The University of wowsers

December 27th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

What on earth has happened to Dunedin?

I’ve always thought of it as a city of hard-working, practical, no- nonsense people, reflecting its Scottish Presbyterian heritage.

It was the home of Sir James Fletcher, founder of a construction empire, Henry Ely Shacklock, who made the country’s first electric ranges, and Bendix Hallenstein, whose name lives on in the menswear chain he established.

I wonder what such men would make of Dunedin today. Once a southern bastion of industry and commerce, it’s now chiefly known for the torrent of shrill, moralistic scaremongering emanating from Otago University.

It seems hardly a week passes without someone from Otago University, or one of its satellites in Christchurch and Wellington, warning us that our drinking and eating habits are leading us to moral and physical ruin.

You name it, they want it banned!

The Otago researchers’ findings always paint the blackest picture imaginable. And the message is invariably the same: our consumption habits are out of control and the government must act.

Underlying that is another message again: we are all at the mercy of greedy purveyors of booze and high-risk foods. Their wickedness must be curbed by advertising bans and punitive taxes. Hostility to capitalism is never far from the surface.

du Fresne hits the mark. Often these taxpayer funded lobby groups has spokespersons who have an unrelenting hatred of big business.

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Dividing by race

December 13th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Karul du Fresne writes:

The latest census confirms what was already obvious: New Zealand has quietly undergone a profound demographic revolution. From being one of the world’s most homogeneous societies, it has become one of the most diverse.

One in four New Zealanders was born overseas – an astonishing statistic that makes us one of the world’s most immigrant-friendly societies. Asian ethnic groups have almost doubled in size since 2001.

The change is most dramatic in Auckland, where a 2011 study found that 40 per cent of the population was born in another country.

What’s even more remarkable is that, in contrast with Britain and Australia, this has been accomplished without any obvious social or racial tension.

Apart from the pressure on housing prices, New Zealand has painlessly absorbed the new arrivals. Our embrace of ethnic diversity confirms that we are essentially a liberal, tolerant and easy-going society.

And we should be proud of that.

Yet that social harmony is potentially under threat – and the great irony is that the threat comes not from conservative New Zealanders, but from people purporting to represent immigrant groups.

On Jim Mora’s Afternoons programme on Radio New Zealand this week, Dr Camille Nakhid, chairwoman of Auckland Council’s ethnic people’s advisory panel (whose members include Bevan Chuang, erstwhile paramour of mayor Len Brown), talked about the need for ethnic groups to have more say in local government.

No-one could object to such groups having an advisory function, but Dr Nakhid, an academic who lectures in something called social sciences (no surprises there), was talking about much more than that.

She believes ethnic representatives should be given a statutory role in decision-making – just like Auckland Council’s non-elected Maori statutory board, whose two members recently exercised a casting vote in favour of a living wage for council employees.

Dr Nakhid talked airily about not compromising democratic principles, but in fact was advocating exactly that. She seemed to draw a self-serving distinction between democratic “principles”, which she believes justify special rights for ethnic groups, and something less important called the democratic “process”.

Apparently the tired old idea of one person having one vote doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

She talked about the need for ethnic minorities to have “separate but equal” representation with Maori in Auckland – in other words, compounding what is already an abuse of democracy. And she didn’t really answer Mora’s question about how ethnic representation could be arranged when Auckland has an estimated 200 ethnic groups. A minor technicality, no doubt.

If Dr Nakhid had deliberately set out to create friction where currently there is none, she couldn’t have found a better way to go about it. Nothing is more likely to arouse resentment of immigrant groups than demands for privileged treatment.

This is the problem with special privileges for one race. Others then want the same.

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du Fresne on Judges

August 16th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

I was reminded of that era last week when I read an excerpt from a new book called Grumpy Old Men, in which Auckland District Court Judge Russell Callander sounds off about some of the things that irritate him. No, make that many of the things that irritate him.

Judge Callander is in his 70s and sounds like a throwback to those magistrates I recall from the late 1960s. His is a magnificent rant that will warm the hearts of curmudgeons everywhere. Allow me to quote some of the juicier bits:

“People who dress badly when they appear in court can make me tetchy. Courts are solemn places: Not the beach or the public bar of the local boozer.”

“Epidermal self-mutilation with grotesque ill-drawn graphics so frequently flaunted by defendants, their associates, and witnesses are most irritating. When a man can’t even successfully spell four-letter Anglo-Saxon words, it makes me worry either about the standards of teaching in our schools, or the intelligence quotient of some of our more delinquent citizens.”

“Benefit bludgers and tax cheats make me growl with indignation. When people improperly take benefits, they steal from the state – from the rest of us who obediently pay our taxes. Often they have the cheek to look very disgruntled when they are caught, convicted and ordered to pay it all back.”

“A huge amount of court time is wasted by Maori activists who profess that Maori sovereignty renders them somehow immune to the laws of New Zealand.”

“And then there are the liars, the perjurers, the fabricators and prevaricators. Gone are the days when people admitted their crimes and told the truth. The oath is mainly meaningless. The mantra is ‘Get off the hook by any means’. It is shameful and destructive. It makes me not just grumpy but angry.”

I find it hugely refreshing that a judge should throw political correctness to the wind and so vigorously express sentiments felt by many of his fellow New Zealanders.

