Lyndon Hood - denier denier, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I’m in the midst of writing an article about Holocaust denial. Critic editor Hamish (notice how I’m on first name terms with these media types) suggested it for his ‘offensive issue’. I doubt it will be particularly offensive, though I have a niggling sense the somebody will call me anti-Semitic no matter what I write, and I won’t guarantee it will be particularly well-put together or informative. But I haven’t been enjoying the process so I thought I’d share my pain.

Some of this is due to purely technical difficulties writing the damn thing but mostly I’ve been feeling the weight of the memory of the dead and the reputations of the living.

I’ve talked about David Irving before, but I’ll bring him up again in order to recommend D. D. Guttenplan’s excellent book on Irving’s libel suit against Penguin (who you might remember as the defendant in the Lady Chatterly trial) and Deborah Lipstadt. It’s called The Holocaust on Trial, and is not to be confused with the Holocaust denial tract of the same name. It’s not just an introduction to Irving and denial issues - it’s a fascinating and thoughtful book.

A couple of bits relating to Irving’s credibility stick in my head. When Richard Evans, who had been comparing Irving’s whole body of work to its sources, took the stand and Irving, who acted for himself, was examining him, it went something like this:

IRVING: Professor Evans, you expressed the opinion in your report that my diaries may have been written for some ulterior motive.

EVANS: Could you point to the page in my report where I said that, please?

IRVING: That sounded to me as though it was a rehearsed remark. Is it true that it is your opinion that I may have written the diaries for some reason other than one would normally write a diary? What are your suspicions about why I wrote that?

EVANS: Would you like to point me to the page where I - you see, I have a problem, Mr Irving, which is that, having been through your work, I cannot really accept your version of any document, including passages in my own report, without actually having it in front of me, so I think this may be a problem for us.
Or later: When the defendants were working to show him to be an anti-Semitic Fascist, Irving had claimed that the slogan for a conference he participated in (Wahrheit Macht Frei - The Truth Makes/Sets Free) was simply a quote by the organisers of John 8:32, whatever strange inferences the defence might draw. Later, this passage was found in his Irving's diary on the relevant press conference:
...closed with my new slogan Wahrheit Macht Frei. The lefty journalists got the allusions.
Guttenplan remarks that both the idea of playing games with the opposition, and distorting the evidence is (based on the case so far) typical of Irving. He concludes:
But until this point in the trial, Irving has managed to avoid getting caught actually lying to the judge.
The overall impression is of a man with such a casual relationship to the truth the, if I didn’t know what the human brain was capable of, it would be unbelievable.

More recently, I’ve finally started looking at the case “for”: evidence that the Holocaust occurred. I had assumed that the deniers’ primarily tactics were distortion of particular points, playing on gaps in the record and fallacious argument. Actually, the main basis of the denial case is old-fashioned lies.

The core claims, the beliefs you need to support any denial arguments, are negative. That there is “no credible evidence” that Hitler knew about the persecution of the Jews. That there is “no proof” that gas chambers were used for killing at Auschwitz. Or anywhere.

These are just not true, and anyone who claims to be familiar with the breadth of the evidence should know it. There’s lots of evidence. Piles of it. Pits of it. Quite apart from the simply fact that in order to deny the organised killing of Jews (and Slavs, and Gypsies, and more) by the Nazis you have say that thousands of people have lied, lied in unison, lied in agreement with documents that weren’t even available at the time, lied without even a fraction of them recanting, for more than fifty years.

I’ve been feeling more and more sympathy for the comparison between Holocaust denial and the belief that the earth is flat. This does sum up the intellectual problem but it doesn’t really convey the crushing, callous moral obscenity of it all. I was reading Holocaust information site Nizkor’s point-by-point rebuttal of an Institute for Historical Review denial pamphlet, and I didn’t get far before the juxtaposition of historical human suffering and the denier’s wilful deception about it got to be too much. I mean, I already knew IHR were liars, and I still felt betrayed.

You may have gathered that I will defend Mr Irving's right to speak, defend it even to the point of mild personal inconvenience. But I wish, oh how I wish, that he would just shut up.

Lyndon Hood - ideas man, Lower Hutt

Thursday, August 19, 2004

It seems my flat is a complex organisation. I've received an envelope addressed to "Lyndon Hood, Department of Communications and Journalism".

