Monday, June 29, 2009

Definitely not a test case

I have this friend; let's call him... Ken. And I just wanted to tell you that, no matter what you may have heard, he's not a racist. Nope, definitely not. Some people have been saying that he discriminates against people on the basis of their race; others say he does no such thing. Sure, the former are crazies wearing tinfoil hats, and the latter include the Race Relations Commissioner and Nelson Mandela. But, in conclusion, alleged racist Ken - a man who, some say, doesn't care for people with a different skin colour to himself - is definitely not a racist.

Moving right along, the Herald today has another article about the "so-called" (by the Herald, that is) 'ear flick dad'. You'll remember him - he was the one the Herald reported on for weeks as being a test case for the amended section 59, until it turned out that he had actually punched his child in the face. But then it's hard to teach an old rag new tricks - witness today's story, "'Not a test case, simply a child being punched'". Reasonably unequivocal, right?
A District Court judge and police say the prosecution of a man who insisted he had flicked his son's ear, only later to be convicted of punching the child in the face, was never a test case for child smacking laws.
Well, let's let that one slide. After all, a judge and the police did come out and say it. Even if the only reason anyone thought it was a 'test case' was that the Herald and other media reported it that way.
The case was widely seen as a test of the anti-smacking laws because Mason publicly claimed that he had done no more than administer a flick on the ear.
Woah, woah, woah. There's those weasel words again! Perhaps that's why it was widely seen as a test at the Herald offices, although I suspect that also had a little to do with circulation. Everyone else only thought this because they are gullible enough to believe what they read on the front page of New Zealand's largest daily newspaper.

The rest of the article is a bit long, so let's boil it down:

"smacking legislation ... legislation ... test case ... flick to the ear ... pull to the ear ... law in relation to child discipline ... ear-flick"

Definitely not an ear flick, then. There's no mea culpa here for the misleading reporting which led us here, just some Orwellian rejigging of the past - 'of course there was no ear flick!' - oddly combined with the repetition of those words that sold a thousand newspapers - 'anti-smacking bill, anti-smacking bill...'

Headline of the month

From page A4 of today's Herald:
"Three out of four think poll waste of money"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Party on, Garth

If you do a Google image search for "garth george", this is the second result:

This is the sixth:

The fifteenth:

And, finally, seventeenth:

Inspirational, isn't it? The progression from bitter wrinkly to blonde celebrity, to powerful politician, to omnipotent being seems... fitting?

Anyway, I digress.


Garth say -
The trouble with any bureaucracy is that it is wedded to the philosophy that one size fits all and, it seems to me, its practitioners are actively discouraged, from the moment they join it, from thinking outside the square.
Well, it's hard to disagree with that, right? Overcentralisation of services like health and education, ridiculous rules written by committees and out of context locally, etc. etc.

This applies obviously to the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Education, who have decided that some of our most dedicated, committed and experienced early childhood educators will have to be laid off unless they achieve further academic qualifications.

[...] [Education Minister Ann] Tolley has said she has asked education officials to come up with ideas for more flexible qualifications, but she will have to keep on their hammer because flexibility is a frightening word to bureaucrats. It means they might have to think.

Hear hear. What bureaucratic schemes will be next to face the cleansing might of Garth's anti-bureaucratic glare? "Bring me my bow of burning gold:/ Bring me my arrows of desire:/ Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold!/ Bring me my chariot of fire!"
And that's the guts of the matter. For it is deeply flawed ideology that has put our education system in dreadful disarray and the reason our literacy and numeracy standards have slipped alarmingly across the board.
That's right! Let's get rid of the bureaucratic, "one-size-fits-all" mentality! What shall we do next, Garth?
The stranglehold these two organisations [the NZEI and the PPTA] hold over education policy and practice will have to be smashed if the Government is to succeed in meeting its election promise of setting national standards in literacy and numeracy and having regular assessments of the performance of every primary and intermediate school.
Uh, yeah... the setting of one-size-fits-all national standards in literacy and numeracy? Regular assessments of the performance of every primary and intermediate school? The assessments won't be carried out by bureaucrats, of course. It will be done by... hey! Look over there!

Alright, so maybe we can't expect him to be consistent. But at least he's dropped that whole misogyny thing, right?

Instead of tinkering with things like early childhood qualifications, the Ministry of Education would be well advised to start doing something serious to attract young men to the teaching profession, for the feminisation of our education system is seen as one of its greatest drawbacks.

So bad has the dearth of male teachers become that in many schools the few male teachers who remain refer to the staffroom as "the henhouse".

Regularly we hear deep concern expressed that our boys and young men are not achieving well in our schools and the fundamental reason for that is that there are too few male teachers to guide their steps.

Wait, I thought it was the bureaucrats and lack of national standards. Anyway, it's so good that we have the traditional mainstream media to maintain standards of reporting and truth. If this article were on, say, Wikipedia, where any old crazy can go on and edit, any article saying "the feminisation of our education system is seen as one of its greatest drawbacks" would immediately be tagged as inappropriate for using 'weasel words'. It's lucky then that the high standards of... erm... Hey! Look over there!


Most excitingly, I am reliably informed by Lew that Garth George is appearing this afternoon on National Radio. I am slightly apprehensive - I worry that his actual voice, no matter how gruff, can only pale in comparison to my MindGarth. I'm too incompetent to find the exact time, so maybe someone can point it out in a comment.

As for me, I won't be blogging it until tomorrow, streaming it from the website. It's my birthday, it's midday, and I'm going to the pub.

Guess the esteemed journal of opinion

One of the above APN publications is filled with gossip and slander, colourful photos and graphics, and lightweight opinion. The other is the Woman's Weekly! (Ba dum chish.) Given this revelatory finding, I offer you some sort of Thursday quiz:

Which of the two APN publications features the following headlines on their latest edition:
  • Mother's plea: Why did my baby die?
  • Ray skips lunch with orcas
  • One dream comes true, millions disappear
  • Readers' responses put sunshine back into Charlotte's life
Answers on the back of a comment.

Don't worry, the Woman's We... erm, the publication in question gets back into traditional form on page 3: "Killer inflicted horrific injuries".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pact with the devilectorate

For some reason, thinking about [SPOILER AHEAD] John Key on the cover of Investigate magazine - the readership of which is presumably a core National constituency - got me thinking about the compromises politicians must make for power. Which, in turn, got me thinking about Pete Hodgson krumping.

Best viewed over and over with sound on for maximum eerie effect.

The agony and the irony

Should you feel in the mood, may I recommend this Your Views for your consumption?
Should prisons be run by private companies? What reforms should be made?
There's a terrific sample of some of New Zealand's top up-and-coming conservative comedians, with their best material on why prisoners should be locked in a shipping container and then dumped in the ocean. Like most conservative 'comedians', they don't quite know when their point has been made, but what they lack in modesty they make up for with enthusiasm. Sample answer:
Sir Prospect (Auckland Central): [...] The only right lawbreakers should have is the right to die.
A helpfully racist Herald vision of our future prisons - page A3


I don't really want to finish on that note, so instead I'll offer you this heartwarming story of liberal irony winning out over grumpy racists - and, topically, misleading poll questions: on the Daily Mail's attempt to ask its readers "Should the NHS [The UK's National Health Service] allow gipsies to jump the queue?"

