Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jumping the shark

Look - I realise that the Herald has to have a giant photo on the front cover every day. I also understand that a lot of the time it's going to be attached to a story that is... less than front-page-worthy.

But you would hope that the accompanying 'story' is at least a) something of interest happening in New Zealand or b) a story of considerable world importance. At the very least, you would expect there to be a story at all. Behold today's front page:

The caption:
This 7.3m great white shark had just gorged himself on a seal off False Bay, south of Cape Town in South Africa, but when wildlife photographer Chris Brunskill dangled a decoy in front of him, he showed he was ready for a second helping.
So it's a shark in South Africa, not New Zealand. And it hasn't attacked anyone, it's just jumping out of the water - and someone took a photo of it.

On another note, did anyone else look at today's front page's main headline (headword?) and immediately think of this?:


Anyone else in Auckland see the lightning last night? Pretty cool, huh?

Then again, it's all fun and games until someone loses a house. Lightning strikes, tsunamis and earthquakes may be 'cool' to look at, but they're not so fun for the people who have to pick up the pieces afterwards - people like Tauranga resident Sam Johnston, a man whose home was destroyed by the storms last night. Or so suggests the headline: "Lightning strike wrecks home". Did it burn down? Did the foundations collapse under the furious onslaught?

As the EtH reader who alerted me to the story eloquently puts it:
"Holy crap!" I thought when I read the headline. "That must have been one hell of a lightning strike!"

The accompanying photo next caught my eye. A frowny faced man sitting on some steps next to a bare patch of dirt. His house must have been totally vaporised by the lightning!

"Sam Johnston, son of the homeowner, sits on what remains of the garden wall."

Wrecked indeed. Until one actually reads the article.

A bolt of lightning destroyed a concrete wall and steps at a house in Tauranga, throwing debris into the air.

[...] "Inside ... papers flew in the air, and socket points blew off the wall across the living room, all melted." [said Johnston.]

So a garden wall was damaged. Socket points blew. "Papers flew in the air." I can see how the home was "wrecked" - the insurance company probably condemned the house rather than having to organise someone to pick them all up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Big Wednesday"

I'm not a fan of (literal) gambling - I don't enjoy it and I'm not very good at it. Rather than play poker, I generally prefer just to give someone the $10 that I'm going to lose anyway, and then sit there reading a book. Or drinking by myself.

However, I've always had a particular dislike for Lotto. To me, it seems to have all the randomness and depression of going to the dog track, but without the fun of throwing your hat on the ground and stamping on it when you lose. As an 'investment', it's a terrible idea - you'd be better off hiding your money under a mattress or burying it in your backyard. As for 'entertainment'... well, quite.

The last time that Lotto itself was on the front page of the newspaper it was because of the giant jackpots that were on offer earlier this year. At the time, I bemoaned the articles - more or less Lotto propaganda - being written in the media about the draws, and the complete misunderstandings of statistics that accompanied them. Today, however, Lotto is on the front page of the paper for a different reason: it has made a record profit.
Thousands of community groups will benefit from the New Zealand Lotteries Commission's record profit of $189 million.

Sport and Recreation New Zealand, Creative NZ and the Film Commission - the three main beneficiaries of the Lottery Grants Board funds - learned last night they would receive more money than expected.

But a spokesman for Mr Guy said last night hundreds more community groups would also be in line for money.

Every year, hundreds of community groups who meet the grants criteria apply for money but are declined.

That's nice. But I'm curious about this notion of Lotto, and therefore the Lottery Grants Board, making a 'profit'. Like I keep having to say, I'm not economist, and I'm not denying that they have actually collected this surplus of money. My quibble is with the alleged benefits that this article claims Lotto brings to the community.

Lotto doesn't actually produce anything (other than, of course, 'entertainment'). The $189 million isn't a profit that New Zealand made, any more than the tax money that the government takes is the country's profit. Surely what it actually is is redistribution. The money that Lotto has 'generated' for community groups has come from - wait for it - communities. The question that remains is whether the redistribution is worth it or not.

Mr Guy said Lottery grants provided vital backing for social, community, arts, heritage, sports, recreation, and health research activities which had a positive effect on New Zealand communities.

"A lottery grant can be the difference between an organisation wanting to make something happen in its community and being able to make it happen. It means that ordinary New Zealanders can do amazing things for their communities."

I'm all for social cooperation, but the money that is given out in grants is just coming out of the pockets of the people it ends up being given back to - minus, of course, the marketing, staging and administrative costs of running Lotto, the Lotteries Commission and the Lottery Grants Board. I have no data on who tends to play Lotto, but my sneaking suspicion is that it's not the wealthy sitting there praying for a big win; they know to put their five dollars on the stock market. The fact that the three biggest 'winners' from lottery grants are Sport and Recreation New Zealand, Creative NZ and the Film Commission - all performing valuable but, especially the last two, primarily bourgeois services - leads me to believe that this redistribution isn't quite as progressive as the rather chirpy Herald article makes out. Sure, that's not always the case:

The Combined Beneficiaries Union in Auckland had $66,000 in Government funding cancelled.

But it also receives lottery grants, and can now expect to benefit from the profit jump.

Of course, "the profit jump" was just more people spending money on Lotto, so if those people were beneficiaries then the nett "benefit" might be less than the Herald suggests.

This year's profit is likely to help offset Government funding cuts which have hit many community groups and organisations.
Yes, just like me taking ten dollars from your wallet and giving it to you offsets the loss of ten dollars from your wallet.

