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.


  1. I marvelled at the way Garth and I can reach the same conclusion - that the referendum is a waste of time and money - by such very different routes. Also at his eerie channelling of the exact thoughts and emotions of young mums.

  2. One would imagine that Garth finds it helpful to decry the referendum as a waste of money so that he may use his twisted logic to point to the anti-referendum sentiment as anti-section 59. Perversely once again 'reinforcing' his argument that there is 'widespread opposition' to the so-called 'anti-smacking' law.

  3. Also I'm a bit said you didn't comment on htis article, a classic waste of space. Basically a reporter talked to some people who complained about how a cell tower was destroying their lives by interfering with things, said reporter talks to the different companies and finds out that the cell tower is not to blame, reporter reports anyway.

  4. It could be they keep him because people *actually read him* - if only to be horrified and vehemently disagree (and therefore write about it, and send in letters) ...which is a common tactic. Don't be 'right', be 'interesting'

  5. Apparently Garth only bothers to utilise a Google search when he needs to pad out his article with sentimental quotes or pie recipes.

    Facts? Sources? Statistics? He doesn't need 'em.
    "Polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality. And reality has a well known liberal bias."
    S. T. Colbert

    Oh god, now I'm doing it...

  6. Oh thank you so much for this! I always get so furious when I read Garth George that I become completely incoherant and inarticulate. You have said exactly what I would have loved to say. He is so inutterably vile - I can't believe he is still published.

  7. That was so beautiful. Thank-you for expressing exactly how I felt reading Garth's latest hate speech.

  8. Every time Garth George uses the term "nanny state" God kills a kitten

  9. Here, here.

    The moment I read that piece of trash I looked forward to reading this.

  10. I have to wonder whether Garth George the opinion columnist is a real person, or if he is just a characature of NZ's centre right that Garth George the person invented for feduciary gain. What did he do before he was a columnist? How can we be sure that he isn't levelling us all with his ridiculous commentary on life? I for one am convinced that this has to be the case, and the main evidence I have at hand is the photo. Ordinarily, when people are representing themselves, they would want a nice photo of themselves accompanying their byline. The person in Garth's photo appears to be doing his level best to impersonate an angry, sullen, sunken faced right wing polar bear. If it was in fact Garth George the person who was in that photo, rather than Garth George the characature, surely the man would have demanded some photoshopping? Or at least have gone to sleep before 4am the night before the shoot?

  11. Oh he's real all right, I've met him. Before being a columnist he was a journalist. And a semi-professional boozer, I am reliably informed by some of his former co-workers.

  12. Nothing worse than dreary reformed boozer who has found God. Obviously the right to keep being paid for a certain number of columns a month was part of his retirement package. He seemed to have been moved out of the Herald after he allowed a letter to the editor to be printed which advocated killing a Member of Parliament and abused the first few people who rang and complained.

  13. One can only wonder how badly beaten Garth George was when he was a child. Perhaps if he had some legal protection things would have turned out oh so different?

  14. Flynn: yes. I suspect that as well as being a magnet for letters of complaint (and also praise, worryingly), Garth probably also brings a mild boost to Thursday paper sales, and a major boost to page impressions.

    One of the most disturbing things about the situation for me is this: if I don't react to Garth's most ridiculous or inane arguments with a letter or email in response, I feel like I'm allowing them to stand unchallenged on the op-ed page of the country's major paper. But when I do write in, I nevertheless fear that that I'm somehow complicit in the whole sordid exercise of reader-baiting.

  15. GG gets responses. Look at this piece. Look at the 14, now 15, comments on it. What else in the Herald gets half as much feedback on a regular and reliable basis?

    And feedback is lifeblood in the media business. It really doesn't matter whether it's positive or negative. If you did really want GG to go away, you should ignore him. But personally I don't want that - I feel happier knowing that he's somewhere I can see him, rather than lurking underground and hatching his plots out of my sight.

  16. It's more "feedsideways," really.