually getting worse isn't a new one, of course. Almost every human society, until the 'invention' of Whig history, has looked back with rose-tinted spectacles on a lost past: the ancient Greeks had their Golden Age; the Judeo-Christian tradition has, of course the Garden of Eden; and Garth George has... I don't know, the 1950s? But he's clearly wrong - we all have iPods now.

It started on page one with news that drug rings are recruiting students at some of our top schools to receive drug parcels from overseas.

And while we know that illegal drugs are just as popular in the wealthier suburbs as they are in the mean gangland streets of the poorer, this indicates a rather large step up in the distribution of these murderous products.

Sure, the police and Customs do their damnedest to stem the flow of illegal substances into this country, but they're obviously fighting a losing battle, and the pot and the P and the coke and the horse still flow like a river.

It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that if there were no customers there would be no demand and that maybe we're looking at this problem from the wrong end.

"...the horse still flow[s] like a river."

Anyway, a brilliant idea to focus on reducing demand instead of only focusing on supply. We could start by criminalising possession of drugs for personal use, and then we could launch some sort of public awareness campaign to show people the damage that drugs can do. Why has no one thought of this before?



Let's fast-forward: rampant child abuse; justice system in disarray; "thieving millionaire shysters"; "mirage of easy wealth"... oh, look, Hone Harawira.
And on page five we come to the Harawira affair, probably the most sinister of all the things that should be giving us the heebie-jeebies.
Yes, it's far worse than child abuse.

Hone Harawira was born angry, from the womb of an angry woman. And what his latest outburst reveals is that there is among many Maori an abiding and malevolent antipathy towards Pakeha, which is far more widespread than we're prepared to acknowledge, and which no amount of monetary and land compensation, special treatment and political cuddle-ups is going to change.

To make matters worse, there is a corresponding bitter antagonism to Maori on the part of many Pakeha, who deeply resent the money, land and special treatment given to Maori and whose anger grows exponentially with every new concession. This, too, is far more widespread than most people care to admit.

Oh, he's fair and balanced, right? Because Maori hate Pakeha and Pakeha hate Maori! Except that "many" Maori have "an abiding and malevolent [!] antipathy towards Pakeha", whereas Pakeha merely "resent the money, land and special treatment given to Maori". That's why there was no racism toward Maori before the Waitangi Tribunal was founded, right? I just love the idea that "no amount of monetary and land compensation, special treatment and political cuddle-ups" will change the irrational hatred of Maori for Pakeha; maybe some policies that actually move Maori from the top of every single negative social indicator will make them see some sense.

You can hardly blame Harawira, who after all was "born from the womb of an angry woman", for getting a bit upset.
And don't tell me I exaggerate: I have a finely tuned intuition and live in a city where at least a third of the population is Maori.
In fact, some of his best friends are Maori.
Yet we continue with a policy of separatism - you might even call it apartheid - the latest example of which is Tariana Turia's Whanau Ora scheme to give Maori sole control of their community services.
You might even call it "Nazism". You might even call it "Auschwitz" or "necrophilia" or "Clayton Weatherston". It was only yesterday, after all, that I tried to use a water fountain only to be told that it was "Maori only". And, for God's sake, can you blame Maori for wanting control of their own social services after the shite job that 'Pakeha' services have done? Honestly, how can you write a column that spends half its time bitching about what a poor job social services are doing, and then complain when someone wants to try something different? I'll give you a clue: it's one word, and it begins with 'R'.

But nine out of 10 of us don't want to know. That's not new. Thousands of years ago God said through the prophet Isaiah: "Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."

But those of us who do hear and see and understand might take some comfort from the words God spoke to King Solomon: "If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Fat chance, but the offer is still open.

As Monty Python used to say: Oh, what a giveaway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Can't think of a Witi title

If you pan down the front page from the photo of hippopotamuses attacking a crocodile, you find a story about Witi Ihimaera, the veteran literary author, winning a $50,000 award from the Arts Foundation for his contribution to the arts in New Zealand. Except the article isn't really about that at all. "Ihimaera wins $50,000 arts prize," says the headline, "despite plagiarism row." I wasn't really aware there was a "row" about it at all, but let's see what the article has to say about the prize - an award not only made to Ihimaera, one of New Zealand's most critically and commercially successful authors, but to "carver Lyonel Grant, musicians Chris Knox and Richard Nunns and photographer Anne Noble".

Author Witi Ihimaera was last night presented with a prestigious arts award and a $50,000 prize - a week after he was caught up in a plagiarism row.

The writer of Whale Rider was embarrassed by revelations that his latest novel, The Trowenna Sea, contains passages by other authors without attribution.

He apologised for the oversight, which he said amounted to less than 0.4 per cent of what had been published, and promised any future editions of the book would include proper acknowledgments.

Right. You seem to have stopped talking about the award whatsoever. You realise that you've already published a bunch of articles on this amazing find, right? What is interesting about this particular article is that almost every paragraph feels the need to stick the knife in by mentioning or alluding to the 'controversy'. It's reasonably long, but let's look through it:

Despite the controversy, he has been named a laureate by the Arts Foundation. The honour comes with a cheque for $50,000.

Carver Lyonel Grant, musicians Chris Knox and Richard Nunns and photographer Anne Noble were also named laureates at last night's awards ceremony at the ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane.

Ihimaera made no specific mention of the scandal, but in as [sic, facepalm] speech that lasted about 10 minutes alluded to the furore.

"I would rather be someone else this week. Any of you are welcome to be Witi Ihimaera."

Yesterday, Arts Foundation executive director Simon Bowden defended the selection of Ihimaera so soon after the controversy.

"The award itself is for a lifetime of work and is an investment in someone's future ... He's an extraordinary artist."

Mr Bowden accepted the plagiarism was a "serious matter" but said Ihimaera was trying to make things right "as much as he can".

Ihimaera had told the foundation of the plagiarism claim before it became public and it did generate discussion among the selectors.

