Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009: Happy cows, p*ns and shocking news about men and sex

Happy Cows: Now, it's not so much that I have a problem with the Newcastle University study allegedly showing that cows who are given the "personal touch" produce more milk (up to 284 litres more, although god knows how they worked that out - cosied up to a cow, then shunned her?). My problem is more (surprise, surprise) with how the Herald, in the form of reporter James Ihaka, has chosen to report this piece of 'news' - that is, like a child with no background in quantitative research. First it is implied that the main finding of the study is that cows with names are more productive - and Mr Ihaka indulges us by suggesting some names that cows might have, and which might presumably maximise production: "Daisy, Gertrude or Buttercup". Now, those are some fine names, but I have a sneaky feeling that calling your cow 'Hitler', 'Benjamin Button', 'Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen' or 'Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite' would have exactly the same effect.
The second problem with the article is that it takes the normal Herald approach to a (presumably) peer-reviewed scientific paper - it asks people for anecdotes about whether or note the study is accurate. People such as dairy farmer Martin Bennett of Putaruru who, in conjunction with Ihaka, came up with this abortion of a sentence: "He said it made sense to lots of farmers who named their cows as their herds were far more likely to produce better quality milk." I see.

Harmonious end to my sanity: The good news - a drugs bust has bizarrely turned up a stash of stolen musical instruments worth tens of thousands of dollars. The bad news - Elizabeth Binning, 'police reporter', has decided this occasions a punfest of epic, horrifying proportions. I honestly thought the paper had weaned itself off the use of puns until I saw this. "Harmonious end to drug bust", screams the headline. "On the beat took on a new meaning when police dropped in". No it didn't. "The successful raid ... could almost be described as music to the ears of police...". Stop it! Stop it now! The only thing worse than reading this holocaust of language is imagining how smugly she is sitting at her desk right now, coming up with her next pun-related crime against humanity.

Outrageously cute news of the day: No time to go into any detail, but there's news on A3 of a Scottish zoo breeding pigs that are the size of a teacup when born. Excuse me.

Why mathematicians can't find girlfriends: Ladies, next time you're unsure whether or not to sleep with some guy, consult a game theorist. A British study written by mathematicians from several classy universities have shown through game theory that - shock! - there are benefits in not rushing into sex with every stranger you meet. According to their breakthrough findings, men quite like having sex quite soon. Worse, some men don't intend to stick around afterwards! I know, I know. Calm down, it's ok. Having your whole world view shattered is never easy. Young ladies can foil these dastardly Don Juans by - wait for it - not having sex straight away with any stranger they bump into. The bad men will melt away - perhaps literally - leaving Mr Right standing there, holding flowers and chocolates, in a pool of liquified human flesh. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday, January 29: Bumper edition on flags, Goff corner, Barry O and much more

No flag this year: So, let me get this straight. After years of complaining and campaigning for the right to fly a Maori flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day, it seems like the Government and transport agencies may be willing to give them the green light. However, according to Dr Pita Sharples, it's unlikely to happen this year - because apparently iwi can't agree on what flag to use. In a wonderful cart-before-horse moment, Sharples, having achieved what he and others have campaigned for for years, is now in charge of working out precisely for what he has campaigned - with some Maori factions supporting the tino rangatiratanga flag, others the 1835 'independence' flag, others "something new" (oh good). Now, I'm no expert on traditional Maori consultation procedures, except in so far as they resemble modern bureaucratic consultative delays, but couldn't they have just thrown something up this year? The TR flag has the support of the local iwi, Ngati Whatua, and I've yet to read about anyone really coming out in opposition. Either that, or they could have spent the last ten years working out what to do when they got to this point. Ah, Maori Party - welcome to the joys of government.

Phil who?: Pity poor Phil Goff. After years of paying his dues as an MP and in cabinet, he gets thrown the hospital pass of the leadership after Labour's unceremonious booting. But - O capricious fates! - things get worse for Phil. Now, it's commonly held that it is the Opposition's job to oppose, so we might think that Phil Goff is well within his rights to come out and criticise what he sees as the tardy response of the Government to the deepening economic cris... oh, I'm sorry, the "credit crunch". And, what with the importance of this issue to our country and the world, surely we all think that his criticisms should be heard and promulgated by the media. All of us except the Herald, it seems, who have exiled him to a 20-line story in the bottom corner of A6, dwarfed both by a suitably desperate-looking Nissan ad and a much larger story above featuring the smug, bald head of Tony Ryall. I suppose I would be more concerned if Phil Goff were actually saying anything with any real content, but I'm sure that I remember John Key making the front page reasonably regularly with just those sort of platitudes. Hmm, curious...