The Herald has a longer list of views from Judge Callander. I must go but his book!

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Vote for the teddy bears

April 19th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresnse writes in the Dom Post:

Wellington could save itself a truckload of money by getting rid of its mayor and 14 councillors and replacing them with teddy bears.

Would the quality of governance be affected? Not a jot. The council bureaucrats would continue to run things just as they do now.

Maybe someone should should set up a ticket of teddy bears to run?

Wellington is hardly unique. In local government, real power often resides with the managers. But in Wellington’s case, it’s a lot more obvious than usual.

Hence my suggestion that the council abandon the facade of participatory democracy and replace the councillors with stuffed toys. Meetings would be over faster, the petty bickering and point-scoring would cease, ratepayers would be saved more than $1.3 million a year – which is what they pay the mayor and councillors – and council officials would be free to get on unhindered with what they do anyway, which is running the show.

I am personally fond of koala bears – I had nine of them growing up!

In Wellington’s case, Helene Ritchie is the standout survivor, having first been elected in 1977. Other long-serving councillors are Andy Foster (1992), the mayor, Celia Wade-Brown (1994), Stephanie Cook (1995), Bryan Pepperell (1996), John Morrison and Leonie Gill (both 1998), and Ray Ahipene-Mercer (2000).

Admittedly, it can be useful to have councillors who have been around a while and know the ropes. Besides, some long-serving councillors are conscientious and hard-working. But there are others you couldn’t trust to feed your cat. The trouble is, voters often can’t tell which is which.

Wellington is a dynamic, creative city that deserves a council to match. Unfortunately many of the incumbents give the impression of having run out of ideas and energy years ago and now merely keep their seats warm.

There are some good incumbents. But they are a minority.

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Du Fresne on Radio NZ

April 2nd, 2013 at 7:30 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes in the Manawatu Standard:

I have some advice – unsolicited – for whoever takes over from Peter Cavanagh, the chief executive of Radio New Zealand, who steps down toward the end of this year.

RNZ is a national treasure, but it’s a flawed treasure, and that makes it vulnerable. By correcting the most obvious of those flaws, whoever takes over from Mr Cavanagh could help protect the organisation against political interference.

So what is this flaw?

So what might the new RNZ chief executive do to enhance the organisation’s standing in a political climate that is less than favourable? One obvious step is to take a tougher line against the editorial bias that still permeates some RNZ programmes.

Public broadcasting organisations, by their very nature, tend to be Left-leaning. It’s not hard to understand how this comes about. Journalists distrustful of capitalism naturally gravitate toward state-owned media organisations, seeing them as untainted by the profit motive. This becomes self-perpetuating, since the more Left-leaning an organisation becomes, the more it attracts other people of the same persuasion. The result is often an ideological mindset that permeates the entire organisation.

I think that is a nice summary of the problems that inhabit most state funded broadcasters. There is no “master conspiracy” that a broadcaster such as Radio NZ tries to be politically left-leaning. It is just that they tend to attract left-leaning staff, and sometimes have a workplace culture that is hostile to non-conforming views.

To be fair to Radio NZ, they are nowhere near as bad as the BBC. And certainly some shows try very hard to have a diversity of views.

But publicly funded broadcasters have an obligation to make programmes that reflect the views and interests of the entire community – not just those the broadcasters happen to favour.

This is explicitly stated in RNZ’s charter, which commits the organisation to impartial and balanced coverage of news and current affairs.

It’s the duty of the chief executive, who also has the title of editor-in-chief, to ensure this happens. But in this respect, Mr Cavanagh, an Australian who was recruited from the ABC in 2003, has been missing in action.

The ABC is arguably a worse offender.

Overall, RNZ presents a more balanced range of perspectives than it used to. But on some programmes, a stubborn Left-wing bias persists.

Kim Hill is the worst offender. This is a problem for whoever runs RNZ, because she’s also its biggest name.

Chris Laidlaw lists to the Left too, as does Jeremy Rose, a journalist who frequently crops up on Laidlaw’s Sunday morning show. Rose appears to be on a lifelong mission to convince people that there are humane alternatives to nasty, heartless capitalism.

Heh I have to admit that Mediawatch seems to have at least one segment every week complaining about the evils of advertising. They even spent two weeks talking about that some food company sent some free samples to some journalists who tweeted about their launch. Shock, horror.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that RNZ should become a tame government puppet. That would be far worse than the status quo.

But we all have an interest in Radio New Zealand surviving, and a genuinely independent, non-partisan RNZ will be in a far stronger position to defend itself than one that consistently leaves itself exposed to allegations of bias.

It is a fair point.

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du Fresne on media balance

January 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes in the Dom Post:

John Campbell is a very talented broadcaster and a likeable man. But I believe he is dangerously wrong when he pooh-poohs the idea of objectivity in journalism, as he did in a recent interview with this paper’s Your Weekend magazine.

”I’ve never met a journalist who didn’t want to change the world and make it a better place,” the TV3 current affairs host was quoted as saying. ”Without exception that’s why they get into journalism. And yet when they get there they are asked to be dispassionate and objective.

”Who came up with that rule? It’s stupid.”

In fact that ”stupid” rule, which requires that journalists try to remain impartial and present facts and opinions in a balanced way, has underpinned good journalism in Western democracies for decades.