However, Mr Bowden said those things weren't enough to change their minds because Ihimaera was an artist whose writing had been enjoyed by generations. Though Mr Bowden had had only positive reaction from those he had spoken to about the issue, he accepted there could be some adverse feedback from the arts community. He believed most would congratulate the Arts Foundation on carrying on with the award.

Ihimaera said he hoped the plagiarism issue wouldn't overshadow the award.

"I take the long view ... that every author goes through a controversy at one part of their career. I do believe my entire career models the best ethical behaviour that is required of all artists in New Zealand."

He was grateful for the support he'd received from the foundation which would help him move past the controversy. He apologised again to those he failed to acknowledge, which was "inadvertent and regretful".

He planned to use the $50,000 prize to support himself while he wrote more historical novels - including a follow-up to The Trowenna Sea and another novel set in New York. He is retiring from his position as a professor at Auckland University next year.

Ihimaera said he had been unsure if he should accept the award because he didn't think he was good enough, but was "honoured and humbled" by it.

Anyone would think that the New Zealand Herald didn't regularly plagiarise press releases from, say, the BNZ or TVNZ. Like I said, this article was on the front page, but another similar, but more bitter, article didn't make the print edition and can be found online: "Exposed plagiarist [!] Witi Ihimaera given $50,000 award". Sorry Witi, you're no longer an author; you're an exposed plagiarist.
Prominent New Zealand author Witi Ihimaera has been named an Arts Foundation laureate and will receive a no-strings-attached $50,000 to spend as he pleases.
Jesus. "No-strings-attached"? "To spend as he pleases"? Unconscionable! You mean he doesn't even have to promise not to plagiarise anymore? And to add insult to injury, he doesn't even have to spend the money on subscriptions to APN publications? APN publications, that is, such as the Listener, a magazine that used to be an interesting and progressive read but is now almost entirely dedicated to stories about house prices and where to send your kids to school. (St Cuths or Dio? Oh dear.) Funnily enough, it's also the magazine which 'broke' the news of Ihimaera's borrowing of small passages without attribution. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that not only is the award criticised in a front page article, but also in today's editorial - "Top award for Ihimaera is embarrassing":

The Arts Foundation of New Zealand has created an embarrassment with one of its five "laureate" awards last night. Doubtless the decision to make one of the $50,000 awards to writer Witi Ihimaera was made long before his latest novel was found to include at least 16 unattributed passages that appear to be substantially the work of others.

Doubtless, too, the selection panel operates at arm's length from the foundation set up to assist and promote cultural achievement of the highest quality in this country. But in the week since a reviewer's concerns were reported by the New Zealand Listener, somebody at the foundation should have intervened.

[...] Those who put him in this position have questions to answer. The selection panel consisted of Elizabeth Ellis, Jenny Harper, Derek Lardelli and two writers, Bill Manhire and Grant Smithies. Did they read the book? Did they miss the stylistic oddities that alerted the Listener's Jolisa Gracewood? Do they think her revelations unimportant?

Oh, did we mention that it was discovered by Jolisa Gracewood? From the Listener? The amazing thing is, despite this award being such an "embarrassment", the Herald have seemingly failed to find a single figure from the New Zealand arts world to quote from who will say they are embarrassed by it. Anyone? It's almost as if... no one else cares.

Plagiarism isn't cool. As a former pseudo-academic (aka student) myself, I worked long and hard to produce my own material and blah blah blah. But it's not like he plagiarised a whole book, and it's not like the award has anything to do with the work in question. So get over it.

I was thinking last week how lucky Rodney Hide was that Hone Harawira magnificently exploded into the news. Now I can't help but think how lucky Harawira is that Witi Ihimaera won $50,000. It's all just a giant merry-go-round - or, if you prefer, a tag-team wrestling match where the wrestlers are constantly tagging in and out, all avoiding that final, match-ending hold that they may or may not deserve.


Beast from the depths, Vol. 4

First it was the shark. Then it was a whale. Third was the killer jellyfish menacing Japanese fisherman. Today, fourth in the Herald's front page series on 'When Underwater Beasts Go Bad':

They really need to fix that crocodile problem in Western Springs Park.


EDIT: Some clever anonymous commentator pointed out that the Guardian is running a series of these photos on their site. Firstly, if the Guardian put a photo of a crocodile on the front page unrealted to any story, that would be rubbish - I'm not sure why anyone thinks I would deny that. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the inclination to 'edit' every newspaper in the world.

Incidentally, here's the front page of the most recent Guardian:

The man in the photo, in case you're unaware, is David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party. You may notice the actual article accompanying the shot.

(Not a crocodile.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A quality newspaper on quality TV

I hate to pick on the same journalist twice in one day but... I'm sorry, I don't know how to finish that sentence.

Today's page A3 has an article about TV One's acquisition of a new season of shows which differ considerably from what we might expect - a collection of trashy, derivative-sounding America sitcoms and awful local reality TV series. The reporter does a really good, honest job of questioning whether this is the right choice for the network to make, given its strong reputation for quality programming and its main demographic, let alone its responsibilities to the TVNZ charter.
The new shows seem aimed at a younger demographic, which seems to leave TV One's older viewers, accustomed to high-quality British drama, out in the cold. It is also questionable whether local copies of overseas shows such as The Apprentice and Masterchef satisfy the demand for serious, quality local programming. Media commentators have questioned the purchase of series such as The Vampire Diaries, which seems to largely ride on the current popularity of Twilight and True Blood.

TVNZ general manager of programming Jane Wilson would not comment on whether these shows met the expectations and responsibilities of New Zealand's oldest television station.
And then I woke up, and it was all a dream.


What the actual article says, of course, is quite different:

It is seen as the more serious terrestrial television channel but TV One is about to be sexed up with a series about a well-endowed man.

Hung is a drama charting the life of a cash-strapped high-school teacher who resorts to prostitution after his house burns down.

It is one of a number of new shows in TVNZ's 2010 schedule.