Barack who?: In the whirlwind of hysteria that has accompanied the candidacy, election and now presidency of Barack Obama, it has been all too easy to get carried away with messianic hyperbole - so it's lucky we have the likes of Mike Edgar of Pakuranga to point out his failings. He's a "man who has done little with his life and then written a book about it. It's a victory of style over substance, hyperbole over history." Now it's true that he can't match the achievements of John McCain, a man who came 894th out of 899 in his class at the US Naval Academy, and whose main achievement in Vietnam seems to have been getting shot down twice. But surely Obama has done something with his life. Well, he did graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, and was both an editor and then President - the first black president, need I add - of the Harvard Law Review. Then there was the time he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, teaching and researching constitutional law - you know, constitutions such as the Constitution of the United States of America. And then - I don't know if this is relevant or not, Mike - he was a senator, first in the state of Illinois and then in the US Senate, the exact position that McCain occupied. So, Mike Edgar, of Pakuranga... what have you been up to lately?

Garth fights back: After going all girly-fluttering-eyelashes about Barack Obama last week, Garth is back with a right old moan this week; the government, the police, the corrections department, the defense forces and the health services all fit within his comprehensive remit. The government, he claims - agreeing, perhaps unwittingly, with Phil Goff - aren't doing enough about the economic crisis. "Consensus is often a good thing - particularly after nine years of autocratic Labour-led administrations - but it is no substitute for strong and decisive leadership." What a bizarre sentence; wait Garth, is the National government too much like the previous government, or too little? And just a hint - citing Michael Laws, the "broadcaster and columnist" and general asshole, isn't going to convince anyone who wasn't already convinced by you. I'll skip over the rest of his rather pedestrian complaints about various arms of the state, except for a brief mention of his criticism of the handling of defense. This has been an odd theme cropping up for a while; just the other day, someone wrote in criticising the fact that Helen Clark was anointed 'Greatest Living New Zealander' after she had let the armed forces fall into disarray. Can I just write these people off as grizzled World War II veterans without the desire to understand or even recognise the way the world has changed in the last 60 years. What the hell are we going to do with a squadron of Skyhawks for god's sake? I can't believe I have even been drawn into this debate.

America's first black face: In case you have forgotten exactly what the most photographed man of the last year looked like, today's Herald would like to remind you, with a massive photo on A13 that puts Tony Ryall to shame. The photo, an extreme close-up of his face, dwarfs the article that accompanies it - an article that is actually more about Australia than the US. Now, I'll go with the Obama closeup over the Kevin Rudd closeup any day, but I don't really see why either is necessary. Oh, did I mention the smaller inset photo of Obama next to the large photo? This one is worse, as it features half of the awful visage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her face emerging from behind the President's shoulder like a bad moon on the rise. Yes, yes, the 'televisation' of newspapers is nothing new, but I reserve the right to get righteous about it at any time.

The curious case of the Gaza ad: I came across something strange on page A14, in what I now call 'Goff corner'. This time hemmed in by a suitably desperate-looking Mitsubishi ad ("Hurry, you only have until the end of February", that presumably being when the carmaker goes under), I spotted an 'advertorial' entitled "Gaza: The missing truth - Israel's action, founded on self-defence, are both legal and moral". At the bottom, it was revealed that the ad was "paid for by Kiwis for Balanced Reporting on the Mideast", an organisation which "neither condones nor condemns Israel's actions [despite claiming, as above, that they are both legal and moral], but wants Kiwis to know the whole truth so they can make up their own minds." Certainly, not all of the reporting on the crisis has been great - although claiming this while Israel bans journalists from entering Gaza is unlikely to win much sympathy - but trotting out hoary old cliches and massaged statistics seems less like the work of a group dedicated to transparent journalism than a lobby group taking rather disturbing steps to disguise themselves. I'm hardly suggesting a Zionist conspiracy but, nonetheless, perhaps 'Goff corner' is just the place for them.

Nothing to see here: Meanwhile, on page A17, part of a two-page spread that is about seven-eighths advertising, is an article on the near-final crushing of the Tamil independence movement - or, as you have probably heard of them, because they're really not an actual ethnic minority or anything we have to respect like that, the 'Tamil Tigers'. In a world where Western journalists shit a brick whenever Kosovars or Kurds or whales are threatened, the ethnic-Sinhalese government - peaceful, Dalai Lama-esque Buddhists, like the Burmese military junta - have done a good job of convincing the world that the Tamil resistance are some abstract, al-Qaeda-style organisation, rather than an independence movement representing an actual ethnic minority. Reading the Associated Press report, you would certainly have no idea why the fighting is even happening, apart from the fact that the 'Tamil Tigers' are rebels. Why are they rebelling? High taxes? Repeal of Section 59? Who knows?
When I talked last year to an old friend who had worked in the war zone - i.e. the parts of the country inhabited by the Tamils - with 'Doctors Without Borders', she told me about one of the Government's favourite tactics. They would simply shell villages and farmland in such a way as to force the civilian population to pick up and move into Government territory, at which point their much superior military muscle would occupy the abandoned land, rinse and repeat. Interestingly, the last, unquestioned sentence of the AP article today simply states: "The [United Nations] health official said the shelling appeared to have come from the government-held area."

