Friday, July 31, 2009


I just thought I would point out that there is a great Your Views topic up this morning. Grab some popcorn, put your feet up and laugh/cry as appropriate.

What do you want a referendum on? Should it be binding?
Mumbles (Mt Eden): I would like to see a referendum that asks the question 'Should traffic lights be replaced with roundabouts ?' It is a pet hate of mine to stop at a set of traffic lights and no cars cross the intersection or when 576 cars on a main road have to come to a grinding halt so that 3 cars can go. Roundabouts are more efficient, cheaper to construct, they would save power, petrol and oil.
Yes, imagine the savings involved with tearing up every set of traffic lights in the country and replacing them with roundabouts.

Heylin (Hamilton): 1) Lower age of criminal responsibility to 12
A year year old who commits serious crime is full aware of what they do.
Year year year...

The Doctor (Gisborne): I'd like to see a referendum on making referendums binding on the government.
I can see a problem here...

Crucie Fiction (Te Kowhai): Treaty Claims and when they will stop.

Im going to a lunch in New York City on the 24th of Sept. John Key will also be there. Im going to ask him face to face. This is the biggest waste af tax payer money ever.

I'm sure he's looking forward to it as much as you are.

Jim Donald (Whangarei): Daylight saving - the biggest hoax of all time and injurious to public health.

He's right. No 'daylight' is 'saved' at all! There's the same amount, it's just later!

westie (New Zealand): Here is another suggestion for a referendum.That is we,the consumer,decide what is the suitable amount to pay for fuel without being dictated to by the various fuel companies that took "forever" to bring down the price of fuel but ever so promptly upped it by 5 cents within the following days.Rather cheeky buggers are the fuel companies and it's time they realised we are not ones to be pushed about(meaning pay their dictated prices) by them.

Great idea. I propose 5c a litre.

Feel free to add your own gems below. Kia kaha.


What makes you lose sleep at night? Whatever it is, be thankful you're not tossing and turning like the Chief Electoral Officer - "Theft fears as referendum papers hit letterboxes":
The ballot, asking whether smacking should be a criminal offence, raised fears yesterday that enthusiasts on both sides may try to corrupt the vote by stealing voting papers from letterboxes over the next few days.
"The ballot ... raised fears"? That's an odd way to put it. Presumably someone raised fears on behalf of the ballot, but we are left to guess exactly who that might be.

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden urged voters to alert him to any possible interference by ringing his office's tollfree number if they have not received voting papers by next week.

He warned that anyone interfering with ballot papers faced a fine of up to $40,000 or up to two years in jail.

"If you go round and pick up voting papers, people will realise that they haven't got their voting paper and the original voting paper will be cancelled," Mr Peden said.

Is it Mr Peden who has raised these fears? Or is he just responding to them? The very idea that someone might go to the concerted effort of organising a massive campaign of letterbox invasion and mail pilfering in order to influence a referendum which a) is certain to go heavily in favour of one side anyway and b) the Prime Minister has already said he will ignore is just a wee bit laughable.

It doesn't really matter anyway, as the scary headline and lead-in paragraphs are really just an introduction for a pretty standard article on the referendum - I guess "Referendum about to happen" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Headline of the week

Mischievous subeditor or prudish content loader? You decide. Note the article "Snakes' escape from pants causes crash":
Police say a driver blamed a car crash in Connecticut on two pet baby snakes that he said escaped from his pants pockets as he was driving.

Hartford police Sgt. Christene Mertes says Angel Rolon claimed he lost control of his sports utility vehicle when the snakes slithered near the gas and brake pedals and he and a passenger tried to catch them.

Oh yeah.

Headline in the print edition of today's Herald:
"Trouser snakes blamed for crash"
I'm told they have a mind of their own. I really need to invest in a digital camera.

Vivawatch: Slight return

"Reference the ubiquitous grunge trend in a feminine way with these new wearable pieces from the latest Levis range. Plaind? Check. Denim? Check. We like the shrunken denim jacket with rolled sleeves and the slouchy pocket detail on the dress. Easy to wear and relatively cheap too. Levis trucker jacket, $159.90, and hceck dress, $119.90."
Ubiquitous? In what, 1993? I just had a quick look around the office and couldn't spot anyone grungy at all. It's also good that they're wearable, unlike those tiny rugby jerseys that you are supposed to stick to your car window. Anyway, Kurt Cobain, rolling in grave, etc. etc.

Channel your inner Lady Gaga with these new mirrored shades from Morrissey. Called "Thus Spoke", after a Nietzsche novel (so deep), the sunglasses are very limited edition with only 100 made available for sale. So if you want to make like Gaga and hide from the paparazzi behind bold sunglasses, we'd get on the waiting list fast. Morrissey "Thus Spoke" sunglasses, $275.
Yes, Nietzsche is my favourite... novelist. Didn't he write that new movie that just came out, um, Angels and Demons? So deep. That aside, $275 doesn't seem so bad for a pair of sunglasses designed by Mozza himself.