Don't read too much into this - I'm not claiming that Lotto should be banned, or that it's any worse than, say, Sky City, which constantly trumpets its charitable and community work - which of course happen to be its statutory obligations under its gambling licence. But the rather rosy picture of what is just, when you strip off the shiny-yet-humble veneer, another form of gambling painted by today's lead Herald article I found as distasteful as the first time you walk onto the gaming floor at the Auckland Casino: where you thought everyone would be wearing tuxedos, it turns out they're all wearing trackpants.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Can a man milk his new born son milk from his tit? No he can not."

Like Oscar Wilde said, the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.

Should gay couples be able to adopt?

adam (Kingsland): My initial gut feeling to this question is no. But then I see so many couples having children that I think should never have been aloud to bread that I soften my views. I guess it comes down to whats in a their hearts as to wheather or not a couple make good parents.

I think the fears of many that it will bread a generation of gay people is unfounded. If that were the case then a straight couple would never have thrown a gay child in the first place.
Perhaps we need more controls on whom we alou to bread. People are throwing children all over the place.
Dagoth Pie (New Plymouth): Ok, so I'm a Christian, and I find it disgusting that people can insult Christians, call us bigoted, play on stereotypes, and try to use the views of a portion of the populace as an excuse, bluntly, yes, the bible is against homosexuality, in fact, if anything is pro being asexual, I'm probably only just old enough to say thats about the easiest way to go.
If it's good enough for single-cell organisms, it's good enough for us. But if you really think that binary fission is easier than sex, you're doing it wrong.
Fatboy (Fairdown): Why on earth do Gays want to be dragged down with the responsibilities, experiences and expences of child care? Kids aren't useless little dogs with inane names that will fit into your hand bags but costly, time consuming little ratbags that will be a drain on soul, spirit and the bank balance. And then come the teenaged years.

Perhaps some sort of weekend swap program can be started where Gays can "adopt" a child for weekends from hetreosexual couples so they can have a period of realising what a pain in the arse kids will be. The hetros will be also released albeit briefly to live it up on more ready cash, finer food, travel, fancier clothes, hedonistic orgies and eclectic nightschool courses.
Fatboy seems to be slightly confused, basing his view of "Gays" on notorious lesbian Paris Hilton. "Eclectic nightschool courses"? Methinks Fatboy doth protest too much.

Jake (Howick): Does the child want to grow up in such family? Ever thought of the kid when he goes to school, friends would make comments about "mum and dad". its hard for some adults to accept the homosexual concept but they know how to keep their mouth shout even if they find it hard to accept but Kids wouldn't know what to say and what not to, they'll just say it out and it would truly hurt the childs feeling.

The child may become isolated at school leading to an abnormal childhood. I'm not saying it would definitely happen, but you know kids eg if your surname is woodcock or dick, they would mock you.

Good thinking. Ban parents with hilarious last names from having children immediately.

TomG (Canada): I say "No" purely because it would be impossible for gay people to have a child in nature so maybe it is not intended to be. This not a malicious statement as many will no doubt try to make it - I just think if nature didn't intend it then maybe we shouldn't be doing it?

But don't worry - Nature definitely intended you to sit around pounding inane rubbish on a keyboard and submitting it to an online forum from halfway around the world.
Billy (Singapore): So called gay couples should stick to poodles.
No kid should be suffer the indignity of being brought up by homosexuals.
Would you let your son sleep over at a friends place who has 2 dads?
If their parents were gay they wouldnt be here!
Why encourage these freaks.

Now I will be called homophobic! And proud of it.
Classy. This is what happens when a newspaper fires all the people who moderate online content. Nice hate speech, Herald! You should be proud.
james (Victoria) [...] This is not an equality issue, its an issue of whats best for the kid. A gay relationship is NOT a natural family unit. A gay relationship is NOT the equivalent of a hetro relationship and therefore NOT deserving of the same recognition.

How can we say the relationship types are equal when one is vitally important to human survival and the other is not. Thats biological fact, not bigotry.
The biggest obstacle to worldwide human survival at the moment, of course, being a shortage of babies.

Andrew (Te Atatu South): No way. I am not against gay and lesbian people, but I am very very staunch when it comes to parenting - which should be MAN and WOMAN. Who am I to judge? But if it was my decision, I would not let homosexual couples adopt and bring up children. Children need a strong father figure in their life, aswell as a supporting mother.

I love this guy. When most people say, "Who am I to judge?", they tend to mean that they should not judge other people's actions and situation because they don't know enough about it, or because it would be hypocritical - "Judge not lest ye be judged", "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Andrew, however, simply seems to mean that he is not in an executive or judicial role with oversight of this particular area.

Logan (Auckland): Why do homosexuals always accuse others of discrimination, intolerance and hatred just because people have different views? Why is there such a great need for acceptance and affirmation by the wider community if they are truly comfortable with their own morality.

[...] Homosexual relationships are a lifestyle choice between 2 (maybe more) consenting adults, however unnatural and perverse that may be.

[...] Children should NOT be used by adults to fulfill their fantasy whether it is of a sexual nature or otherwise.

Poor Logan. He's sick of the constant slurs being thrown his way. Perhaps he should go and adopt a child to take his mind off things. Anyway, I hear that some homosexual couples contain up to seven adults who can't reach sexual fulfillment without adopting a baby.

Relaxed in Taurang (Greerton): No, they shouldn't. Aside from the religious views, the rights and the wrongs that go with this debate, I believe that a child needs a father and a mother as role models. Dads and mums fill different needs in a child's life and having two parents of the same sex is not going to help a child. Call me old fashioned.