General manager of programming Jane Wilson said the comedy drama "pushes the boundaries" - something the broadcaster was hoping to achieve with TV One.

"We want to be a little bit edgier and a little less safe."

Cool. All of which, of course, could have been - and probably was - copied verbatim from a TVNZ press release. It then gives helpful synopses of some of the great shows coming to primetime on TVNZ's mainstream channels:
Cougar Town: An American sitcom starring former Friends star Courtney Cox, who plays a recently divorced mother entering a dating scene filled with younger men.

[...] FlashForward: An American science fiction series starring Joseph Fiennes. Based around a future where a mysterious event makes everyone in the world black out. As people gain consciousness, the world starts changing because people know their future.
Shows not coming to primetime on TVNZ's mainstream channels:
Anything that seriously discusses politics, culture or the media.
Sorry, Close Up doesn't count :(

Good golly(wog)!

Nice critical journalism on page A6 regarding an outstanding issue of the day - provision of golliwogs dolls that are definitely not related to golliwogs in some awful bourgeois gift shop - "Golly dolls no different to Barbies, says store director":

A retail chain is making no apologies for selling "Golly" dolls which many people believe have racist connotations.

A full display of the Australian-designed Golly range is on show at Acquisitions St Lukes - ranging in price from $79.99 to $149.99.

Surprise surprise, Australian-designed. Well, I don't know where people are getting this idea that it is racist. I mean, it looks like a golliwog, but apart from that...

But Richard Thomson, general manager of Acquisitions, does not believe the store's dolls are offensive.

"We don't sell Golliwogs, we sell Gollys," he said. "The reason we're very careful about calling them Golly and not Golliwog is because we realise that 'wog' is an offensive term and we wouldn't want to be associated with the use of it."

Ah. I see what you've done here. They're not golliwogs at all. They're "Golly's". They're probably named that because the inventor said "Golly, that's a great idea for a doll" when he or she came up with it. Any resemblance in name or appearance to any other doll, racist or not, is entirely unintentional - like in that Law & Order episode where the famous and eccentric fictional singer dies after complications with fictional drugs prescribed by his fictional doctor.

So I would hate to break in here and claim that it's not actually the word 'wog' that offends people about golliwogs. It's the concept, and therefore the word, of the golliwog. But you wouldn't want to be associated with that.

He said the dolls had been on sale for about a month and had proved popular in the 10 stores around the country.

"They're selling exceptionally well."

Always a good test. "Is it racist?" "I dunno." "Is it popular?" "Yes." "Well it can't be racist then." "How are they selling in our Christchurch store?" "Great!"
Asked if the company had considered that some people might find them offensive, Mr Thomson said: "We recognise that's always a possibility but our view is that these are caricatures in the same way as Barbie or any other doll is.
Barbie does truly represent the horrors of the centuries-long exploitation and deprecation of tall, skinny, blonde women.
"It's very difficult to please everyone and what we do is we say: 'Look, this is our style and we sell a huge range of products and people will pick and choose the items that they like or don't like and that's absolutely as it should be."
For example, when I walk into Acquisitions St Lukes I turn my nose up at the racist doll section and proceed directly to the area festooned with Nazi memorabilia.


Anyway, it's interesting how a stupid story about a rubbish shop selling what really is a terrible piece of overpriced awfulness becomes essentially an ad for said shop, simply because the reporter involved can't manage to ask some critical questions that ought to make up Lecture Two of Journalism 101:
  • "If it's not a golliwog, why is it called a Golly?"
  • "Do you think that the use of Golliwog imagery in the context of colonialism has anything to do with the taboo attached to the figure?"
  • "You do realise that you sound like an idiot, don't you?"

Monday, November 16, 2009

March against democracy

Sir Winston Churchill, whose bust had pride of place in George W. Bush's Oval Office, famously said this about democracy:
Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Of course, Churchill also said "'Keep England White' is a good slogan," got hammered every night, never got up before midday and was keen on gassing Arab villages, so perhaps we should take his ideas with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, in this instance I think he was more or less right: as flawed as democracy is, the other options are all worse. And I say this as a person who has read a lot of Your Views.

As always, there's a qualification. The ancient Greeks supposedly recognised three 'pure' forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. They also recognised that, without vigilance, all three could easily be corrupted - monarchy could become autocracy, aristocracy could turn into oligarchy, and democracy could become anarchy. Back in the old days anarchy didn't (just) mean throwing a brick through a McDonald's shopfront; there was no leader, but also no leadership structure, and decisions would be made based on the passions of the populace (except the women and slaves, of course).

In other words, it would be kind of like a world of binding referenda:
Organisers of past referenda ignored by governments have lent their weight to Saturday's march over the anti-smacking referendum, billed as "the biggest march in New Zealand's history".
Well of course they are upset if they think they've been ignored, but the reality is totally different. The governments didn't ignore their referenda; they looked at them, read them, considered them and, in full possession of the facts, decided they were ridiculous.

Also, I think you'll find that it was not an anti-smacking referendum - it was a pro-smacking referendum. Just thought I would clear that up.

Organisers from past referendums - including Garth McVicar who led the referendum on Law and order, Margaret Robertson who campaigned for 99 MPs and the organiser of the last anti-smacking referendum Sheryl Savill - appeared at a media conference this morning.

March organiser Colin Craig called past referendum organisers "true New Zealand heroes".

How can Garth McVicar claim that his referendum was ignored? If it's the one I vaguely remember about tougher sentences for violent offenders, then he must surely be delighted with the results - our prisons are literally overflowing with people!

Mr Craig said he hoped the march would focus attention on past referenda that have been ignored by governments going back to the 1990s.

"I think the people will win out."

I wouldn't be so sure. The Destiny march got more than 10,000 people chanting 'Enough is Enough', yet immorality is still rampant: topless prostitutes wander the streets, and homosexuals openly fornicate with single mothers in parks and town squares. Writing a passionate comment on Your Views is one thing; getting up on a Saturday morning and marching up Queen St to defend 'democracy' is quite another.