Breaking Orthodox Church news: In an election that sounds more like something out of Star Trek (not that I would know anything about that), a certain Metropolitan Kirill has defeated one Metropolitan Kliment for the leadership of the Russian Orthodox church - possibly in single combat on an airless moon. Live long and prosper, Patriarch Kirill.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday, January 28:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, they say. I was never entirely sure what to make of that platitude, except on a solely literal level. As such, I am unsure of how to approach today's Herald, which makes last Tuesday's look like the love child of Pravda and The Sun. Perhaps I'm not cut out for journalism after all - the staff at the Herald can't just have a big "Sorry: no news today" headline on the front page, stuffing the rest of the paper with whiteware ads and 'Your Views'. On the other hand, I suppose their task is easier - they just have to say that something happened, no matter how banal it is. The remit of the news-rage journalist is much narrower. It's not enough to rage with the Herald; one must rage at it. The other problem is that, as I have discussed before, one must have certain standards. The day I write an entry about Sideswipe is the day I retire from the blogging business. Today, for instance, is Wednesday - and Wednesday is Viva day, meaning a whole supplement dedicated to "the good things in life". Which is upper-middle-class-speak for all sorts of bourgeois bollocks. Newton is the new Ponsonby. Personal trainers are the new gyms. Bobs are the new hair extensions. A cutting edge interview with a woman who "cuts a cool figure in the crazy [sic] world of PR" - she can't live without her "La Prairie Lip Plumper". Of course she can't. See how easy that was? I would never stoop to such a level, not for all the Italian Travertine Marble Tables (from $2995) or "minimalist warehouse chic" floor lamps ($2050) in Newton.
So fingers crossed for Garth George tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday, January 27: Tigers are dangerous, Asian warming, Nanny-in-Chief and other opinions...

Newsflash - tigers bite: Quite an odd story on the front page of the Herald today - "NZ aid worker mauled in Thai tiger enclosure". The story itself isn't particularly weird - woman pats tiger in its cage, tiger bites woman, woman goes to hospital - but the way it was reported got my news-rage on. Firstly, is this really front page news? I mean, she didn't even die, which might have made it more newsworthy, I suppose. She's also not a celebrity (unfortunately), although perhaps she can now parlay her newfound fame into some kind of reality TV appearance; maybe some kind of crossover with the Lion Man, now that he's out of prison.
Secondly, why the fact that she is an aid worker, as opposed to a plumber or travelling salesperson, is important, I do not know. Is it supposed to make her more sympathetic? It seems like a rather baffling, if harmless, example of that journalistic habit of reporting occupations and other irrelevancies as if they were at the core of people's being. The case that comes to mind recently was the murder of a young woman in Christchurch (!) who happened to be working as a prostitute. Cue endless media coverage of 'murder of a prostitute' rather than 'murder of a person'. How this designation splashed all over the media helped anyone I am uncertain, but it probably didn't make her family feel any better about the whole thing. Of course, there are many more versions of this - 'black presidential candidate Barack Obama', 'transsexual MP Georgina Beyer', and so on - but the best satire of this remains the Onion article "Area Homosexual Saves Four From Fire". Anyway, I digress, but that was a bit strange.
Finally, does the Herald intend this story as some kind of morality tale? Apparently, Ms Corlett intends to sue the operators of the tiger enclosure, despite grown tiger-patting being right up there in my mind with venomous snake-poking and gorilla-taunting as animal-related activities that are best avoided. However, there are no obvious editorial indicators in the text that she was rather foolish, and that much subtlety is not something for which the Herald is famous. Perhaps the Herald just wanted a picture of a tiger on the front page. But at least there was some light entertainment for the patient pop culture junkie: "The [New Zealand] woman touched the tiger on its head and suddenly the sleeve of her arm, or the cloth of her shirt, got into the eye of the tiger and the tiger got irritated."

We like Asians: In case you were wondering what you thought about Asians, the 2008 Perceptions of Asia Report, via this Herald story, is here to tell you. A 1000-person survey, definitely statistically sound and in no way containing leading or ambiguous questions, has determined that "New Zealanders' perceptions of Asians are improving", and I would have to agree - it's been years since an old man on the bus has informed me that Asians are stealing all our jobs. For example, six in 10 NZers said Asian employees raised workplace productivity, the remaining forty percent presumably never having had an Asian co-worker. In other breaking news, NZers feel warmer to Asian immigrants than Australians. 91 percent of people thought Asia was an important export market, with the other 90 people currently resident in North Canterbury.
But it wasn't all good news for Asia. More people felt NZers were 'less warm' than 'more warm' to Chinese people in particular. The contaminated milk scandal was apparently a factor, although there's no news yet of how Chinese people feel about Fonterra's starring role in the whole thing. The other major concern was that "people from China will have too much influence on New Zealand society". Oh dear. Now there is a sentence that refuses to be satirised.
On the other hand, those who felt we had grown warmer to the Chinese felt they had "progressed" and "changed their way of thinking". Yes, we value cultural diversity - we will keep getting warmer to you as long as you keep becoming shorter, straighter-haired versions of us.

