Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009: Knights, jails, and much, much more

Sorry for the late post today. I was busy living the luxurious life of the professional media star.

A knight's tale
: R.I.P. Tall Poppy Syndrome, 2000-2009. The big news today is that, at last, our greatest achievers can be truly, formally recognised as being a lot better than the rest of us: the government will reinstate the titles 'Sir' and 'Dame' for the highest levels of the New Zealand Order of Merit. The Herald is salivating at the prospect of Sir Colin Meads, Sir Russell Coutts and Dame Jenny Shipley, but I'm a bit sceptical. Ok, I'm very sceptical, and I think that one of the more progressive, albeit symbolic, changes of recent times has just been rolled back. Fortunately for people selling newspapers, the government has chosen to offer the 85 eligible people the opportunity to accept or decline the title, thus providing a 'will they, won't they' aspect to the story that will have titleless punters like us on the edge of our seats.

There are a couple of objections to the change that have been brought up in the article. Jeanette Fitzsimons is worried that the Sir and Dame titles are "part of an outgrown relationship with the British Empire." This is obviously true to an extent, but I'm not sure it's significant. John Key has said today that he theoretically supports a republic, so it's pretty clearly not some kind of reactionary, crypto-monarchical move. Anyway, every country has its own honours and titles, and they're still decided here on by our government, not the Queen. Meanwhile, Sister Pauline O'Regan, one of the potential Dames on the list, is "amazed that this is what the Government might be putting its energy into when I'm hoping it's going to save us from economic ruin." I generally find this kind of argument a bit silly, as if the government and the public sector are a bit like a man who can't talk to his wife and read a newspaper at the same time. I'm sure the people who are working on the financial situation haven't been seconded to an urgent honours-reinstating project. So I think we can dismiss that one.

No, my objection is this: what's the point? Has anyone ever been motivated to do anything positive by a knighthood? Did Colin Meads play rugby well in the hope of being Sir Colin? Did Witi Ihimaera ever write anything to hook up a knighthood? Did Henry van der Heyden... become chairman of Fonterra for a title? I find it very difficult to believe. On the other hand, as the recent cash-for-honours scandals in Britain show, plenty of are motivated to do something negative - bribe governments - to get a title. At the same time, lots of people in line for titles seem to have done pretty well for themselves already, be it in terms of power, wealth or simply attention: (Sir) Russell Coutts is apparently quite good at sailing boats, and I hear he makes quite a lot of money from it; (Dame) Jenny Shipley got to be prime minister, although not a very good one, of a whole country; (Sir) Colin Meads, as national royalty, gets in the paper whenever some lazy journalist captures an ill-formed opinion coming out of his mouth - the All Blacks aren't eating enough meat, or they're wearing too much makeup, or 'young people these days'. So I'm not quite sure what effect that it will have.

Not that the people themselves seem to tend to agree with me. "I think the recognition would be good for the wine industry on the international stage," says winemaker George Fistonich, while "sexual health specialist" Dr Margaret Sparrow thinks that it "gives the recipient some credibility." Presumably she already had some credibility already, or she wouldn't have been given an honour in the first place.

I actually quite like New Zealand's relative egalitarianism, and I suspect that the people who are occasionally on the end of 'tall poppy syndrome' can just harden up a bit. I'm sure Colin Meads would agree.

A jail's tail: "Most jails tipped to get private managers" is the rather euphemistic headline for the government's plan to more-or-less privatise New Zealand's prisons. I happen to think that privatised prisons are a rubbish idea, not least because of the current case in America when two judges are on trial for accepting seven-figure kickbacks for sentencing kids to hard time in a private youth detention centre; when you're talking about the most severe, coercive thing that a liberal society does to its members, I'm slightly uneasy about the idea of private profit. But that's not really the point here - what interested me in this article was the emphasis the Herald put on why the legislation was coming. John Armstrong, political correspondent, doesn't so much say that the recent fiasco in the Corrections Department is the motivation for this move, but he definitely fudges the story by pretty much mixing two different articles together in the same piece: one about the failings at Corrections, and the other about the proposed privatisation - oops, sorry, the private managers.

What seems much more likely to me is that this is simply a 'right-wing' move from a centre-right government. It may make for a less sexy story, but would at least make more room for potential protest and debate. Oh, that's right, it's the Herald. Sorry.

Changed your mind? No?: It turns out the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand was being reasonable all time. So says Campbell Smith... chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. (Side note: does every single business or institution need a 'chief executive' these days? Honestly...) Now, of course industry PR pieces in the opinion pages are to be held suspect, but the newspeak and doublethink of this piece is quite astounding. According to Smith, "there have been a lot of misleading reports and sensational propaganda about section 92A [the proposed law change that would allow copyright holders to demand ISPs revoke alleged pirates' internet access without judicial overview]." He continues:

Some people have suggested the new law would mean people keeping tabs on what internet sites people visit or monitoring people's email. That is not true.

Others suggest that under the draft code of conduct designed to implement the law people will be summarily thrown off the internet for downloading a couple of unlicensed files. That is also not true.