Yet that is exactly what I am suggesting you - we - do. Democracy's greatest heroes, from Thomas Jefferson to Tony Blair, appeared to me in a dream and showed me a glorious vision: a vision of sensible people, people like you and me, joining the march and showing it to be ridiculous. I am inviting you to come to the march! (You may already be going, in which case this is a bit awkward.)

At the moment it's a bit difficult to tell what the emphasis of the march is: mob rule or hitting children. The organisers are emphasising the former, but in a country where most people's closest experience with democracy is voting for Dancing with the Stars I can't see many people getting out of bed for that. Surely almost all the opposition today to the s59 amendment is simply petulance - petulance that would, ironically, normally see a child smacked.

Given that police on site will probably frown on people marching with pitchforks and flaming torches, we may have to do with banners. Should none of the banners from the March for Democracy website suit, here are a few suggestions:
  • Do what the mob says!
  • Down with Auntie Helen!
  • Start talking smack!
  • Nannies have no place in raising our children!
  • Down with this sort of thing!
Let your imaginations run wild. Anyway, I anticipate a fun and unusual day out, and would encourage you to find some like-minded people, tell them to come along, and then beat them until they agree. I'll post more details this week, but the details of the March itself are:
1.30pm, Saturday 21 November (this Saturday)
Corner of Fort St and Queen St in the Auckland CBD
That's just outside the QF Tavern, which would be a good place for a pre-march beer.

Teh New Zelaand Herlad

First, there's this - cheers to one who cannot be named for a lovely juxtaposition of death and life insurance:

I thought this might be a nice way to segue into the general point I wanted to make. I've had quite a few emails over the past few days with spelling or grammar errors from either the print edition or the website, peaking, of course, with the misspelling of 'Barak' Obama's name in a political article on page A2 late last week - a mistake that is still on the website as of writing. The fact that such a blatant mistake could get past the journalist, his subeditor and whatever proof-readers theoretically work at the newspaper is quite depressing, even if it is 'just a typo'.

Sure, everyone knows what John Armstrong means by 'Barak Obama' but, to me, that isn't the point. If I want to read spelling mistakes, I'll read a blog. Newspaper owners and editors keep saying that one of the things that sets newspapers apart from blogs is professionalism. Despite the urgings of some, I haven't been doing any quantitative analysis of things going on in the Herald over the year, but anecdotally it seems to me that such errors have become considerably more frequent over the past year. To me, it is carelessness, and once you start getting careless about things like spelling then why not get careless about news?

Anyway, I'm not going to keep banging on about these 'minor' errors on the blog, unless they're particularly hilarious. I just thought I would put the view out there that I don't think they're totally innocuous.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Methampheta-ma-mine

Thanks to Andrew for this after-hours tip:

Clearly they didn't catch it all.

A depressing end to the week

Just a quick note for those who are finishing the week on a high - perhaps you've been given a raise, have learned of a colleague's pregnancy, or have become engaged. If this is you, then definitely do NOT click on this link. This one right here. For it leads to a Your Views 'debate' about IMMIGINTS : they're here, they're queer, they're stealing all our jobs (or are they?).

"Should NZ offer refuge to 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers?" (Go on, guess what YV contributors think about that.)

Doggone (Hamilton): Absolutely not to the Sri Lanken refugees, we can't afford them. Time to stop taking in all the riff raff that just go on to our benefit system. It would be interesting to know of the refugees we have taken in over the past 10 years, how many are on benefits, how many have bothered to learn our language, how many have had extended family members arrive under reunification of families, how many clog up our health system etc. Sorry but time to look after our own for once and for all. Thank god St Helen of the Pacific is not our PM or we would get the whole boatload and then some.

And, Doggone, if someone did give you the information about "the refugees we have taken in over the past 10 years, how many are on benefits, how many have bothered to learn our language, how many have had extended family members arrive under reunification of families, how many clog up our health system", and you found out that actually none of those things were borne out by the evidence, would that change your view?

I suspect not. I suspect that, like with 'Intelligent Design Theory', you'd just come up with some other bollocks rationale. The paradox of WW2-era anti-Semitism was that Jews were portrayed as both rampaging capitalists and snivelling, traitorous socialists. The paradox of anti-immigration rants is that immigrants both come and steal our jobs and bludge off the welfare state.

Kiwi overseas (Brunei Darussalam): When I lived in NZ I was naive and would have said "let them all in". Now I say "why should they be allowed to jump the queue", "why should NZ be so gullible', etc. These are economic migrants who are playing cleverly on our sympathetic and unworldly natures. Take a very hard line both with so-called refugees and also with all immigration.

...says the New Zealander living in Brunei. As for preying on "our sympathetic and unworldly natures", I don't think there's much danger of that on YV.


So yeah... don't read any of that. Have a nice weekend.

He's only the most famous person in the world


Oh, look at what you've done - you've gone and spoiled your fancy Samuel Beckett allusion by misspelling the name of the President of the United States. Maybe it would be easier if we just went back to calling him 'Barry'.

From further on in the article:
Obamamania is starting to grip Singapore, with one restaurant putting an "Obama burger" on its menu and the Straits Times newspaper running a stack of stories with Obama-related headlines.
Just like every other newspaper in the world, then. Let's casually flick through to today's world section:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Rt. Hon. Mr Thompson

"The name's Thompson - Mr Thompson."

Editing the Herald poll

As most of you will no doubt be aware, last week saw the sad, albeit hopefully temporary, end of the online Herald poll, after an army of online cybercriminals, probably learning their tactics from violent video games, made polls come out approximately 50%-50%, instead of the 96%-4% result they were designed to achieve.

I think that made us all a little sad, but I have good news - the first Editing the Herald poll! Every day every week whenever I can be bothered, you, the reader, will be able to express your opinion... in poll form! It's democracy in action.