The Nanny state: As you may have read in the Weekend Herald, the epic contest to be named "Greatest Living New Zealander" was decided in favour of Helen Clark, who pipped official crazy-person Cpl. Willie Apiata for the coveted title. The white smoke had barely cleared from the chimney of the Herald offices when J. Hill of Irvine, California, wrote in to voice his displeasure. Apparently, this "referendum" is "an acknowledgement of the prevailing sense of life of a pitiable and declining culture." By picking the Queen of the Nanny-State over "the alternative choices of outstanding scientists and businessmen, [NZers] have displayed the nature of any sycophant."
Now, far be it from me to question the importance of an online Herald poll, or indeed to defend the 'nanny state', in so far as it exists, but I fear J. Hill may be overreacting somewhat to this result. Helen Clark beat the field of ten with a total of 25% of the vote, or a massive 3163 votes. This means that around 12,500 people voted in this "referendum". In contrast, about 2.95 million people are on the electoral roll, so about 0.42% of potential voters voted in the poll, and about 0.1% voted for 'The Nanny'. So maybe things aren't quite as bad as J. Hill makes out. As for the outstanding scientists and businessmen people could have voted for... there were no scientists and the outstanding businessman was The Mad Butcher. All J. Hill's letter goes to prove is that the righteous power of news-rage journalism can be used for evil as well as for good - with great power comes great responsibility.

That's an interesting opinion: The opinion page is always a bit of a toss-up, as the crazy and the dull battle to force feed their views to the populace. Naturally, the results aren't always fascinating, but today the Herald plunges bold new depths in interest and relevance: Deryck Shaw's "article" on industry development. I say "article" because I am pretty certain that Shaw - "a director of APR Consultants, a strategic consultancy company specialising in economic development" - has simply cut-and-pasted a section of some industry report into an email and fired it off to the dialogue page, resulting in a dire mix of irrelevance and boredom. Even if I understood half of the jargon in the piece, it's hard to see how I could use my position as unemployed intellectual to implement the kind of vertical integration and sustainable practice that Shaw wants to see in the wool and forestry industries.
I mean, honestly, I don't know who is more to blame - this gent for sending his wisdom to the Herald, or the Herald for bending over and printing it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009: Milk death, Europeans, battleships, and bullock bollocks

Just a brief edition today. I had to make a delicious couscous salad this morning, and this afternoon I am going away to... a conference... on... blogging. Yeah, that's it, a conference on blogging.

Blood runs thicker than milk: Well, I imagine Fonterra executives will be calling off their holidays to China today, having heard the news that two executives of Sanlu Group have been sentenced to death, and another (the unlucky one, if you ask me) to life imprisonment. Sanlu Group is, of course, the company who, in partnership with Fonterra, put melamine - a substance more at home in your chair than your milk - in their milk powder. Now, I'm no supporter of capital punishment but I find it hard to sympathise here; if only we could come up with a more 'humane' idea for the punishment of those Fonterra execs involved. Milkboarding, anyone?

Whites whiter, and colours out: From the 'only-in-America, but-if-in-New-Zealand-then-in-Canterbury' file, an upstanding citizen wishes to create a 'European' ministate in rural North Canterbury. He has commissioned Europe's finest architects and artisans to make his dream a reality: baroque cathedrals, fairytale castles, theatres, the opera, olive groves... Ok, you got me. Actually, by European I mean white. And, presumably, by white I mean Anglo-Saxon; Eastern- and Southern-Europeans need not apply. This wouldn't actually be a particularly interesting story if it weren't for Kyle Chapman's bizarre vision of what would constitute his utopia. Housing, of course. Small business, naturally. A huge vegetable garden? Well you never know who has touched those tomatoes before you at the supermarket. Schooling for the young "away from the multicultural brainwashing of current system schools" - although surely it would be easier to just send your kids to school in Remuera. Yes, this all seems pretty standard... oh wait. Survivalist training, and a sport fighting ring, just in case the plan wasn't 'Mad Max' enough to start with.
To be honest, I don't know why anyone bothers getting up in arms about this. Everyone from the Race Relations Commissioner to local MPs has condemned it, but I'm pretty sure that, even if it happens, all the skinheads will end up back in Christchurch in six weeks anyway, quite a bit thinner and not a lot wiser. In fact, we should encourage them - the rest of New Zealand will be all the more tolerable while they're gone.

