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.

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