I'm not sure who's responsible for attributing a hierarchical business model to my Lower Hutt abode. If it wasn't a technical or administrative error at the University of Otago (who sent the letter) it may have been something my parents did when, no doubt tiring of being sent my copy of the Otago Graduate magazine, told my alma mater what my actual address is.

At any rate, the actual letter was sent to me in my capacity as an Alumnus and Graduate in Philosophy*, rather than as Senior Vice-President in Charge of Communications and Journalism. The Department is conducting a planning review, and the letter asked among other things the interesting question of whether my course has any use to me.

Since one of my first PHIL papers was beginner's Epistemology (the study of knowledge per se) it's tempting to just assert that I don't know.

Some of you may have detected the philosophical influence in some of my previous posts. Though I can't say that "writing more elitist weblogs" was a top priority during my undergraduate years.

A Philosophy major constitutes evidence that I'm in favour of rational thought, but it's difficult for me to say how much of my logical and analytical habits are due to training and how much is down to being a smart bastard to begin with. If, for example, I find that it gobsmacking that some New Zealand juries don't seem to understand what constitutes murder despite having it clearly explained to them, is it because I'm trained in observing fine conceptual distinctions, or is it because I'm a natural pedant?

I don't think I'm heading for a sensible answer here. Which allows me to cite arch-cynic Ambrose Bierce. You may recall that quoting The Devil's Dictionary was what lecturers and similar used to do before The Far Side was invented. Actually, I was thinking yesterday of including Bierce on my any-three-people-ever dinner party list. But then I though he probably wouldn't be very good company. Anyway:

Truth, n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time.

*In my BA I majored in Philosophy and Theatre Studies, later doing a DipGrad at Design Studies. Jeremy Elwood did the same degree majors as me. He used to say that he was unemployed but at least he knew why.

Matt Nippert - certified hack, Auckland

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Young junkies rejoice

The New Zealand Herald is acknowledging the fact that it doesn't appeal to younger readers. Well, duh. Later this week an off-shoot publication Fuse is being launched, targeting the 18-29 year-old age bracket. It's being provided as an insert in the main paper, and will be dumped at campuses around the North Island.

Regarding the main paper's lack of appeal to the youth of today, I know this thanks to that age-old tradition (officially frowned on, but still an essential media tool) - the leak. A swish powerpoint presentation has been doing the rounds, with the Herald inviting sponsor to pitch $50,000 each for association rights with Fuse and $30,000 in advertising credit for use in the main newspaper.

(Interestingly enough, the advertising credit can't be spent on Canvas. Like, are they worried Army recruitment ads amidst the cosmetics might be off-putting to those seeking lifestyle information? Or is it just real soldiers don't wear makeup - and certainly don't care nuthin' 'bout etiquette?)

But onto the fun stuff, where teen focus groups rips shreds off old granny. The presentation states: "The New Zealand Herald is perceived to deliver a mono-cultural, middle-class perspective on news and issues." Ouch. But with such a large circulation, it isn't surprising content should begin to mirror the opinions of the average, mono-cultural, middle-class reader. There's also some sophisticated criticism, the paper lambasted for it's "limited international coverage", a "shift towards tabloid-style content and sensationalism", and a "lack of depth to stories".

So we have a new publication targeted directly at youth, Fuse. Mind you, not one that will necessarily have more substantive stories - they aren't paying their student contributors. With 5 core sponsors signed up, generating $250k in instant capital, you might think there's the budget to perhaps go at least slightly professional. After all, a small move in this direction would really cut contributors from their main competitors - student publications up and down the country. But more on this later. (I hear rumours Simon Pound is using his blog to try and score a politics column. Hope you've got your negotiators set to attack mode buddy...)

There's also another possible explanation for the explosion of Herald subsidiaries - such as the more substantive (and poorly hidden) Herald on Sunday. Simply put, the economy is booming and newspapers can't fill a quarter-page with content quickly enough to flog the remainder to advertisers. The Herald, on weekends especially, is nearing critical mass. Expanding the number of pages would require substantial letter-box modifications all over the country. The solution? More, not bigger, papers.

A relic from the Wellington student media wars of 2001-2003 is also reforming, the anti-establishment (and lad-mag) Lucid. The bi-monthly (produced with not inconsiderable assistance from the crew at Rip it Up), launches on September 1, and is running full-colour, full-gloss to be distributed across 22 campuses in the North and South Islands.