Today's question is:

Which story would did you most like to see on page A3 of the New Zealand Herald?
  • A report on a daring cheese theft?
  • An article about the estranged, adopted daughter of a washed-up former celebrity?
I realise that this may be a tough decision, so here's a cheat sheet.

"Cheese burglars take the biscuit" *chuckle*

Two people have been arrested and charged with burglary after allegedly hauling several boxes of cheese off a train and into their vehicle.

[...] A rail worker passing by at around 7am spotted the pair running back and forth across a rail line, loading boxes into a car near Halcombe - about 30km northwest of Palmerston North.

As he approached, they sped off in the car before throwing boxes of cheese out of the window at him, trying to get him off their tails.

Sounds exciting. But then there's:

"Police drop charges against Millie Elder"

A smiling Millie Elder left court today after police dropped three serious drug charges against her.

The estranged daughter of broadcaster Paul Holmes was facing charges including possession of methamphetamine - also known as P, two charges of possessing ecstasy (class B) and one charge of receiving stolen property.

It doesn't look like she's smiling to me. Anyway, it's good to see that the Herald is giving an appropriate amount of attention to the struggles of a clearly troubled young woman, and giving her the support she clearly needs by putting photos of her in the paper. But in one sense it's worrying: if the newspaper business model folds, and quality journalism goes with it, who will bring these stories to the public's attention? How will democracy function, how will society function if... oh, sorry, I seem to have drooled on my keyboard.


Anyway, I don't actually know how to put a poll on here so you're all just going to have to imagine it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dear Hone

Q: What do the following, all from today's paper, have in common?
  • A front page story
  • Two articles, by two different journalists, on page A2
  • No less than seven letters in the "Readers' Forum"
  • Brian Rudman's weekly opinion column

A: They're all about New Zealand's latest penitent, Hone Harawira.


Haven't we got anything better to talk about? The front page story, "Pressure still on leaders over Hone", begins:
Hone Harawira's apology has done little to relieve pressure on the Maori Party leadership to take a strong stance against him when it meets the MP for the first time tomorrow.
Really? Where's this pressure coming from? Harawira, a man apparently very popular among Maori, is the electorate MP for Te Tai Tokerau. The Maori Party itself is voted for, as I understand it, almost entirely by Maori. So is this pressure coming from Maori? Not according to this article; it seems to be coming from John Key and, worse, Phil Goff - the man who, a year into his job, still lags behind Helen Clark in preferred PM ratings.

However, Mr Harawira's apology left Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff underwhelmed.

Mr Goff said it was "phoney" and it was time for the Maori Party leadership and the Prime Minister to take the matter more seriously.

Mr Key said it was an "apology of sorts" but he would leave New Zealanders to decide on its merits.

"I think everybody's getting a bit sick of the Hone Harawira sideshow."

He usually ignored Mr Harawira's outbursts, he said, but had found this one offensive. However, it was not up to him to discipline the MP.

Oh yes, I'm sure you were extremely offended. People who make it to the highest levels of politics, via a process not unlike Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption crawling through hundreds of metres of shit, are well-known for being thin-skinned enough to be offended by a combination of blue language and what more-or-less amounts to an NCEA history class in a nutshell.
Mr Goff dismissed Mr Harawira's comments as "silly" but said it was time the Maori Party and Mr Key showed they were taking the matter seriously. "He has still not apologised for ripping off the taxpayer - in fact he's bragging about it - and nor has he apologised for making obscene and racist remarks. I don't think somebody that behaves in that way and shows no contrition for it has any place in Parliament at all."
It's time to show they're "taking the matter seriously"? Or what - you won't vote for them? As for the last sentence, I think you'll find there are only two major criteria for having "any place in Parliament at all": being on the Electoral Roll, and being voted in, in this case by the people of Te Tai Tokerau. Perhaps Mr Goff harks back to a more civilised, more Victorian age where MPs were gentlemen who doffed their hats to each other and said "please", "thank you" and "pip-pip, tally-ho", rather than "white motherfuckers". Good thing he's the leader of the Labour Party.

Moving on, the page 2 article "A sorry, sorry, sorry state of affairs" rather smugly looks at Harawira's 'apology' at the University of Auckland marae:

But don't give an inch for calls to apologise to Phil Goff who he'd called a "bastard" earlier and who he reckoned should be lined up and shot with the rest of the Labour Party for passage of the Foreshore and Seabed law.

"I think it's important to realise that while I'm prepared to acknowledge the things I've done wrong, I'm not prepared to sit down and shut up and take that kind of rubbish from another politician."

Funnily enough, that sounds to me like exactly the kind of person who should be in parliament.
At the back of the marae, a supporter called out that he wanted to hear about Paris. It was "great", Mr Harawira reckoned, but it's a city and an issue you can bet co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples can't wait to see the back of.
Again, this claim that it has been a serious setback for the Maori Party. But the same paragraph gives some evidence, however anecdotal, of the opposite: that the people who, for the most part, actually matter to the Maori Party - Maori voters - are actually in significant support of Harawira.

I'll ignore the Readers' Forum - a rule-of-thumb I can't recommend strongly enough. But the normally reliable Brian Rudman made me yawn with his meta-diatribe, "Hypocritical Harawira let us all down". I've read the article twice, and I can't really work out where the "hypocritical" bit comes from, apart from the fact that Harawira visited Paris, "one of the centres of the imperial nastiness he's been fighting all his life". Presumably he should stick to holidaying in Parihaka.

If Parliament is a true House of Representatives, then pressuring Hone Harawira to apologise for spouting off in an email views he's been shouting from the rooftops all his life seems a tad counter-productive.

On this I'm with Dover Samuels, the former Labour MP for the Te Tai Tokerau seat Mr Harawira holds.

"Any apology from Hone would be absolute hypocrisy. He's advocating what he really believes in. He's done that for many, many years before going into Parliament," Mr Samuels told Radio New Zealand. He added any apology would "be artificial, superficial and he actually doesn't believe it".