Okay. You're old-fashioned.
Karen (Sunnynook): Perhaps my experience is limited in only having known 6 gay guys in my life and maybe the same number of lesbians, but I think that until we know more about the physiology and resultant psychology of homosexuals then with our most vulnerable, namely orphaned children, we should err on the side of caution.

I remember seeing a documentary on a homosexual scientist who studied the brains of known homosexuals using MRI scans and on post mortem and he was able to show demonstrable differences between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual individuals.
I've heard rumours that gay people have three kidneys! More to the point, surely we can't trust the research findings of a gay scientist until we know more about the physiology and resultant psychology of homosexuals.


I'm sweating and my breathing is irregular, and I'm only a quarter of the way through. Feel free to do your own research and post it.*

*Unless you're homosexual and we don't have enough information on your physiology and resultant psychology.

Cringe factor nine

What reporters do when there's no actual news.

Yuk yuk.

Monkey News

Oh Christ. From page A3 of New Zealand's Newspaper of Record - "Feline Star plays the piano purrfectly":
A piano-playing cat called Nora has become an internet sensation after a concerto was written for her.
Unfortunately, this piece didn't make it to the website - either because it was pinched from the Telegraph or because they've fired all the people who upload content to the Herald Online - so if you want to find out more about Nora then you'll have to buy the paper.

I was going to link to the story on the Telegraph website, but I refuse to be the kind of person who links to a story about a piano-playing cat. So there.


I would apologise for the lack of editing going on for the past week or so but, as it turns out, there's just been nothing bad in the Herald to talk about.

There's definitely been nothing like this piece, an article that should have been rejected from the College Herald for editing like this:

From what little can be gleamed from reviews and leaked video clips, the Zune HD's on-screen keyboard (a critical make or break feature) looks very similar to the iPhones in that letters to linger above your fingers, making for significantly easier typing.

Whilst its hard to get a feel for the Zune HD's 3.3" 16:9 widescreen capacitive OLED multi-touch 480x272 screen from pictures and lo-fi YouTube clips.

The use of OLED is likely to ensure it'll be pretty vivid and, like most new OLED mobile phones, should be pretty readable outdoors.

I know the site is called Editing the Herald, but I shouldn't literally have to edit your punctuation and grammar.

There also hasn't been any occasion for a 'Party on, Garth'. He didn't, for example, argue that our criteria for whether we should send troops to war ought to consist entirely in whether the soldiers are keen or not. This column, had it existed, had the memorable effect of eliciting a letter from none other than Phil Goff defending his position on Afghanistan. Memo to Phil: just keep walking and don't talk to the crazy person. We have professionals to deal with that sort of thing.


To ease you into the working week - those of you who even have jobs - I thought I would critique the front page of the Herald. It's tough, however when there's almost no news on it because the entire top half of the page is covered with colourful boxes making promises about the fun content inside the paper.

Back in my day, people didn't need colourful boxes to convince them to turn the page and see what was on the next one. I guess I just wasn't made for these times.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Odds and sods

Also on the front page today is an article entitled "Phone giants say call for price rules could backfire". It's a definite area of public interest, although the story template that is "Large, dominant firms argue that regulation is bad" is a bit uninformative.

What I found particularly interesting* was the reporter's use of scare quotes around words that really didn't need them. For example, you probably don't need to call termination rates "termination rates" - that's just what they're called. More to the point, why did she feel the need to put "big two" (of mobile phones, Vodafone and Telecom) and "duopoly" in quotes? Would anyone seriously claim that they don't constitute a duopoly (depending, at least, on how 2 Degrees fare)? Talk of customers being "ripped off" by the "big two" is more of a value judgement, but if you put it on Your Views then I think most people would tend to agree.

*Not that interesting really.


Perhaps someone could submit this article from page A3 to Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington's Monkey News? Or just shoot me in the head:
Minty, the free-roaming capuchin, is on the loose again - but it may not be a case of monkey business on her part this time.

So, you know, hassling Your Views is too easy because anyone can go on and write whatever bigoted, nonsensical stuff they like. Not like the Readers' Forum (the letters page to you and me):
Gays are supposed to have an empathy that Chris Carter clearly lacks. An empathy that might have had more regard for the single-income families with three children whose tax dollars fund his lifestyle. Families that get nothing for nothing from nobody.

Rob Harris, Upper Hutt
I shouldn't really have to do this, but here goes:
  • "Gays"? Really? In 2009?
  • They are supposed to have empathy, are they? Other things that "gays" are supposed to have, according to what I learned from American sitcoms: high-pitched voices; tight pants; good, if flamboyant, fashion sense.
  • The last sentence isn't a sentence, it's a fragment - a fragment containing a triple negative that makes the writer sound like a grumpy six-year-old.
Come on, Herald: I know you're trying to cut staff, but just because the person in charge of selecting the letters for publication is sick doesn't mean that you just get a temp to bung in the first ones out of the mailbag.

New Zealand Woman's Crime Scene: Investigation

Sorry about the late posting - would it make you feel better if I told you I had to move my computer so I could sit next to a phone plug and use dial-up internet to post this?

From today's front page:

Leanne Kingston was a doting mother-of-four who was going through a tough time.

The 39-year-old shared custody of her children - aged 8, 14, 16, and 19 - with their father, her on-and-off partner, who she had just broken up with again.

