Need for professional body to speak on education

November 14, 2012

Karl Du Fresne has worked out what was wrong with Ministry of Education head Lesley Longstone saying New Zealand’s education isn’t world class:

. . . Had she spent more time here, she would understand that only teachers and their unions are allowed to say there’s anything wrong with the education system, and that only they are entitled to define what’s wrong and what’s right. Longstone riled the teachers by drawing attention to the stubbornly high proportion of under-performing Maori and Pacific Island students. Teachers are allowed to highlight this, but only as a way of exposing government failings and condemning inequity in the system. When they are not focusing on the system’s failings, teachers are forever talking up our internationally high achievement rankings (which Longstone acknowledged), for which they like to take credit.

What upsets the teachers when the head of the Ministry of Education brings up the subject of under-achievement is that it threatens to turn the debate in a direction they don’t like. When teachers talk about under-achievement, it’s with a view to leaving the system unchanged but having more money ploughed into it: more teachers at the chalkface, higher pay (to encourage more people to take up the profession) and smaller class sizes. But when Longstone brings the subject up, in the teachers’ eyes it can only be because the government wants to soften us up for some wicked neoliberal experiment such as charter schools.

How much simpler everything would be if we forgot foolhardy alternative ideas and left it to teachers to control the education debate. That’s the natural way of things. The sooner the English interloper comes to terms with this peculiar fact of New Zealand education, the sooner we can all get back to normal.

Doctors have professional bodies which speak on general health matters as distinct from a union which speaks on industrial matters.

When education is in the media it is almost always the union which is quoted, confusing professional matters with industrial ones.

Teachers are badly in need of a professional body which speaks on education without the left-wing industrial bias which reduces the authority of union utterances.


Why are the gods only angered by politics?

August 17, 2012

Karl du Fresne is not impressed by primitive superstition being delivered straight-faced on the news:

Due respect for Maori culture is one thing. Expecting us to swallow primitive superstition is quite another – yet I heard a reporter on Morning Report this morning solemnly relaying a Maori warning that recent volcanic activity on White Island and Mt Tongariro was a sign that Ruamoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, was unhappy about the way the government was proceeding with the partial sale of state assets. This comes only a couple of weeks after the Maori Council’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, invoked the Maori belief in taniwha at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on water rights. . .

. . . As if citing taniwha wasn’t bad enough, we’re reduced to an even more abject embrace of stone-age superstition when the state-owned radio network can report, with a straight face, that the Maori god of earthquakes and volcanoes is cutting up rough because he (she?) doesn’t like what the government is doing.

What next? Will we be told that Tangaroa, the sea god, plans to unleash a tsunami that will rise up from Wellington Harbour and destroy the Beehive? Will Radio New Zealand report that John Key is at risk of being hit by a bolt of lightning directed at his head by Tawhirimatea, the weather god? . . .

Are the gods left wing or has their ire been raised by policies from the left in the past?

If they’re going to get angry,  why only about politics?

Why can’t they be enraged about child abuse; educational failure; gang culture; violence; drug, alcohol and gambling addiction; crime . . . and instead of directing their tantrums at innocent bystanders, couldn’t they aim it at the perpetrators?

If gods care about assets and water shouldn’t they also care about people?

Faster not necessarily better

January 16, 2012

Another quote of the day:

. . . how is the common good of humankind (or indeed anyone) advanced by hearing about the death of a tragic derelict five minutes, half an hour or even half a day before it was on a radio news bulletin or news website? Karl du Fresne pointing out that faster news isn’t necessarily better.

What’s up at TV3?

November 23, 2011

Karl du Fresne isn’t impressed with scalp hunting by journalists:

THE ELECTION campaign has brought to the fore a new style of television journalism.
It is aggressive, confrontational, highly opinionated and designed to provoke a reaction. Its chief practitioners are Patrick Gower and Duncan Garner of 3 News. . .

The Gower approach illustrates two trends in modern political journalism. One is to strive at all costs for what former British prime minister Tony Blair called “impact” – something to excite the public blood lust.

The other is to put the journalist at the centre of the story. The modern political reporter is no longer content to be a passive observer, but wants to be a player – a maker and breaker of careers.

He has followed this up by asking what’s going on at TV3? It is worth reading in full so I’m not going to paraphrase it.

I am however, pleased that someone who admits he’s voted Labour more often than National, shares my disquiet over both the tactics and the bias.

We aren’t alone. Someone has referred last night’s documentary on child poverty to the Electoral Commission.