The importance of objectivity is recognised, if not always followed to the letter, by virtually all the world’s great news organisations, including the BBC. It’s also upheld by the bodies that adjudicate on journalism standards, including our own Broadcasting Standards Authority and Press Council.

There’s a very good reason for this. The requirement for balance is a vital check on the potential abuse of media power. If it were abandoned, journalists would be free to spin the news however it suits them – in other words, to exclude any inconvenient fact or opinion that doesn’t align with their own world view.

It’s a curious fact that those who argue that journalistic objectivity should be discarded – a view now routinely promoted in journalism schools – are almost invariably from the Left of the political spectrum. Yet the same people are the first to condemn Right-wing news outlets, such as the notorious Fox News, for making little or no attempt at journalistic balance.

A fair point. It is rather hypocritical to be a critic of Fox News for being unbalanced, but praise Campbell Live for proclaiming they are not objective.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that objectivity, or more precisely the absence of it, can cut both ways. Being objective doesn’t mean, as is sometimes dishonestly argued, that journalists have to be timid or defer to those in power. Neither does it prevent them expressing shock and outrage when faced with obvious atrocities. But it does require reporters to acknowledge that in most situations there’s more than one side to the story, and that things are often more complex

And this is where I think John Campbell sometimes gets it wrong. 99% of NZers would agree that kids should not go hungry to school. But how to fix that is a complex issue, and any solution such as the state providing free food may have unforeseen side-effects. But if a TV show decides that “their”solution is the only solution and campaigns for that – well it is not serving the public well.

There is still a place for impassioned advocacy journalism of the type Campbell practices, as long as it’s clear to the viewer or reader that that’s what it is. But as a general proposition, the abandonment of journalistic objectivity would be disastrous. 

The challenge is making it clear when it is advocacy journalism and when it is so called balanced reporting. In print that is usually reasonably clear. In broadcasting far less so it seems.

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Du Fresne on Abortion

March 13th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes in the Dom Post:

When I read recently that two medical ethicists had suggested it should be legal to kill newborn babies, my first thought was that they must be anti-abortion campaigners choosing an unusually dramatic way to make their point.

After all, what’s the difference, ethically speaking, between aborting a baby at 20 weeks’ gestation or waiting until it’s born, then quietly suffocating it or administering a lethal injection? None that I can see.

Ethically speaking, the difference is that at 20 weeks, it can not survive outside the mother’s womb, and the mother has rights over her womb. This is the flaw in Karl’s entire column, and the research he refers to. Both totally skip over any discussion of the rights of a woman over her womb. One can only presume they think women have no rights over their wombs once they are pregnant. Now that is a legitimate view to have, but not one many share.

I believe that a foetus or unborn child does have some rights. And a mother also has some rights. The challenge is balancing those rights out. I have little time for those who say a mother has no rights at all, and likewise for those who say a foetus has no rights at all, and it is okay to abort at say eight and a half months.

Newborns aren’t actual persons, they suggest, merely potential persons. Neither the foetus nor the newborn baby is a person with a moral right to life. Only actual persons can be harmed by being killed.

It’s a proposition that would shock decent people. Yet it exposes the fundamental flaw, both logical and moral, behind liberal abortion laws such as those that apply in New Zealand.

Most people who think it’s OK to abort babies in the womb would recoil in horror at the thought of snuffing their lives out once they’ve been born.

And that is because they are now capable of independent life. I do not accept that an egg one second after fertilisation has the same rights as a baby.

But I ask again, what’s the difference? Some babies that are legally aborted under present law (there were 16,630 in 2010) have reached a stage in their development when they are capable, with intensive medical care, of surviving outside the womb.

Newborn babies also need intervention to survive. So at what point do we decide a baby has a right to life  at six months old, one year, only when it’s capable of feeding itself and walking?

There are a fer borderline cases, but generally abortions take place (as they should) before they can survive outside the womb.

Yet the Australian state of Victoria already allows babies to be aborted right up to the time of birth and pro-abortion lobbyists would like the same law adopted here. It’s only a short step from there to infanticide.

Which pro-abortion lobbyists are these? Can Karl name an organisation lobbying for this? He may be right, but I am unsure whom he is referring to.

He is right that Victoria’s laws are very permissive, with abortion on demand up until 24 weeks and needing two doctors to consent after considering a woman’s current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances. I think only serious physical danger to the mother should be a reasons for what is commonly called a late term abortion.

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Du Fresne on moralising Police

January 17th, 2012 at 7:21 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne makes some excellent points here:

When did the police decide that their role extended beyond preventing crime and apprehending lawbreakers?

Clearly, a new generation of officers is under the delusion that they have a remit to provide moral guidance and matronly advice to the rest of us on how to lead wholesome lives.

Last week the head of the Canterbury police alcohol strategy and enforcement team, Sergeant Al Lawn, was publicly tut-tutting over the granting of an alcohol licence to a new Christchurch supermarket.

With respect, Mr Lawn should pull his head in. The law allows the police to have their say when submissions are heard on liquor licence applications, but once the decision is made, that should be an end to it.

Absolutely. It is not their job to undermine the decision of the independent authority, through the media.

Obviously not satisfied with this state of affairs, and probably smarting because the decision didn’t go his way, Mr Lawn seized on the opportunity to lecture supermarkets on their supposed moral responsibilities.