Ohhhh-kaaaay. So?
On Monday the children waited patiently at school, but their mother never came to collect them. Ms Kingston, one of triplets, was found dead by her sister in the bathroom of her modest Papakura home about 4pm.
In other words, a woman was murdered. Why can't the media just say this anymore? It seems like some sort of biographical intro, the text equivalent of a violin soundtrack in a minor key, is necessary for every single article. Honestly, are we so jaded that we need to be overtly led to feel sad and angry about someone's murder? The article continues:

Friend and neighbour Margaret Tate said she and the children's father couldn't live together, but couldn't stay apart.

"They used to have time out, he would go out of the country or to the South Island for a while," she said.

This is a woman who just got murdered, not a fading Dancing with the Stars starlet selling her story to the Woman's Weekly. Questionable taste and questionable relevance. Finally, however, the story gets on to talking about the actual event, and the ongoing police investigation. What follows is a rare inside-look at the nitty-gritty of how the thin blue line protects the public:

Police have spoken to several people, including the children's father.

[...] Yesterday, forensic experts and detectives scoured the property and spoke to neighbours.

Police said friends and family of the dead woman would be interviewed to try to determine her movements. Other addresses connected with the woman were also being examined.

Asked if her killer was someone she knew, Mr Gutry said police were keeping an open mind.

"We're looking at all options, looking at everything."

That information would determine which direction the inquiry took, he said.

"Asked if her killer was someone she knew"? Well, given that no one has been arrested for, let alone convicted of, the murder, I can imagine the police having a hard time ascertaining whether they knew the victim - no 'homicide note' having apparently been left to clear things up. How inconsiderate.

That aside, I can't imagine anyone getting less information from the story had the entire last section been cut and replaced with: "Police are investigating like they usually do." Looking at forensic evidence on the property? Check. Interviewing friends, family and witnesses? Check. Let's just call it 'looking up leads'. Not leaping to conclusions and arresting random people on the street? Check. But that last sentence cracks me up:
That information would determine which direction the inquiry took, he said.
So... the information that police get from the site, witnesses and initial leads will decide what they do next? As they say on the internet: Thanks. For. That.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Too busy at work to post properly but, if you don't already have a headache by this time of day, you could go and visit the Your Views on climate change. I have no idea whether or not man-made emissions are causing climate change. I'm humble enough (!) to accept that I'm going to have to leave this one up to the climate scientists who, as far as I can tell, overwhelmingly support the hypothesis that climate change is at least partly anthropogenic.

No such humility is to be found on YV, however. And yes - it's the Herald's fault. Asking a question like they have is like a cross between asking "Do you believe man really walked on the moon?" and "Do we need oxygen to breathe?".

Do we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2020?

Helen (Onehunga): I was wondering where all my $30-'s will go too.anyhoo,let's not worry too much yet, as the government has popped in a few nice "out"clauses, requiring all the big countries to do their bit as well, which they clearly won't.

Thank goodness lots of people are starting to see this issue clearly, as I've never believed any warming was due to man-and-cow-made emissions but used to get scathingly shouted down by Believers till I learned to shut up.

How anybody can believe that a tax will save Earth from catastrophe is beyond me.
I'm not an actress, but I'd really like to sit down and have a cuppa and a chat with John Key too-I don't know much about Global Warming but I know what I could do with an extra $30 per week.

Duly noted.

Pedantic (Forrest Hill) There has yet to be one single scrap of scientific proof put forward by global warming lobbys [sic] to substantiate their claims. Their MOD [sic] is, the louder we shout, the more inclined people will be to listen!

I was prepared to humour these mis-guided [sic] souls while their rantings and ravings didn't affect my daily life, however, public and corporate donations are now not enough! Now they want every living soul to pay for their madness! I draw the line! I say they should all climb back into their slimy holes where they belong.

Who is going to be retarded enough to support this proposal?

Sorry to be, erm, pedantic about your spelling. But I think I'll side with the scientific consensus on this one. Nice rant though - what were we talking about again?

But I must adieu - this data isn't going to enter itself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The blog that dare not speak its name

From an article in the Business section by John Drinnan:

Sky Television chief executive John Fellet says he is not concerned about websites that include virulent attacks against Sky sports coverage and put the blame squarely on him.

He describes the site, which looks at the resources Sky puts into its high-definition broadcasts for some sports events, as cyber-bullying.

Anti-media sites are common enough - there is even one devoted to this paper - but does have an edge to it.

What, no link?

Swimming against the tide of opinion

Do you like bad grammar? How about rhetorical questions? Then the new, subediting-free Opinion page is for you. Honestly, today's "Let world-class swimmers move with the high-tech times" is bad enough that, like a swimmer in a cutting-edge bodysuit, it may just break the record set by Auckland-residing smacker Phil Jackson just last week. The record, that is, for worst opinion article published in the New Zealand Herald. I know that these aren't written by Herald staff, but they are published by the Herald - not the College Herald - and as a paying customer I like to think that I can expect a reasonable standard of written English for my $1.80. Good on personal trainer Tom Blackhall for writing and sending in his opinion - I think it's usually a valuable contribution, even if I think he's wrong in this case. What follows, however, is a valuable lesson in why you don't fire all your subeditors.