Except, of course, Harawira didn't apologise for his views - he apologised for the way he conducted his trip and for the language in that private email. So that was a waste of three paragraphs. Also, I can't help noting the fact that everyone is going round quoting Dover Samuels, the paragon of virtue known mainly for three things: constantly wearing a hat; alleged sexual impropriety; and urinating in a corridor of the Heritage Hotel.
An informal 1979 CV, quoted more recently, quotes him writing, we "beat the shit out of some smart arse Pakeha students at Auckland for ridiculing Maori culture".
Well of course it sounds bad if you put it like that. Actually, the event in question is a key part of Auckland University folklore. There was a tradition in the engineering school of (white, male, middle-class) engineering students drawing moko on their bodies with lipstick, wearing grass skirts and performing a derisory haka. After several years of complaints and no action, a group of activists gave them a hiding. No one was killed or seriously injured, a disgusting and unfunny practice stopped, and a bunch of 'casual' racists got their comeuppance. Sounds all right to me.

And on goes the list of his 'radical' actions and statements over the years, all leading to the 'hypocrisy' of going to Paris - sacre bleu! Come on Brian, you can do better than this.

Even the expression "white motherf***ers" hardly has much shock value these days when you can walk down Queen St and hear the "F" word trilling from the lips of teenage girls.

What is a little quaint about the email exchange is to hear a 54-year-old grandfather of two still using the angry slang of American rappers of a past generation.

As a time-to-time listener to American rappers of this generation, I can assure him that the 'mofo word' is still very much in current use.

I suppose we can expect more of the same tomorrow - a quick search on the Herald website shows 24 articles starring or co-starring Harawira in the last five days. His crimes, as far as I can see them, are as follows:
  • He pulled a sickie at work to go sightseeing, and apparently paid for it himself.
  • He used naughty, naughty language in a private email to a person he knew.
  • He holds controversial but - let's face it - not completely unfounded views on race relations in New Zealand.
His main 'crime' however, was of course subtly different. He did all this right after Rodney Hide's shame, and thus found himself in the centre of one of those periodic witch-hunts that so captures the magpie-like eye of the national media. Sometime soon this gem will lose its lustre - I don't know, a dog will bite a child or something - and the Herald will spread its wings and dive to pick up the new, shiny news item; and MPs' expenses and perks, Rodney and Hone, they will all fall from the nest, unloved and ignored.

Dennis the menace

"Quaid? Yeah, I remember that guy..." *Post*

Monday, November 9, 2009

The news week starts there


SENSATIONAL HEADLINE
undermines newspaper's credibility


If you're into listening to people rant and complain on the internet - yes, like talkback radio - for quarter of an hour, you may be interested in hearing 'News Rage aka the Ebeneezer Report with Grinch Face', my segment on the bFM Sunday Breakfast yesterday.


If you're not, I have no advice; you're already doing fine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Not a story

I've written about some pretty heavy stuff this week - crime reporting, politics, journalism and advertising - and it's left me physically and emotionally drained. In between the massive lapses in journalistic and editorial ethics, of course, there has been the usual small-time bollocks that I just haven't had time to deal with. As such, I hereby introduce a new regular* feature at EtH - "Not a story". I think the title speaks for itself.


*Probably not, really.

------------------------------

"Hide's trip included LA theme park and wedding" (Page A2, Friday 6 November)

Act leader Rodney Hide took his girlfriend, Louise Crome, to an amusement park in Los Angeles during their taxpayer-funded trip that was also timed to coincide with her brother's wedding near London.

The Herald has learned Mr Hide squeezed in a visit to Universal Studios after an official meeting with a top Los Angeles City Council official.

Mr Hide's spokeswoman confirmed that the couple had some time before their flights home to New Zealand and thought, "We've got a couple of hours downtime, let's have some fun".

Here's a classic example of an interesting story turned boring by over-reporting. When news came out that Rodney 'Perkbuster' Hide had used taxpayer money to take his girlfriend on a luxury trip around the world in a time of recession and unemployment, people were rightly outraged. Here was a legitimately newsworthy political story - a waste of taxpayer money with the added frisson of hypocrisy.

And now it's dead; it's been pummelled, trampled into the ground by this humourless report. They took a weekend off - as I suspect many of us did - to go to his girlfriend's brother's wedding? They decided to do something with their pre-flight downtime instead of sitting around self-flagellating? I await with bated breath the next report - "Hide in meal scandal" - where it is exclusively revealed that Rodney Hide went to a restaurant for dinner and didn't eat a bowl of steamed rice in his hotel room like Patrick Gower would have done.

Not a story.

------------------------------

"Staff gaffe costs dog's life" (Page A3, Friday 6 November)

A staff error at an animal pound has led to a pet dog being killed before its owner could collect it.

Kaos, a shar pei-cross belonging to Michelle Griffiths of Manurewa, was impounded on September 17 and killed eight days later.

"I got a little handwritten card - they said they would hold her until the 26th," Ms Griffiths said.

"I went to the pound to pick my baby up and they said, 'She was killed yesterday. Sorry, we got the kill date wrong'."

Let me just say, first off, that I love dogs. I think they're great. Let me now qualify that with this: if I want to read articles about dogs, I will pick up a copy of Canine Monthly or Dog Fancier. Short of a dog being elected super-city mayor, I don't want to read stories about individual dogs in the news section of the Herald. Ta.

Secondly, there's something fishy about this 'story', a 'story' an actual 'reporter' spent time 'researching'.

Mr Gillingwater said Kaos was originally impounded because of welfare issues, but Ms Griffiths believes the situation could easily have been avoided.

She said although Kaos was seized on grounds of abandonment, she had simply been at work and thought her pet was safe at home.

Right. So on September 17 your dog was picked up by the pound when you were 'at work'. It then took you eight days to go to the pound and pick up your 'baby'? Were you at work the whole time? Oh, I know how it is - I always leave things to the last minute. Last day to pay the power bill, last day to get my warrant of fitness, last day to pick my puppy up from the pound before it gets euthanised... Yeah. Moving on.