August 31, 2011

The New Zealand Press Association, our only national news agency, will close today after 131 years supplying news stories to media outlets throughout the country.

Writing in April about the proposed closure Karl du Fresne called it a seriously retrograde step:

NZPA has fulfilled an historically significant role – one that remains valid even in the digital era. When it was launched in 1880, NZPA had the effect of bringing New Zealand together. For the first time, via the telegraph, New Zealanders had ready access to news and information from beyond their own regions. Historians have credited this with creating a sense of national cohesion in place of the narrow, regional parochialism that previously prevailed. At its peak, 74 member newspapers subscribed to the NZPA service, which gave them access to news of importance supplied by other member papers from all over the country.

Competition between APN and Fairfax which own most of our newspapers will determine how much we lose or gain from NZPA’s demise.

Rural round-up

May 15, 2011

Devastation on the Hawkes Bay Coast – Karl du Fresne posts:

The coastal strip of Central Hawke’s Bay that was devastated by a freak storm recently is very familiar to me. In my childhood and teenage years, the line of sandy beaches that stretches from Kairakau in the north to Porangahau in the south was something of a summer playground.

One of my earliest memories is of a summer holiday in the shearers’ quarters on the sheep station at Kairakau, which were made available to my family out of gratitude for my father’s work in supervising the building of the electricity transmission line that connected the area to the national grid. Most remote properties on that coast had previously depended on generators.

Frankenmilk – Witty Knitter wrties at SkepticLawyer:

From China, the intriguing news that scientists have genetically modified cows to produce milk with human proteins in it. This is not the same things as genetically modifying cows to ‘produce human milk’, as it has been reported.

To me, this is a truly bizarre story. Presumably, this project was the result of several appalling events that have been reported (and maybe more we haven’t heard about) in which babies have become seriously ill and even died from drinking formulas that their parents believed would be nutritious: here, here and here, for example. This makes the comments of Prof Campbell at the end of the first article linked above (asking why people would put poison into food) a little disingenuous. . .

Prime lambs just shy of $200 – Farmers Weekly reports:

Heavy prime lambs fell just shy of the $200 mark as values lifted up to $4/head at Temuka while store lambs also lifted in the market by $2-$4/head, PGG Wrightson livestock representative Rod Sands reported.
Good heavy lambs made from $158 to $$199 and heavy butcher ewes made up to $220. Forward store lambs fetched up to $125. Bull and beef cow prices rose 10-15c/kgLW.
At Tinwald heavy lambs made $190 and store lambs to $120.
The sheep market caught “lamb fever” at Frankton, Allied Farmers agents reported with prime lambs going to $175. . .

Farm award adds to excellent year: Helen de Reus writes:

Third-generation Hillend farmer Stuart Hallum will receive his New Zealand Century Farm Award at Lawrence tonight.

The 65-year-old farms sheep and cattle at Hillend with his wife, Annette, and is now semi-retired. . .

Passion for trials undimmed – Sally Rae reports fro the South Island dog trails:

Geoff Allison has been dog-trialling for more than half a century and his passion for the sport is still as strong as ever.

Born in South Otago, Mr Allison (67) was 9 when his family shifted to South Canterbury.

He started trialling when he was 15, following in the footsteps of his father. . .

X-factor apparent in dogs’ monikers – Sally Rae again:

 It’s all in a name. Forget the usual dog monikers of Bill, Queen and Jess at the South Island sheep dog trial championships – Greg Metherell has been more creative.

Mr Metherell, from Kenmore Station, at Otekaieke, has a huntaway dog simply called X. . .

Major merger sees birth of $50m animal feed firm – Tim Cronshaw writes:

 A national animal feed business with a starting point revenue of $50 million will arise from major fertiliser co-operative Ballance Agri-Nutrients buying into a partnership with Mid Canterbury and Morrinsville firms.

Ballance will own the majority share with 51 per cent of Seales Winslow with the Carr family’s Winslow Feeds and Nutrition, from Ashburton, holding 24.5 per cent and a similar-sized share taken by feed mill firm Seales Ltd. . .

A place fit for man, beast, frogs and kids – Jon Morgan writes:

When Ray and Lyn Craig entered dairying 20 years ago they wrote a list of goals. At the top, along with a production target long since surpassed, was to own an “aesthetically pleasing” farm.

They have their wish. Their 550-cow farm on the outskirts of Carterton is criss-crossed with streams and drains, all planted with willows, flaxes and a variety of other natives. Three small wetlands have also been created and their flaxes, toetoe and other natives are home to tui, kingfishers, herons and an assortment of ducks.

