Monday, June 28, 2010

Fun with headlines

So the government is making noises about banning smoking in prisons. You'd wonder why they feel like they need a fag when they can just take a dip in the heated pool, shoot a quick nine holes on the golf course or watch Gossip Girl on their MySky HDI blah blah blah...

Anyway, supposedly the main motivation for the change is the health - and, of course, future litigation prospects - of prison guards and non-smoking prisoners. Fair enough, although good luck making it stick. So quite why anyone feels the need to make this ridiculous point is beyond me - "Prison smoke ban could reduce crime":
Banning smoking in prisons could reduce crime, says a Northland mayor, amid warnings that guards and inmates would face added pressures and need more resources to cope.

[...] Whangarei Mayor Stan Semenoff, who has been advocating smokefree prisons since March, said crime rates could drop as a result of the policy.
Since March! Anyway, this is New Zealand and we have a fine tradition of small town (sorry) mayors coming up with ridiculous bollocks: Tim Shadbolt's Invercargill International Airport, Michael Laws' ... erm, Michael Laws. Now why does Mr Semenoff believe this to be the case?

A smoking ban at a prison on Britain's Isle of Man had become a deterrent for reforming criminals who couldn't face prison terms without smoking, Mr Semenoff said.

The drop in crime has been reported by British media, including the Telegraph, which said the crime rate on the island had fallen by 14 per cent and burglary by 35 per cent.

For a start, the Isle of Man isn't really part of Britain - but that's hardly the most misleading thing here. It seems like Mayor Semenoff has been reading this article from the super-reliable Daily Mail, which combines the correlation of a (relatively) massive new prison that happens to ban smoking with anecdotes about potential crims hating the prospect of not smoking, and finds causation. Interestingly, this piece from the IoM Today doesn't mention the smoking ban, and puts the drop down to effective community policing, which seems perfectly plausible on an island of 80,000 people with already-low rates of crime. In fact, while the Telegraph article mentioned in the Herald mentions a one-year drop in crime, the IoM Today article claims the massive crime drop began three years ago - before the prison was even built.

Obviously I can't expect a Herald reporter to do the five minutes of googling it took to find that information. And I realise that in the brave new world of 'objective journalism', the journalist's job is to accurately report what famous people have said, rather than finding out if it's true or not.

What I don't understand is why the crazed ramblings of a minor public official on an issue of no direct relation to him have been reported, and then bigged-up until it forms the headline of the piece (the only part of the piece most people will read before heading to Your Views). Or why the Herald is suddenly interested in an evidence-based approach to reducing crime, rather than just phoning up Garth McVicar and asking him what he thinks.

But the worst part is the headline. The article itself, while certainly being an utterly banal recounting of what various interest groups have said, with no weighing up of the issue at all, at least samples different views, only one of which - Mr Semenoff - considers the putative drop in crime noteworthy. Nonetheless, there's the headline: "Prison smoke ban could reduce crime".

Sometimes I cry at night.

EDIT: The headline has changed now that Crusher has announced the policy. But you get the point.

I've banned the Herald... oh wait

On Page 3, there's an article about the Australian Government 'banning' "ultra-skinny" models, which the Herald helpfully illustrates with a picture of an "ultra-skinny" model in a bikini. Nice.

"Aussie bans ultra-skinny fashion models":
Australia has moved to ban ultra-skinny models from catwalks and magazines under a new code of conduct announced yesterday.
Code of conduct, huh...

The initiative encourages those in the fashion and beauty industries to refrain from using super-thin models on the catwalk and digitally-enhancing images in magazines to make models appear even skinnier.

The code, which is not compulsory, also calls for fashion magazines to stop advertising rapid weight-loss diets and cosmetic surgery.

[...] The Australian code also encourages only using models aged 16 and over, with retailers and brands also being urged to provide a greater variety of sizes in clothing.

So not really a ban at all, then. I realise that these voluntary codes are often the result of compromises between government and industry lobbies, but it seems to me that "Aussie does not go through with ban on ultra-skinny models" is a more accurate headline here.
[Australian Federal Youth Minister Kate] Ellis said the move would let those in the fashion and beauty industries know customers "no longer want to see already thin models who have great chunks digitally removed and cut out of their thighs and waists to appear even thinner.
Sigh. I know that neither the Herald nor the original source of the story made up such a ridiculous quote - if people (or, more to the point, advertisers) didn't want, or think they wanted, to see these images, they wouldn't exist. (Perhaps you could argue that advertisers are forcing these models on people who don't want to see them, but I think that would be a stretch.) But part of the problem is that the media will report any such banality from a politician without question, let alone criticism. Where's the journalist asking the obvious question here?