FINA claims the new all-polyurethane suits has put swimming's credibility at risk due to the rapid rate that world records are falling. And therefore it is necessary to revert to costumes made purely from textiles.
Yeah, you could just make that one sentence.
On top of this we have now had champion swimmer Michael Phelps' coach threatening a boycott. But is this not just a case of sour grapes - surely the shape of Phelps' current costume puts him at an advantage over someone wearing the good old fashioned "budgie smugglers".
Except no one wears "budgie smugglers" anymore. As far as I know, Phelps is contractually obliged to wear an inferior suit to other competitors: the 'greatest Olympian of all time' is now getting beaten by no-name scrubs in cheat-suits, so you can't really blame him for being slightly piqued.
To get complete fairness in competition it would have to be compulsory that everyone wears the exactly the same style of costume made of exactly the same type of textile.
What a crazy pipe dream. (Or is it a pipe nightmare, with nanny-state telling you what to wear?) Anyway, eight pairs of speedoes per race should solve this little problem.
Would it not be better to embrace this new technology and let the swimmers have what they want to wear? All it does is make great swimmers greater - what is wrong with that?
All steroids do is make great athletes greater. I can see it now - Phelps turns up at the next Olympics, confident that the giant latex flippers attached to his suit will give him the advantage he needs. So it's naturally a shock when he notices all the other swimmers have outboard motors attached to their arse.

Let's look at some other very popular sports. Athletics: Cathy Freeman ran in a full body running suit in the 400m s final at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and won the gold medal.

She had won the silver medal at the previous games in Atlanta wearing a standard leotard type running suit when she finished behind Marie-Jose Perec from France. Freeman's winning time in 2000 was 0.5 of a second slower than in 1996 so the suit most likely gave her no physical advantage.

But did it possibly give her a physiological advantage over her components? Who knows and who really cares. Wasn't it fantastic to see her crossing the line first wearing her green and gold suit and her aboriginal flag coloured shoes?

First of all, swimming is not a popular sport - at least, not in the sense that rugby or football are. As this Slate article pointed out, this is part of the problem - people only care about swimming when the Olympics are on or when Michael Phelps gets stoned. Go on, name a current male swimmer other than Phelps. Thought not.

Secondly, "the 400m s final" is not English.

Thirdly, if Cathy Freeman's suit gave her no physical advantage, then it's not relevant here because the swimming suits clearly do.

Fourthly, how is a "physical" advantage different to a "physiological" advantage in this sense? I don't understand. Do you mean "psychological"?

Fifthly, I'll tell you who cares: the other runners/swimmers.

Sixthly, it was indeed heartwarming to see Cathy Freeman in pretty colours. Again, I'm not certain of the relevance of this to the swimming argument. Am I missing something?

Seventhly(?), the phrase 'aboriginal flag coloured shoes' could use some judicious use of the hyphen. The shoes were not, I believe, of traditional aboriginal design.

Michael Johnson, possibly the best 400m runner of all time, dashed to a 400m world record (43.18 seconds) at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain wearing specially engineered Nike shoes. Tailored to fit not just the runner but also his running style, these shoes featured a new glass-filled sole plate that, at 30g, weighed half as much as previous designs while maintaining a delicate balance between stiffness and flexibility.

The shoes were specially designed just to last slightly longer than the race and could only be worn once. Were these shoes banned? No, they helped a great runner become even greater, and it was a sight to behold.

Putting aside the fact that this looks like it was copied straight from a Nike press release, I would like to point out that the shoes did not make him a greater runner, anymore than I would be a greater runner if I wore rocket boots on my feet.

How would tennis players fare if they still had to use the old wooden racquets instead of letting technology run its course. Over the years tennis players have played with racquets made of steel, aluminum, graphite, fibreglass, titanium and the high-tech, ultra light carbon composite racquets of today?

Have you noticed that this article has a lot of rhetorical questions. There's so many that they seem to have forgotten where to put the question marks?

The Tour de France cycle race has just finished but you can bet your life that the riders would still be cycling now if they still had to ride the same type of bicycles as in the first tour in 1903.

[...] Can you imagine Tiger Woods being as good as he is today if he had to play with the wooden shafted golf clubs of old?That's wooden-shafted golf clubs, by the way.
There are probably interesting issues, for people who care about that sort of thing, about the use of technology in golf clubs, racing bikes and tennis racquets. But at least in those sports using the club, bike or racquet is the point of the sport. The only purpose one's 'swimsuit' serves is keeping in one's bits - a task that the humble speedo admirably fulfils. As such, a better analogy would be Tiger Woods wearing a laser-guided hat.
Granted, all bicycles must meet the standards of the International Cycling Union. They may be specially engineered for speed for the time trials, but those used for the road stages of the race must be "standard design", but technology has not been halted and that is surely a good thing.
Subediting please.

Golf clubs have evolved into high-tech instruments that have great durability, weight distribution and graduation utility and many more features that an ordinary layman like me cannot understand. There are no industry-wide standards for any golf club specification in the golf equipment industry.

Each club making company is free to make clubs to whatever "standard specifications" they deem appropriate.

However, most of the club companies today do pretty much subscribe to length specifications for their clubs which are relatively close to each other, but these have also changed over the years.

On top of this the evolution of clubs went hand in hand with the evolution of golf balls that were able to withstand harder whacks and fly greater distances, but that is too complex for me to understand.

I'm sorry, you've lost me - possibly it's "too complex for me to understand". The article just rambles about the various specifications of golfing paraphernalia for a bit before suddenly realising that it has hit the word limit.
We can all think of other sports that have embraced technology and made them more exciting to watch and partake in. FINA will be doing its sport a disadvantage if it does not allow it to go with the times.
If you think that the use of high-tech swimsuits has made swimming more exciting to watch, beyond the crack-like and surely unsustainable thrill of seeing a world record fall in every race, then I humbly beg to differ. If you think it makes swimming more fun to partake in, then Michael Phelps, among others, begs to differ.