Front page fever

It's been another one of those marking weeks, I'm afraid. Full service should resume Thursday or so but, in the spirit of treating your crack-like addictions to news-rage, I offer the following observations on the content of today's front page.


"Swine flu risk from hidden carriers", offers the Herald today; if you weren't already worried whenever you see someone sneeze near you, now you have to watch out for people not sneezing as well. Quite how that is supposed to influence my behaviour I am unsure.
"Experts keep fingers crossed NZ's death toll will not hit 200."
Well, hopefully they're doing more than that.


Now, I do a lot of complaining... but even to me, some complaints seem outrageously unsympathetic. In general, nothing bores me quite as much as the very wealthy complaining about tax... but lottery winners?

Big Wednesday's biggest draw - a $30 million jackpot of cash and prizes - will definitely go to at least one ticketholder tomorrow night.

And while the winner, or winners, will probably want to share the wealth with family and friends, such generosity can be taxed.

Oh good lord. Do you mean that if I should win $30m of untaxed lottery income - about as unearned as you can get without finding a briefcase of money on your doorstep - and want to show my, erm, "generosity", I may have to pay some tax? It's enough to make you want to drive your two new luxury cars into the swimming pool of your new $750,000 bach. Fortunately, the Herald isn't above offering tips on tax avoidance:

But there are ways to make sure the taxman is not a recipient of any Lotto largesse.

Liz Koh, director of Moneymax, said winners could avoid paying gift duty by setting up an interest-free loan repayable on demand.

"You can have it set up in your will so that when you die the loan is wiped."

Of course, when we say "the taxman", we mean the government coffers that pay for social services, infrastructure, police, firefighters, prisons and so on. Anyway, setting up a phony loan that you never intend to claim back seems like an ethical way to deal with the situation.

Spicers Wealth Management senior financial adviser Jeff Matthews said winners wishing to distribute their wealth could claim they bought their ticket for a syndicate.

[...] "If you had argued that you went in and bought it with your 10 bucks, but you were doing it on behalf of your family syndicate, who is going to argue they didn't give you a dollar each?

Not anyone who works at the Herald, that's for sure. One can only hope that karma brings APN an IRD audit this year.


Christine Rankin pops up again on today's front page - another unwelcome surprise over the morning cup of tea. This time it's because she's very close to crossing John Key's claimed line and "campaigning" in favour of the referendum question on smacking, despite having been appointed to the Families Commission. It seems that she made the following quote in an interview with Investigate magazine:
"That's what I don't get. You get these families...
Wait, what? Investigate magazine? You mean the one edited by Ian Wishart? The conspiracy magazine for right-wingers sick of all this talk about 'human rights'? If it's not New Zealand's government being illegal, it's climate change being made up on behalf of the "climate-industrial complex"; if it's not white people living in New Zealand before Maori colonisation, it's the undercover Marxist machinations of the parliamentary Green Party. I honestly thought this magazine had gone out of business years ago - who is buying all the copies that keep it running? Unless, that is, it's bankrolled by the International Zionist Conspiracy. I've already said too much.

Anyway, what was my point? Oh, that's right. I just thought it was crazy that the Families Commissioner did an interview for Investigate. Or at least I did, until I saw who was on the cover of the latest issue...

Meanwhile, in the secret headquarters of the 'Vote No' campaign, inside a live volcano somewhere off the coast of Canterbury...

Ms Rankin's name was initially on the list of speakers for yesterday's opening of the "Vote No" campaign led by Family First lobbyist Bob McCoskrie, but it was withdrawn at the last minute.

Mr McCoskrie said inclusion of her name was a mistake that he had moved to correct.

Of course it was, Bob. You were just thinking of Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime writer. And, erm, Christine... Fletcher?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Party on, Garth

FYI: Anonymous comments are actually reactivated again - I've finished sulking. So go nuts.

Usually, the problem with Garth George's Herald column is just that he's an old bigot. There's often nothing wrong with with what he writes, in the sense of being factually inaccurate - it's more the conclusions he likes to draw that send shivers down one's spine. Today, however, he talks (again) about the amendment to Section 59, and it's one of the more slanderous, misleading loads of rubbish I have read in a while.

The stupidity surrounding the whole business is of even more concern. If the law is an ass, then Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, as amended by Parliament a couple of years ago, is a whole herd of them.

The original section 59, which allowed the use of "reasonable force" in correcting and disciplining children, had been on the books for 40 years and had caused not the least concern.

It had not caused the least concern? If Garth had bothered to do some research - the first Google result for "section 59 amendment" is the parliamentary page for the legislation, where you can access the original bill, the sub-committee recommendations and the final, amended piece of legislation - he would have seen this comment from the National members of the subcommittee discussing the legislation:
In the best interests of children, the New Zealand National members of the committee believe it is imperative to lower the usage of section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 as it is being used as a shield to conviction by some parents and guardians who have obviously abused their children.
Some high-profile recent cases involving severe beatings with implements are seen as obvious examples of child abuse, yet no convictions have resulted when the accused have successfully used the ‘‘reasonable correction’’ justification offered by section 59 in jury trials.
That's from National MPs, not Sue Bradford. Perhaps parents getting off charges for beating a child with an implement is not a source of concern to Garth, although I suspect it's just not a fact that fits in with his argument.
Until Green MP Sue Bradford got it into her head that that fragment of law was somehow the cause of the epidemic of child abuse and decided it needed to be changed.
Yeah, that's exactly how it happened. She thought it was the cause of the 'epidemic' of child abuse. you may see this is just some harmless rhetoric, but evidently one of the major criticisms brought against the legislation is that it hasn't ended child abuse; if it was meant to end it, and it hasn't, it has failed. You might think that only the most credulous, ridiculous people would fall for such a cheap con trick, but... that describes a solid proportion of the population.
In the end, after accepting a watered-down version put forward (and voted for) by the National Opposition, Section 59 was amended in the face of widespread opposition from the community, which remains to this day.
This idea of 'widespread opposition' I find rather suspicious, if not completely fabricated. Certainly, the very mention of 'section 59' seems to rile up the blood of the kind of people who frequent talkback radio and Your Views; on the other hand, a poll commissioned by the Children's Commissioner [PDF] made these key findings:
Forty-three percent of respondents in the independent omnibus survey supported the law while about one-third opposed it. The remainder were neutral.
The level of support against the use of physical discipline with children is also encouraging, with 37 percent clearly opposing use of physical discipline. Support for the use of physical discipline appears to be declining over time.
Of course, we should take this with a grain of salt - I'm sure there are other surveys which, depending on the question and the sample, give different results - but it's hardly evidence that there is overwhelming opposition to the law. This alleged opposition is, of course, another justification offered up for the reversion of the law change.
It was supposed to be a conscience vote, but Labour, terrified of losing the support of the Greens and, as it often did, ignoring public opposition, whipped its troops into line to support the amendment.
Another red herring; after the attachment of a provision saying that cases would not be pursued if not in the public interest, the law passed by the enormous margin of 113-7. That is, the people whose job it is to actually know what is in the legislation voted for it by an overwhelming margin, despite 'widespread opposition' from people who didn't.