The bullshit whisperers: Newsflash: some Australians may not be that bright. That's how I would have summarised today's article on how 'pet whisperers' are apparently catching on in Australia. Then there would have been all the more space for more in-depth horoscopes. But there are some 'corker' lines in there that almost - almost - make it worthwhile losing some braincells over. One woman has even created the ultimate crossover - talking to dead animals.
It's surprising that people have taken so long to build and then jump on this bandwagon. The difficult thing about talking to dead people is that people have quite a lot of characteristics. Did old Joe like reading, or gardening? Was Agnes Jewish or Catholic? With, say, dogs it's a bit easier. "Oh, yes, I'm getting a message. Fido really liked eating dog food, and chasing sticks. He says he's having a great time in the dog afterlife." I suppose I would be more concerned about this kind of thing if it were anything more than a tax on stupidity. But that's no excuse for the Herald to fan the flames.
Oh, and one final warning from the Herald: "psychics shouldn't replace a vet if an animal has serious health or behavioural problems." Now they tell me; when my grandfather became seriously ill, all we did was call a psychic phone line.

Bored games: Hey, wasn't The Dark Knight great? And, man oh man, Transformers had some kickass action scenes! Spiderman! The Incredible Hulk! Man, what other awesome franchises does Hollywood have lined up for us?? Well, according to the Herald, "Universal has a deal with Hasbro to make live-action versions of Ouija, Battleship and Monopoly." You may pick up your jaw from the floor now. Imagine the thrill of property ownership, and charging rent, all on the big screen! So, incipient thespians, start practising your lines now:

"You sank my battleship!"

Ungrammatical headline of the day: "Woman joining stars of the kitchen". Oh wow, just who is this woman? Well, actually, there's a whole bunch. So... that would be "Women..." then. Sean, I thought you were supposed to be fixing this kind of thing?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday, January 22: Party time, sunny Whakatane, 'the industry' and your views

"Party time around the world": As you were probably already aware, there was an inauguration yesterday, and it was the cause for much joyous celebration. Clearly, in Washington DC, it was celebrated with star-studded inaugural balls, the champagne flowing, the faces of the beautiful people rendered even more beautiful with last-minute Botox. But how, I wondered, were people in the rest of the world enjoying this monumental occasion? Fortunately, the Herald obliged. "...Toasts were offered at black-tie balls in Europe...", the article offers. Well, that makes sense. Meanwhile, "Bulls and goats were slaughtered for feasts in Kenya ... and shamans in Latin America chanted Barack Obama's name with reverence." We all know that, even if there were a building big enough in Africa to hold a ball, there wouldn't be enough tuxedos to dress the guests. Latin America, meanwhile, is a continent best known for its mysterious pagan rituals; we know little more about it than that the loud chanting could be heard from Texas. No such chanting of Obama's name took place in the US yesterday, of course.
I don't know whether it's better or worse that there is no follow-up in the (short) article about these claims, making them something of a casual, throwaway remark. Does that make them more or less painful/ridiculous?
On another note, the article goes on to really push the boundaries of journalism by asking - get this - a black man what he thinks about a - wait for it - black president. Turns out he thinks it's good.

Serious business in Whakatane: "Don't let the sun go down on me/ Although I search myself it's always someone else I see." That may or may not have been what the inhabitants of Whakatane were singing in the shower this morning, as the town reeled from the most controversial decision since the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George W. Bush (remember him?). It seems Blenheim has received the much-vaunted title of New Zealand's sunniest 'city' from NIWA (government science types) after ruling out Whakatane's record number of sunny hours as suspicious, with claims of 'faulty equipment' and 'sabotage'. Now a war of amusing words is raging among the Eastern BoP region, the Marlborough District Council and NIWA. It turns out that Whakatane rocketed up from third place in 2007, with 2550 hours, to first place in 2008 with... Oh, I'm sorry, I seem to still be talking about this 'story'. I don't know what came over me.

The industry strikes back!: You may remember from yesterday my rage at the story about Tony Ryall cancelling a health conference to save money. Well imagine my surprise when I turned to page A6 and saw this headline: "Industry fury at Govt for cancelling conferences"! Maybe I was wrong! Perhaps this conference really was one that was going to improve New Zealanders' health for the better. So I read the article. And, funnily enough, it turns out that the industry upset with the government for cancelling conferences isn't the health industry at all. It's the 'conference industry'. And, according to Conventions and Incentives NZ chief exec Alan Trotter, the government is sending "completely the wrong message”; presumably that junkets are a complete waste of everyone's time. Alright, so the guy is just sticking up for his economic interests. But why is the Herald getting its knickers in a twist about this? My guess is that journalists love the free booze at conferences.