(Oh, and I'm pretty sure you can't 'do' someone or something 'a disadvantage'.)

I'm sorry if, like a commenter the other day, you feel that this is 'sneering' and petty. Of course the guy isn't a professional writer - but that is why there should be proper editing done before this sort of thing is published. I don't mind seeing opinions I disagree with in the paper, so long as they are coherent both in terms of argument and style. This one is neither, in my opinion, and I feel that demanding better is the customer's prerogative.


A stunning pair of headlines from education reporter Jacqueline Smith today (although presumably written by a subeditor). First up we have:
"Rap classes make school cool"
Anyone else under 30 cringing right now? Up next:
"Students must do hard stuff: academic"
Presumably such as working on their vocabulary.


Speaking of (cultural) cringe, if you want to feel a little bit more depressed about yourself and the country then you could do worse than head over to Your Views:
"Has New Zealand become a country that tolerates failure?"
Oh dear. Apparently some rugby team lost.

When the All Blacks, the country's global ambassador embodying all the values New Zealanders hold dear [???], continually implode when the eyes of the world [???] are watching, it hints at there being some kind of fragility in the national psyche.

Has New Zealand become a nation of nice people [???] who not only tolerate failure, but have also learned how to revel in mediocrity?

Do New Zealanders see success on the world stage as beyond them, something best left to the Australians with their over-confidence and go-get-them attitude?

Or does New Zealand, in fact, have much to celebrate, but doesn't know where to look?

What do you think?

I think an overseas holiday sounds like a good idea.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stop the press!

As you'll no doubt be aware, the Herald runs a 'corrections' column where they clear up any inaccuracies that have been in the paper in the last day or so. Like that time when a Korean exchange student stabbed a teacher at Avondale College and they put a photo of a different Korean student on the front page. Oh well - they all look the same to us, right??

But I digress. Today's column features the following:

"Sir Roger Douglas no longer receives his Government pension, as stated in Garth George's column yesterday. He forfeited it in he re-entered Parliament. Sir Roger's air travel expenses of $44,000 [!] included work-related flights as well as personal overseas travel."
Oh, I get it. Garth George can write whatever baseless trash week after week and get published without correction: women would have to eat 11 slices of bread a day to get their necessary folate under the proposed mandatory regime; section 59 of the Crimes Act had "never caused the least concern"; fast food contains nothing but "legitimate, nutritious ingredients".

But the moment some concerned private citizen - let's call him 'RD' - calls in to clear up a claim which, although false, is hardly greatly misleading in the context, the Herald rushes to publish a correction. I wonder if it's anything to do with the fact that, as Monday's editorial pointed out, Sir Rog "has probably done most to earn the country's lasting appreciation... He was in Parliament [in the 1980s] for a purpose larger than a personal career, as he is again."

But I digress. I hereby encourage you all to be much more proactive in complaining to the Herald about factual errors in Garth's column in particular. Let's see if we can't get a weekly column of our own - about 1000 words or so just going dispassionately through the errors of the previous day.


On a related note, I got a fascinating email from an EtH reader today. He was infuriated in general by the Herald's reporting, but the straw that broke the camel's back was a particular reference to EtH favourite and media rent-a-quote Bob McCoskrie, of the 'Family First Trust' . He somehow got together the gumption to bang his head against a brick wall and emailed the Herald with his complaint:

Dear Herald Journalists,

You keep referring to "Family First director Bob McCoskrie."

Family First IS Bob McCoskrie. You can’t join Family First. From his website:

"How do I join?

We don’t have an official membership. However, by registering to receive our updates, and offering support (financial, goods/services, prayer), this all helps us provide a strong voice for families."

If everytime there was a social issue you went to "bloke down the road" for an opinion, your readers might not take him quite so seriously. Please stop giving this man the credence he doesn't deserve just because he uses an authoritative-sounding name rather than just his own.

Society for Informed Debate director [insert name of secretive, possibly celebrity, correspondent here]

It's true enough - here's the website. Intriguingly, one of Mr McCoskrie's 'qualifications' is "engaging with the issues of the day on talkback radio" - the issues of pretty much every day on talkback radio being, as far as I know, "Maoris", dole bludgers, immigrants and why the All Blacks can't win (it's because they eat too much pasta and not enough meat). But I digress. To be fair, Family First is not just Mr McCoskrie; there is a 'Board of Reference' as well. The page isn't clear on what exactly the function of this board is, but it does contain a number of luminaries: Jim Hickey, the man who got stood down (as far as my hazy memory goes) from the TV weather for saying "cumburger" live on air; former rugby player Michael Jones; former What Now! 'star' Anthony Samuels; and the Rev Tavake Tupou, a Tongan community and church leader. According to their blurb, Rev Tupou and his wife "have 4 children and have lost count of the number of grandchildren!" This clear negligence towards their grandchildren certainly does not shout 'family first' to me.