Oh that's right, they all got fired and are working in ministerial press offices. Nothing to see here.

You're not even trying anymore

I knew I shouldn't have looked at the front page of the Weekend Herald:

Yes, here's that front page article about a fictional character from an advertising campaign, something that evidently passes for culture - sorry, culcha - in New Zealand:

After more than 10 years and 60 commercials, retirement is looming for ASB Bank's Ira Goldstein.

The bumbling banker and his grumpy New York boss are viewer favourites, and their television ads for the bank have won many industry awards.

But the ASB has dumped advertising agency TBWA Whybin, which created the campaign in 1999.

The bank won't discuss the change, but it seems Goldstein could soon be on his way back to New York after his decade-long investigation of ASB's merits.

To be fair to John Drinnan, he writes about this type of stuff all the time and probably didn't mean it to end up on the front page.
ASB pulled the Goldstein advertisements for several weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001, out of respect for those killed and for fear of causing offence with the image of a bumbling New York banker.

Anyway, I trust the same thing struck you as struck me when I looked at the picture above. the story about the ASB advertising campaign appears on the page right above... the ASB advertising campaign. Now that's what I call synergy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The true cost of Bieber Fever

Bored of parliamentary expense scandals, but gagging for news of wasted taxpayer money? Don't worry, the Herald has you covered.

Interesting headline: the only reason the police are tallying the cost is that the Herald put in an OIA request.

It took 30 policeman working a total of 161 hours to look after pop sensation Justin Bieber during his day-long New Zealand visit.

The resources were used for the 16-year-old Canadian heart-throb's visit on April 27 and 28.

[...] Security was beefed up in New Zealand after excited fans caused chaotic scenes in Sydney which prompted police to cancel his show at the Circular Quay.

Ok, so I'm not sure what the Herald's angle is here. I don't like to see my tax money spent on protecting tween pop stars any more than APN does - or would do if they made a profit and therefore had to pay tax - but I suspect that 161 hours of police time is cheaper than the aftermath of the riot that happened in Sydney. I don't understand it, but some people want to see this Bieber character, and I don't think I want to live in a country where we say people can't visit in case they are too popular.

But that's not the fun part of this article.

Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust said that over the years several victims had had trouble getting police to respond when they had reported a crime so the police decision to help with crowd control for Bieber's visit was shocking.

"There seems to be a huge lack of resources, lack of man-power to actually react to real crime.

"It just appalls me. Shouldn't these pop stars be organising their own security at their own cost? It shouldn't be a cost that the taxpayer's paying for. The police are a crime-fighting agency and that's what they should be limiting their resources to."

So... Garth McVicar - who, oddly enough, looks in my mind's eye like Garth George - is Speed Dial 1 on the Herald phones. I suppose that if he's willing to work for nothing but some Old Testament-style testosterone he's cheaper than a journalist.

  • Garth McVicar on the World Cup: "South African authorities took four days to try, convict and sentence to 15 years in prison men who stole from World Cup journalists. That's three days too many! SOFT ON CRIME."
  • Garth McVicar on television listings: "What? They cancelled Crimewatch? SOFT ON CRIME."
  • Garth McVicar on the horoscopes: "Mars has moved into the third house, and Uranus is ascendant, which means... YOU'RE SOFT ON CRIME."


To paraphrase every schoolkid who ever had to give a speech in primary school...

The Oxford English Dictionary defines news as:
2. The report or account of recent (esp. important or interesting) events or occurrences, brought or coming to one as new information; new occurrences as a subject of report or talk; tidings.
The New Zealand Herald defines Page 2 news as:

It is also widely known as Midwinter's Day, and from today, the days will begin to get longer and the nights shorter as summer draws closer.

There are 162 days until the first day of summer, on December 1.

Today, the sun will rise at 7.30am and set at 5.11pm - giving nine hours and 41 minutes of daylight.

Investigative journalism at its finest.


Sorry about the weak efforts at posting, by the way - the World Cup is really eating into my sleeping time, which means that sleeping eats into my work time, which means that work eats into my blogging time. So it goes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010


I've always believed deep down, that any MP - or at least any MP who makes it to their second term - has to be a bastard. To paraphrase South Park, every election is between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, because they're the only ones who make it that far.

So I don't particularly begrudge the Herald their big story here, especially considering I've bagged them for not making a deal of MP expenses in the past. If anything, it's taken too long, and it's a black mark against the media that John Key had to willingly release the data himself.