So impressed were the judges in the Greater Wellington region’s Ballance Farm Environment Awards that they awarded the couple the supreme title and remarked that the riparian plantings were among the best they had seen on a dairy farm. . .

All the news and just the news

April 7, 2011

When I started working for a newspaper continuous feeds from the New Zealand Press Association kept us up with what was going on in New Zealand and around the world.

They gave us the news – just the news without comment or bias -and all the news. If it happened and mattered, NZPA reported it and it was up to newsrooms all over the country to use it as it was or give it a local angle, or not,  as we chose.

The decision by Fairfax Media to withdraw from NZPA is concerning.

Kiwiblog says: 

I think the decision is a disaster for parliamentary reporting, and bad for the overall news industry.

NZPA are the one news agency in Parliament that cover every bill before the House. When other media are safely home in bed, there will be a NZPA reporter noting what time the House rose, and what bill was being debated at the time. Likewise on select committees, they are often the only news agency there (apart from the excellent Select Committee News, which is subscription only).

What I also liked about NZPA is they complement the other press gallery agencies. The other agencies naturally focus on stories which sell – which will make for good television, can run on a front page etc. But NZPA are not about “sexy” stories. They just faithfully produce concise factual and relevant stories about what happened – reporters in the old fashioned sense.  And not just about Parliament, also from the courts and elsewhere. . .

Dim Post says:

It seems to have been standard practise in news rooms for time immemorial, for journalists and news editors to take a PA story and stick their own by-line on it and publish it, so PAs footprint on the media landscape is even larger than it may have seemed; even the media executives who closed it down after a hundred and thirty years probably don’t realise quite what they’ve destroyed.

 He also notes that NZPA is the only news outlet which isn’t dependent on advertising and  Peter Griffin says the closure of NZPA would hurt science:

The death of NZPA is really the end of an era in New Zealand journalism. NZPA for over one hundred years has been the agency of record for breaking news stories. Newspapers might write more fulsome and colourful accounts than NZPA produces, but the agency can be counted on for serving up short, concise, timely and generally accurate news alerts on a wide range of subjects – from general news and politics, to business sport and science.

A few weeks back I sat in NZPA editor Kevin Norquay’s office to talk about that last topic – science. NZPA is a bastion of decent coverage of science-related issues in New Zealand and that is largely down to one individual – NZPA veteran reporter Kent Atkinson. Part of the reason for my visit was to thank NZPA for its commitment to covering science issues and giving Kent the leeway to pursue a round he loves. . .

The great thing about NZPA is its reach. A decent science story, or any story for that matter, can run in numerous daily metropolitan and regional newspapers. While Stuff and the Herald Online will pile in to cover the populist stories – Darren Hughes’ night time exploits, the plastic waka etc , often with rolling coverage during the day, NZPA can be relied on to fill in the blind spots, with dispassionate reports. That safety net of coverage will soon be gone for our major mainstream news organisations. . .

But where some see a threat others see an opportunity:

In response, Fairfax’s main rival, APN, announced it would establish a new national news service to “counter the Fairfax move”, its chief executive Martin Simons said.

“We will have discussions with key NZPA staff and work with New Zealand’s independent publishers to tailor a news service to meet the nation’s content needs.”

The Otago Daily Times already shares content with APN titles such as The New Zealand Herald. This alliance was important to strengthen the company’s South Island bases in Christchurch and Oamaru, Mr Simons said.

Until 2006, New Zealand newspapers shared stories through NZPA, but commercial tension between Fairfax and APN forced NZPA to become an independent news source.

Allied Press managing director Julian Smith said, depending on the review, it was likely Allied Press, which publishes the Otago Daily Times, owns numerous southern community newspapers and has an interest in the Greymouth Star, would join the APN-led service.

The new service would be more like NZPA’s original model of newspapers sharing all content and could lead to an improvement in quality, he said.

I hope he’s right.

The internet gives us access to more news than ever before but unlike NZPA it isn’t always just the news which we can trust to be factual and unbiased.

Without an organisation like NZPA it won’t be all the news either.

UPDATE: Karl du Fresne calls it a seriously retrograde step and says:

Even more worrying is that the existing “black holes” in news coverage will become wider and blacker still. Under the old co-operative model, NZPA had the entire country covered . . .

The net result is that New Zealanders will know less about themselves. Parts of the country that have already faded from view since 2005 because of attenuated news coverage may become damned-near invisible, other than when a catastrophe occurs (as at Pike River).