Your Views on Obama: No, I don't mean your views. I mean those of the manifold contributors to the Herald's very own version of talkback radio, the online 'forum' of Your Views. It's a fascinating cross-section of the populace; while, to get published in a major media outlet, you used to need to have both something reasoned to say and a substantial-enough grasp of grammar to say it, now all you need is an internet connection. Every day, some contributions make the cut and get into the newspaper proper but, like with any research, to get the best data you have to go to the primary sources. So here are some highlights of the forum on hopes for Obama:
'Altvox': "I hope Obama re looks at the USA unblinding support for the Isreali's. Interesting how Isreal agreed to a cease fire just days before Obama is inorgirated." [sic]
'Andy': "I hope the Obama writes off all American debts owing to all other counties so as to get America out of the red. There is nothing stopping him from doing this because America is still overwhelmingly the greatest military power in world."
'Craig': He wants to take America down the road to Socialismm [sic] my hope is that he will not succed in achieving this goal. I am also hoping he will not attempt to bail out everyone and everything. I am hoping he will maintain a strong armed force and that he will keep homeland security at a high level. I also hope I can have a playstation for christmas because ive been a good boy. [Ok, so I made the last bit up.]
'Schwann': I just hope that Obama can do what the other great Presidents have done in this century. The priorities are:
1) Prevent global pandemics such as the Great Plague and the Spanish Flu.
2) Prevent genocide such as happened in the Holocaust.
3) Prevent World Wars such as WW1 and WW2
4) Prevent nuclear holocaust such as Hiroshima

Your Views: it may not be the most coherent news forum, but it should be – do try it.

Party on, Garth: I was particularly looking forward to today, seeing as Thursday is the day when my arch-rival (no, he doesn't know who I am) Garth George publishes his column. What will it be about today? Single mums cause AIDS? Helen Clark causes abortion? Who knows? Turns out that he actually wrote about... Obama. And it's not even controversial – it turns out that he's reasonably excited about Obama, and wishes him well. There goes my meal ticket. Still, there's always next week.

Misleading headline of the day: "UN chief launches attack on Israel". If you can't beat 'em...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009: Obama's balls, healthy politics, our heroes, and fruity letters

Inaugural Balls: So it turns out that my 'plans' to live-blog the inauguration didn't turn out, due to lack of interest (mine). Luckily I arose early enough to watch the thrilling spectacle of the presidential armoured car driving - slowly - to the White House. But apparently this was nothing compared to the spectacular coverage on CNN of Obama's train ride from Philadelphia to DC. If you thought, say, the last Lord of the Rings movie, or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Apocalypse Now Redux were long, you've never watched seven hours of gripping footage of a train travelling slowly cross-country. If I weren't so accepting of the official line, I would be tempted to think it was some kind of media experiment into how much paint television viewers are prepared to watch dry in one stretch. At any rate, as I sit here with CNN on now (muted, naturally), the bottom of the screen informs me of the day's schedule:

Now: Pres. Obama Watches Parade
Next: Former Pres. Bush Lands in Texas
Later: Inaugural Balls

Touché, CNN. Touché.

Why politicians do things: The other face staring out at me from the front page today is the rather less pleasing visage of Health Minister Tony Ryall. Not one to be outdone by the inauguration, Ryall has forced his way into my consciousness by calling off a health conference in Wellington that was to cost taxpayers $123,000. The Herald choose to headline this "Ryall's strong-arm kills gathering", which rather makes it sound like the Health Minister went on a murderous rampage in a Buddhist monastery. At the risk of appearing a wee bit right-wing, I'm not certain that it's a disaster for the health community, which could probably do with the money instead - especially considering that, as the Herald rather obliquely points out, it was actually costing $350,000 to run. The difference in costs was down to attendance fees paid by the doctors, nurses, pharmacists et al who were to attend. Most of whom were being paid for by district health boards. Which are funded by the government. Which, and I hope I haven't lost you here, is funded by taxpayers.
But my favourite part of this story is how Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff objected that 'Mr Ryall might have interfered for political reasons.' So, Mr Goff, you are claiming that the MINISTER OF HEALTH called off a HEALTH conference funded by money from the MINISTRY OF HEALTH for political reasons? Next.

It's your old mate, the Greatest living 'Kiwi': The Herald, having only just realised that Sir Edmund Hillary, the 'Greatest Living Kiwi' (tm), has died, has launched a contest to find out who shall inherit his mantle. Unfortunately it's not the good, Krypton Factor type of contest, but rather one where the type of people who frequent Your Views get to vote for their favourite, possibly right next to the poll where they get to vote on which MP they would want to back them up in a fight. The Herald have, luckily, done us all the favour of weeding out unapproved choices by unilaterally cutting the list to ten. The 'finalists' range from the boringly predictable (Helen Clark) to the completely bizarre (The Mad Butcher?? I repeat: The Mad Butcher).
Corporal Willie Apiata, recent winner of the Victoria Cross, is in second place (behind Clark). Now, I don't mean to denigrate Cpl. Apiata's bravery - god knows I wouldn't have done it - but I'm not certain that we want one of the state-approved armed maniacs known as the SAS as our greatest representative. What's more, at the risk of sounding blasé, he's only a living New Zealander because the enemy couldn't shoot straight. After all, that's how you get the VC - doing something that's extremely likely to get you killed. Bringing up the rear are Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall and the second-most bizarre pick (I repeat: The Mad Butcher), Louise Nicholas. You may remember her as the women who alleged that she was raped by that lovable posse of Rickards, Shipton and Schollum. Now, I have nothing but sympathy for her, and think of those officers as another excellent reason for our police to wear bright, sky blue uniforms. But I'm not certain it qualifies her as the greatest New Zealander ever. On second thought, she's probably no less 'qualified' (whatever that means) than Colin Meads.
Finally, I repeat: The Mad Butcher.