Not a story.

------------------------------

"If music be the food of love... let's eat" (Page A11 ("Opinion"), Friday 6 November)

Dear Noelle,

I thoroughly enjoy listening to you on Radio New Zealand National when I get the chance. However, I stumbled on your blog on the Herald website, which was a pleasant surprise.

I was intrigued by your comment about Jeff Buckley. I'm wondering perhaps if that is where I am going wrong with my relationships. Is Jeff Buckley like some sort of relationship repellent? On second thoughts, I doubt Jeff is of any concern to my relationships - it doesn't seem to get to the "let's get to know each other's music taste" stage. Nonetheless, I'd love to hear your opinion.

Cheers, Alexander

Dearest Alexander,

God, Jeff Buckley. Where to begin? We can begin with me at 19. Predictably naive, with a penchant for knee-high boots and short skirts, Rimmel Black Cherry lipstick and good-looking boys in flannel shirts. So far, so textbook. [...]

I'm sorry, what? Other articles on the Opinion page: Gwynne Dyer on the geopolitical importance of the elections in Afghanistan; and Professor Andrew Bradstock on the importance of relative social equality for making a better society.

Not a story an opinion.



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Party on, Garth

Props to Danyl at the wonderful Dim-Post, who dragged himself out of bed at 5am and promptly compounded one mistake with another: reading Garth George's column, this week entitled "We should all salute our wonderful PM". On closer inspection, this turned out to be less a strict behavioural recommendation - although that wouldn't have surprised me - and more a general love-in, if a love-in could just involve a scary old man building a shrine to Great Leader in his basement.

It comes as no surprise that John Key and National remain top of the political pops a year into their reign. That's pretty much all down to Mr Key, a Prime Minister the like of whom we have never seen.

Our award-winning political commentator, John Armstrong, described him on Saturday as a "political phenomenon", which are the very words I had already chosen for this column. But, as is now and again the case when you write only weekly, someone beat me to it.

Let's be honest; you didn't really just steal independently come up with two words from John Armstrong's article. You have, in fact, repeated the same story, more or less; the same sycophantic rubbish that Armstrong's article on Key, Patrick Gower's article on "Crusher" Collins and the rest of the Herald's coverage on National's first year in power. As the Dim-Post points out, thank goodness that the Electoral Finance Act has been repealed so we can again have a balanced and critical Fourth Estate.

Oh, and something else: Garth has not only copied Armstrong's article - only replacing the dots on the 'i's with love hearts - he actually plagiarised himself. His article on March 19 - "Key is PM of a type never seen before" - is almost exactly the same in tone and content as today's. If this is a trend, we should expect another piece demanding the immediate return of Georgie Pie in the next fortnight.

Now here come the reminiscences:

I have met almost every prime minister since Sid Holland led the first National Government elected in 1949, and none of them resembles today's incumbent.

When it comes to affability and consensus, perhaps Keith Holyoake comes close, but not all that close. I still remember as an early teenager barging into my father's office to find a little, dapper chap sitting there on his own. He sprang to his feet, held out his hand, and declaimed: "I'm Keith Holyoake, who are you?"

The odd thing about this is that it made me think about Garth George as a young person. It's not that I thought he had emerged, opinions fully-formed, from an egg. It's more that I saw him as existing through, or perhaps outside of, time: here he is, meeting Pitt the Elder; there he is complaining about how young Romans have no respect for the Emperor anymore.

But I digress. The next section of the article I am just going to auto-summarise:

[...] man of the people ... unspoiled by the poisonous atmosphere of power politics ... remains one of us ... at home in the company of a class of primary schoolkids ... or in the company of the world's high and mighty ... amiable, engaging, good-natured, highly intelligent, humorous and, most of all, unaffected [Yeah, that's all one sentence.] ... there is no "side" to him, no insistence on protocol, no efforts to protect him from the hoi polloi ... attractive traits ... unbridled enthusiasm ... utter delight in being Prime Minister ... fatherless state house kid made good ... achieved significant personal success in the real world ... short on theory and long on practice ... readiness to admit to making a mistake ... He doesn't U-turn; he simply closes one door and opens another.

What? What does that even mean.
Nor is he - as so many wealthy people are - miserly.
Nor is he a paedophile, a Nazi war criminal, a 'P' addict or a slaveowner. God bless you, JK.
He is reported to give freely to charitable causes, and insists on paying for his wife to accompany him when he has to travel overseas.

As a proud New Zealander, this makes me cringe. He is our Prime Minister, the chief executive of our nation's business amounting to much more than $100 billion. He is, by private business standards, paid a pittance in salary and expenses.

As our principal face to the world, he should always travel in style, first class all the way, and should be able to take his wife, and even family, with him if he chooses - all at the Government's expense.

Good lord. Does this remind anyone else of that 'Leave Britney alone' video from a couple of years ago? A cross between that and Cleopatra's giant golden barge in that Asterix book where they go to Egypt.

[...] But back to our popular PM. John Armstrong hypothesises that failure to deliver on the economy could see Mr Key's sparkling performance in his first year count for nothing more than burned-out neon come the 2011 election. I doubt it.

Mr Key is an avid fan of the All Blacks, a frequent attendee at their games and a regular, potently encouraging presence in their dressing room.

This is a political stratagem of astounding brilliance. For if the All Blacks win the World Cup on October 20, 2011, New Zealanders will be in such a state of euphoria that National will stroll over the line in early in November.

"Astounding brilliance"? Don't you remember when Helen Clark, a sensible, pragmatic woman who would rather have watched paint dry than rugby, had to be driven at 170 km/h to get to an airport so she could make it to an All Blacks game - all just so that morons could make the link between her and rugby.

Yeah, I think the "support the All Blacks" strategy has been tried before.