Try as I might, I can’t see this as anything other than a seriously retrograde step. If the creation of NZPA in 1880 helped bind the country together, then its demise is likely to have the reverse effect. . .

Already sparse national coverage of provincial and rural news will become sparser.

The media is one of the bridges over the urban-rural divide and the death of NZPA will tear up several of its planks.

What do we want from a public broadcaster?

March 24, 2011

RadioNZ National’s website features photos of its listeners listening in many varied locations.

The people are as diverse as the places from which they listen.

Quite how diverse has been brought home to me because since I’ve been contributing to Critical Mass on Afternoons all sorts of people in all sorts of places have told me they’ve heard me on the radio.

In theory my blue political leanings should lead me to question whether there should be a public broadcaster but given how often I listen to it I’d be on very shaky ground in doing so.

I am in good company here because many people on the right listen to what most of us still refer to as National Radio and support the concept of public broadcasting even though it tends to have a leftward lean.

Karl du Fresne discussed this in a recent post and concluded:

. . . what could be more boring than listening to people expressing the same views as your own? This is known as the echo chamber effect, where the same opinions are heard and repeated over and over again.

It’s not only tedious, it’s bad for democracy, because democracy depends on a degree of tolerance and understanding of other people’s positions. That’s why I continue to listen to Radio New Zealand, much to my friend’s puzzlement, even though I sometimes fume and splutter at the views being expressed.

I don’t want to be bombarded with ideas that I’m comfortable with. All I insist is that the state broadcaster presents us with information and opinion that fully reflects the diversity of the population it ostensibly serves.

I agree it is good to be challenged but a public broadcaster shouldn’t just be challenging the views of those on the right.

Feedback to programmes like Morning Report, Checkpoint, Nine to Noon and Afternoons  seems to get a reasonable spread of support and opposition from across the political spectrum which suggests that they generally balanced in their approaches.

If there is any bias it seems to be strongest in Maori and Pacific programmes on both radio and television. It could be that I haven’t listened to or watched a representative selection or programmes, but those I have paid attention to do seem to have a distinctly leftward lean.

We don’t need so much education

January 11, 2011

Pink Floyd sang We Don’t Need No Education. Economics teacher Peter Lyons doesn’t go that far, but he does question if we need so much education:

Countries with a better educated population do appear to be more prosperous. This may be a false causation. Higher education levels may lead to prosperity, but more likely is that national prosperity provides the funding for higher education levels.

There is evidence to suggest that pouring money into tertiary education may not be the silver bullet for achieving higher living standards. Economic growth is the result of increasing the value of output per worker.

The key element is productivity levels. Much of what is learnt in school or university does little to increase the future potential output of the learner.

This is not to deny that education has great value in producing people who can live a good life and participate fully in society. The question is whether levels of tertiary education are the key to economic prosperity.

A friend noted that when his children started secondary school in the 1990s there were about 100 pupils in the third form, almost all of them stayed on to the seventh form and more than half of them went on to tertiary education, most to university. He contrasted that with his own experience in the 1960s when there were around 200 third formers, only 20 seventh formers fewer than half of whom went on to tertiary studies.

One obvious change from the 60s to the 90s was the increase in the number of people who were unemployed and it must be better to have teenagers at school than leaving to go on to a benefit. Another is the increasing use of technology which has replaced some manual jobs which people who left school with no or few qualifications used to do.

Then there are occupations like nursing, training for which used to take place on-the-job in hospitals, that now takes place in polytechnics or university.

The tertiary participation rates in New Zealand have surged over the past two decades but there is little evidence that this has translated into increased labour productivity and economic wellbeing.

The need for highly educated workers to man the knowledge economy is largely a myth. Much of the knowledge of the modern economic environment is embedded in the capital that workers use. That capital may take the form of computers, earthmoving equipment, laboratory gear or robotics.

The knowledge economy has meant that many jobs have become deskilled or redefined. The checkout operator no longer needs to add. Procedures once performed by doctors can now be done by nurses and chemists. The accountant can produce final reports at the push of a button.

What appears to have happened is that as more people have sought to gain higher qualifications this puts pressure on others to do likewise. An implicit function of any education system is to act as a sorting mechanism. As rampant qualification inflation has occurred the entry bar to various occupations has been raised, compelling people to seek higher qualifications.

 We now have more people studying and more qualifications they can study towards, but does more mean better? Karl du Fresne calls it credentials creep:

Credentials creep has been great for the educational establishment. It has enabled polytechnics to turn their backs on budding hairdressers and panel beaters and re-invent themselves as pretend universities. And it has provided careers for countless people who were nondescript practitioners in their chosen occupations but who now teach others: second-rate academics running second-rate courses.