The whole thing is nonsense, and the worst of it is that it puts parents in a quandary about what to do when confronted with implacable recalcitrance.

Take the young mum in the supermarket the other day whose child packed a towering tantrum and in the process swept a whole lot of goods off a shelf.

She tried her hardest to reason with the child but couldn't smack for fear of being reported to the police. In the end she left the supermarket in confusion, upset and hurt at the censorious stares of other customers whom she believed considered her a bad parent.

Censorious stares? Wait, were they because they thought that she was going to smack her kids or because they wanted her to smack her kids? Does this ridiculous anecdote tell us anything at all about the law? Because it sounds to me awfully like the kind of thing that happens every day, and has done since well before the legislation, when parents gleefully smacked their children and all was apparently well with the world.

Under this ridiculous law she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't. But, unfortunately, the referendum will do nothing to solve that dilemma for parents because the dumb question being asked, "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?", will receive a huge majority of "No!" votes from parents.

Why? Because they don't ever want to be put in a position of having to answer to the police or some official from Child, Youth and Family because they were seen (or reported as) administering mild physical discipline to a child.

Here's another common claim, at least before the legislation came into effect: that good, hardworking, middle-class, (white) parents would get locked up, or at the very least humiliatingly treated like poor people and investigated by police. Of course, it hasn't actually happened - but that hasn't stopped Garth bringing it up. Garth, how many parents have been investigated for lightly smacking their children? Garth? Meanwhile, there was the Jimmy Mason case - the 'ear flick dad' (© New Zealand Herald) - who actually turned out to be quite the opposite of the good bourgeois parent that social reactionaries were supposedly in defence of - a long-haired musician who swore at his kids, as well as at members of the public.
What, for a start, is "good parental correction"? He [Phil Goff] said the question should be "is the law working satisfactorily?" That is just as dumb because the answer from voters could also be nothing else but a resounding "No!"

The aim of the law was, after all, to deal with child abuse. It hasn't, and it never will. There are just as many child killings and abuse cases as there were before the amendments to section 59 were passed.

The aims of the law, of course, were to:
  1. 'Breed out' the culture of using any violence towards children at all - hardly a short term goal.
  2. Prevent the use of the 'reasonable force' loophole for abusive parents.
Can anyone find me the quotes where backers of the bill said that it was going to end or radically reduce child abuse immediately? No, because they don't exist. Frankly, it seems to me that the law is working in exactly the opposite way that people like Garth predicted - but rather than change their minds, or even just shut up about it, they keep trotting out the same old misleading arguments and bogus statistics.

Which brings me, again, to my main point: why does Garth George get to keep writing this column filled with not only bile but actual untruths? Is he on some sort of iron-clad long-term contract, so the Herald can't get rid of him? I've been told that, at least a while ago, he gets more complaints than anyone else at the Herald - but he also gets more support. Frankly, I don't think that's good enough for this country's flagship newspaper.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Campbell Live-Blog

I can't wait until I'm a famous enough journalist to get my own primetime 'current affairs' show. From the promo for tonight's Campbell Live:
Is the $9m smacking referendum a waste of money?

Text xxxx - texts cost 50c
Self-aware? Or just... shit? Comments cost 50c.

Statistic may mean something, says someone...

...and may mean something completely different, conjectures someone else - "Abortion drop may mean people are being more careful, says reform group":

The drop in abortions performed in New Zealand probably indicates people are being more careful but more research is needed, says the Abortion Law Reform Association.

Statistics New Zealand figures show 17,940 induced abortions were performed in the year ending December 2008, down 440 (2.4 per cent) from the 2007 year.

"I'm hopeful that what it means is there's better use of contraception, better sex education and people are being more careful. But without research, one cannot really say that," Alranz president Dr Margaret Sparrow said. "Stats will never be able to say why the figures have gone down."

Dear Journalist who, for whatever reason, has not attached their name to this piece,

Please note in your article (printed June 17 in the New Zealand Herald), that Dr Margaret Sparrow has said that, while she hopes "better use of contraception, better sex education and people ... being more careful" are responsible for the drop, that is merely speculation and she really doesn't know. I know you probably didn't choose the headline, but still.... Jesus!

Editing the Herald

Of course, and article consisting of merely speculation wouldn't be complete without... speculation from the other direction:

Right to Life spokesman Ken Orr agreed that more research was required and said the drop in abortions was pleasing, although for his organisation the goal was to reach a figure of zero abortions.

"We would like to think the reason for the drop is a growing recognition in the community that abortion not only kills an unborn child, but is damaging to a woman's health."

I love the journalistic idea of balance where, however content-free an article on abortion is, one always has to contact 'Right to Life' to see what Ken Orr thinks about it - as if that is going to be hard to predict. 'Still against abortion? Got it.' Still, one has to appreciate his perhaps unintentional honesty - "I would like to think the reason..." Well, I would like to think that the reason for the drop has been the effect of my blog on potential mothers; my example has shown them that their child might have a bright future as a blogger. Why isn't my phone number in their Rolodex?


Speaking about content-free articles, how about this one - "Key again refuses to explain why Worth was sacked" - from NZPA?

Again, huh? So should we expect an update every day on Key's continued refusal to explain?
  • Thursday's update: "Key again refuses to explain why Worth was sacked - again"
  • Friday's update: "Key once more again refuses to explain why Worth was sacked"
  • Herald on Sunday update: "Key again refuses to explain why Worth was sacked - could it be hookers on P?"
In other news: the Beehive again hasn't burnt down.

Fun with statistics: Wellington edition

I like to think of myself as an equal-opportunity news-rager, and as such I would like to scupper my chances of working for any mainstream news organisation in the country by critiquing this awful article from the Dominion Post (which, like the Stuff website and everything else in New Zealand not owned by APN, is a subsidiary of Fairfax Media). I know it's a lifestyle article, but I hold that nothing is beyond my purview.

An outrageous fortune of more than $25 million is set to be won in Lotto's Big Wednesday draw tonight as ticket sales near record levels.

After an unprecedented 20 weeks of jackpot drought and millions of unlucky tickets the odds are now firmly pointing to the windfall being won this week.

The luckiest Big Wednesday number is 44, followed by 10, 16, 12 and 22. The number 7 comes up the least. But the chances of a single ticket scooping the whole prize are so slim they confounded a maths academic's computer.