In Brief: I got briefly excited by the headline "Seal's bid for life on land ends happily", until I realised it was about the animal.

Strange Fruit: In the wake of my piece yesterday about the letters page, the Herald editorial borad have done precisely nothing. In fact, just to spite me, they lead off today with someone complaining about the price of fruit. It turns out that Chris Hayes, of Mairangi Bay, has 'never known summer fruit to be this expensive this long into the season.' And don't even get him/her started on apples. In a bizarre twist, Chris offers this: 'It appears we are paying for something that should be rightfully ours, something we all grew up with in our backyards and picked straight from the tree.' So, not only is $6 too expensive for a bag of apples, so is $1, or 6c. This must be why the UN Convention on Human Rights features the right to apples, somewhere in between life and liberty.
Now, I don't know if fruit is too expensive. But, if it is, don't buy it. Or, even better, go and pick the apples off that tree in your backyard.

Emmerson's view: Emmerson's cartoon might be mildly amusing - might be - if the Chief Justice weren't John Roberts, a Bush appointee and member of the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court. I can't imagine that they will be high-fiving each other any time soon. Also: does Obama have a massive forehead I haven't noticed before? Or is he just too handsome to accurately caricature?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009: Meta-rage, grumpy old men, the point of letters, Obamamama...

Meta-rage: For that niche of 'journalists' whose 'job' it is to take offence at the content of newpapers and then write it down, the slow news day is that rarest of things, a double-edged sword. Sure, a slow news day means the editors have to scrape the barrel for more ridiculous 'news' stories, featuring people who are fun to laugh at. But then writing satirically about such a story is like deepfrying Palm corned beef: unnecessary and possibly fatal. There's only so much one can say about a crazy cat lady or a dog stuck in a tree. At any rate, for most news-rage journalists - to coin a phrase* - the thrill is in deconstructing the coverage of interesting events. So imagine my delight when, on the second day of this very blog, I opened the Herald to discover a wasteland bereft of news-rage possibilities. Sure, there's Obama, but that's pretty much it - and if there's anything original yet to be said about Obama, I haven't thought of it - I mean, people already made up and published all the good fictional possibilities. So what follows today is, I suppose, the news-rage equivalent of a slow news day - a slow news-rage day, if you will. But I have achieved one thing already: I've made you read a whole paragraph about nothing but raging about raging. Please don't leave.

* I have since Googled "news-rage journalist", and can confirm there were 0 results. Excellent.

Young people these days...: For those of you who, like me, have 'lost' all their grandparents, and thus all their contact with the very old and grumpy, today's Opinion page holds something of a nostalgic surprise. Dovetailing nicely with their 'slow news day' theme, the Herald have published a consummate old-man rant about how people dress too sloppily these days. He starts off with a reminiscence about a man on his bus back in nineteen-dickety-one. This man wore a three piece suit, polished shoes, pocket watch etc. to his workplace, a construction site where he changed into overalls and began 'chipping concrete off boxing', whatever that means. Now, while most of us today would (rightly) consider this a sign of mild mental illness, this display impressed the young Noel Gillespie to the point where he decided to be obsessed with dress codes for the rest of his life. To cut a long, long story short, here are some things that really 'get [Noel's] goat':
  • Women wearing pants
  • Men drinking beer out of a bottle (although this is 'maybe acceptable' at a barbecue)
  • Presumably women drinking beer at all
  • 'Middle aged women wearing jeans'
  • Wearing a sports jacket to the New Zealand Sports Awards
  • Just about everything I wear on a daily basis: 'flop flops [sic], unshaven designer [sic] stubble... jeans ... yada yada'. No mention of singlets, but I imagine that's only because the very thought of them would make him break down in tears before he could so much as dial Leighton Smith.
Now perhaps it's unfair to pick on this gentleman, who after all is hardly unique in his opinions. So instead, I direct my ire to the Herald editorial staff. Come on, we've all met old people before! Tell us something we don't know!

Dear Editor: Hey, what the hell? When did the letters to the editor merge with Sideswipe?? Oh wait, they didn't (yet). All that happened was the letters page started printing people's random complaints about their day. I'm very sorry, R.K. Jones of Takanini, that you had bad service at the supermarket. And I truly felt for you, Pam Dodd of Mt Eden, when you had that nasty run in with a rude motorist the other day. But I have a recommendation for you both. Instead of clogging the Herald letters page - my Herald letters page - up with your stories of woe, how about you write in to That's Life magazine. Not only do I then not have to read them, but you can make up to $600 for each submission! Now that's life!