The result is that academic qualifications have been degraded to the point where workplaces teem with technically well-qualified drones and dullards. I’m with the British writer Desmond Bagley, who once said: “If a man is a fool, you don’t train him out being a fool by sending him to a university. You merely turn him into a trained fool, which is 10 times more dangerous.”

Peter Lyons says that technological improvement has driven prosperity since the industrial revolution but doubts this has accelerated in recent years:

The massive technological changes from 1850 to 1950 dwarf more recent developments in their impacts on people’s daily lives. Consider such innovations as cars, planes, electricity, fridges, air-conditioning and the telephone.

These innovations were not the outcome of tertiary-educated workforces. They were developed by a core of thinkers, scientists and innovators then diffused by entrepreneurs through the marketplace for mass consumption.

Prosperity is determined by how well a society uses its resources to produce final goods and services. Pouring huge amounts of public funds into formal tertiary education may be a distraction from this goal.

A friend who was a specialist in three dimensional thinking used to ask students in his university classes why they were there. If, as usually happened, they answered so they’d make more money he used to tell them they were in the wrong place andif that was their goal they’d be better off working than studying.

That doesn’t apply to everyone and every job, but  he was asking them to seriously consider if the income forgone during three or more years study and the student loan incurred while doing it, could be justified by what they’d earn with their degrees.

It can for some but by no means all students.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for tertiary studies.

We need our best and brightest to be very highly educated so they can develop the tools and technologies for the rest of us to use, so we can become more productive.

But not everyone can make the All Blacks. We don’t need people with management degrees driving taxis or diplomas of tourism running bungee jumps.

I have no problem justifying the money and efforts which go in to basic education. It is difficult, if not impossible, to cope day to day let alone prosper without a reasonable level of literacy and numeracy.

But more tertiary education isn’t necessarily better for the students or the economy.

Did you see the one about . . .

August 26, 2010

Temps perdu – Dim Post on cultural trends.

Clothing and control and wearing the burqa – In A Strange Land on covering up.

We’re still waiting for a Sydney Opera House – Karl du Fresne on the moot that architecture is the mother of all arts.

Shakespeare Stoatspring finds political lessons in literature.

We got to the hospital – a sore toe nearly trumps a caesarean at Private Secret Diary.

This is what the teacher unions  fear – Kiwiblog on how teachers make a difference.

Milking Time – rivettingKate Taylor on sheeps milk and her contributions to the farming year ahead.

Did you see the one about . . .

August 17, 2010

Bookworm – creative photography at Mila’s Daydreams. (Hat tip: Beaties Book Blog).

I love my job – RivettingKate Taylor on the joys of her work.

The blogosphere prevails – Zen Tiger marks his 1000th post at New Zealand Conservative with some thoughts on blogging (a bit late with this one).

It’s inappropriate to be judgemental – Karl du Fresne on the ubiquitous prissy euphemism.

Round numbers are over rated: celebrating 191 posts – Darcy Cowan at Sci Blogs does the numbers.

Myths of socialism # 1 – Macdoctor in the first of a series countering the left’s mistakes.

Good theory too expensive in practice

July 25, 2010

When our son, who had cerebral palsy which left him profoundly disabled, was approaching his fifth birthday his paediatrician discussed the options for schooling with us.

He said he thought Dan was incapable of learning but he was willing to be proved wrong and even if Dan didn’t gain intellectually from school access to physiotherapy may help him physically.

Legally Dan could have gone to the local school but it had only three teachers and none of them was trained to work with severely handicapped children. Nor did it have the equipment or facilities which might have helped him. We enrolled him at a school in town instead. It had a unit for children with a range of disabilities which was staffed by teachers who specialised in high needs children.

We’ll never know whether it might have helped Dan because he died a few days after his fifth birthday but I was reminded of the options we had for Dan when I read that half our schools are failing high needs students.

The ERO report, released today, pins the failings on poor leadership and training in schools, as well as prejudice.

That may be true of some schools but I doubt it’s fair for them all. It won’t be the will but the means and the money which prevents many schools giving high-needs pupils the help and attention they require.

Wellington High School principal Prue Kelly said resources were the bigger issue. “It’s grossly under-funded. It’s all very well to say personalised programmes, and get a plan around the kids, but actually it takes a huge commitment by the school to do that.”

Quite. This is what happens when a good theory – the integration of children with disabilities into mainstream schools – meets the expensive reality.