He doesn’t think supermarkets should discount alcohol because it supposedly encourages binge drinking. But I know lots of people who are happy to buy discounted wine and beer from supermarkets and they couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be labelled as binge drinkers.

Mr Lawn went even further, suggesting that stores should reduce the price of milk, fruit and vegetables to attract customers “in a way that is also good for the community”. What pompous moralising.

Someone send him a membership form for the Mana Party.

When did the Police become responsible for the price of milk?

Out of curiosity I googled Mr Lawn and on the basis of what I saw, I concluded that he has well and truly crossed the line between objective law enforcement and political activism. He makes emotive statements about liquor industry “drug pushers” and condemns politicians for not getting tougher on alcohol.

He is entitled to those views as a private citizen, but to push them as a police officer is an abuse of his position.

Absolutely.

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Karl du Fresne on TV3

November 24th, 2011 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne blogs on TV3:

In a post on this blog site yesterday I mentioned my reluctance to accuse media organisations of political bias. I have seen those allegations hurled about far too often and far too loosely, invariably by politically aligned people frustrated that their side wasn’t the only one getting newspaper space or air time. But in the past couple of weeks I have begun to wonder seriously whether TV3 is running some sort of political agenda.

Karl gives several examples of what he sees as a political agenda:

  • Scare-mongering over the PM meeting the boss of a global oil company
  • Making a meeting with Lord Ashcroft sound sinister
  • Coverage of Labour’s welfare policy
  • General commentary on the election
  • The TV3 debate where every issue chosen was a negative one for National
  • The Inside Child Poverty Documentary, being the last straw

For my 2c I don’t think TV3, or its political staff, are deliberately biased against National.

The criticism I would make is more the tendency to sensationalise stuff such as the Ashcroft meeting. The impact of the tendency to sensationalism tends to end up as more anti-Government stories because most events are about the Government. This applies no matter which party is in Government.

I agree with Karl on the so called documentary that had no balance at all and was propaganda. Showing this in election week was an appalling decision.

On the topics for the TV3 debate, I think that is also a valid point. In fact the TV3 commentators even acknowledged that after the debate. Why was there no topic on the health system? National has a great story to tell there, so naturally not chosen. Why now law & order? Labour is pledging to repeal the three strikes law. Let’s hear Phil Goff explain why someone who rapes for a third time should be eligible for parole after just a few years? But no that wasn’t chosen either. Last night’s TVNZ debate was far better balanced with topics.

Now again this may not be bias. It is probably more that they don’t see any ratings in having the Government able to talk about areas where it has been a real success story. But in terms of balanced coverage and a balanced debate, I don’t think it qualifies.

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Du Fresne on principal bullying

September 21st, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of the contemptible schoolyard bullying reported last week by TV3 political editor Duncan Garner. Presumably it was overtaken by the much bigger drama unfolding around David Garrett and ACT.

An agitated Witana, an executive member of the Principals’ Federation, then turned on an extraordinary performance in front of Garner, gesticulating and speaking directly to the TV3 camera, saying things like “Don’t make me look terrible Duncan” and “Don’t make me dislike you.” He looked so emotionally unstable that Garner could have been excused for feeling slightly threatened himself – just as parents with children under Witana’s care might have been excused for wondering whether he needed to take stress leave.

And it is no surprise that so few teachers, principals or schools will speak publicly in favour of national standards. They know what will happen if they do.

Interviewed for TV3 News, Newman (whom Kiwiblog’s David Farrar reports is seeking the Labour Party nomination for Whangarei) tried to skew the issue, suggesting that principals and boards of trustees were not being allowed to question and criticise education policy.

I’m not aware of anyone trying to deny them that right. The issue here is one of intimidation and harassment of a colleague who dared dissent from the union line.

Intolerance of minority or opposing views can be a deeply unattractive aspect of trade union culture, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen evidence of it in the teaching unions. Attempts to introduce bulk funding in secondary schools in the 1990s were sabotaged by blatant teacher intimidation of elected school boards and the worst shame of it was that the Bolger government was too gutless to intervene.

School that took it up were threatened with black-listing, and that their schools may become ungovernable.

My lesson from this, is that National’s error was to make bulk funding a choice. It should just have been announced and implemented.

I’d love National to have a 2011 education policy that fully bulk funds all schools, allows parents maximum choice in schools, and brings in full performance pay for teachers.

Whatever the background factors, nothing excuses Witana and Newman for behaving like a couple of gang enforcers. It’s intolerable enough that teacher activists should arrogantly defy an elected government, and in so doing place themselves above the democratic process that other public servants submit to; but it becomes even more offensive when they collectively monster anyone brave or rash enough to defy them.

The irony, of course, is that schools are supposedly united in their determination to stamp out bullying. It’s officially not condoned in the playground, but a different standard seems to apply in staff rooms.

Footnote: Several of the anonymous comments attacking Donnelly on the TV3 website clearly came from teachers, some of whom displayed only a primitive grasp of grammar and spelling. Herein may lie one of the reasons for the almost hysterical resistance to national standards

Heh well spotted.

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Du Fresne on Te Papa

January 6th, 2010 at 9:32 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

Assuming the Government ever gets around to announcing an appointment, I have some advice for whoever succeeds the late Seddon Bennington as chief executive of Te Papa – blow it up and start again.