The 'seven deadly sins' metaphor might be pushing it - Len Brown is 'envy' because he's admitted another personal purchase on his card, apparently because he felt left behind by the Labour caucus.

Some of the focus on Shane Jones is a bit prurient. I understand that he's not going to be Mr Popular among the female members of the caucus, and that perhaps it is worse that he watched porn rather than, say, romantic comedies, simply because a large number of taxpayers are opposed to pornography. (Although I would hope that plenty are also opposed to romcoms.) But this?

"...a pizza called Prawnographic...". Nice one.

The trouble is, of course, that the rightful damning of wankers rorting the system is that it conflates quite different things:

I assume that the inclusion of Helen Clark on the list is a joke, although you can never tell with the Herald. Michael Cullen is on the list for spending money on a fancy dinner - but, as the Dim-Post pointed out, that dinner was while he was Minister of Finance, and it was with the Australian Treasurer, and it's hard to argue that that's not some sort of government business. It hardly compares to taxpayer money being used by MPs as petty cash.

The final point is that, without defending the MPs accused here, there is another difference between some representatives and others. In 'the old days', MPs weren't paid, as it was considered a public service (not to mention that working for a wage was considered vulgar). This was one reason, of course, that working class people didn't become MPs - they couldn't afford to. Nowadays they are very well-paid, but a divide still exists. Of course John Key doesn't need to charge things to a ministerial credit card: he has $50 million. This is one reason why it's not a good idea, as the Herald was slyly suggesting yesterday, to scrap these cards and expenses altogether. The problem isn't that MPs can bill (as can so many private sector employees) for work expenses; it's that they clearly don't know, or refuse to acknowledge, what is business and what isn't.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lazy/busy linking

Busy morning at work, oddly enough - thanks a lot, University of Auckland Law School. So here's something funnier and more relevant than I would have come up with anyway, and which half of you have probably seen already because it's not like The Onion is obscure.


Boston Globe Tailors Print Edition For Three Remaining Subscribers

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


The Metro 'Section' (aka 'Page') of the paper, focusing on events of particular pseudo-relevance to people in the Auckland metropolitan area, is the result of the Herald's understandable desire to broaden their base beyond the city itself, and into the entire region and, indeed, the whole country.

That said, I never read it. The red ink-bedecked Metro page conjures up images, for me at least, of the most banal and boring news in Auckland - let's face it, anything important that happens in Auckland will, or should, be in the main news. (Sorry, rest of New Zealand.) To me, the Metro page is planning permission disputes, reports on council meeting minutes, residential zoning debates, 'waves' of burglary and that fascinating column where people, and God knows who, write in to ask about roads. But I found out today that it's not only that.

It's also news about notable cats from the metropolitan region:

Interestingly, it's the same reporter who wrote about the crabs (below). This is a bit confusing; I know times are tough at the Herald, but I'd thought that the demand for animal news would have meant separate reporters for vertebrates and invertebrates.

There's not much point quoting from an article about a cat, but I'm going to do it anyway:

Mr T, whose name is short for Tango after the police team that rescued him, was found as a kitten, soaking wet in a storm, his head popping up from behind the moving barrier on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Three years on, he's a healthy 6.1kg and "rules the roost" at his Helensville home.

[...] "He indicates what he wants so if he wants you to feed him, the paw comes out and hits you. And if dinner isn't on time - at six at night - you get a whack and if you ignore him, he goes around, he'll start ripping the furniture. If you still ignore him, he goes under the TV set.

"If that doesn't work he'll climb on top and dangle a leg so you can't watch the TV.

Awww. It's almost enough to make you wish for a controversial zoning permit.

Most Tortured/Tortuous Headline 2010

Page A6 today: "Fancy a feed of fancy crab? Sorry, there's a catch... well, no catch"


Oh, the article is also awful and unnecessary. The big news here is that stocks of Alaskan king crab in Auckland have run out:
Simon Gault, who owns the Jervois Steak House in Ponsonby and the Viaduct restaurant Euro, said stocks of Alaskan red king crab - subject of the television series The Deadliest Catch - ran out two weeks ago.

[...] The crab sells at Jervois Steak House at $26 for a 200g entree, and $80 for a 600g main.
Thanks for that important consumer news, consumer affairs reporter, of relevance to that large slice of society that purchases $80 restaurant mains. Christ, no wonder the rest of the country sees Aucklanders as effete layabouts.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Erection News, Part II

Also on the front page, some decidedly less sexy news:

A sexual abuse trial was aborted after a juror revealed he became aroused while listening to evidence from the alleged victims.