This eyeshadow pinwheel from M.A.C. is part of the limited edition Colour Craft range of in-your-face shades for eyes, lips and cheeks. The mineral makeup quad costs $44 and its colours would work well with the tribal bohemian feel we'll see in some spring fashion.
Surely they mean "on-your-face"? Seeking more information, I googled 'tribal bohemian' and found myself at the Wikipedia article for Bohemia:
Roman authors provide the first clear reference to this area as Boiohaemum, from Germanic Boi-Heim, "home of the Boii", a Celtic people. As part of the territory often crossed during the Migration Period by major Germanic and Slavic tribes, the western half was conquered and settled from the 1st century BC by Germanic (probably Suebic) peoples including the Marcomanni; the elite of some Boii then migrated west to modern Switzerland and southeastern Gaul. Those Boii that remained in the eastern part were eventually absorbed by the Marcomanni. Part of the Marcomanni, renamed the Bavarians (Baiuvarum), later migrated to the southwest. It should be noted that, although the leading tribes changed, there was a large degree of continuity in the actual population, and at no time was there a wholesale depopulation or change in ethnic stock.
Interesting. Using this information, I did a google image search for 'boii' and found (among other things) this image:

So there you go - future fashion trends from the comfort of your own home or office with Editing the Herald. $44 from your quality cosmetics stockist.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bits and pieces

Slightly scary paragraph of the day:
Taser CEO Rick Smith and his brother, Chairman Tom Smith, unveiled the new device [a Taser that can shoot three barbs at once] to hundreds of law enforcement officers and distributors at the company's annual conference yesterday. They stood on stage, each holding two new Tasers, and fired six rounds a piece at metal targets to whoops and applause.
Don't worry, they're non-lethal. Right?

Garth-George-interest news of the day:
A Bay of Plenty baker has scooped New Zealand's best pie award for a record third time. Pat Lam [no relation... probably] of Gold Star Patrick's Pies in Tauranga won the supreme award with his creamy bacon, mushroom and cheese pie, the winner of the gourmet meat category.
Can't wait for tomorrow's column.

Advertorial of the day:
Ruby Giblin, 3, was among the thousands of Wagamama customers to tuck into a plate of free noodles yesterday when the restaurant declared it National Noodle Day and gave away free lunches at its five stores in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Its Queen's Wharf, Wellington store gave away the most meals (472) closely followed by its Auckland's [sic] store in the Metropolis hotel with 470 meals.
Accompanied, of course, by a giant picture of a child attempting to eat noodles. It's good to know that, despite staff cuts, the Herald still has enough journalists to cover the big stories.


Also, can I just point out that the Herald I bought today came stuffed with not one, not two, but three identical copies of the Herald Jobs supplement. If that's intended as a hint: I just got a job, thanks very much! But as a solution to the general employment crisis it's inspired.

Only one copy of Viva, unfortunately.

Doped up on smack

(Question for smackheads in my readership: is "doped up" the correct terminology here?)

The, erm, thrilling countdown to the smacking referendum continues. To be honest, I'm not 100 per cent sure when it is - but then, I'm not even sure I'm on the electoral roll. (It turns out you don't have to be if you only want to vote for Strictly Come Dancing.) The Herald is spending all week on a fair and balanced look at whether the new law is working - and this is half the problem. It may seem precious of me to complain about quasi-balanced coverage, given that the rest of the time I complain about how unbalanced a lot of reporting is, but I think there is more to balance than 'this person says this, but that person says that'. That is the kind of balance that leads to demands to put intelligent design on the science curriculum alongside evolutionary theory. Perhaps when it comes to the electoral system, some kind of artificial balance in this sense is required.

But (and you knew that had to be coming) there is another problem with the Herald's coverage over the last week or so - it is almost entirely anecdotal. Here's a parent who says smacking is bad; here's a parent who says smacking is good. Here's Simon Barnett. Today I was greeted with the headline (again on the front page) "GP's grim diagnosis for parents":

An Auckland doctor says a quarter of New Zealand parents can't control their children.

Dr Robyn Theakston, a general practitioner in Three Kings, says the 2007 law banning the use of force for "correction" has made things worse by restricting parents' disciplinary choices.

A quarter of New Zealand parents! Goodness me, how did the Herald come by this statistic?
She told the Herald later that she saw many good parents, but she estimated that about a quarter of the parents she sees do not know how to control their children - far more than the number who treat their children too harshly.
Right. So that's an estimate. Based on the parents seen by one GP in Three Kings. Even better, this was all taken from a Your Views on which Dr Theakston had written. So what we have is a GP - that is, a general practitioner - who, for God's sake, frequents Your Views making a guess, albeit educated, as to how many bad parents there are. Taking anecdotes, which is what this is, is one thing; turning them into a generalised statistic is another (atrocious and lazy) thing.