Heh.

The problem with Te Papa is not simply that the architects missed an opportunity to make a dramatic statement – something to rival the Sydney Opera House – on its prime waterfront site. You could excuse that failure if the building worked internally, but it doesn’t.

It’s a haphazard, chaotic jumble, so poorly signposted and lacking in cohesion that every time I leave, I have an unsettling feeling that there must be things I have missed.

I am actually a fan of Te Papa overall, as it has got kids and families going to museums. But that is not to say there are not areas it can do better, and the design of the building is sub-standard.

As if to confirm this, I read last year that Te Papa had decided to close its library because only 5 per cent of visitors bothered going there. I’m hardly surprised. Despite having been to Te Papa many times, I didn’t realise there was a library.

I didn’t realise there was a library either!

As for the art gallery, I heard artist Grahame Sydney comment recently that you needed to be a bloodhound to find it.

So true!

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Great quotes from John Hayes

December 17th, 2009 at 3:13 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne blogs a quote from John Hayes about the teacher unions trying to boycott the proposed national standards:

“I spent 30 years working for a range of Governments. Sometimes I agreed with the policies the Government wanted, sometimes I did not. My views were irrelevant. My job as a public servant was to implement the Governments policies irrespective of my personal views. That is how democracy works in New Zealand. If a state employee does not want to implement a particular policy, like National Standards, that’s fine, they should resign and find employment in an environment that suits them better. It is not however acceptable for them to remain on the Government’s payroll and work against the Government’s policies.”

Hear hear.

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Waiter vs Waitress vs Waitron

September 22nd, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An amusing column by Karl du Fresne:

After wittily skewering the pretentiousness that frequently characterises restaurant reviews in newspapers and magazines (and of which I’ve probably been guilty myself), Joe confronts the terms “waiter” and “waitress”.

He notes that the “ess” suffix has fallen out of favour, supposedly because it’s demeaning. Disappointingly, he seems to capitulate on this issue when I would have expected him to put up a fight.

Although acknowledging that he has never met a waitress who said she found the word demeaning, he nonetheless turns his attention to the quest for an acceptable, gender-neutral alternative and comes up with “waiters”.

This term, Joe writes, describes their job precisely and is by definition sexually non-specific. But alas, “it has been deemed unsatisfactory by the people who resolve such matters. It seems that usage has smeared the word permanently with testosterone.”

He then pounces with glee on the preposterous neologism coined to get around this non-problem – namely, “waitron”.

I’ve seen this term used occasionally and assumed the usage was tongue-in-cheek; a satirical poke at the political correctness that now contaminates the English language. How could it be otherwise?

But no; it appears the word is making a serious bid for acceptance. It’s not in my 2005 edition of the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary (though the hideous “waitperson”, a word that almost justifies the reintroduction of capital punishment, is). However we have seen silly, gender-neutral words infiltrate the language before, and a googling of “waitron” indicates it might be gaining ground.

I’m with Joe when he laughs this ridiculous word off the page. He says there are only four words he can think of that end with -ron: cyclotron, electron, neutron and moron. “One is a machine for boffins, two are sub-atomic particles, and one describes the character who invented the word waitron,” he writes. Classic Bennett.

Heh. If someone put on their CV they had been waitron, I would not hire them on principle!

I agree with Joe that there’s nothing degrading about being described as a waitress – or an actress, for that matter. The words waitress and actress simply acknowledge the reality that these people are intrinsically different from their male counterparts.

Does anyone think less of Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts for being called actresses? Any discriminatory connotation exists only in the minds of crazed ideologues. …

But there’s more to it than that. The English language is a wondrous tool that enables us to narrow down meanings and nuances very precisely.

One of the purposes of words is to create mental pictures and impressions. A writer or journalist using the gender-neutral terms waiter or actor leaves the reader in doubt as to whether the person in question is a he or a she.

This can be a crucial distinction. If I were to write that I had chatted up a cute waiter in a Courtenay Place bar it would create a very different impression than if I had used the “ess” suffix.

Either scenario is highly unlikely – but it illustrates why people who use words for a living should fight like fury to prevent the English language from being de-sexed.

Someone should start a group on Facebook!

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du Fresne on Key

March 23rd, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne blogs a recent column:

At one point Mr Carr, a former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and chief executive of Jade Corporation, emphatically agreed with something Ms Harre had said. Then Ms Harre agreed with something Mr Barnett, the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, had said. She even expressed some sympathy for the predicament of business. …

It reinforced my sense that there has been a sudden and profound change in the national mood. This can be partly attributed to the urgent need to deal with a sharply contracting economy, but there is more to it than that.

I think it has a lot to do with John Key. In saying this, I’m back-pedalling somewhat because until relatively recently, I was deeply sceptical about Mr Key. I complained to anyone who was prepared to listen that no one knew quite what he stood for. It seemed to me dangerous to elect a prime minister who appeared to have no fixed ideological reference points.

I wouldn’t quite describe John that way. John has centre right beliefs but also a strong pragmatic streak where he focuses on whether he thinks something will work rather than fitting solutions within an overall consistent ideological framework.

Personally I prefer a greater degree of consistency. There is always a degree of pragmatism with any Government, but (for example) I really don’t like the precedent of instructing the Super Fund Guardians to invest 40% in NZ.