The elderly jury member was one of 12 people hearing a case in an Auckland Court this week about the sexual abuse of two teenage girls.

[...] On Wednesday, Judge Mary Beth Sharp questioned the jurors about how they were coping.

It is understood she was told the male juror had confided to his fellow jurors that he had been sexually aroused by the victims' evidence but had coped on Tuesday by wearing a condom in the courtroom.

Right, well that's pretty rough. From here, however, the article gets a bit odd.

The man also told the other jurors his views on the trial in case he ended up being taken off the jury.

As a result of that, the trial - which was supposed to run until yesterday - was aborted and the case rescheduled for a new trial date.

The premise of the whole article seems to be 'gross old pervert means rape trial has to be re-done'. But the two sentences above seem to imply that the actual reason for the abandonment of the trial wasn't that a man got an erection, but that the rules around communication among jurors were broken. Of course, I'm no fancy big-city lawyer, and perhaps the reason was indirectly the erection. Typically, it's impossible to tell from the article itself. All I know is that 'Trial cancelled because of breach of jury rules' is a less exciting headline than 'Trial cancelled because of pervert's erection'.

Moving on:

Neither the police nor the Crown would comment, saying the case was still before the courts.

But one source last night told the Herald the alleged victims would now have to go through the ordeal of giving evidence again at another trial.

Another source said this was not the first instance of a juror acting inappropriately.

"While these sorts of events are certainly uncommon, this sort of conduct is not without precedent."

Sources said the aborted case was yet another reason to have sexual abuse trials heard by judges only.

What the shit is this? Writing like this wouldn't survive on Wikipedia, let alone a proper, self-respecting newspaper. This isn't Watergate, people - we don't have to protect Deep Throat. Why do you need an anonymous source to tell you whether the victims will need to testify again? Couldn't you just contact someone at the University Law School, or... any trial lawyer? Oh, and in other breaking news - this isn't the first time a juror has acted inappropriately, in the history of New Zealand jury trials. Then we'll just put a quote in from this anonymous whistle-blower, even though it exactly paraphrases what the previous sentence already said. But the last one is the best. What you really mean is, "people who think sex cases should be tried by a judge only, but for some reason want to keep that fact secret, think that sex cases should be tried by a judge only." I'm going to slip an anonymous note onto my boss's desk saying, "Sources say that James Coe deserves a big fat raise," and I'll see how far that gets me.

There have also been concerns that juries do not always accurately represent society as they often are drawn from people who have the time to do jury service.

The accused's lawyer, Adam Couchman, said what had happened was not a common enough occurrence to seek change in the system.

"This is a once in a 20-year experience, so we have got to be careful of falling into that knee-jerk sort of reaction we all seem to have when something bizarre or significant occurs."

More rubbish weasel words. Honestly, it's like a tired satire of Fox News. Despite the concerns, the only person actually quoted in the article does not seem to share those concerns at all.
It is understood police are looking into the matter.
Oh Christ, just stop it!

Erection News, Part I

The News Week Ends Here:

Sacked for being too sexy, eh. Let's turn one page, to A3.

I see they've just reused the same picture. Speaking of which, the caption:
Managers told Debrahlee Lorenzana that her high heels drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting.
That's interesting, because in this photo Ms Lorenzana is wearing a halter top and a lei. Presumably not what she wore at work. Christ, why didn't you just photoshop her head onto a porn star?

Workplace discrimination is, of course, an important issue - even if these are just allegations at this stage. However, I suspect that the large majority of, say, women fighting gender discrimination aren't going to find themselves on the front page of the paper.

Even more interestingly, I suspect that the kinds of attitudes that have got Ms Lorenzana, and most of Ms Lorenzana's breasts, on the front page of the paper are the same attitudes that led to the alleged discrimination in the first place.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


During my most recent absence, I used my time on all sorts of esoteric creative adventures. One of them was the short-lived but legendary DOG NEWZ. A masterwork of ultra-concise satire, I skewered the liberal media with cutting wit, etc. etc.

Anyway, obviously the Herald would never do anything like run a front page report on a dog - certainly not after the savaging they would have got on DOG NEWZ...

Dum de dum.
Oh, a free glossy magazine, the Red Bulletin - aka a 100-page advertising supplement for Red Bull. John Key's nether regions. Something unimportant about Israel.

Oh, what's that on the bottom left?

Choice quotes:
"She's well kept, she's clean and she smells good," Mr Eagles said.

"Funnily enough, it's the second dog I've found at the top of the Harbour Bridge."

"I thought, 'How the hell would a penguin get up here and nobody see it until it's right at the top of the bridge?"'