"You can tell a good parent because they can calm the child. The child trusts the parent. They feel the parent is in control," she said. "Other children come in and the parents don't know what to do. The child is not used to being told what to do so they wreak havoc."

She said many parents were too insecure to say no to their children.

And this has what to do with smacking? You don't need to be a genius, or a GP, to know that there are bad parents around. Isn't the whole debate (when it's serious) around whether or not smacking is a good parenting tool? Whether smacking is a good way to control your children? The referendum isn't asking "Should parents be rubbish at it? Yes/no?" One or both of Dr Theakston or Simon Collins seems a bit confused over the whole issue.

The picture attached to the story just makes it worse.

What's the point here? That a parent smacked her children and they didn't turn into homicidal lunatics? That Jesus - that well-known fan of corporal punishment - is behind the 'No' campaign? (I'm immediately reminded of Bill Hicks's remark that, if He comes back, the last thing He will want to see is a crucifix.)

I know I keep banging on about this, but it's just another example of the New Zealand Woman's Daily - the idea that every story has to be related to a particular individual to be interesting. This could be written off as mere aesthetics - 'the point of a human interest story is to get people interested in an issue', someone might argue - if it didn't lead to the individuals becoming the story. Just look at the issue the other day with Bruce Burgess and the unemployment benefit. Maybe Dr Theakston's children will turn out fine despite smacking; I'm sure plenty of kids who aren't smacked will end up in prison. I was smacked as a kid, and I turned out... fine. But I'm not about to generalise from that to the position that it has no negative effect, just as we wouldn't generalise from the (recently deceased) world's oldest man putting his long life down to smoking.


Speaking of rubbish statistics, how about the article on page A2 - "Spanking has its uses, say pupils":

Nineteen years after physical punishment was banned in schools, a sampling of children suggests that while most want the ban, there is still some support for smacking as a form of discipline.

Ten out of 17 Year 7 pupils at Rangeview Intermediate in Te Atatu said they would vote no in the referendum which says: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Six would vote yes, a higher proportion than the mere 11 per cent of parents voting yes in a Herald/DigiPoll survey last weekend, but still a minority. One student was unsure.

What the hell?
The sample is tiny and makes no pretence to be representative beyond the fact that Rangeview is ranked decile 5, in the middle of the parental income scale.
Yes, it is tiny. In fact, I wouldn't even call it a 'sample'. The whole idea behind it is so flawed in anything other than a shits-and-giggles 'let's see what a bunch of kids think' way that I can't understand why it is pretending to be anything else. What on earth does the school's decile rating have to do with obtaining a statistically significant sample? Even if it did achieve something, why would you bother when you were 'sampling' 17 people?
The sample is likely to be biased against smacking because only 17 parents out of the class of about 30 returned permission slips for their children to take part. The chances are that parents who smack heavily were less likely to give permission.
Why are you still talking about it as a sample? Surely there is no point talking about biases here; it's like claiming that a coin probably came up heads on a single flip because it was a bit rounded on one side. And that's all beside the point that we are asking children on their views of what is a complex social issue when they already have their hands full memorising all 150 pokemon. But it's a story, right? After all, children are the ones being smacked - let's find out what they think.

In tomorrow's Herald: we talk to prison inmates about whether sentences are too long.

Innocent until proven guilty

Someone's going to get a surprise when they pick up their copy of the Herald today. The front page carries the 'story' of a man measuring up the area around an ATM in Dargaville. Evidently, the man was captured on security footage almost six weeks ago and no one has any idea who he is.

I'm not sure why this is on the cover of the Herald. Firstly - what is this, Crimewatch? Secondly - what is this, Northland Crimewatch? I'll admit that it seems like an odd thing to be doing at 8 o'clock at night, but the man is not actually committing any crime. I don't know, maybe he's staging a play set at a bank and wants the set to be realistic. Maybe he's thinking of becoming a builder and wants some practice. Granted, he didn't do himself any particular favours by wearing a black-and-white striped jumper, shaving his head and growing a goatee, but that hardly seems tantamount to consenting to be on the front page of the Herald.

Anyway - and I should point out here that I have no recollection of ever being in Dargaville - how difficult can it be to track down someone who looks like a henchman for the Joker? I fear that by letting the trail get so cold the Herald have allowed this criminal mastermind to go into hiding. If I were the Northland Police, I would start checking inside volcanoes and abandoned castles at once.

EDIT: The Dargaville News (via Stuff) reports that:

[... A] bank spokesperson told the Dargaville and Districts News newspaper today the man was doing legitimate work.

"The man concerned was completing work on behalf of the bank."

Seems like a big old-fashioned misjudgement all round then. Editing the Herald apologises for implying that the man was a stereotypical criminal. (Although even if this was legitimate, he could still be carrying out other criminal activities on the side! Sleep with one eye open.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Everything you needed to know about the Kyoto Protocol

Newly on the Herald website today: "Kyoto liability wiped out by new trees, says Govt":
Climate Change Minister Nick Smith said new data showed that New Zealand had sufficient forests to offset increases in emissions since 1990 to meet Kyoto Protocol obligations.
Well that's mighty convenient because earlier the story from Nick Smith was "Emissions target 'too expensive'". Lucky all those, erm, new trees were there then.