It will be interesting to see when the advertising market bottoms out how many of these new supplements and publications go down the tubes. But for now, if you're a media junkie, prepare for overdose. And if you're a dealer already in the student media market - expect stiff competition for your turf.

A Critic story flagged in an earlier blog, regarding Student Choice spokesperson Glenn Peoples, resulted in a complaint to the Press Council (the ruling isn't online yet, sorry). Much to the amazement of media pundits, it was actually heard. As far as I am aware, only the infamous Craccum suicide story has been considered by this august, yet toothless, body. (See rulings 783-7.)

"The Press Council, which receives few complaints about student magazines, nonetheless was happy to accept this one," the ruling reads. Critic editor Hamish McKenzie was happy for the case to be heard, although he would have been within his rights telling it to fuck off. Even more amazingly (to those with somewhat cynical opinion on the student press), is that Critic won the substantive part of the case.

Peoples argued the article implied he was behind a stream of forged letters purporting to show mass student opposition to a student association decision. This was rejected. "Critic had been justified in checking its suspicions about the dubious letters with Mr Peoples, given the tone of his own letter and his involvement with Student Choice. It set out his denial in the article."

Peoples also complained his wife, Ruth Elizabeth, was called Ruth Peoples. The impression, at least in the letters pages, that these were two unconnected letter writers was misleading according to Critic. Calling her Ruth Peoples, the council decided, "had done no more than state a fact - that Ruth Elizabeth and Ruth Peoples were one and the same."

Go you good things! Go! Especially mad props to Holly Walker, the news editor who broke the story, and editor McKenzie who allowed his ethics and judgment to be scrutinised. It's done wonders for the credibility of their publication. (Which is looking mighty fine this year, I must ad.)

Critic's also had some flak from the National Party this year. First, for an article talking to a former head of the National Front about why he liked Don Brash so much. Brash wrote in saying "The disconnect with what I have said is so extreme as to be beyond rational debate." Then after a Truth parody cover (issue 17) featuring the leader of the opposition looking fine in a thong, Brash's Press Secretary wrote in saying he hoped Helen Clark would get similar treatment. When you're man of the moment, expect parodies. As Edmund Burke once said "A politician complaining about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea."

Unofficial outrage from the Opposition came over this Top 40 list of reasons to vote National. It included the stunningly hilarious "Because Katherine Rich is an MPILF." Apparently her office called Critic, angrily, asked what the American Pie acronym meant and then threatened legal action. Get a life boys in blue, or stop letting your MPs show cleavage on the front pages of national newspaper supplements. The chamber ain't exactly a beauty contest, and I suspect MPILF is actually is a term of endearment..

Salient, my old stomping ground, took issue last week with this front-page story in the Dominion Post. Reminiscent of the harassment dished out to boxer Soulan Pownceby, the Dom chronicled alarm and shock at the Classics department at Victoria University that a convicted murderer was studying in their midst. Shock! Horror! Reporter Oskar Alley even found an outraged student to protest at the criminal in his department.

Salient news editor Keith Ng tried talking to the classics department and, unsurprisingly, found them rather gunshy at the sight of another journalist. Rather than outrage, comment was quite forgiving of the man's past. The media "should just leave [the man] alone ... he's a good guy and doesn't deserve this," according to one student. "Of the staff and students approached by Salient - including some who share classes with the man - none expresed concerns about his past. Most were distressed, however, at the media coverage that had taken place so far", wrote Ng.

Even better, rather than a front-page scoop for the Dom, Ng discovered the news had broken several months before - in that hard-news bastion Women's Day. Dom editor Tim Pankhurst defended his paper's reporting: "the public has a right to know of the background of someone who has committed such a vicious crime".

Of course where does the rights of those who have served their sentence to live a normal life come into this equation? Responsibly, and making a point, Salient did not name the individual. Alley had printed a picture and a description along with a name. Excellent work, and it's good to see student media gunning in the mainstream. After all - the mainstream is gunning for them.

This competition, whilst good for media consumers, is going to be tough on student publications who don't have established reputations or contributors. Students wanting to write and get published (when there's no payment on offer), will tend to pick the publication that looks the best, and places their stories around similar, readable, content.