No wonder people don't understand statistics. Why is it more likely to be won this week? Is it because of the weeks of jackpot drought, and the millions of unlucky tickets? No - as far as I can tell, it's just because more people than ever have been convinced to flush $5 (or whatever lotto tickets cost) down the toilet, making each combination of numbers more likely to be picked. As for the numbers, how can number 7 be last when everyone knows that 7 is lucky in gambling? It's enough to make you go to a lotto shop and pick 1-2-3-4-5-6 out of statistical stubbornness.
Sure enough, she [VUW maths professor Stefanka Chukova] reported that the chances of victory were microscopic about [sic] one in 16 million for every line of numbers and one in 2.7 million for a lucky dip ticket.

But even if a person won this week, the chances of keeping the whole haul to themselves were tiny, she said. "Even the software on my computer can't handle it."

Is the software on the "maths academic's computer" just the Windows calculator? Because I wouldn't be surprised. But it gets worse.
Despite knowing the odds Dr Chukova still plans to buy a ticket "$25 million is a lot of money".
Sigh - I guess this just goes to show that common sense and fancy degrees have little or no correlation. Here are EtH's official recommendations for how to spend your $5 other than on Lotto:
  • go to your broker and buy $5 worth of diversified shares.
  • buy $5 worth of vegetable seeds at your local garden centre, plant them and sell the produce at a roadside stall.
  • pay an unemployed victim of the economic crisis to do your housework, freeing time for you to write your blockbuster screenplay.
  • buy a used shovel on Trademe and use it to dig up your back garden; should you strike oil, you will become wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.
  • write a love letter on the $5 note to a wealthy eligible bachelor/socialite in the hopes that they will marry you and share their fortune. (Although, to be honest, you could use the back of a lotto ticket as well.)
To further fill out the concept of statistics for confused readers, journalist Tom Fitzsimons has produced a handy table of statistical probabilities to compare with your lotto chances:


-Dying in a car crash on New Zealand roads: 1 in 11,000

-Having caught swine flu by yesterday: 1 in 40,000

-Being struck by lightning: 1 in 280,000

-Being elected Prime Minister: 1 in 4,312,532

-Winning a share of Big Wednesday: 1 in 2,715,020

Of course, your chances of dying in a car crash, like your chances of becoming Prime Minister, are significantly lower if you just sit around home all day in your pyjamas. That's why I imagine bookies - people who know a thing or two about probability - would not have have been offering odds of 1 in 4,312,532 on John Key last year. The less said about the odds of "having caught swine flu by yesterday" the better.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Advertising: the dismal art

1) From page A5, more of a huge photo with a caption than an article - "Bag opportunity to ditch plastic":
A supermarket chain hopes its eco-friendly designer bags will encourage shoppers to be "fashionable and green" and ditch plastic. Designer Trelise Cooper's latest bags for Progressive Enterprises include a unisex "medieval-inspired" bag. The $4.99 bags are made from organic, recyclable jute. Money raised through sales will go towards tree planting and making Trelise Cooper a carbon neutral company. Elizabeth Higgs, manager of marketing at Progressive, said 60 per cent of shoppers are using eco-bags.
  • Is this unpaid (one would hope) advertising for Progressive Enterprises - a member of the Packaging Council - or Trelise Cooper? The answer, of course, is both.
  • What precisely is a "medieval-inspired" bag, you ask? Sadly, there is no photo available online, but I can try and describe it to you from the photo in the print edition. It appears to be 'designed' in the same sense that my singlets from the Warehouse are 'designed'; someone took a standard, blue bag and slapped some clip-art (remember that?) - in this case a "medieval-inspired" fleur-de-lis - on it. Sadly, it does not appear to be inspired by the Middle Ages in other regards: it appears notably free of plague-ridden vermin, for instance.
  • I'm unsure as to what "making Trelise Cooper [presumably the label, not the individual] a carbon neutral company" means. Haute-couture made out of fallen tree branches? Cold tea at the office? But I'm certain it's a worthy goal.

2) NEWSFLASH: Celebrity endorses product she is paid to endorse. Sorry, I've just come down with a nasty case of cultural swine cringe:

Celebrity chef Delia Smith - a champion of British cooking for more than 40 years - has frustrated her fans by telling them to eat lamb from New Zealand.

The celebrity cook, 67, has been urging British housewives and chefs on her official website to "Make it New Zealand lamb every time".

Her loyalty has been turned by an advertising deal which includes an offer for her readers of a free trip to New Zealand.

Goddamn Nanny Delia; now she's told her fans to eat New Zealand lamb - and, when I say 'she's told her fans', I mean 'some marketing person has written an ad and placed it on the website that uses her name' - they will be statutorily forced to purchase it. The scandal in the article consists of quotes from the Daily Mail - which is like asking an old man for his opinion regarding kids on his lawn - and "website reader" Lewis Palframan.

"Website reader".

If you're intrigued by this story of international... intrigue, here is an excerpt from Delia Smith's website:

When treating friends and family to luscious barbecue lamb recipes or feeding the family during the week, you need to know that the meat you’re buying and cooking is of the highest quality, reared to exacting standards. Which is why New Zealand Lamb is a great choice, whatever the occasion... [Possibly not a BNP election party, though.]

New Zealand Lamb is produced in lush pasturelands, where plentiful native grasses, fresh air and unlimited sunshine – over 2000 hours per year - all combine to give New Zealand Lamb great flavour and eating quality.
Exacting standards - like the local pork industry, no doubt. I'm not sure about the "plentiful native grasses", either - I'm no botanist, but most of the grass I see out the window in sheep paddocks looks a lot like, well, grass. And as for "unlimited sunshine"... let's just say that that doesn't sound like anywhere in New Zealand I know.


3) Re: Vegemite:
Kraft Foods: Hey, can you do all our marketing and stuff for us for free?

New Zealand Herald: Uh, sure.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fun with stereotypes

I don't care much for rugby myself, and one of my hobbies is supporting whomever the All Blacks are playing, simply out of spite. From what I understand, there were few positives to take from Saturday's rugby result - few, but not none at all, because at least one came courtesy of Dunedin police, who confiscated a rooster from a drunk French supporter on Saturday night.

'What is this doing on page A4 of the Herald,' you might ask. 'Should there really be this story - about a confiscated rooster being kept in a police lockup overnight - right next to "Keep anti-smacking law [sigh], urges children's advocate"?' But there's a better question: when are national stereotypes OK? The answer is: when they're about the French.

Jill Hill, customer services officer "in charge of all roosters" [LOL], was less than thrilled to find the special guest when she arrived at work.

[...] I said to the senior (sergeant) 'well if nobody comes to pick it up we'll have to ring the SPCA. I can't stand it'."

Her wish was granted mid-morning, when a man walked in and announced "I come to pick up my rrrooster".

What the article leaves out is that the man (or homme in French) was carrying a baguette and wearing a beret, striped shirt and a string of garlic around his neck. I, for one, am impressed by the Herald's new, un-PC approach to reporting on foreigners (or 'overstayers', as I like to call them), and I can't wait to see it rolled out across all nationalities. Just think of the next time an Indian dairy is robbed, or when a Korean student wants to have a baby here. Because that's going to happen, right?