I have now come around to the view that the apparent absence of any non-negotiable positions on Mr Key’s part – the very deficiency that I complained about – may make him the ideal leader for our time.

I referred in a previous column to his relentlessly upbeat disposition. That in itself, I believe, has done a lot to change the mood of a country that previously experienced nine years of essentially downbeat leadership from Helen Clark.

Leadership does count. In businesess the quality of the leadership is a crucial factor. It is less vital in a country – but still of not inconsiderable importance.

The other marked difference between New Zealand under Key and New Zealand under Clark is that the old ideological battle lines have suddenly been erased. The new prime minister is happy to engage with anyone and doesn’t rule out any policy if he senses it might work. There are no ideological no-go zones.

I think is getting closer to the real Key. He does have centre-right beliefs but he is not going to rule out ideas if they are not centre-right. And he shys away from a divide and conquer strategy or winner take all mentality we have seen previously.

Recently we have observed Mr Key’s open-minded approach in the way his government supported Miss Clark’s bid for a top job in the United Nations. I think it’s fair to assume this was done not with a cynical motive – in other words, to get her out of the way – but because Mr Key genuinely believed she had the skills for the post and the appointment would bring credit on New Zealand.

Since then it’s been announced that the National government has appointed former Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Swain as its lead negotiator in talks with the Ngati Porou iwi over Treaty of Waitangi claims.

So far I think as many Labour people have had appointments as National!

This is the antithesis of the rampant cronyism pursued by Labour, under which party loyalists such as former party president Mike Williams and ex-CTU head Ross Wilson were appointed to powerful public positions for which they were not necessarily well-qualified, and in which they could be relied on to carry out the government’s wishes.

Williams does have a business background and would have been arguably suitable on a board or maybe two. But they got greedy and went overboard by appointing him to six, so he could be a state funded Party President.

Wilson to be fair does have a strong ACC background. The most discredited appointment has to be Di Yates to a trans-tasman food authority and they included in her thin credentials for the job that she came from the Waikato where a lot of food is produced!

On that criteria, I should be made Ambassador to Sweden because I live on a road with half a dozen embassies close by.

If any country can pull together to avert the sort of economic catastrophe now engulfing the US and Britain, it should be New Zealand. We are a small, intimate country; everyone knows everyone else and we all speak a common language. Ultimately, the values and concerns that unite us are far greater than those that divide us.

One of the interesting features of Parliament is that, away from the public battleground of the debating chamber, where politicians are inevitably tempted to grandstand, MPs build warm and positive relationships that often cross party lines. You see this when they socialise together.

That sort of rapport could be invaluable right now, when the country urgently needs a sense of common purpose. With his ability to take much of the heat out of politics, Mr Key may be the man to make it happen.

Leadership can help and make a contribution. NZ does remain in a more positive mood than other countries. But sadly I don’t think it will be enough when the US and European economies really crash.

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Rural Tolerance

January 23rd, 2009 at 4:48 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne blogs:

IN A PROGRAMME recently replayed on Radio New Zealand as part of the “best of” Kim Hill from 2008, Hill interviewed Mani Bruce Mitchell about the challenges of being an intersex person – one born with genetic and physical variations that mean they are neither wholly male nor female.

One point in particular struck me. Mani Mitchell told how she was born to parents in a small country community and at first was treated as a boy. But she had a uterus and at the age of one she had an operation and became Margaret.

The community held a meeting in the local hall to discuss how it should deal with this unusual situation. Mani Mitchell described this as an example of a rural community functioning as it its absolute best.

Hill seemed momentarily taken aback by this and asked if her guest was being sarcastic, to which Mani Mitchell assured her she wasn’t. The community agreed at that meeting to close the door on her past life as a boy and from that time on she was accepted as Margaret.

What was interesting was Hill’s initial reaction. It seemed that, for a moment at least, she had difficulty accepting that a community in rural New Zealand in the conservative 1950s could have reacted to this predicament in a compassionate, positive way, rather than demanding that this freakish child be cast out.

No surprise to me. Typical rural practicality.

It’s common among sophisticated urban types to equate rural communities with bigotry and ignorance, but history shows country people are a lot more liberal and tolerant than urban stereotypes give them credit for.

It was a supposedly conservative rural electorate that elected feminist MP Marilyn Waring and kept returning her to Parliament even after Truth newspaper outed her as a lesbian. And it was a supposedly conservative rural electorate that voted for the world’s first transsexual MP, Georgina Beyer.

Not just a transsexual, but also former drug user and prostitute. But Wairarapa deemed her achievements as Mayor of Carterton as more important than what she did 20 years ago.

The liberal farmer politician – of whom Tom Shand, Minister of Labour in the Holyoake government of the 1960s, is often held up as an example – is a recurring figure in New Zealand politics. Holyoake himself was from that mould and so too was Jim Bolger, who threw his weight behind the Treaty settlements of the 1990s.

Sure, you find rednecks and Philistines in the country, just as you do in the cities, but not all country people have hair on the palms of their hands and eyes in the middle of the their foreheads.

Indeed. That’s only in North Canterbury :-)

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TVNZ reporting from Gaza

January 12th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne raises an issue of media ethics:

There was TVNZ’s Europe correspondent Mark Crysell reporting on the 6 o’clock news from the Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza. Journalists congregate in this town because Israel won’t allow them into Gaza and I presume it’s the closest they can get to the Israeli bombardment.