This story really gets interesting when you see the reply that came in response to this email:

Dear Mr [???],
Thanks very much for your email. You're right, of course, he's a one-man lobby group, but it's one of the treasures of our small democracy that ordinary citizens can speak out and have an effect. Please feel free to send me press releases from the Society for Informed Debate!
With best wishes,
[Reporter X]

[Reporter X], Social Issues Reporter, New Zealand Herald
My correspondent didn't really know what to think about this reply, and nor do I. The original criticism was two-fold: that a large, well-resourced newspaper relied for comment on an 'organisation' that was just... a dude, and that the description of him as 'Family First director Bob McCoskrie' (cf. Bishop Brian Tamaki) rather than 'Bob McCoskrie, guy who likes families' gave him rather more mana and authority than he perhaps deserves. Perhaps you'll agree with me that, not only does this reply not clear up either of these issues, it also adds a couple of new ones:
  • If "ordinary citizens can speak out and have an effect", why bother with the 'Family First Trust' nonsense?
  • And why just stick with one "ordinary citizen" for every article about families? That doesn't seem very democratic.
  • Was he really encouraging press releases from the newly founded 'Society for Informed Debate'?
I found the sequence of events rather bizarre - but I don't have the time to sit around worrying about this. I'm no longer James Coe, guy who writes a blog; I'm James Coe, Executive Director (Blogging Services), Editing the Herald Foundation for Transparency in Media. I'm off to get some business cards made up...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

From the headlines

Out-of-context headline of the day:

From the front page:
"Dog and fish deaths may have different causes, say scientists"
Recession-friendly headline of the day:
"Imaginary friends boost language skills - study"
If imaginary friends can do that, just think of what imaginary doctors could do for waiting lists.


Frowny-face of the day:
"Class cuts leave migrants out in cold"

"Reza Sarkheil says he is worried about the future of migrants if training organisations are forced to close."

Wait, how about these migrants?:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Because I can't bloody help myself

More "Ur Vus" on referendums people would like to see:

Marj (Auckland) I'm not even gonna bother to vote, god I was brought up getting smack, I'm not sure what they going on about, what's wrong with it I'm not even gonna go against my parents teaching, I think they brought us up in a good way. We listened.

If you needed any further discouragement from smacking your children...

Greg Connor (One Tree Hill): I would like to see a referendum on the issue of Maori taking bodies from their families to different parts of the country. While it is a cultural issue I think it should be the subject of a referendum because it is something that effects many families in NZ.

Does it now.

Bill Daly (Glen Eden): Referendums should be binding on government, whether local or national. MPs are often no better and sometimes less informed about issues than the general population. I'd like to see a referendum on a new law that says MPs must vote a particular way if the majority of their electorate want that, irrespective of what party bosses might want. Political parties are not necessary to democracy and are often a hindrance to good representative government.

Indeed, Bill, it seems you think that representatives are often a hindrance to good representative government.
Malx (Pyes Pa): Very vaguely.
Something to do with banks gouging us
Something to do with electricity companies gouging us
Something to do with financial companies being made to pay back people.
something to do with politicians ludicrous superannuations and allowances.
Well it's no more poorly worded than the current one.
a a (Devonport): What would I like to see a referendum on? Prostitution, and yes it should be binding.
"Should prostitution be binding? Yes or no?"

Spankwatch: Opinion Edition

The 'fair and balanced' ™ treatment of the smacking issue spills over onto the opinion pages today. On the... wait, which is it?... 'Yes' side, is one Russell Wills:
Dr Russell Wills is a paediatrician in Hawkes Bay with a large child protection practice and is the clinical director of Maternal, Child and Youth Services at Hawkes Bay District Health Board. He is also spokesman for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand on the referendum issue.
Goodness. And who have the 'No' crowd drummed up to oppose him? One Phil Jackson (no relation... I assume). His credentials, you ask?:
Phil Jackson lives in Auckland.
Finding myself a match for Phil in this department, I thought I would comment on his opinion piece, "Parents, not governments, are responsible for children". I've written enough about the smacking thing of late to bore everyone to tears, so you can go and read it yourselves. I'll just make fun of a few highlights instead.
Members of Parliament know that they can get away with many things because they have denied the public the means to direct them on issues important to them. The Privy Council as the last means of appeal was abolished by a government that wanted its legislation to be interpreted in a particular way and despite the overwhelming number of submissions against this, decided that is what it wanted anyway.
The sooner we get some direct democracy with binding referendums, the better. Then we can be more like beautiful Switzerland, where women managed to get the vote in federal elections in 1971. But even there the systems aren't perfect; in 1990, nanny state judges forced the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden to give women the vote in canton elections despite public opposition.
The law now states that parents cannot use physical discipline for correction. If this is a good principle, then it should also apply to adults and that time out should also not be used for correction for children.
What? Firstly, I don't believe you can use physical discipline for the purposes of correction against adults. Secondly, that's not a sentence.
Those that argue that smacking is violence show a simplistic grasp of the subject. Society has rules that apply to different contexts that permit "violence". For example martial arts, contact sports and self-defence.
I don't believe one can legally use martial arts for the purposes of correction either - even good parental correction.
When John Key says the legislation is working - I worry. If I were to say my car is working when someone expresses an interest in buying it, no one would for a second think that I meant "working well".
What? What would it mean? 'Working like a dog'? 'Working the streets'? 'Workin' it'?

A woman I know spent nine months carrying her baby, with morning sickness in the first trimester, and toxaemia in the final few weeks. The baby's head was too big for her birth canal and a caesarean with epidural was needed.

That baby woke three or four times nightly for over six months causing countless lost hours of sleep. When that baby grew into a 10-year-old and one day went too far, with the woman already stressed out, she slapped her child on the face. Under this legislation, she could have become a criminal.

"When that baby grew into a 10-year-old"? That was quick. So what really happened in this little anecdote was a mother slapped her 10-year-old and didn't become a criminal. Good story.