PS 27-22.

A breakthrough... maybe

Does anyone remember a few years back, when the Herald claimed on the front page that a New Zealander had found a cure for cancer? Was that the one that involved eating lots of mussels? I forget, because bogus medical science stories are so frustratingly commonplace in the paper. As I recall, the Herald got into a spot of bother over that claim (spoiler: it didn't really cure cancer), which might give some insight into the curiously qualified NZPA article, "Vitamin D connection could be key to MS", on page A3 today.

The latest research into genes suspected of playing a role in individual susceptibility to the devastating auto-immune disease multiple sclerosis (MS) may also provide new clues to some of its most puzzling aspects in New Zealand.

A co-ordinator of the transtasman study, Professor Trevor Kilpatrick, Melbourne University's director of neuroscience, said early today that the two newly discovered gene locations on chromosome 12 and 20 might reveal the "potential involvement" of vitamin D in the risk of developing MS and related auto-immune diseases.

Don't get me wrong. I certainly don't think the scientists are doing anything wrong in qualifying their 'findings' - that's their job. I guess I just worry that, when Joe Public reads the article, he's going to go and react in the same way that he did in 1999, when mussels were literally flying off the shelves as people sought to immunise themselves against the evil cancer. After all, I eat mussels (some vegetarian...) and I haven't got cancer yet. So, who knows how they will react this time? Eat herrings by the dozen? Spend too much time in the sun? I can see the headline now: "Melanoma victim tells all: 'At least I didn't get MS'".

Anyway, sometimes science coverage in the Herald isn't that great is all.

EDIT: Planning a trip to the west coast of the US? I wouldn't if I were you - "Alarm bells ring over volcano find":

A New Zealand geologist has triggered concerns about the possibility of another American "supervolcano" building under Mt St Helens.

[...] The discovery has revealed what may be an extraordinarily large zone of semi-molten rock, which would be capable of feeding a giant eruption.

Honestly, this blog could write itself. Hey, that gives me an idea...

Guess who's back

Some of you may have noticed intermittent service over the last week here at EtH. Others may have noticed no service whatsoever (although the word 'service' seems to mildly imply some sort of compensation - cf. slavery). So yes, I've just had an, if-you-will, 'blogiday'. Not only did I not write here, I haven't read or watched any news for days - and the doctor says my blood pressure is down, my posture has improved and I'm back to having the wrists of only a slightly older man. Whatever happened to Richard Worth? Did he get off? Did Melissa Lee pull off the comeback of the century in Mt Albert? Who knows?

I don't. But I still care. Which is why I purchased a New Zealand Herald today.

PS I've re-enabled anonymous comments for a) the four people left in the world without Google accounts and b) anonymous moaners. But, please, at least try to keep the moaning original.

Monday, June 8, 2009

When journalism is a bit hard... can always turn to advertising. That's clearly what reporter James Ihaka was told to do yesterday in this article, where "bad news for GM has prompted a lot of interest from prospective buyers at one Hamilton showroom":

The great grey cloud of the global recession does have a silver lining - for petrolheads at least.

The latest luxury model of Cadillac, the CTS, has dropped in price from $100,000 to around $63,000 after the collapse of General Motors. More than 80 of the cars have been snapped up by a Hamilton dealer but whether they are a good deal or not is a question dividing some in the motor industry.

Walter van den Engel, dealer principal of Ebbett Cadillac, said his Hamilton showroom had been "completely swamped" with prospective buyers since buying up the stock.

I can only imagine it will be even more swampy after getting a shoutout in the country's largest daily newspaper. You can't even get the full effect from the website - unlike the print edition, it doesn't have a shiny red photo of a Cadillac and a lowdown of what's under the bonnet:
  • 3.6 litre direct-injection V6 petrol engine.
  • 227kW/6400rpm.
  • 370Nm of torque at 5200rpm.
  • Six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission.
  • Rear-wheel drive.
  • Priced from $63,000.
Interestingly enough, the 'article' is placed right next to an 'actual' car ad for an almost identical looking Honda, that has all the same sort of information. If you squint, it's reasonably hard to tell which is which. Weird!

To be fair, it's not long before people in the car industry that James Ihaka talks to begin to slag off the cars. According to car writer Clive Matthew-Wilson:
"It's an obscure brand from a bankrupt company in the middle of a recession," he said. "American cars would never personally be anywhere near the top of my list in terms of reliable vehicles. That was one of the reasons why GM went broke in the first place ... [buying a luxury car is] not an investment but more a way of burning money."
I'm not a qualified marketer, but it seems like this sort of undermines the rest of the ad. Shrug. Funnily enough, this isn't the only time I have thought this while leafing through today's Herald. Just across the page on A2 is a large article headlined "Signs of stability in property market":
The property market is showing signs of stabilising, but an industry expert says the latest QV statistics are merely a "blip" and the market will continue to slide.
Get back to me when someone actually has some clue about what's happening, ok? I have written before about the incessant talking-up of the housing market in the front pages of the Herald, and was going to do so again on Friday when two articles appeared about house prices. Also on page A2 of Friday's Herald was the article "House prices and sale numbers up"; meanwhile, in the Business Herald on the same day was a piece entitled "Housing lift unlikely to last, warn economists." (I'm still not sure whether economists had said this or whether the Herald is exhorting us to let them know.) Why the not-so-subtle difference in emphasis? Would it make me a gibbering conspiracy theorist to suggest that the real-estate industry, who had placed an expensively glossy-looking advertising supplement in that day's paper, might not have been well pleased with a critical article (or even just headline - most people probably don't read past those) on the second page of the paper?

Maybe that's accurate, and maybe it's not - maybe I'm giving the cunning masterminds at the Herald all-too-much credit. But I think it's safe to say that this whole housing mess/economic crisis has shown us, if we didn't know it already, that economists aren't really much good at predicting anything other than their next birthday. When the people who spent $63,000 on a Cadillac ('worth' $100,000) are trying to flog it for a back rub and a pack of gum in six month's time, don't look at me: James Ihaka is thattaway.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Season Finale of Bainwatch