Advertising revenue will also be further split, tending as it does to go for publications with high production values regardless of circulation or quality of content. This fight could get ugly - but the survivors will be all the better for it.

And, as a reward for those of you who have stayed on this long, here's a couple of nice links to keep yourselves amused:
UPDATE: Actually, I should also point out word of Fuse broke well in advance of its official launch. By who? None other than the good folks at Critic. I'll hold off further platitudes for now...

Tom Goulter - The Best Thing Since Danny Watson - Christchurch

The Man: A Critical Biography

We've been spoiled for choice this year when it comes to probing-social-commentary documentaries. Errol Morris' The Fog Of War took the life lessons of the much-maligned Robert Strange McNamara, largely forgotten by history [1], and turned it into a gripping alternate perspective on c20th conflict.
While McNamara's observations on war (it's hell) were ostensibly limited to theatres he'd actually been involved in, his philosophising provided some trenchant commentary relevant to that business that's going on lately overseas; so Jehane Noujaim's Control Room, focusing quite explicitly on Iraq - Present Day, as filmed and relayed by Al-Jazeera, was a nice companion-piece indeed. Particularly, of course, when placed next to Fahrenheit 9/11, the latest salvo from Mr. Moore - the fellow we can arguably thank for the prominence of much of this fare (or, at the very least, our easy access to it).
If all the violence and death were a bit much to (ahem) stomach, Morgan Spurlock was right there with his eminently watchable (if, ahem, kinda flabby) assault on the fast-food industry, Super Size Me. Spurlock's TV Nation-esque clown act is, by his own admission, flawed in its reasoning - McDonald's never told anyone to eat only their food for a month, or even for a week - but the film's (oh dear) delicious central conceit belies a wealth of research and commentary on the fast food chains' practices and techniques.
This, however, is something of (look, I'm really sorry: I promise this is the last one) an entree next to the carpet-bombing of big business that is Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar's The Corporation.
The Corporation has a delightful central argument: that large multinationals, if they were a person, would be a dangerous, criminally violent psychopath. It arrives at this point with beautiful, simple, ruthless logic.
First we're invited to ponder exactly what might be a good metaphor for the megalithic entities selling us shoes and soft drinks (a lovely hyper-montage establishes that the default analogy is to, well, "apples"; and that this isn't really a very good comparison). Other options considered are "a machine", "a family", and, laughingly, "a proud soaring eagle". These are all, we're agreed, pretty atrocious metaphors: what can today's supercompanies be compared to?
In answer, the movie segues to an explanation as to how the corporation as we know it was born. In the heady days of the Industrial Revolution and American Civil War, rich white guys with moustaches going out to their ears discovered a loophole in legislation that meant that their companies were entitled to be registered for legal consideration as single people. This entitled them to select financial benefits and rights of citizens. Companies were people.
Fast-forward to now, and these "people" are wreaking considerable havoc on the world - havoc that is explored in a series of "case histories". If the corporation is indeed, as it claims, a person, then it's subject to the WHO's checklist of psychological traits inherent in psychopaths. No CEO or executive can be singled out and blamed for the actions of these companies - but as entities unto themselves, greater than the sum of any of their parts, they pass the test with flying colors.
Who do you call when a dangerous psychopath is terrorising your country? Why, the FBI, of course - which is why that organisation's leading consultant on psychos is called in to sound his agreement.
Thus follows an examination of the behaviour of these dangerous, pathological nutcases that we call corporations: CEOs, spies, marketers, lawyers, whistleblowers, activists [2] and observers are given turns to speak on their experiences and perceptions of the companies that run our world. What emerges is a gripping, thrilling, terrifying (this is where I would use the word "Orwellian" if I weren't so averse to it), animated, lively portrait of entities gone wild and terrorising the world's citizens, cultures and environment.
Cameras attempt to probe Nike's DMZ factories; a disarmingly reasonable Shell CEO drinks tea with activists while Ken Saro-Wiwa's death is mourned. We're guided through Fanta's Nazi origins, and we visit the debate as to whether or not IBM took an active role in processing the paperwork of the Holocaust. Familiar ground is trod with the cinematic flourish that documentary filmmaking does best; new facts and concepts unfold with well-reasoned, sombering logic.
In a year of quality we're unlikely to see equalled any time soon in documentary pictures, The Corporation deserves to be remembered as the heavyweight: a film that validates and unifies much that we've seen elsewhere, while standing alone next to the invaluable efforts of Messrs. Moore, Morris, Spurlock et al as a document of power and resistance in our time.