Economic cycles

Remember the National Cycleway? Unfortunately for John Key, quite a few people still do. That genius idea to get the economy literally rolling from Cape Reinga to Bluff has had several downsizings since the Prime Minister first drunkenly (possibly) jotted it down on a beer-soaked coaster. But evidently it's still front-page news - even when nothing at all has happened yet:

Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce today that construction will begin by summer on the first legs of his national cycleway, including a route from Lake Wakatipu to Bluff. He will announce several trails for his "patchwork quilt" of a cycleway between Kaitaia and Bluff, on which the Government will spend $50 million over three years. Details were unavailable last night, but Mr Key will announce the schemes to Local Government NZ's annual conference in Christchurch.

No details? It's quite a long article, and it's on the front page - there must be some hard facts somewhere...

Queenstown planner Mike Barnett, who researched those for Venture Southland, gave a "no comment" when asked if he expected the green light today.

Green Party tourism spokesman and cycling advocate Kevin Hague would not reveal anything other than confirming he would be in Christchurch for the announcement.

"I am sorry I am unable to comment but I look forward to commenting tomorrow," said Mr Hague, whose party has worked with the Government on the national cycleway under its memorandum of understanding with National.

Perhaps, then, the article should have been published... tomorrow. But maybe the local trusts doing the grunt work on the Cycleway will have more information?
Members of trusts working on North Island cycleways had yet to learn of any details but were looking forward to Mr Key's announcement.

[...] Trust chief Kelvin Hainsworth said it hoped ... Waipa District Council wants to ... the Brian Perry Charitable Trust is leading a group hoping to start ... Hauraki District councillor Mike Hayden said his council's delegation to Christchurch hoped to ... A Bay of Plenty group hopes to hook up with the Hauraki trail...

Helpful. Honestly, I can barely contain my anticipation.

Fighting the good fight

From the front page report on the US guilt-tripping New Zealand into sending more troops we don't have to Afghanistan:
The Herald travelled to Afghanistan this month, when the United States openly asked for more troops, more police trainers, more civilian expertise and more aid money.
One has to admire the Herald's boldness, but I fear that the United States will be less than delighted with our latest contribution.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Casual Friday

Seeing I wrote quite a bit yesterday, I figured I might actually do some work today. I know - what a square. But I did think I would just point out that earlier this morning EtH passed 50,000 unique views since I started writing it in January. So congratulations to me.

Before I go and pass out with joy, a quick roundup of the highlights on the Herald website [insert joke here]:

Juxtaposition of the day:
"Rape complainants' sexual pasts to be kept secret."

"No shit" headline of the day: "Sophie's killer will be target in jail: expert". Thank god the Herald contacted an expert to ascertain whether the 'most hated person in New Zealand' - a man who brutally murdered a young woman and who has, shall we say, an air of intellectual arrogance - will have a troubled time in prison. Don't drop the soap, Clayton.

Your Views of the day:

Antonius Block (Auckland): It's like Huxley's 'Brave New World' with this forced medication. So pregnant mothers 'may' benefit from folic acid; let them take it. It's the same with the flouridation of water [ flourisde being a by-produc of the aluminium industry & one which has been used in the past to passify whole populations ] - the claim that it prevents cavities is totally unfounded, whereas its correlation to brain-damage & cancer is scientifically proven. I guess, I'll not be eating so much bread from now on, then. I don't know - socialists & their totalitarian social engineering.

Scientifically proven by some of the world's top scienticians. I love how his conclusion is that he will in fact not be eating bread after all; after all, it's the thought that counts!
Silver Fox (East Tamaki) No. As a Male I have no intention or prospect of becoming pregnant at any time soon or in the future.
Oh, Silver Fox - no wonder you're so popular with the ladies.

Charles (Devonport): No. It is not the duty of bakers to medicate.

And it's not the duty of doctors to bake - but wouldn't it be nice if your GP offered you a muffin fresh out of the oven when you went in for a checkup?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Party on, Garth

The new, contemplative Garth

I've been rather bemused from the sidelines by the debate over the mandatory addition of folic acid to bread. From what I've seen, only about ten per cent of the debate has actually been about the health issue: will the proposed addition significantly and efficiently help New Zealand's public health? The remaining ninety per cent has been along the lines of "Goddamn Nanny State, get out of my bread!"

Garth George, seemingly revitalised by a winter hibernation, has emerged to congratulate the government on its brave, bold decision to... postpone implementation until further research can be done. What that means, of course, is to postpone implementation until no one remembers what folate is or what all the fuss was about.
The Government's decision to put the kibosh on the plan to add folic acid to bread was a no-brainer.