These children require specially trained staff working one to one. Few schools have those staff and the money for the equipment and facilities they need.

Mainstreaming may be the ideal, but fewer schools offering specialised help may be the better option with the staff and resources available.

This doesn’t mean ghettoising disabled children.  At the school Dan would have gone to the disabled children mixed with the other pupils who were encouraged to play with and help them which had mutual benefits. But the special unit allowed dedicated staffing to ensure the high-needs children got the skilled help they required.

In a perfect world high needs children would be able to get everything they require through mainstreaming, but in the imperfect world we have it’s not always practical or affordable.

The ideology which drove mainstreaming without the resources to make it work is similar to that which led to the closure of This  sheltered workshops. Karl du Fresne wrote on this in wanted: work not walls  in the Listener and on politicising the disabled on his blog.

In both education and work some people with disabilities are victims of the best of intentions to help them because we can’t afford the resources to make the theory work in practice.

Did you see the one about . . .

July 11, 2010

Chris Trotter on party central – Dim Post at his satirical best again.

I feel such a failure – Quote Unquote’s confounded by his chidlren’s cultural choices.

Just when you think we’re over the recessionary hump – Alf Grumble is worried about camel milk.

Packing myself – Today Is My Birthday shows bigger is better when it comes to suitcases.

Otago Museum Kiwiblog took time out from the International Science Festival to visit the museum.  He also did  the Speights Brewery tour and a Monarch cruise

Stimulus in pictures – Not PC  shows what the money didn’t do.

Why I’ve fallen behind on my reading – Karl du Fresne didn’t find much to like on television.

Key tops Listener power list

December 1, 2009

It’s no surprise that Prime Minister John Key tops the Listener’s top 10 in its 2009 Power List.

The panel says he is:

being identified by leadership scholars as pioneering an entirely new style of political leadership in this country. Sceptics may cite his pragmatism as evidence of overt risk-aversion, but so far his reasonable, moderate demeanour and light-handed management has worked magic for the Government’s standing. He has been the polar opposite of Helen Clark, resisting both the micromanagement of others’ portfolios and playing favourites in the caucus. His cheerful tolerance of coalition partners’ ructions – “The bulk of people who come into politics have type-A personalities!” – has saved National from being embroiled in their crises.

Bill English is second followed by Alan Bollard, Rodney Hide, Steven Joyce and Rob Fyfe.

Then comes Michael Stiassny, the country’s senior receiver. The introduction to the list explains:

Perhaps the most telling detail about this year’s Power List . . .  is that a receiver (Micahel Stiassny) comes in at No 7. Yes, it has been a tough year; a year when debt became a dirty word, when old power bases were weakened by the recession. . .

Tariana Turia is ninth then John Whitehead and Peter Jackson. The top 10 has an 11th place – it’s filled by Phil Goff.

Then there’s those who have been delisted:

Craig Norgate who was 4th in the Business and economy section last year; Andrew West who was 3rd in agriculture  and Pat Snedden who was 4th in health and medicine.

The panel that selected the 2009 almanac of influence was chaired by Listener senior write Rebecca Macfie. Members were Lynn Freeman who hosts Radio NZ’s arts programme; Karl Du Fresne, Chris Wikaira, director of PR firm Busby Ramshaw Grice; Jane Clifton; Jacqueline Rowarth, Director of Agriculture at Massey; Bernard Hickey, Alan Isaac who chairs NZ Cricket, is a director of Wakefield Health, trsutee of NZ COmmunity Trust, chair of McGrathNicol & Co and advisor to Opus International; and Stephen Franks.

The full list and commentary won’t be online until Boxing Day. I subscribe to the magazine and if I didn’t I’d fork out the $3.90 for this issue.

Did you see the one about . . .

October 6, 2009

Ten Tiny Green MPs  at Opinionated Mummy. While you’re there you might also be interested in bolstering union membership oops I mean education.

Marching Girls at Quote Unquote.

92 and No 1 at Inquiring Mind where Adam Smith brings back Vera Lynn.

Moments of enculturation (10) at In A Strange Land (Arachnophobics should not go there).

We saw a real live island at Laughy Kate where kids say the darndest things.

Heart Hit  at Macdoctor who warns of the dangers of energy drinks.

Metaphors and unravelling  at Offsetting Behaviour which looks at the lack of cultural referents.

Top 10 cures for the blog squirms at Not PC – onw hat to do when you get bloggers’ block.

Capitalism needs to lift its game at Karl du Fresne.