Crysell, looking every inch the foreign correspondent in his flak jacket, talked about hearing Israeli bombs exploding. He may have mentioned taking shelter from Hamas rockets, which are occasionally fired at Sderot. Then he said something like: “Here’s my report”.

What followed was a report from inside Gaza, showing the usual scenes: wrecked buildings, grieving Palestinians, bloody hospital wards. Sure enough, it was Crysell’s voice we were hearing over the news footage; but “my” report? How could it be Crysell’s report when he was on the Israeli side of the border, well away from the carnage?

Surely even TVNZ wouldn’t stoop to anything so blatantly dishonest as dubbing its own correspondent’s voice over footage compiled by someone else (I suspect the BBC, which has people inside Gaza) and then claiming it as Crysell’s own?

I think it is all part of the trend to make TV news seem immediate and unqiue.

The TV bulletins are full of “live crosses” now, even though they are reporting on issues that finished hours earier and don’t need a live cross.

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Blog Bits

September 6th, 2008 at 3:16 pm by David Farrar

Homepaddock has the full range of “If leaders were cars“.

Karl du Fresne blogs on a forum on media reporting of challenging stories such as the N&S Asian Angst, the Clydesdale research on Pacific immigration and the Danish cartoons. Karl makes many excellent points including:

I also expressed my firm belief that in a liberal democracy, the right to freedom of expression is far more precious than the right of a minority – in this case the Muslim community – not to be offended.

I’m not even sure there is a right not to be offended. I can maybe accept a right not to be vilified, but that is a very different thing. And Karl nails it again:

The greatest threat to the healthy process of disclosure and debate that followed the Clydesdale story is the belief that the state must protect us from harmful ideas because we’re not mature and intelligent enough to deal with them. Underlying this is a fundamental distrust of democracy.

Trevor at New Zeal profiles the Trotskyist background of Andrew Geddis, the Labour/Green appointed Chair of the electoral reform expert panel. Andrew is an expert in the area of political financing, and very respected. But when appointments are made without bipartisan consultation, then the background of appointees come under great scrutiny. All Labour had to do was ask National and other parties if they agreed with the proposed appointees, or have any names of their own they wished to propose.

Stephen Franks blogs on how spin should not save crap managers, applying it to the party that has managed NZ’s military, SOEs, and hspitals for the last nine years. A good read.

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Watching mediawatch

August 26th, 2008 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne has a look at National Radio’s Mediawatch:

There was never much room for doubt about the politics of Russell Brown, who originally hosted it. Peacock, who took over, seems an affable and intelligent sort of bloke and I couldn’t claim to know what his politics are, other than to repeat the observation that his programme has a tendency to assume ulterior motives for just about everything the privately owned media do. But the recent recruitment of two other contributors to Mediawatch raises some questions.

Jeremy Rose, like Peacock, is a likeable fellow (well, he’d have to be – he’s a mountain biker), but I’m sure he’d be the first to acknowledge that his politics are more pink than blue. He was closely associated with City Voice, a markedly left-leaning free paper founded by Simon Collins (now of the New Zealand Herald) which struggled heroically but unsuccessfully to find a niche in Wellington during the 1990s.

I remember City Voice fondly. It was indeed markedly left-wing, but was a good read all the same as a newspaper focused on Wellington City. And while talking matters media, I should praise the work Simon Collins does on the Herald. Simon is I am sure, still left wing. However the reporting he does for the Herald I have found to be very balance, and if one didn’t know Simon from his City Voice days, you might struggle to guess his leanings – which is how it should be

More recently, Mediawatch has started carrying contributions from Adelia Hallett. Hallett has a respectable background in journalism but also happens to be a former media officer for the EPMU, the union that covers journalists (or at least those journalists who have chosen to remain unionised). It strikes me as slightly odd that of all the people who might work for Mediawatch, Radio New Zealand happens to have chosen two with leftist associations.

Others might say it is not odd at all!

Today’s programme featured an item in which Hallett editorialised disapprovingly on an arrangement whereby a reporter for The Radio Network sits in on the daily editorial conferences of the Northern Advocate, which is owned by the same media conglomerate (APN) – the implication being that by sharing news, the two arms of APN are reducing competition (and ultimately threatening jobs). The item included critical comment from Tony Wilton, whom Hallett described as an “industry veteran”, but who is far better known these days as a long-standing official of … why, the EPMU.

In the “interests of full disclosure”, Mediawatch revealed at the end of the item that Hallett was a former deputy chief reporter of the Northern Advocate. But it evidently thought it not worth mentioning that she was also a former employee of the EPMU, a fact some listeners might have found just as interesting.

This is not to say that the arrangement between The Radio Network and the Northern Advocate was not a legitimate issue for Mediawatch to investigate. But when a programme consistently plays up stories that reflect badly on privately owned media while appearing to treat its host broadcaster as immune from criticism, when it appoints reporters with leftist political connections and doesn’t make all relevant disclosures, you have to suspect there is an unbalanced agenda at work.

A programme that sets itself up as a media watchdog – and a taxpayer-funded one at that – has to be squeaky clean. It has to ensure that it meets all the standards it demands of other media outlets in terms of fairness, balance, consistency and integrity, and then some. Can this be said of Mediawatch? Sadly, I don’t think so.