I haven't actually read any sensible, mainstream critic of Section 92A say either of these things. The main problem has always been that the 'victims' were also going to be the judge and jury. Speaking of which, Smith now agrees "that users should be able to flag to an independent adjudicator anything they regard as mistaken evidence." Oh, how generous, Cameron. And when I lock you up in my basement because I think you stole my car, I'll be sure to let you appeal to my neighbour if you don't think you did it.

Newsflash; neo-Nazis "not democratic": According to an article in the World section, Germany's main neo-Nazi party, the National (!) Democratic Party, is not actually democratic after all, and is actually filled with shocking racists who plan to rebuild Hitler's Reich. Well I'm glad we cleared that up, then.

"Brevities": A brief round-up of the letters and print-edition "Your Views" today:
  • Marianne Stevens, of Takapuna, demonstrates what happens when the Herald runs story after misleading story about youth crime: "This is such a violent country and feral kids roam the streets." Sigh.
  • Meanwhile, Janine McKenna-Woodley, of Orakei, isn't keen on smoking, especially when "most of the smokers appear to come from overseas countries, where smoking is possibly still acceptable". Also acceptable in other countries: foreigners stealing our jobs; Communism; shifty eyes; feral kids roaming the streets.
  • Dan (Auckland), responding to a question about favourite cricket commentators: "Navjot Sidhu. He was only on air here for one season, but he was by far the best." Navjot Sidhu is also notable for beating another man to death with his bare hands in a road rage incident, which must have spiced things up in the commentary box for Martin Crowe. Perhaps this was why his commentary career was sadly curtailed.

Juxtaposition of the day: Not that the Herald would want to imply that the notoriously big-boned Jesse Ryder couldn't keep his mind on the game during last night's cricket, but...:


  1. The new honours system is surely just a belated bite at Helen Clark by National. Once she gets her big UN job and quits she will quickly be knighted (and compelled to accept to keep up appearances), becoming a Dame, which is pretty much the antithesis of her egalitarian/feminist ideals.

  2. I support the return of the 'old' honours system. you provide the argument that these people don't ask to be knighted - which is the reason that they are. This is just a way of thanking them for going into the international ring and putting New Zealand on the map.

    Now, I don't really think there are many more New Zealanders who can do that, it's not likely that we'll have another Rutherford or Hillary, but it's nice to have that option on call in case it does happen.

    The next story will be about whether the titles should be changed or not - just you watch. That's like the NZ flag debate. If it does get changed, there'll always be unhappy people.
    Personally, I'd only support a change to 'Good cunt' and 'Hard chick'.

  3. Jesse's only got one thing on his mind
    [...]Now, it isn't often that James from Editing the Herald ventures into the sports section[...]

  4. Be sure not to miss the Campbell Live poll tonight, where for a measly 99 cents you can "help decide" whether Colin Meads should accept the title. Oooohh the suspense! I can't wait. 7pm TV3.

  5. I hope Sidhu's defence lawyer cranked out one of his winning quotes in the courtroom: "he is as innocent as a freshly laid egg!"

    Clearly that's why it took 19 years to actually convict him. :p

  6. Whilst I was initially on the side of conservatism when it came to Labour's progressive moves - mainly about the privy council (just seemed like we were getting something for free) - I can now see the value in these (largely symbolic) moves. The main problem with the new honours system though was that the 'man on the street' had no idea how it worked. In keeping with this blogs theme, I would lay the blame for that at the feet of the mainstream media... And NZ's egalitarianism is relevant - in my short time in the UK, their obsession with status and title has stuck out.

    Regarding private prisons, perhaps you are right to be wary, but there is some reality in the management vs privatisation distinction. Unlike in say Texas, in NZ the government is still going to retain a lot of control of the prisons, and remain in ownership of the facilities. It is a bit strange though that the herald, with its penchant for sensationalism, chose not to play the privatisation card.

  7. I suppose my main problem with the honours system isn't that we are using the wrong titles, or that the whole system is somewhat inscrutable; rather, I don't really see the need for honours at all. They honestly seem like a bit of a feudal throwback, let alone a 'British Empire' one. I don't think I have ever thought of anyone differently because they have received an honour. A possible exception is military honours, where they quite possibly aid the esprit de corps and motivate madmen to take mental by valuable risks.

    I'm sure you're right about the management/privatisation distinction, but I suppose that one might worry that once private involvement gets its foot in the door it's very hard to get it out again. Long-term contracts and so on make privatising something much easier that re-nationalising it and, without wanting to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist, if a government wanted to privatise prisons it might seem like introducing private managers was a good first step.

  8. Dan the Navjot Sidhu fan here. I'd no idea he'd beaten a guy to death, to be honest. Seems it might have curtailed his commentary, but not his politics career - odd, huh?

    I make one post on the nzherald Your Views that isn't rebutting the crap 99% of others seem to think passes as informed commentary, and it gets picekd on. Typical :p

  9. Re the news flash, it is notable (and an often quoted fact I might add) that a good sign of an autocracy is that it has "democratic" in its name.

  10. scrap the damn fuedal honours system. Lets go all USA on that shit and have a "Hall of Fame" for everything. Then watch the granny-herald have massive debates over whether Winston Peters goes into the Politican's Hall of Fame or the NZ Rogues Hall of Fame (or infame)!!