Well, it was inevitable. Not the verdict, that is, but the fact that, as soon as the jury decided, a Your Views would go up asking "Did the Bain jury get it right?" Before you know it, every conspiracy theorist, redneck and high-school dropout in the country have popped in to open their mouths and let the words roll out. Words inspired, of course, not by being on the jury and hearing the evidence, but by watching thirty seconds of footage on the news or reading the increasingly manic articles in the paper. Rather than entire posts, a mishmash of sentences might give a better impression of the level of consistency:
  • "I am sure the murderer has been briefed to respond but I am disturbed that the five dead have not been acknowledged by the defendant. Does David find it too difficult to acknowledge the loss of those whose life he deprived by bullet?"
  • "I think he's guilty, but my opinion doesn't count. That's the price for the rule of law (bugger)."
  • "Such is the judicial system and cheapness of human life terminated by homicide in NZ. David Bain has got away with murdering his entire family - he knows this and must live with it for the rest of his life - or is compensation of more importance to him." [Yes, I'm sure David's delighted with how the last 13 years turned out.]
  • "How can one jury find him guilty and another not - from similar evidence. He should be hung - he did it, how can he blame his old man, he's in the grave." [How disrespectful.]
  • "... he should be hung by the nearest oak tree or serve 5 life sentences, the jury in this trial are thick, he has fooled you all 'the Judge knew who did it' and so does most NZers you have to question their intelligence in sorting fact from fiction, Joe Karan is purely in it to make money and sell his story."
  • "The David Bain trial is a good example of why it is now time to re evaluate the Jury system. We have justice by the available."
  • "Unless there is more evidence, David should not receive compensation. Is it too far fetched to consider murders might be staged to receive compensation?" [Yes. Sorry.]
  • "If these murders were to take place in today's society, David Bain would be in jail for 5 counts of murder, so he got off pretty lightly in my opinion. [Unlike society, say, 13 years ago...]
  • "I tend to think that the jury ,like most NZers , have had a total gutsful of the Joe Karam show and finally decided to put an end to it despite the evidence."
  • "I'd have to say that I'm 95% certain he did it. [...] Sad fact is that other people planning and committing crimes in the future will be able to use this case as their template for committing their crimes.
  • "It is obvious Robin killed the Bain family and when David came home and discovered what Robin had done, David killed Robin."
  • "I have always believed that David Bain was innocent and to me that is what 'Not Guilty' means. If you look up the dictionary 'Not Guilty' means Innocent."
  • "I hate it when people go in search for compensation like this. I'd just be thankful for the verdict and get on with my life."
  • "Were the members of the jury seduced by his "nice guy" demeanour? Did they even bother to weigh up the evidence objectively?"
  • "this is just my thoughts but I think that Robert did do it but I say that David came home and saw what Robert had done and then David shot his dad but thats what I think"
  • "There's masses of evidence against David Bain - it hardly needs going over for the millionth time." [That would be the third time.]
  • "What a sham.who dunnit? i believe David did it. What a crock.Reasonable doubt my ass. They just cant convict him on circumstantial evidence - Robyn didnt do it. So who did.the cat?" [Well I wouldn't put it past this maniac.]
The conspiracies are astounding. Joe Karam, who has bankrupted himself pursuing the case, did it for the money. David Bain did it so that some future day he might seek compensation money. Remarkably, some people seem to not realise that this is a retrial, think that the murders only just happened and that Bain has got off without punishment.

What to conclude? That the internet is populated with unrecognized legal geniuses? That any government system where these people get as many votes as you and me is fatally flawed? One scary thought is that jurors are drawn from the same pool of people as YVers - and they may be passing judgement on you one day.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Les vues de vous

(Yes, I know that's awful French.)

And what a week it's been: bludging pregnant immigrants, killer animals, and over-the-counter P, to name just a few of the issues to have graced Your Views.

Sometimes the topics are just as ridiculously sad/funny as the responses. On Tuesday morning, YVers were asked "Should North Korea be allowed to further develop nuclear weapons and energy?" Their ensuing denunciations of Kim Jong-Il's regime have reverberated all week around the capitals of the globe. Just today, inspired by Noelle McCarthy's description of 'singer' Susan Boyle as "dead actually, as dead as phenomena go anyway," some bright young thing put up the topic "Is Susan Boyle dead as a phenomena?" Evidently, they were consequently briefed on the ins and outs of classical Greek noun endings, and the topic was corrected to "Is Susan Boyle dead as a phenomenon?" Unfortunately, it still says "phenomena" in the blurb. Ah well, I'm almost certain that it hasn't affected the quality of the discussion:

pCb (Mt Roskill): Maybe over as a phenomena but who wouldn't want the hype to be over - (especially with people like the 'perfect' Ms McCarthy harping on about you) Now SB has a career to look forward to while Noelle will continue her constructive path of first rate journalism . (Note to Auntie Herald vindictive bloggers don't add value to your paper and are not a classy look)

Dammit! It's not true, it's not true!

Should pregnant international students be able to give birth in NZ?

carpetnz (Tauranga): More important is why this high profile Korean comunity leader has to speak through a translator, Why has he not be made to learn english. He should be made to leave as well. How is a student going to pay for the medical expenses. She should be made to leave now before she costs money and is unable to fly. The same should go for any immigrant who is temporary.

Tauranga, Tauranga... that's Winston Peters's town, right?

lippy linda (Tauranga): Quick, send her home before it's too late - if we let her give birth here, it will be the beginning of 'the great asian baby boom' in nz, and we can hardly look after our own as it is.

It must be something in the water.

T W (Auckland): As harsh as it sounds - Absolutely NOT, We have a right & an obligation to ourselves & our future generations, to keep control of our own country & to avoid being internally hijacked by Non Maori/NZ European influences, which is obviously prevalent in the fabric of our society (Bankers, doctors, lawyers, judges, food industry etc) [blah blah blah I'm a racist...]

PS: I am not racist, if you are an immigrant please understand, how would you like your country to be controlled by someone else.

Some of my best friends are bludging foreigners trying to take over society...

KatieR (Point England): If she wants to pay for it- but why should she want to? Hasn't anyone told her we have a terrible mortality rate for births here? We have a third world system for maternity care. Hell- I don't want to have a baby here,because of the high risk so I can't possibly understand why anyone else would. She'd be safer in Korea. Maybe she should import her own medical team- we sure could use them.

World Health Organisation data for child mortality (yes, not the exact same thing, but a similar indicator):
  • New Zealand: 5 per 1000 births
  • South Korea: 6 per 1000 births
  • Mozambique: 158 per 1000 births
  • Sierra Leone: 283 per 1000 births
WHO data on maternal deaths during childbirth:
  • New Zealand: 9 per 100,000 births
  • South Korea: 14 per 100,000 births
  • Mozambique: 510 per 100,000 births
  • Sierra Leone: 2100 per 100,000 births
See Katie, that wasn't that hard!

Catalina Y (Mt Roskill): One missed period and summary deportation follows? Seems a little harsh - but, then again, they should be celibate whilst residing in NZ. They're here to study and learn; not fornicate, wilfully. Married or not.


That's all for now. My eyes are bleeding.

The Curious Case of Richard Worth

First of all, thumbs up to the Herald for grabbing hold of the Richard Worth case and not letting go, even if it seems that they have nothing to do with the breaking of the story - and even if praising a media outlet for running with a political scandal is like praising a dog for wolfing down dog biscuits. Or Garth George for scoffing a delicious homemade pie.