I think it is a fair call, that Mediawatch, of all programmes, has to be cleaner than clean.

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Blog Bits

June 10th, 2008 at 6:42 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne calls the Media 7 show on the Pacific immigration debate a gang-up on Dom Post Editor Tim Pankhurst.

Steven Price points out to the Ministry of Justice that their site for court decisions of public interest, is missing all the interesting ones. To be fair I think it is up to the Judge to tick the box on whether it should go there, but regardless someone in the Ministry should use their common sense and make sure the EFA judgements and the abortion law one go up asap. The latest EFA is here for those who want it.

JafaPete asks whether people are just voting for change for change’s sake. He agrees with Chris Trotter that the anti-smacking bill may have been a turning point. He also says the EFA may have had an impact on the Government’s unpopularity.

No Right Turn covers the abortion debate and High Court decision. I am not surprised with the High Court ruling – it has been apparent for some decades that we have a de facto abortion on demand regime, despite a legislative framework that reserves it for serious danger to physical or mental health. Now I support abortion (up to a certain date) on demand and even though it would probably be a very heated debate, the proper way to change laws is through public vote or the legislature – not through the back door. The issues were covered on this blog back in March, and in a sign of hope it was a reasonably rational debate with analysis, not just name calling.

Graeme Edgeler covers issues in the Criminal Procedures Bill, and does a summary of each of the dozen or so changed. Excellent.

Colin James is not a blogger (in fact I would call him an anti-blogger!) but his op ed on inflation is worth reading.

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Cynical Photo Ops

May 28th, 2008 at 2:12 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne has a very good blog post on the photo of the aunt of the dead Kahui Twins kissing their headstone.

My third thought had less to do with Mona Kahui and Stuart King than with the media’s role. The photo at the cemetery was taken by John Selkirk, the Dom Post’s veteran Auckland photographer. I don’t think John just happened by chance to be at Mangere cemetery with his camera gear when the couple turned up. The paper had obviously been tipped off in advance. In fact the couple’s attendance at the cemetery may well have been dependent on the Dom Post turning up too.

Would Mona Kahui and Stuart King have gone to the cemetery and kissed the twins’ headstone if there was no newspaper photographer there to record the occasion? Of course I can’t say. But instinct and experience makes me sceptical.

If the couple were merely intent on expressing sincere grief and affection for the dead twins, there was no reason for a newspaper to be present. So the event was at least to some extent contaminated by a PR motive. I suspect the Dom Post was enlisted as an accomplice in the couple’s plan to get their child back.

I doubt Karl is wrong.

If this was the case, Kahui and King were only doing what politicians, pressure groups and PR firms do all the time – staging what the British journalist Nick Davies calls “pseudo events”, manufactured to generate publicity and therefore advance an underlying agenda.

These are not genuine news events which happen spontaneously. They are publicity stunts, orchestrated to attract media attention.

Greenpeace is an acknowledged master in this field, scoring prime newspaper and TV coverage every time its activists unfurl a protest banner on a nuclear power station or abseil on to an oil rig. Would they do it if the media paid no attention? Of course not.

Photo opportunities are to Greenpeace what sex is to Paris Hilton!

UPDATE: Karl blogs that the Dominion Post have stated that there was no arrangement with the family. They just sent a photographer there as they figured there was a reasonable chance family members would go there. Big ups to the Dom Post for doing it the right way.

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Du Fresne on blogs

April 30th, 2008 at 10:37 am by David Farrar

Karl Du Fresne had an article in yesterday’s Dominion Post about blogs:

BREAKING NEWS: Police hold grave fears for the safety of a man reported missing in the Internet blogosphere.

The man told family members he was taking a short afternoon excursion to explore Poneke’s Weblog … He hasn’t been seen since.

“Poneke’s is a relatively gentle blog that shouldn’t have exposed him to any serious risk,” a police spokesman said. “But there are lots of links leading off it to other blogs, some of which are a good deal more hazardous. He may have strayed off the beaten track.

“We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Someone sets out to have a look at a blog like Poneke’s, then they get diverted on to Russell Brown’s Public Address weblog or David Farrar’s Kiwiblog, and with just a couple of innocent clicks they wander off into the wilderness. They lose track of the passage of time and before they know it they’re hopelessly bushed.

“It’s a maze out there and he may have ended up a long way from where he started. There are links to political blogs, media blogs, sports blogs, wine blogs, heavy metal blogs, climate change blogs, hard-left blogs, extreme-right blogs, greenie blogs, sado-masochism blogs . . . you name it.

An inquiring mind could ask how Karl knows there are sado-masocistic blogs :-). Unless he means Whoar where reading Phil’s uncapitalised prose does cause pain!

The police spokesman said concerns were heightened by the fact that the man was inexperienced and poorly equipped.

“He’s not had much previous exposure to infantile abuse and personal invective of the type that he’s likely to find in the blogosphere. Also, his family advises us he has a history of severe allergic reactions to bad grammar, misspellings and missing apostrophes. We’re encouraging them to keep their hopes up, but it’s not looking good.”

I think Karl is admitting to a secret addiction. Or maybe he is the mystery Queen Bee blogging at The Hive!

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