The very idea of subjecting the entire population to this chemical on the off-chance it might prevent disease in 70-odd babies in any year was always utterly incomprehensible.
  • By "disease", Garth means massively debilitating or fatal conditions such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • By "off-chance", Garth means actually a very good chance - a study in Canada showed that the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid coincided with a 46% drop in neural tube defects.
  • By "chemical", he means folic acid, also known as folate, also known as vitamin B9. Folic acid is the exact same "chemical" that naturally occurs in plants such as... wheat.
  • By "70-odd babies", he means the 70-odd children that are born horribly deformed AND the potentially many more who are aborted every year once the condition is spotted on an ultrasound. Wait, isn't Garth against abortion? Turn out he hates Nanny State more.
Sigh. Where were we?
Particularly since there was absolutely no evidence that the folated bread would be eaten by those for whom it was intended - women about to become pregnant and in the first stages of pregnancy.

We are told that, in order for the folic acid to have the desired effect, such women would have to eat 11 slices of such bread every day.

For one thing, how many women know in advance they're going to get pregnant, even if they're determinedly trying; and for another how many know they are pregnant until they miss one, or possibly two, periods?
Why would we think that potential mothers would eat bread? Because it's bread, not fois gras. The whole point of the mandatory programme was that people wouldn't have to think about potential pregnancy, folate intake or even anything beyond 'Mmmm, sandwich...' As for the "11 slices of bread" myth - as someone pointed out in the letters today, that would be total amount needed if people ate only bread. Most of us, however, like a wee lettuce leaf or some such to supplement our crust.

You can see where this dumb idea came from. Imagine a group of "experts" sitting round discussing health matters when one of them says, "Why don't we ... ?" And the rest, without benefit of thought or scientific evaluation, reply, "Oh, what a good idea. Let's do it."

Living in the airy-fairy world of academic theory, they give no thought to the people on whom their weird and wonderful ideas are to be visited. Nor would they recognise that this sort of thing is nanny statism taken to its most sinister extremes.

Ha! You got them! Imagine a group of "experts" sitting around thinking they knew more about human physiology and chemistry than your average white middle-class New Zealander! Next you'll be telling me that the chief justice knows more about the legal and penal systems than some guy at the pub.

Now don't get me wrong. Spina bifida and other neural tube defects are horrifying, and the children who suffer from them and their parents deserve our deepest sympathy and unlimited support.

But the shotgun approach of putting folic acid in the bread eaten by the entire population would do nothing to alter the fact that a handful of children are going to be born each year with such disability.

Well, except for reducing that handful by (potentially) about 46 per cent. I'm sure your words of wisdom will be very comforting to those parents who have to deal with these conditions every day - or who have to go through the heartwrenching decision to abort. Such a sympathetic figure, aren't you? "Ain't nobody gon' put vitamins in my bread just to save the lives of a few dozen children a year!"

It makes you wonder what the so-called experts in various "disciplines" will get up to next. If we accept the practice of self-medicating the community to ward off all manner of specific health conditions, where would it end?

Would the liquor industry be required to put saltpetre in all alcoholic beverages to prevent rape? Will we have methadone in our milk to help ease the withdrawal of crack addicts? Perhaps Ritalin in the butter to help to improve the concentration of poor drivers? And maybe amphetamines in the fizzy drinks to help fight obesity? The possibilities are endless.

Yes Garth, the ridiculous, straw-man possibilities are endless. How about cyanide in our central North Island meat pies to stop unresearched and bigoted rubbish appearing in our newspapers? Methadone, of course, is used to relieve addiction to opioids and, hence, does not work for crack cocaine - but I can hardly expect Garth to have gone to the trouble of googling that. I won't bother to go to the trouble of explaining the disanalogy between folate, a compound that occurs naturally in all sorts of plants we eat every day, and drugs designed in a lab to modify human physiology, like amphetamines. Oh, I just did. That was easy.

But at least Garth is taking the issue seriously, right? I mean, he's not taking the piss out of families, communities and health workers struggling with the consequences of neural tube defects...
As I said, the folic acid in bread idea originated in Australia. Perhaps, next, they'll insist that steroids and beta blockers be added to Victoria Bitter ale to prevent the struggling (oh joy!) Australian cricket team losing the Ashes.

Investi-ma-gative journalism

Avid Herald readers and the unemployed may have read this story in yesterday's paper, presented in true NZWW style: "'I worked hard but may lose my home'". It's the story of one Bruce Burgess, an engineer who fears he may lose his home after losing his job. The point of the article is that Mr Burgess cannot get the dole as his wife earns tuppence a week - putting the household over the threshold for eligibility.

Bruce Burgess, 60 years old and a qualified engineer, has been busy his entire adult life. Aside from a couple of years overseas in the early 1970s, he has worked, paid his taxes and saved his money.

His wife Jo has held down regular work as an office administrator and accounts person. Neither of them smoke, they don't take extravagant holidays, and drink only occasionally.