But there are a few interesting tidbits to be taken from today's front page articles on Dr Worth's fall from grace:
  • The sub-headline says that "Worth speaks out to deny committing any crime". Spoken like a true lawyer. It may well be that that's the case - I'm no expert on the law - but that's hardly the point. Just because Bill Clinton didn't 'seal the deal' with his intern doesn't mean that his defence was anything less than disingenuous. And just because Worth may not have committed a crime in allegedly offering at least two women contacts, jobs and board roles in exchange for sex doesn't mean that he's off the hook - a point that John Key seems to have (finally) accepted. As Phil Goff rightly (for once) pointed out last night, putting aside Worth's seedy antics, offering political roles, including positions on government boards, for anything other than merit is the political scandal here. Worth's claims to not have violated the law, true or not, are a laughable red herring, and aren't worth the newspaper they're printed on.
  • There's a Herald exclusive here too:

    The Herald met the Auckland businesswoman yesterday, but she was too distressed to discuss the incident.

    Her friend, who helped her to go to the police, then to the office of National MP Tau Henare so it could tell Prime Minister John Key, outlined her allegation of a serious sexual nature, using a whiteboard to explain the events around the incident.

    A whiteboard, you say? Fascinating. What brand of marker did they use?
  • Political reporter Patrick Gower wastes no time in informing us of all the ethnic comings-and-goings of the case. I know that, whenever I hear of a political sex scandal, the first question that pops into my head is 'What race are the people involved? Is there any miscegenation going on?' Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long in this case to find out.

    She is a Korean in her 40s who has been in New Zealand for several years. The friend said she had citizenship.

    The friend said she had received a threat from a fellow-Korean since making the complaint, and had reported this to police.

    How intriguing! I don't know what interests me more: the mere fact that the complainant is Korean rather than, say, white; the intimations of Asian-on-Asian violence in the second sentence; or the implication that, seeing she has citizenship, she is not, in fact, an appropriate target for sexual advances from a married minister of the crown.
The National Party website lists Dr Worth's interests as mountain climbing, Bollywood films, Korean classical music, and the "early works of Sun Tzu" (before he got all self-indulgent and preachy). Meanwhile, "in his spare moments Dr Worth enjoys time with his wife Lynne and adult daughter". From the sounds of his activities, those moments must be rather spare indeed.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Party on, Garth

Every Wednesday night, before I go to sleep, I lie in bed wondering what Thursday will bring. Specifically, I wonder which of two Garth Georges (Garths George?) will appear in my paper: the angry, 'abortion is murder, wymyn are lesbians', foaming-at-the-mouth Garth, or the slightly senile, 'where have I put my glasses', 'I like pies' Garth. This week, he has truly confounded me - he is angry about pies - Georgie Pie, to be specific.

Now, he doesn't start out angry. In fact, Garth - a man who is given a column at the top of the Opinion page in New Zealand's foremost daily newspaper every week - takes the time to tell us his personal feelings about, and history involving, pies. When he would go down to the old Georgie Pie on "the corner of West Coast and Great North Rds, just round the corner from where I lived in Glen Eden" he would indulge himself in "large mince 'n' cheese, steak 'n' cheese, pork pies", the delicious chips - and how could we forget the "boysenberry pies with the sugar on top and a delicious apple pie served with icecream which I relished from time to time. But please, next time you're dining with Garth, don't offer him a seafood pie (or an abortion). In case you were wondering about Garth's attitude toward pies of the seafood variety, crease your brow no longer, and lose not another moment's sleep: he has "never been into" them. So what has got Garth so excited?
Anyone who has read this column for any length of time will know that I am a lifetime devotee of the hot pie, and consider that whoever it was who first decided that meat would go well in a pastry crust should have been allotted a large one of heaven's many mansions.
Anyone who has read his column for any length of time and has somehow stayed sane will know a few other things about Garth as well. Like he's a grumpy old hateful misogynist, and a self-proclaimed Christian who, I suspect, hasn't actually got up to the bits of the Bible with Jesus in them yet. But that's as may be. I ask again, why is he so excited about pies? Well, it's because of rumours that Georgie Pie "might be about to make a comeback".

Then Georgie Pie ceased to exist, bought out and closed down by McDonald's, which lusted after Georgie Pie's sites. I have always wondered why, and the answer has come at last.

McDonald's spokeswoman Kate Porter said the other day that McDonald's was "intrigued at the level of passion for the Georgie Pie brand and [we've] put some concepts into research".

It's sure taken a lot of years for this United States-based international outfit to understand Kiwis' love affair with pies, but then multinationals rarely take any interest in the countries they invade, seeming to take it for granted that what people in the US want, the whole world must want, too.

My understanding of the demise of Georgie Pie, largely confirmed by the excerpts from the Press on the internet here, was that it closed down for the same reason almost every business closes down: it was losing money hand over fist. I'm not sure why Garth is confused. Georgie Pie hemorrhaged money. McDonald's made money. McDonald's closed down the GP sites, and opened McDonald's, which then made money. *Shrug*. As for good ol' Kiwi battlers Georgie Pie fighting back the evil multinationals, Georgie Pie was, of course, owned by 'mom and pop' firm Progressive Enterprises, the supermarket giant and subsidiary of a maze of Australian and Hong Kong-based corporations. According to the Press, "It paid its staff even less than McDonald’s: it had hourly youth rates starting at around $5 for 15 year olds, compared to a base $8.41 at McDonald’s, regardless of age." So much for that myth.

As for the myth that Georgie Pie was shut down as part of some evil, Hamburgleresque conspiracy, I feel it's pretty easy to explain. When they had their $1 $2 $3 $4 value menu, they made no money - who would get a large pie for $2 when you could get two 'small' pies for $1 each? But when Progressive upped the prices, they were no longer perceived as good value. That doesn't sound like a sustainable business model to me, least of all now, when even McDonald's has to pretend to be healthy by selling salads and pimping out Sarah Ulmer. But this, for Garth, is the point:

Buy a pie and chips in a cafe these days and you get disapproving looks from pale, pursed-lip patrons picking at salads.

[...] These are the people who harp on endlessly - and dishonestly - about "junk food" and "unhealthy" food. They are liars.

Ahh, I knew we had to get to angry Garth at some point. It's one thing to get annoyed at puritans of whatever persuasion - anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-drugs, and yes, anti-fast food - but it's another thing to say that they're liars. I like drinking, and I'm damned if the Women's Temperance League is going to tell me not to, but that doesn't mean that when they say it's bad for me it's not true. And I like fish and chips (some vegetarian...) and, back in the day, Georgie Pie pies, but I was never under any illusion about their healthiness. However, Garth isn't known for backing down that easily:
Fast food is not junk. It contains legitimate, nutritious ingredients, is prepared in generally spotlessly hygienic surroundings and provides a convenient, tasty and filling meal without the need to prepare it or clean up after.
I would accuse Garth of being in the pocket of Big Pie if I didn't know he was just being contrary for the sake of it. Still, there's good news to be taken from all this: Garth's age, plus his lifelong diet of "fish and chips, hamburgers, fried chicken, pizza or pies", should mean he's not around to file that column for too much longer.

War on Crime

I know I've already done this kind of post before but I feel that, in light of some of the comments on yesterday's post on the peacefulness survey and crime, I ought to mention a few points again. Here's the comments:
Anonymous: yeah sure, the media makes up all this stuff about violent crime. it doesn't happen. all those court cases, all those police appeals - they just make all that shit up.