Sexual Assaults where Kiwiblog finds some useful research fromt he Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Worst excesses of welfare UK & NZ parallels at Lindsay Mitchell.

Labour rorting taxpayers too at Gotcha where Whaleoil looks at who’s renting what to whom.

And :

Welcome back from maternity leave to Farmgirl – mother and daughter both well.


Welcome to Sciblogs  NZ”s largest science network  ( Hat tip Open Parachute)

What’s in it for us?

August 23, 2009

North and South editor Virginia Larson tells us in this month’s editorial she requested an interview with All Black captain Richie McCaw.

I wanted to find out what makes a leader out of a young man; what people and places shaped him in his childhood; how he bears the hopes and expectation of thousands every time he leads his team into the arena.

After some exchange of emails with McCaw’s agent, a final phone call came to this: “What’s in it for us?” said the agent. Well, there was no money, of course, and on the spot I couldn’t guarantee a cover . . . But didn’t he value a thoughtful, in-depth profile to be read by close to 3000,000 people . . .

Clearly, he didn’t. Access denied.

If the All Blacks, want to gain back the place they once had in New Zealanders’ hearts, the question isn’t what’s in it for them but what’s in it for us, the public.

My father and brothers weren’t interested in rugby, they preferred sailing. But radio commentaries provided a background to my childhood Saturday afternoons because my mother often listened to them, especially when her nephew was playing for University or Otago.

I didn’t watch a game until I was 17 when the prefects from Waitaki Girls’ were invited to watch inter-school matches at Waitaki Boys’. It didn’t really matter what was on, it was an excuse for an afternoon out of class and with boys.

A few excursions to Carisbrook when I was a student followed and there were also some late/night early morning parties when we crowded round a black and white television to watch a test from overseas. But the attraction was not so much what was happening on the field as the opportunity for fun with friends.

The next memory I have of rugby was 1981 and the Springbok tour. While some people a little older than I am feel it was a defining issue, I didn’t. I was in my first job as a journalist and reported on local reactions, and happened to be in Christchurch with friends when there was a test somewhere which we watched on TV, but it was not a major concern or interest for me.

I was overseas the following year, returned home to be married and have vague memories of gatherings with friends at our home or theirs to watch the odd test in the next few years.

It wasn’t until 1995 when we hosted an AFS student from Argentina who played rugby that I watched a live game. That was a World Cup year and the All Blacks toured New Zealand, stopping in provincial towns to meet their fans. I took our student who could speak only a little English, to meet them. His excitement at exchanging a few words in Spanish with Eric Rush and shaking hands with Sean Fitzpatrick brought home to me the strength of their influence and international reputation.

The Super 12 competition started the following year and we travelled down to Dunedin and Christchurch to watch several games. We watched a few NPC games  at Lancaster Park and Carisbrook too, including the one when Otago didn’t win the Ranfurly Shield and one when they did win the NPC competition.

Then what happened? The season got longer, the competition didn’t have the same attraction and frustration at the way rugby interfered with other functions grew. I’ve watched a few North Otago games but last year went to Dunedin only once for an NPC game, this year I half-watched a Super 14 game on TV and haven’t yet watched a test.

I know just enough about the game to sit through a match, but I need an emotional connection to enjoy it. I might have that with Valley which is our local team and North Otago, but I no longer have it with any teams higher up. I’d be hard pressed to name any Highlander or Otago players and couldn’t name more than a handful of All Blacks.

Part of the reason for that might lie in a comment from Graham Henry which caught Alf Grumble’s attention:

“. . . I guess the product’s not too great and that’s disappointing.”

When I read that I begin to wonder if Karl du Fresne really had been in the All Black dressing room when he wrote:

The meeting opened with a team official launching a withering attack on player A, who had been seen in a Durban bar wearing a non-approved hair gel. The player’s excuse – that he had a new executive assistant who had packed the wrong makeup kit – was contemptuously brushed aside.

Next, player B was fined for having turned up late at a promotional appearance to launch the ABs’ new personal fragrance range, evocatively named Scrum. . .

It didn’t used to be a product. The players were heroes but not plastic celebrities. They were real, grounded people connected to and respectful of the public who admired them.

At least some of the current All Blacks might still be like that. From what I know of Richie McCaw, who grew up in the HakaValley not far from here, he definitely is. But his agent has let him down and has also let rugby down.

When the agent had to ask, “what’s in it for us?”  and the coach talks about the product they’ve both lost sight of what’s important.