Seriously, I read the Herald every day - so you don't have to - and I think this is the worst-written, worst-edited and worst-argued published piece of writing I have ever read. Anything that makes me want to go and give John Key and Phil Goff a big hug has to be doing something wrong.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Our lasting appreciation

Remember when I generously gave the Herald the hint to get all righteous about MPs' expense claims? They're still on about it, and the latest victim, in today's editorial, is none other than Roger Douglas - you may recall him from such policies as 'Rogernomics':

When MPs' individual expense claims were made public for the first time last week attention rightly centred on an item that was not unusual.

Sir Roger Douglas had given the taxpayer one of the highest travel bills - which included return flights to London for him and his wife to visit their grandson. Sir Roger said this was his entitlement not for being an MP but for being an ex-MP. He, like others with long service, had qualified for overseas travel on the taxpayer since his retirement in 1990.

Yeah, let him have it! Another privileged and wealthy (I assume) grandee abusing the system!
It is a pity his should be the case that surely discredits this rort once and for all. Of all politicians of his generation Sir Roger Douglas has probably done most to earn the country's lasting appreciation. But for his clear-eyed, single-minded determination the economy would not have been jolted out of its torpid decline in 1984.
Erm, yeah, show him, um, who's boss... wooo...

Market exposure might have happened without him but it would have been partial and hesitant and would not have given the country the sense of direction that he installed.

He was able to move rapidly and radically precisely because he was not interested in accumulating long-service benefits. He did what he believed needed to be done regardless of political risk. He was in Parliament for a purpose larger than a personal career, as he is again. He returned at the last election determined to put steel in the Key Government if he could.

Ok, what? Who wrote this - Richard Prebble? I'm far from being one of these people who blames all of society's ills on the reforms of the fourth Labour government, and I hardly look back with nostalgia on those days (which I can't remember anyway) when you needed a medical certificate to buy margarine. But really, "clear-eyed, single-minded determination"? "The country's lasting appreciation"? "He did what he believed needed to be done regardless of political risk"? Are we talking about Roger Douglas or Winston Churchill? Or Action Man? Regardless of what you think the 'objective' consequences of the 1980s reforms were, I would say that, other than Muldoon, no senior government minister (sorry Sue Bradford) has been disliked so much by so many New Zealanders.

The fact that such hagiography emerges, however briefly, from the country's main daily newspaper - a newspaper that also referred in a recent editorial to some alleged group called "the Left", whatever that means - I find ever so slightly worrying.

Wait, do I mean worrying or completely expected?

Frowny-face hypocrisy

As regular readers will know, I've been banging on for a while about the increasing trend in the Herald towards 'frowny-face journalism'. These are stories that, while usually about actual issues of note, borrow the style of 'human interest' stories: the initial focus on a particular individual; the giant photo, usually with a child or elderly person looking glum; and, perhaps most importantly, the inevitable overemphasis on statistically-insignificant individual cases over larger trends - viz. the cases of Bruce Burgess and the beneficiary women who last week crossed the path of Paula Bennett.

On some level, today's front-page headline is even more galling. Of course, when I say 'headline', I mean 'headlines' - while the article online is topped with the rather dull "Special education centre threatened by funding cuts", the print edition is headlined as follows:
"Trey Hess, 8, is one of hundreds of special-needs children to benefit from the help of therapists like Keith Morton-Macphail. But the Government says it can no longer afford $2.5m a year to fund them"
You can almost hear the violins. Of course, I'm not trying to make light of the story itself; I'd like to meet the person who thinks that a wealthy society like ours doesn't owe the seriously and blamelessly disabled (at the very least) all the opportunities that we can give them. And I can see the potential argument from the journalist's side: if frowny-face journalism is the only way to connect with readers, and thus gain support for worthy causes such as this one, then that's the way they should report, however unfortunate it may seem.

I guess my objection to that argument would be threefold. Firstly, that's a big 'if'; I'm just not certain that people can't identify with an article that isn't studded with pretty pictures, colourful graphics and tragic true-life stories. Have we all really fallen so far in the last couple of decades? Secondly, to the extent that the claim is true, it seems that it only makes things worse in the long run. Once people start to expect frowny-faces they will, like Pavlov's dogs (bear with me here), only respond to frowny faces. Thirdly, and this is my particular point regarding this article, I am a wee bit suspicious of their motives. Call me a cynic (!), but I suspect that the Herald as a business - as opposed to the individual journalists - doesn't really care too much about shaping public opinion to be more tolerant of the least well-off in society, and is more concerned with people buying papers. Shocking, I know.

If you remember back to the election, I don't think it is too uncontroversial to claim that the Herald implicitly supported the National Party for the most part. I remember them being particularly nagging about tax cuts. This isn't a political blog - maybe tax cuts were a good idea and maybe they weren't - but the paper's position now seems a bit disingenuous. Frankly, what did the Herald expect to happen to 'marginal' health services when the National government came in? Money had to disappear from somewhere - where exactly would they recommend? To be fair to Anne Tolley, the money is apparently being diverted to a system of grants to pay for care. Whether this system is better than centrally-offered care is a question for someone more knowledgeable than me. It just seems crass to me to bemoan funding cuts when they were pretty much the (indirect) consequence of the Herald's editorial position less than a year ago.

I'm not certain what conclusions to draw from this, other than being slightly more put off with this 'school' of 'journalism' than I was before today - and considerably less impressed by the argument in its defence.

Saturday, August 1, 2009