Oh, they don't drink or smoke? Read: white middle-class. Welcome back the Victorian concept of the 'worthy poor'. Anyway, the article, by David Eames, gives the impression of a bit of good old investigative journalism, something that, as I'm sure EtH readers will know, is sadly missing from a lot of the Herald's output. Even if it is presented as a 'women's' magazine sob story.

So far, so good. So imagine my surprise when I see the unemployed face of Mr Burgess staring out at me again, this time from a front page article. What now, I thought? Woman done left him? Nope. Hound dog gone and died? Try again. Implicated in a leftist plot to fool the media and influence government policy? Bingo!
An unemployed man put forward by the Labour Party as one who would benefit from its policy to pay the dole to people whose partners are still earning owns two properties worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to his lifestyle block.

[...] Labour had told the Herald about his plight, but did not mention that he and his wife own a house in Papakura and an apartment in Auckland City.
Wait, what? "Put forward by the Labour Party"? The article is entitled "Goff's jobless man owns other property", as though Burgess had pulled off a rubber mask to reveal the unmistakable visage of the Monopoly Guy. How is he Goff's jobless man? I thought this story was the Herald's scoop? In fact, I couldn't remember reading anything in the original story about the Labour party at all, so I decided to check it on the website:

But about four months ago, Mr Burgess - whose case was brought to the Herald's attention by the Labour Party - lost his Avondale-based engineers job - and with it a $750-a-week paycheck.

That's really odd, I thought - I'm sure I don't remember reading that before. Fortunately for me and, usually, the Herald, I buy the print edition, and it's still sitting on the musty pile of newsprint on my desk. 10 points if you can guess what that paragraph says:

Skullduggery! It seems that at 2.31pm yesterday, just as the Herald "learned" about Mr Burgess's burgeoning capitalist empire, David Eames or whoever the malevolent force behind APN is (in my mind's eye he looks like Dick Dastardly) edited the article to make it very clear that this was not the Herald's story after all. Hmm. What was the name of that other journalist who quietly changed the past to avoid embarrassment? That's right: Stalin.

'Dishonest' is one word that would describe this kind of journalism. Another is 'rubbish'. But it's not the only thing wrong with this story, an early frontrunner for 'worst article' in the 1st Annual EtH Awards. With my keen news-sense, I've become more and more aware of the phenomenon I have termed 'frowny-face journalism' in the Herald. A subset of the more general human interest story, frowny-face journalism takes some boring, abstract, impersonal policy change or social problem, takes a big photo of some sad children whose playcentre is closing, an old couple who are being forced out of their subsidised housing or, in this case, a recently unemployed man losing his home(s). This way, readers automatically know what to think about the story - generally 'awwwww'. This is bad enough in itself, but there is an added danger: that of taking the analogy between the sad individual and the social issue too far.

This is exactly what has happened in Eames's second article today. Goodness me, Bruce Burgess, aka Rich Uncle Pennybags, owns (with a mortgage) a second property! He doesn't need the dole after all! Therefore, no one who has been made redundant and whose partner is still earning needs any money. The Herald seems to be suggesting that everyone who is jobless with a working partner owns another property. One thing is for certain: this will be the last article in a while advocating a change to the dole structure.

One final point. Far from the quasi-investigative journalism that was implied in the original article, today's piece gives the impression that the Herald simply picked up the story at the behest of Phil Goff and ran it without doing any background checking. Is this really better? Personally, I would have thought that just running a story handed to you by a political party was sloppy, unethical journalism, but what would I know? I haven't been to journalism school.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Zealand Woman's Daily

Great news, people. Your favourite APN publication, the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, now comes out every weekday, in a large format, and with a new, low cover price of only $1.80. I discovered this change this morning when I saw saw the story "Prayers for a playful sister hit by bus" by the Herald's 'police reporter'.

Shweta and Sharleen Chand were yesterday praying for their big sister to be okay.

Family members told the sisters, aged 10 and 5, that 15-year-old Shateel had a "cut on her head" after being struck by a bus in Mt Wellington yesterday.

"We just say [in prayer] please help our sister," Shweta told the Herald yesterday from their grandparents' home.

She and Sharleen were looking forward to seeing their big sister who always looked out for them and was "really playful".

[...] Speaking to the Herald from hospital, Shateel's father, Rakesh Chand, said more than a dozen friends and relatives were at her side, praying for her to pull through.

Well done on turning a traffic injury, albeit a very serious and tragic one, into a front-page human interest story from the lowest drawer. Why the 'police reporter' wrote this story - apart from the fact that there are about four reporters left at the Herald these days - is beyond me; only two paragraphs mention the police at all. There is far more mention of praying, making it surely more relevant to the Herald's religion correspondent.
Milan Maharaj, 15, said she couldn't believe it when she heard her close friend had been in the accident.

"I saw police cars and a man told me that a 12-year-old girl was hit by a car and I was relieved it wasn't [Shateel] because I know she comes this way and because they said she was 12," she said.