I heart Obama: My post yesterday notwithstanding, am I the only one getting super-excited about Obama? My heart filling with Western-nation pride? My brain swarming with radical possibilities? My loins stirring with the vaguest of man-crushes? I am even considering staying up all night to watch the ceremonial bollocks (metaphorical). Presumably this is exactly the intended effect of the inauguration/coronation process - seems like I may not be above bread-and-circuses politics after all. Also, if anyone spots an outrageous flame-headed ginger in the crowd, it's probably my cousin.

Headline of the month contest:
'Smelly man hunted after tourist attack'. As if the guy didn't have enough problems...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009: Raging on Obamania, Hillary Memorials, Generalissimo Chavez, and antisemitic cafes

Obamania-mania: Obviously, this is plastered all over the paper today. It's rare that I feel positive about any political phenomenon, so the whole shebang makes me slightly uneasy. I suppose it's nice to see the unambiguous joy which the election has brought to so many people, even if it's only shared by the 52.9% of people who voted for him (just in case you forgot.) Before the election, there was a theory doing the rounds that the devotion towards Obama from his 'fans' bordered on a personality cult. Certainly, if you had actually asked his voters for one of his concrete policies, nine-out-of-ten of them would have just stared at you, slack-jawed.
Whether or not the 'personality cult' idea is 'true' (whatever that would mean) I'm not sure I see it lasting once people lose their jobs and have no food to put on their Obama '08 commemorative plates. What excites me most about Obama coming in is that no-one knows what he is going to do! When Bush came in, everyone knew he was going to be a right-wing arsehole. But Obama?!? Is he a radical socialist who is going to nationalise healthcare and make gay marriage compulsory? Is he a right-wing cipher who, having mind-controlled half of America, will scrap the minimum wage and lock up single mothers? But seriously now, folks - he won't be Bush, and he won't be Lenin, but there's quite a spectrum there between open for guesses. You'll forgive me if I don't raise my hopes too high.

El Presidente Chavez throwing his toys, and the dice: Speaking of Obama, Sr. Chavez got into the paper for slagging off the president-elect in response to comments (that were apparently never even made!) that Chavez was an obstacle to progress. Now, we could be charitable to Chavez and admit that the previous administration(s) weren't exactly friendly, but it could just be that in the run up to the rehash of the constitutional referendum Chavez worries that, in Bush, he is losing his greatest asset. Oh, and he used teargas and rubber bullets on student protesters.
Seeing Chavez lose, or throw away, more of his marbles is another letdown for 'progressives' such as myself who hoped that it would be a new dawn for a continent that, let's be honest, had had a rough century. Of course, and I probably should have known this, all it demonstrated was that Lord Acton was right about absolute power corrupting absolutely.

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!

Te Maori flag: Thanks, Catalina Young, of Mt Roskill, for this incisive contribution to the Maori flag debate:

'... every time I've seen it [the tino rangatiratanga flag], it's being borne by a bedraggled bunch of abject, unemployable no-hopers dressed in tracksuit pants/jeans, vests [!] and sneakers, most of them wearing dark shades [!!] and clinically obese. This evokes a sense of national pride?'

Wow, Catalina. You really managed to cover all the bases of Maori stereotypes there, although there is no mention of them beating children (yet). Imagine not wearing a suit while on a protest or a march! Or perhaps Ms Young is referring to high-powered legal meetings where they waved the flag with pride in trackies (and wore sunglasses inside - major faux pas). And news just in: fat people deserve no respect! Sigh.

Kosher cafes: So I wonder if Mustafa Tetinkaya is regretting banning two Israeli women from his Turkish Cafe in Invercargill (suddenly finding itself in the middle of international geopolitics). Certainly the letters in the Herald have come down pretty hard. It's certainly a bit of a storm in a teacup compared to what is happening in Gaza - I'm sure that a few doors down is another cafe more than willing to take $4.00 off their hands for a coffee. Catherine Spencer of Remmers (of course) thinks it 'can lead to the slippery slide [which, let's face it, sounds much more fun than a slippery slope] of banning people on the grounds of skin colour, religion or sexual orientation.' Really? And I thought it was just a cafe owner losing two customers.
Meanwhile, the better-educated M.W. Stevens of Freemans Bay compared the Gaza invasion with the atrocities against Kurds and Armenians in Turkey, and - gasp! - finds Mr Tetinkaya a hypocrite. Well, of course he is, but that's hardly big news. Ever cried a tear about African poverty and then bought Nescafe? What's 'interesting' about M.W.'s letter is that he claims that the owner's failure to ban himself from his own cafe means 'this can only be viewed as an anti-Semitic attack'. Yawn. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Maybe it's just a rather misdirected, bad-taste attempt at genuine solidarity. Let's just say that I'd rather be an Israeli in Invercargill (*shudder*) than a Palestinian in Gaza City - but ask me again in a month.