[1] By which I mean that Muggins over here, for all my pretensions of being au fait with Kennedy-era US politics, had never heard of him.
[2] Among them such Superstars Of Lefty Ideology as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, who, aside from making the requisite Damn Good Points -- look, will it utterly defeat my hearty endorsement of The Corporation if this footnote ends up containing the word "delectable"? Okay, well, I tried.

Lyndon Hood - Beer Denier, Lower Hutt

And sometime the beer gets you

I note with mild amusement that Monteiths has given a special-edition beer from the other year general release. The drink, which for the sake of clarity I will refer to as the "Radler®", was apparently inspired by something they serve in Bavaria called a "Radler".

Speaking as someone who's tried both, the Radler® is quite nice - a sort of lemon-lime flavoured beer. If someone offered me one, I'd drink it, though probably not in the half-litre or litre quantities one gets in a Munich beer garden.

I imagine that the Dom Post's beer columnist was reading off the company's publicity when he described a Bavarian Radler as being lemon flavoured, quite low in alcohol and named for its cyclist-refreshing properties (pronounced rahd-luh, the word means "cyclist").

What they're not telling you is that the reason a Radler is low in alcohol and tastes of lemon has nothing to do with brewing. It's because it's half beer and half lemonade. Something that, in the English-speaking world, we a call a "shandy".

Duh look at me I'm David Irving

Okay, so I've decided to weigh in. I didn't have much of an impression of David Irving before. I could, for example, imagine that if one had a real revisionist argument about the Holocaust, people's reaction could make one bitter pretty quickly.

I'll admit a failure in that I can't be bothered digging through his website to determine the actual extent of his current Holocaust denial, but on the basis of the research I've done, I'm concluding that David Irving is a cast-iron tit with a chip on his shoulder. And wrong. Most notably, when Irving sued Penguin Books and author Deborah Lipstadt over the claims in Denying the Holocaust that he knowingly distorted or suppressed evidence, denied the holocaust and was an anti-semitic racist, he lost.

Which leads me to wonder what the (so-called) Press Club were thinking. If they wanted a discussion of the problems of writing history they might have done better to invite somebody without a reputation (if only on this one issue) for selectively ignoring bits of the kind of evidence that he is, admittedly, very good at digging up.

Linda Clark interviewed him this morning. I had thought that talking to Irving was unlikely advance the cause of balance, or of fairness, or of accuracy. Judging by the first batch of email responses, most people thought he was a cast-iron tit, so maybe I was wrong. I'm guessing he was restricting his opinions, as we all would, to what he thought his audience would find reasonable. That didn't stop him saying that when he put up a reward for information on the cemetary-wreckers it was in the hope of finding them to be mentally disordered Jews or Israeli agents.

I am entirely (or at least very broadly) in favour of free speech. But that doesn't mean we should give everybody a slot on National Radio. Actually, I think even debating Irving is a strategic error. My wife's family has a saying: "Never argue with an idiot - people might not know who's who". Similarly, to vilify him or, worse, to suppress him is to give him too much importance. David Irving should be debunked for those who are interested and, more generally, mocked.

Apparently he still expects to come to New Zealand. When he is prevented from getting on the plane, he intends to take legal action. When he loses, he won't (as is his way) accept the verdict.

Tom Goulter - Named Art Collective - Christchurch

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Most Disturbing Moment In Fahrenheit 9/11
or, A Dream For George



But, contrary to BUSH's assertions, it's apparent that things aren't under control in the liberated Iraq. The lack of stability is apparent in the CHARRED BODIES of two US contractors/mercs, which we see in MONTAGE:


Being hooked to the back of a CAR.

Being HUNG like grisly pinatas, dangling and being BASHED by furious NEWLY LIBERATED IRAQIS.



TOM, slightly sickened, and his movie-buddy, DANNY, exchange worried glances as:

(comprising maybe 1/3 of
the audience)



I mean, sure. So this was an "arthouse" audience on the preview-screening night of a much-anticipated picture. And (with the possible exception of papered theatre audiences) nobody's as notorious for laughing loudly at inappropriate moments as Rialto audiences. (Cause they Get It, see?)