Except it wasn't a 12-year-old. And it was Shateel. Which makes this an odd comment to put in the article. Oh well! Got to fill up the space somehow!
Milan had spoken to Shateel on the phone the night before about joining her Indian dance class.
'Her' dance class? Wait, Milan's or Shateel's? Oh, what's the point - clarity of style in the Herald is the least of my worries.

Anyway, the incident looks to have been an accident, although the investigation is ongoing. But the Herald isn't willing to stop there. In a sidebar piece entitled 'Sad Toll' (part of the same article online), they try to imply (or I try to infer...) that there is some bigger issue here than a tragic injury to a young girl. Four pedestrians (not counting Shateel, who is in critical condition at time of writing) have died in Auckland in the last 10 years after being hit by buses - not a particularly disproportionate number, it seems to me, given that they are massive, fast-moving chunks of metal relatively common on Auckland's roads. One person tripped and fell in front of a bus; another walked out onto the road in front of one. If there were some systemic reason why people are being hit by buses - poor training of drivers or slack maintenance, say - then of course that's a matter of public interest that should be on the front page of the paper. But, to me, there seems to be no evidence of anything other than 'shit happens' - people are going to walk onto the road, and sometimes buses are going to be on that road. Mining a family's grief for circulation and then half-heartedly trying to make some public safety issue out of nothing doesn't seem like responsible journalism to me.

Surprise surprise.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Toe-to-toe celeb action

Firstly, let me direct your attention to this article from the front page of today's Herald: "Celebs go toe-to-toe on smacks". It's such an astoundingly poor article that I have to resort to bullet point form to get my points across.
  • First there's the vexing question of why we should care about celebrities' opinions on smacking. In fact, don't people hate it when Nanny Celebs tell them what to think? And for God's sake - Simon Barnett? The man whose explanation for going on Celebrity Treasure Island was that God, having originally advised Barnett against it, changed His mind (as He is wont to do - cf. the Flood) and told him to go ahead? The man whose late-night Face The Music repeats got many a stoner through wee-hours boredom?
  • Just how are they - Barnett and actor Robyn Malcolm - going "toe-to-toe"? Oh, they're not. What they have done is "lined up as rival celebrities" for next month's smacking referendum. You remember the one - the waste of time with a ridiculous question that the Prime Minister has already said he will ignore. The very wording of the article makes it sound like 'Rival Celebrity' is some sort of official position, like being Official Photocopying Supplier of the All Blacks. Perhaps they will in fact go toe-to-toe in some sort of gladiatorial combat, although should that happen I fear for Malcolm's chances; Barnett has shown that he is not afraid to use violence in the name of discipline, and Malcolm's strategy, however honourable, of "hanging out the washing" when faced with youthful intransigence will be no match for a brutal Barnett beating.
  • Attn: social issues reporter Simon Collins. Firstly, it's more of an entertainment story than a social issues story. More importantly, although I'm proud that you've stopped referring to the section 59 amendment as the anti-smacking law, calling it the "anti-smacking" law is only a marginal improvement - cf. ear-flick father and "ear-flick" father.
  • Well done to the Herald online team, who have successfully turned a story about nothing into a 'vote for your fave celeb' on Your Views: "Who is right in the child discipline debate? Robyn Malcolm or Simon Barnett?" Current highlight:
    paul (Auckland Central): In the wild lets say a mother wolf, gives its young a nip when they get out of line, this is how the young learn. I dont see why things should be any different in our society.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Hi Mum

Whenever my mother reads my blog, she always says the same thing: "It's very good, James, [ahem] but why can't you ever say something nice?"

So here goes - there is a good column on prison reform by the consistently excellent Tapu Misa in today's Herald. There, I've said it. I'd love to see her and Garth George chewing the fat at the Herald Christmas party.

Of course, anything that enrages the hypocrites - violent crime is A-OK when it's a middle class white man stabbing a brown kid to death - and sociopaths at the Sensible Sentencing Trust get the EtH seal of approval. So, sticking with the general theme, here's my attempt at influencing Google:

KEYWORDS: "sensible sentencing trust" "hypocrisy" "lazy journalism" "garth mcvicar" "rent-a-quote" "throw away the key" "wankers"

(Sorry Mum.)



It’s nice to see that, during my recent winter hibernation period, other people have stepped up to the plate, so to speak, to criticise the “tasteless drivel” in our media. The Herald today publishes an opinion piece by one Ian Bayly that particularly critiques TV One, our supposed ‘public interest’ broadcaster.
The one aspect of contemporary life in New Zealand that I found most disappointing was the degenerate state of TV programmes. […] With respect to some sort of balanced presentation of significant world events in the main evening presentation of news, New Zealand's TV One is significantly worse than the main commercial TV channels (7 and 9) in Australia. In my view, TV One has lost the plot, and if it is to be considered New Zealand's TV flag-bearer, it is a disgrace to the nation.
Strong words indeed, and not a moment too soon. But what were the worst excesses of TV One during the time you were watching, Ian?
On the first evening, TV One managed to devote the whole of the first six minutes of news to the late Michael Jackson. The station management had apparently formed the judgment that the most significant thing that had happened in the world during the preceding 24 hours was the unseemly circus surrounding the death of an egocentric, drug-crazed weirdo who had contributed nothing significantly beneficial to humanity. [As opposed to Dr Bayly, a zoologist who has a bay in Antarctica named after him.]