As to the more general point that Armstrong sensibly made about Key's popularity, I'm sure we can all think of another well-known politician who was extremely popular after a year in office:

Food for thought, n'est-ce pas?


(And I actually quite admire John Key.)

We can start a newspaper... under the sea

No ice cream... geddit?
Meet the heavyweight of the jellyfish world. The Nomuras jellyfish can grow to 2m wide and weigh more than 200kg. And although it is boneless and floats aimlessly, it can be a menace. Yesterday, a 10-tonne fishing boat trawling off Japan's east coast was capsized by the weight of dozens of the ocean giants caught in its net. New Zealand fishers need not worry - the jellyfish breed in the East China Sea, and are pushed by currents close to Japan.
New Zealand readers need not worry - the photo of a sea creature taking up half the front page has nothing to do with New Zealand or any significant news story.

In the wake of sharks and whales on the front page, I think we can officially call this a trend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Use Your Conclusion

I have written before about the oddly 'naive' way in which the Herald writes about crime statistics. They'll run a lead story like the one on the front page today - "Gangster kids keep time for church" - where the amazing revelation is made that young people aren't the Antichrist. It's not even a thing that happened, it's just something a judge said. Judges say things all the time that don't get reported in the paper - why did this comment get on the front page? The irony is that, despite the headline and start of the story implying that young people are slimy little bastards, the article ends up making the rather sympathetic, if blindingly obvious, point that youths involved in gangs still like their families.

I digress. They run a lead story like that, and then when actual statistics come out that show the murder rate decreasing and the 'increases' in violence to be "driven almost entirely by increased recording and reporting of family violence", it gets buried and left without comment. (You'll notice the above link is in fact an NZPA article, not a Herald one.)

It was with all this in mind that I read this article on page A2 of yesterday's paper. "Crime is someone else's problem", goes the headline, which is itself an interesting take on what the article says.
New Zealanders can recognise crime in other areas, but prefer to dismiss it as part of everyday life in their own, a study suggests.
Ok. Go on.

More than 1400 people took part in a Victoria University survey, Not in my backyard? Crime in the Neighbourhood, conducted by Institute of Criminology director Associate Professor Michael Rowe.

The study focused on four areas - Murrays Bay on Auckland's North Shore, Otahuhu in South Auckland, Westown in New Plymouth and Havelock North in Hawkes Bay. They were selected for their varying socio-economic status, demographic profile and police-recorded crime rates.

The survey found that while more than 80 per cent of respondents agreed - or strongly agreed - crime was a serious problem in New Zealand, 63.2 per cent believed it was a problem only in other areas.

Now, this is interesting. Why would so many people think it was a problem elsewhere? How would they know? Let's read on and find out what the conclusions of the report were.
Respondents from Otahuhu - the area with the highest crime rate - did identify crime as a serious problem in their neighbourhood but, like the other regions, tended to dissociate it from the local community.
Ok...
"Otahuhu has got a lot of bad people, I know, but not as it's made out to be [that] all crimes are committed by people in Otahuhu."

[...] One laughed off finding comatose teenagers in her yard at weekends.

[...]"But most of them we sort of know because our children grew up in Havelock North so ... I'm not threatened personally by it, it's just disorder, if you can call it disorder."
And.... that's it. That's the article. Finis. It's just a series of anecdotes, with no talk of why these outcomes might be the case. "What an odd paper to publish," I thought. "An academic paper with no discussion or conclusions?" So I decided to track down the one of the authors of the original report, who was kind enough to send me a copy of it. (He emphasised that it has not yet been approved for publishing, but that didn't stop the Herald half-reporting the results.)

What probably shouldn't surprise you is that the report does in fact draw some conclusions, albeit tentative, about why the disparity exists between people's concern for crime in their area and their angst about crime in New Zealand. And it's not like they're buried at the back, where an overly rushed Herald reporter might miss them. The abstract itself starts:
Contrary to much political and media discourse, quantitative and qualitative results of a research study suggest that the New Zealand public do not regard crime and disorder as escalating or serious problems in local neighbourhoods. Across a range of different areas, the study found that a majority of respondents did not regard crime in their local community as a serious problem compared to other districts, neither did they report that it was an escalating problem.
Weird! Because the article didn't mention anything about that!
In contrast, respondents were much more likely to report that crime problems were serious and increasing across the nation as a whole. This discrepancy might be explained by the reliance of the public on media coverage of crime for information on national crime trends and patterns.
Media coverage! Like in the Herald. Later, in the discussion, the authors conclude that such media coverage and populist politics - "Crusher" Collins, anyone? - might have serious negative effects for the country:
That media and political perspectives on crime are inconsistent with public opinion might be of general concern given considerable and continuing legislative and financial investments undertaken as a consequence. They are also problematic since efforts to develop local community policing and community safety community safety initiatives are likely to be hampered if the complexities of public perspectives are overlooked.
The interesting question concerns how it came to pass that an article about an academic criminology study managed to leave out any sort of analysis or conclusion - material that was clear and obvious in the paper that the journalist (presumably) made some attempt at reading. I suppose I don't know enough about how newsrooms work to answer that question. Does the journalist, consciously or unconsciously, leave out material that conflicts with the media's line? Is it an editorial decision, a case of some higher up figure gutting the article? Did the journalist really think that the discussion wasn't interesting or relevant?

It's interesting to see what they did find relevant, with a capital 'R' in big red letters.


You know, I would laugh - look, there's been a crime! - if I didn't think that it (both this article and general crime reporting) was a serious failure to meet the most basic standards of disinterested journalism. I'd really like to hear from anyone who thought otherwise.

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On a completely unrelated note - not at all related whatsoever, the Herald assures me - yesterday's Your Views topic was "Is crime a serious problem in New Zealand?" It's possibly the most depressing YV ever, but it's interesting to read in light of the paper discussed above:
Orcinus (Kaukapakapa): Bank robberies are everywhere; living closer to those bank and central town area makes me worry if such incidence falls on to me when I walk aroun the town.
Sigh.