And yeah, sure, so the whole sequence was introduced with what would, if your viewing diet consisted of nothing but reruns of Friends, seem an awful lot like one of those hilarious moments when someone makes an emphatic statement, and then you crosscut to an image that proves just how wrong that statement turns out to be in the Real World. So, yes, if your grasp of audio-visual grammar was that severely limited and your synapses were that way wired, I suppose an "ironic cross-cut" might seem like a "laughter" cue card.

And. Yes. It's been established, long ago, that these were, of course, the charred mutilated bodies of paid heavies, dudes who went to Iraq for the express purpose of getting paid to walk around looking staunch and/or use large firearms in whatever manner they saw fit.


The fact remains that nobody I've talked to, here or elsewhere, thought there was any kind of comedic intent in the scene, and many were in fact somewhat horrified that any audience could recieve it that way; and examples like this make it obvious that, for all its merits and all its flaws, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a highly subjective piece of media. Not subjective as in the documentarian feels free to express his own views*, but as in audience reception, depending on the nature of the audience in question, may vary greatly.
And Muggins here had the good fortune to be in an audience comprised of 2/3 People Who Give A Fuck About International Affairs, and 1/3 People Who One Day Intend To Read Stupid White Men Because Mikey Havoc Namechecked It.

And while I'm belatedly giving my thoughts on Fahrenheit:

- I think there's a gripping documentary yet to be made on Florida 2000, but the only people that would watch it would be The Converted anyway, so I suppose there's little point in making it. Being a round-about way of saying I'm glad Moore didn't dwell on this aspect of his narrative.

- Moore-debunking (from the comprehensive to the rather sad) and Carlyle-hunting are both such popular pastimes it's hard to find the energy to hyperlink to examples thereof; but the mere fact that a team of filmmakers can exert as much of its time and energy on research and fact-collecting as most movies spend on CG and still do solid business is a heartening fact indeed.

- The fact that of all the Senators who voted to invade Iraq, only one has children in the armed forces has long been a particular beef of mine; unfortunate, then, that Moore chooses to use this fact as an opportunity for his somewhat trademark brand of schtick in the movie. The whole sequence with the enrolment papers and the clipboard, rather than making a simple and rather shocking point, serves mainly just to remind us that most Republican Senators, given their druthers, would rather not talk to Michael Moore. Which is neither a revelation nor particularly despicable, in and of itself.

- I'm developing something of a soft spot for George W. Bush the man. Not, obviously, the President - he's dangerous and/or a criminally retarded oaf, as any joe on the street will no doubt tell you. But as a guy, Bush strikes me more and more as nothing more than something of an unholy fool - a rich, not particularly visionary or power-craving simpleton who, really, would by all accounts be a nice enough guy if he weren't running the world into the ground. After reading Moore and Slater's Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, and then looking into those eyes as he sits, stranded, in the room full of children unaware that their country is under attack, it's tempting to see Bush less as any kind of active agent in the despicable, myopic collision-course that is his own presidency, and more as a privileged goof who isn't negligently destructive himself, so much as having negligent destructiveness thrust upon him. To wax hackneyed: things fall apart, to be sure, but can you really hate the man all that much for having the misfortune to be the centre that would never hold?

I don't know. Maybe you can. Maybe I can too; an endearingly loose grasp on the English language and a shadow cabinet full of scheming Viziers is no excuse for being at the helm when the events of the past 4 years have taken place.
But I like to think that somewhere, in an alternate universe with chads that work or a public with a little more backbone, that there's a little backwoods town in Colorado or Montana; a town where the air smells like wood smoke on a winter's night, and where the waitresses at the diner know just how you like your coffee. And that little town has a hardware store, maybe a combination lumber and DIY appliance dealer, a place with hand-written price tags and neatly swept floors that always smell just a little bit of fresh sawdust.
Behind the counter, the store owner has just finished sweeping up for the enening. His sun-bleached flannel shirt is tucked into a soft old leather tool-belt, all manner of well-worn t-squares and spirit-levels and whatnot dangling off it. He turns as you approach the counter. Putting his broom to the side, he turns and smiles, a simple, warm grin - welcoming, letting you know folks round here have all the time in the world, even for big-city folk like you. He's proud of his little corner, and wants nothing more from life than his store, and his tool-belt, and his straight, shiny name-badge - on which, obviously, he's carefully stencilled the legend:

* Which ought to be obvious, but the way some folk lap up everything Moore has to say without question - not to lionise Moore, but I doubt he'd want it that way - I often doubt it. There's a tendency in some circles to tout Fahrenheit 9/11 (or Stupid White Men, or Dude, Where's My Country?, or even the relatively nonpartisan Bowling For Columbine) like Moore's word is the truth on the lips of every savvy left-leaning international citizen; and this strikes me as a little counter-productive, a bit like folk who assume that The Passion Of The Christ is an accurate reflection of the way all Christians feel about the Crucifixion or Jews or Christianity in general.
For the record, then: Michael Moore does not single-mindedly speak for everyone who's anti-Bush (and nor does he claim to), any more than Mel Gibson speaks for (or claims to speak for) all Christians. Thank you for your time.

Lyndon Hood - Whatever I Say I Am, Lower Hutt

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Stick and Stones May Break My Bones But Apart From That I Should Just Harden Up

When arguing in favour of freedom of expression, one faces a couple of unique problems. One is that it's difficult to win outright, seeing as how you can at no point demand that your opponent just shut up. The other is that the poster children for free speech tend to be arrogant wankers who are often being deliberately offensive. Recidivist flag burners* who, having gotten their media attention, do a poor job of making their case. David Irving, who is apparently not inclined to sue for peace with his opponents ("At least I will not be travelling on a quadriplegic's stolen passport and wearing a balaclava and dark glasses").

Incidentally, National Radio didn't seem to be prepared to draw conculsions on Irving. It said he was "described as 'the holocaust denier'" and didn't say why he was deported from Canada. Fair enough. It would take a braver man than me to fight through the bald assertions on this one.

But ultimately the problem is that most people, legislators inculded, prefer not being offended to having a really open debate. But the reason we have laws supporting freedom of speech is precisely so that people can say offensive things. We wouldn't need the laws otherwise; nobody ever tries to ban inoffensive speech. This is one of those priciples that people are happier with in general terms than when it gets down to cases.

I can understand why senior public servants need to agree to keep quiet on principle - they must be able to work with the government of the day. But more than one government department instructed all its employees not to join the Hikoi (that's why so many people happened to be taking 'coffee breaks' on balconies along the Terrace). Surely there's a limit.

I happen to think that society as a whole can't progress unless people are free to question and argue, even if it's questioning the obvious and arguing the unthinkable. And as with any human right, freedom of expression is an incitement to radicalism. Just what constitutes "Shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre" anyway? And is even that really so bad? If it is such a problem, then surely that's more of a health and safety issue?

Sure, people can say some really whacked-out stuff. But the great thing is, rather than muffling these ideas because they're so terrible, you can just make it clear how wrong they are. Or even better, how silly they are. My parents have oddly fond memories of Patricia Bartlett: it seems the Society for the Preservation of Community Standards was a lot less threatening when the ex-nun was telling the TV about how the media was corrupting us and we could all laugh at her.

Of course that is just by way of wishing that my enemies would confine themsaelves to open, informed public debate rather than doing what achieves their goals (although SPCS's recent appeal court submissions do have some excellent gag lines). There is a kind of obligation that comes as a corollary to freedom of expression. The government and the media, and most of all the people, in allowing "open" debate, need to foster the "informed" part. One of several memorable moments in Control Room charmingly showed Al-Jazeera broadcasting Donald Rumsfeld saying that Al-Jazeera made stuff up (he thought it was sad when people lie but they get found out eventually).

It seems what I'm saying is that the dominant paradigm, if it's got any validity, actually gets stronger for allowing questions. So what's everyone worried about?

This isn't supposed to be the whole case for free speech. It's just some stuff I've been thinking. Naturally, you are free to disagree with me. And I'm free to ignore you.

* One thing the debate on flag-burning has shown up is ACT's odd habit of demanding rights and freedom except where this conflicts with conservative social values. Property yes, drugs no. And burning flags "isn't speech".

Personally I wouldn't burn a flag - I have yet to find an issue or a flag important enough - but it's been noted that the Hopkinson judgement left open the question of what exactly would constitute showing disrespect for the flag. Having nothing better to do, I'll gladly make myself the subject of a new test case. In that spirit, I declare that the flag's rhymes are whack and its mother is a ho.