It’s not a product it’s a game. The All Blacks aren’t royalty who command attention, they’re players who need to connect with the public if they want to win back fans.

I’m writing this on Saturday evening. The All Blacks will be playing the Wallabies soon. I might turn the TV on to watch the national anthems and the haka and to see if I can catch sight of some people I know in the crowd because they happened to have important business in Sydney this weekend.

But I won’t stay awake for the game and while I’ll hope that New Zealand will win, that’s no more than I’d want if it was the national tiddlywinks team playing the Australians.

I’m over rugby which isn’t of any great concern if it’s only me. But it’s not. A lot of people, especially women, share my lack of interest and that ought to be of great concern for the Rugby Union who wants us all to get behind the World Cup.

They haven’t got long to get us enthusiastic again. They could start by realising that unless they can persuade us there’s something in it for us, there isn’t anything in it for them. A good first step would be for that agent to phone North and South to arrange a time that suits the journalist for an interview with Richie.

The boy on the beach

August 22, 2009

A family of four wandered on to the beach and settled down near us.

The parents were very attentive, swimming with the two young children, playing with them in the sand and watching them play by themselves. They frequently admired what the children were doing and chatted with them.

Every now and then the wee boy, who was about three, would do something to annoy his younger sister. His parents reprimanded him, quietly and calmly. He continued to annoy her, the reprimand, still calm and quiet became sterner. He snatched his sister’s toy. His mother picked him up, took the toy from him, set him down at a distance from his sister, told him to stay there and play by himself. She also warned that if he annoyed his sister one more time he’d be smacked.

A few minutes later, he ran up to his sister, pushed her over and took another toy.

The mother smacked his hand, lightly. His lip quivered, he looked her in the eye, sniffed, took a deep breath, sat down and began playing happily again.

Smacking in general is not a good thing to do, there may have been a better alternative to it in this particular case, but should what the mother did be against the law?

This took place in Fiji where it isn’t. Had it happened here the mother would probably not have been arrested and charged for breaking the Crimes (Substitution Section 59) Amendment Act, but she had broken the law.

The memory of this scene is one of the reasons I voted no in the referendum.

It doesn’t mean I condone smacking. It doesn’t mean I think it’s a good way to discipline children.

It just means I know that parenting is an imperfect art, even the best parents don’t get it right all the time, and when they get it wrong in a way that does not physically or emotionally harm a child, they should not risk criminalisation.

It doesn’t matter that no-one has been charged for a trivial smack like the one given to the boy on the beach. It doesn’t matter that no-one has got away with using much more force if it was reasonable in the circumstances and for the purposes of prevention, which the law permits.

A law which allows an action for one reason but disallows a similar, or maybe even lesser, one for another is bad law. A law which means parents risk being criminalised for a trivial action is bad law. A bad law shouldn’t be tweaked when it needs to be changed.

This is a bad law and one bad law undermines all the other good ones.

Apropos of this:

Keeping Stock has written a very good memo to John.

Kiwiblog looks at Key’s response (to the referendum not Keeping Stock’s memo).

Dim Post leaks some changes to  smacking law.

Chris Trotter writes on the Deafening Echo at Bowalley Road.

Karl du Fresne posts on Losing 40 – nil and blaming the ref.

Media messengers or masters of the message?

August 15, 2009

Karl du Fresne’s Feeding the Hungry Dog is a thoughtful look at the role of the media in shaping public policy.

Cutting and pasting selected quotes won’t do it justice, I recommend you read it in full.

On a related topic, if you’re worried that the media tends to lean to port rather than starboard, David Cohen’s Press Gallery’s finest receive curious honour will confirm your fears.

Did you see the one about . . .

March 6, 2009

The latest in milking technology at NZ Conservative.

Press freedom by Karl du Fresne

Extraordinary times ahead for  Fonterra at Roarprawn

The Fat Controller & Lassie at Monkeywithtypewriter

Political ignorance and policy preferences at Anti-Dismal 

Unethical Ethics at Macdoctor and the related It takes 12 to Qango at goNZofreakpower

Did you see the one about . . .

February 19, 2009

Skirt lengths as an economic indicator at Rob’s Bockhead .

Letter from the boss at Cactus Kate.

Lying on wait at Macdoctor.

Sorting the numbers and raising feminists at In A Strange Land.

Judas Tizard at goNZofreakpower.

It’s just art at Something Should Go Here.

Let’s hear it for the Ernies at NZ Conservative.

Stories like this fill me with joy at Laughy Kate.

And if you want a big read: Home & away by Karl du Fresne,

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