Clearly a troll, possibly an employee of the Herald, and a perfect example of a straw man argument. Next!
Anonymous: Far too obtuse an argument, even for you. [!]

This is an international comparison which assessed a number of factors - including war records, military spending, government stability and crime levels - to determine the 'most peaceful' nation.

It did say that, on balance, New Zealand topped the list. It did not say that New Zealand is a crime-free nirvana full of selfless pacifists.

New Zealand does have crime problems, as does any nation. It does have a serious issue with meth abuse, like many nations. It would be folly to suggest otherwise.

To beat up a newspaper for reporting the crime that does happen, and the problems the country faces, is myopic.

To state that the same newspaper claims New Zealand leads the world in crime is an absudity uttered in an attempt to further a flimsy argument.

And to conclude that because a newspaper runs a peace survey story while also running crime stories is proof positive that it overplays and is obsessed with crime, is just total stupidity.

Different anon.
You're right, it is an aggregate of various criteria. However, if you'd bothered to read the methodology section of the report and the section on New Zealand, or even just the part that I quoted, you would have seen that we got the lowest (i.e., best) possible grade for violence and crime. Now, of course, that doesn't make us a "crime-free nirvana full of selfless pacifists", but I don't know where I said that it did. Why are straw man arguments so popular this season - have they been in Viva?

My argument, as regular readers will know, is that the Herald (and other mass media) don't just report crime - they play it for ratings. Sure, they're just trying to sell papers, but they shouldn't be given a free ride for that. As for the Herald claiming that we lead the world in crime, it's not as absurd as you think - partly it's my rhetoric, of course, but have you ever seen Your Views? Or even the letters page? Or Garth George?

And, finally, as for my reason for concluding that the Herald overplays crime being the publishing of the crime survey... you're new here, aren't you?

JP_Rocks: Personally, I am quite happy with the level of reporting that our rare occrences of violent crime get in this country, and the disproportionate levels of outcry that they cause. The opposite is far, far worse. Rather than showing how lawless a society we are becoming, I think it shows how very isolated these cases of horrific violent crime really are. Where else in the world would a convinience store robberies that occurred without a shot being fired become national news? I'm not saying that everything is peachy keen and terriffic, but christ, things could be a whole lot worse. Just ask any of the thousands of South Africans that walk among us.
This is a good argument, on one level. I can see it having some plausibility. The only problem is that both anecdotal and social scientific research show that that's not what people take from it. I've discussed on the blog before how people, when surveyed, massively overestimate both the level and increase (the speed and acceleration, if you will) of violent crime in this country - and media coverage of crime is at least partly to blame. Of course, in some sense any violent crime is too much, but it seems to me that there are a lot of of negative consequences of this: a siege mentality, a lack of trust in fellow citizens, and an increase in racism and popular support for draconian, expensive and ineffective policy. In that sense, it was nice to read about the peacefulness survey on the front page. I only wish that the reporter had been given the time and space to go into more detail about what JP_Rocks and I definitely agree on - that New Zealand is, despite the reporting, not such a rotten place after all.

Proper content, including Garth, after lunch.

EDIT: Front page headline today: "Father's back fractured as home invaders run him down".

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


'Well, that's all right then' headline of the day: "No NZers among 216 passengers on missing jet"

Charmingly misleading headline of the day: "Racial attacks could bring students to NZ"

'No shit' headline of the day: "Crown says evidence points to David Bain"

Photo caption of the day: On the funeral of zookeeper Dalu Mncube at Zion 'Wildlife Gardens' - "LOST FRIEND: A lion stands to attention near the waiting hearse."

Translated into rational-speak: "A lion, one of the wild predatory animals that, in their capacity as wild, predatory animals, mauled Mr Mncube to death, stands behind a fence wondering what is going on." Seriously, Beck Vass (or whoever wrote the caption), this is exactly the kind of ridiculous anthropomorphisation of wild animals that got Dalu Mncube - and a tiger that was just 'doing its job' - killed. Good job.

Front page fun

Last Monday I wrote about the lack of Herald coverage on what seemed to me was rather an important issue - transparency in Parliament in the wake of the British parliamentary scandals of the past few weeks. Here's an excerpt:
So here's a free tip for the Herald editorial team: your readers overwhelmingly want the parliamentary expense system reviewed. Readers buy papers. How about you write a front page article about how the man who decides whether MP expenses are reviewed is an MP, and that there is possibly a conflict of interest here? You could even say 'Hey look, MPs in Britain were claiming money to build duck houses and clean their moats - maybe something is going on here too?' Remember Tuku Morgan and his $89 undies? How many papers did you sell then?
Well look here - today's lead front page article is "MPs face public eye on expense accounts":
MPs' expense accounts are likely to be opened to public scrutiny after a face-saving move by Prime Minister John Key led to an urgent cross-party meeting being called.
Another scoop for EtH? You decide.


Another front page story claims that "New Zealand has been judged the most peaceful nation in the world". According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, an Australian 'thinktank' (sigh), our "stable political situation, relatively low rate of violence and decrease in military spending" has seen us pass Iceland, where the complete collapse of the economy has seen roving gangs of thugs engaging in major street battles. As such, they have dropped to fourth.

But something intrigues me: how does this square with what I read in the Herald every other day? I thought we were in the middle of a 'War on P'? That doesn't sound very peaceful! I've also heard that we were in the midst of a wave of violent crime where we led the world, where it wasn't safe to leave our homes? Well, according to the report:
Most aspects of safety and security in [New Zealand] society, including the likelihood of violent demonstrations, the homicide rate and the level of respect for human rights receive the lowest possible scores (unchanged from last year)
Wow, that's confusing. Now I don't know what to believe. Could it be that - you may want to sit down for this - that the constant focus on violent crime is partly a media beat-up?

One more interesting part of the Herald article is this statement:

The report, which surveyed 144 countries, says New Zealand's rise to first is partly explained by the election of a National-Act coalition last year.

"The centre-right National Party has a strong popular mandate and a robust parliamentary majority by New Zealand's standards, putting the new Prime Minister, John Key, in a good position to push through his agenda."

That quote is indeed from the report. But anyone who had actually read even the summary of the report - and, to be fair, the journalist in question probably just didn't have the time - would know that what the report is getting at is that the government seems stable and popular, unlike some of the less steady coalitions of past years. In that sense, our first place isn't "explained by the election of a National-Act coalition"; we would have been equally ranked if a Greens-Legalise Marijuana Party coalition had been elected in a landslide. In fact, with everyone smoking marijuana, I can only imagine New Zealand being a peaceful, if less productive, place than it already apparently is.

I'm back!

For the last week or so I have had to blow my rage on essay-rage, rather than news-rage. I have had to fume and shout at bad grammar, implausible premises and terrible arguments, instead of... oh, right.

Anyway, 'sorry' about the lack of activity. I'll be sure to make up for it in the coming days.