Thereafter, TV One revisited, like a dog returning to its vomit, the Michael Jackson circus every night, for significant periods, for the next 11 nights. On July 8, the whole of the first 14 minutes was devoted exclusively to the circus - yes, it was so important that it was uninterrupted by commercials. But that wasn't the finish of it - they returned to it again for another two minutes during the news.
Personally, I got just as bored by people complaining about the Michael Jackson coverage as I did by the coverage itself. It’s not like someone of Jackson’s stature dies every day, or even every year, so moaning about a week or so of heavy coverage seems a bit precious. And anyway, what exactly did Michael Jackson push off the bulletin? Tap-dancing owls and Angelina Jolie adopting a chicken.

But that can’t be my real point in this instance, seeing as watching the television news myself makes me want to jump headfirst off a news-cliff. Instead, my question is this: what kind of news organisation would devote such heavy coverage to the death of a single celebrity entertainer?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When in Tonga...

Dear Lord. I hadn't really intended on writing anything today, but then I came across this gem on the Herald website. I haven't been reading or watching any news - the doctor says it's bad for my blood pressure - but it seems that John Key is visiting Tonga. This seems like the perfect opportunity for some hard-hitting political journalism. How will the trip impact on our relationships in the Pacific, our geographical hinterland? How will Key deal with the constitutional change going on there?
Royal etiquette in Tonga demands many things - among them, standing for photos to be taken in a nonchalant pose with your visitors and pretending the cameras aren't there. No questions are to be asked and no interaction had.
Well, ok. I guess that brings up some constitutional issues. Let's continue.

The King had released the royal "corgis" for the occasion - Poobah - a low-slung, rotund beast of black fur and indeterminate breeding and Estelle, a wire-haired Jack Russell, who did at least have the colouring of a corgi.

While Mr Key stood beside Tonga's King George Tupou V on the lawn for photos after their first meeting, Estelle bounded about leaping on both the reporters and the dignitaries pretending they weren't having their photos taken.

Poobah concentrated on hustling Estelle away before grovelling for pats for himself.

This isn't in the lifestyle section, if you were wondering. It's by a Herald political correspondent. We are then told that Poobah - "presumably named after his rather haughty namesake in the Mikado" - has allegedly "damaged five SUVs". This seems more in line with serious journalism; after all this is the sort of ecoterrorism that could see Poobah spending up to 22 years in prison.

I could go on, like the reporter does, about the dogs and the jokes the king told - oh, the times they had! - but it's one of those situations where I just don't know what to write. I'm sure I've said it before: it's like spoofing a spoof. When political reporting is this... wait, is this completely unironic, or is it so dripping with irony that it just seems that way? Anyway, when political reporting is like this, there's not much you can do but shake your head. Or write about it on a blog for cheap laughs.

To be fair, the article does treat some of the heavier issues at the end (presumably after most Herald readers have stopped reading):

Of the incident of the trousered women [not being allowed onto the royal compound], Mr Key took a diplomatic stance, noting it was a deeply conservative country and the wardrobe etiquette was signalled well enough in advance to have given his wife Bronagh - accompanying him on the trip - some anxious moments.

"Each country has its own standards, There needs to be an acknowledgement that Tonga is a very religious and quite conservative country.

"Yes, it is evolving and coming of age in the way we might see things but it wouldn't be for New Zealand to dictate what is appropriate attire or standards in other countries."

Progress being made elsewhere - including the King's determination to pass the constitutional and electoral changes that will dilute his own powers - also impressed Mr Key, and so he finished with some with some wardrobe advice of his own:

"I think you've got to take your hat off to the King."

Phew, that was close. You almost made a serious point.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shit happens

So clearly, things have been going down. Fortunately, they are things that, at least in the medium- and long-term have rekindled my passion for slogging through the Herald every day when I could be undergoing waterboarding instead.

Mainly, I got a fulltime job, instead of my louche layabout position at the University. I'm starting a new position... at the University. Interestingly, the lapse in posting has been in anticipation of starting work, rather than due to any actual work demands. I'm confident that, once I start, I will have both the time, the discipline and the enthusiasm to keep going. But, you know, whatever.

But that's not all. I've heard from an internal source - let's call him GG - that there will be an exciting new development on the Herald website at some time tomorrow - a redesign! Better news, more profound opinions, whites whiter, colours brighter, etc.

Anyway, this is just so no one thinks that the blog (or its author) has died. Regular communication will start sometime between now and next Monday.