Lyndon Hood - Eliminuhlator, Lower Hutt

Monday, October 31, 2005

When the Eradicator Becomes the Eradicated

I want to stop flogging him, but he won't lie down.

First up, a correction of my last post: according to Mapp's official press release, the job title is not "Political Correctness Eradication Spokesman" but "Political Correctness Eradicator ". As in, "Roar! Fear me, for I am called the Eradicator!"

It would be an interesting test of anti-PC internal coherence if Mapp were to leave this position and it was handed on to, say, Katherine Rich. If she were not then called the "Political Correctness Eradicatrix", I would be sorely disappointed.

As it happens, though, it's Mapp. This may turn out to be the best thing ever to happen for Political Correctness. I'm reminded of my parents telling me about Patricia Bartlett for the Society for the Protection of Community Standards, or that one maoist guy. Whenever the relevant issue cropped up in the news, they'd be dragged out to say the same thing they always did, and everyone would be all be, like, mocking them derisively.

It might be a windfall for Labour too, if Mapp keeps taking such an all-embracing brief. He'll end up National's Everything Spokesman. Which would be a bit sad, really.

I was hoping Mapp would stick to the party line on the disabled people/human right commission thing - one standard of citizenship. Whether the benefits of those standards are actually accessible to all the actual citizens need not concern able-bodied white folk; no extra assistance just because you're paraplegic or something. He didn't say that in the end.

But I'm not going to have time to go into specifics every time he pipes up, so I won't start now.

Not going on also saves me the trouble of giving qudos to Rodney Hide and Messers Antartic and Adolf from Sir Humphrey's for - while deploring PC in all its forms - admitting the actual appointment in question was pretty dumb. And passing up an obvious opportunity to deliberately miss the point.

Unlike someone else whose contribution to the debate was, rather than addressing the whole Mapp/Brash/Being-a-Dick question, to list some PC things he didn't like. And I've got to say that, if those really are the ten most egregious examples of political correctness internationally, well, the world is not ending. Maybe we should talk, but call off the crusade, huh?

Oh hang on. This is a bit more like it.

I have seen some of that genuine rational discussion of the whole PC thing that I was asking for, too, which is nice. And in order for a debate to start, I suppose someone has to have a challenging point of view.

So it's a bit like the tone Bill English is bringing to treaty issues. Y'know - after the election. Expect Mapp isn't as good at pretending to be reasonable.

New-from-Friday Hood: Suggestions for More 'Innovative' Reshuffling

It's been pointed out to me that Saturday's Dom Post Editorial shares some of my steez. I'm not saying anyone's done a Maxim or anything. Probably just a case of minds thinking alike.

Speaking of Maxim - you need to go read the Fundy Post now.

Update - A caring reader has pointed out that, again and again, I put 'Eliminator' when he is, of course, the 'Eradicator'. I obviously had some subconscious urge to make the job sound fractionally less bizarre. This problem is now fixed.

Lyndon Hood - First Up Against the Wall, Lower Hutt.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wayne Mapp: Opposition spokesman for Political Correctness Eradication.

W - as they say - TF?

Had National been elected, we would presumably be forming a Department (surely not a Ministry) of Political Correctness Eradication.

This raises the usual question: what the hell is that supposed to mean? As a rule I find reading "bad stuff" for "political correctness" does not detract from the information conveyed or sentiment expressed in any way. Is that the case here?

I couldn't face the idea of trawling through his old columns for examples. But from a June speech ("The Problem with Political Correctness" - the inaugural Ralph Hannan lecture, which he open rather ironically by praising the titular gentleman for his "reforming zeal") we can gather some idea of what he's on about. Though not enough, I would have thought, to fill out a useful ministerial job description.

PC category one: obviously silly stuff done by the State. Twilight golf. Bovine homeopathy (which a farmer I met reckoned had saved him tens of thousands). Apparently merely calling such things 'bad' might lead to wasteful expenditure of resources to confirm the evaluation. Just call it PC, and out it goes.

Two: Treaty-principle references in legislation. Like a lot of Maori-related issues, I would actually like to see a debate about this involving real arguments not done in sound bites. The problem would seem to be that the Government, while not prepared to abandon those troublesome references, is electorally nervous of conducting a thorough defense.

Three: Special treatment for specific groups. I imagine he means "integrated" religious schools, the institution of marriage and the Brethren's exemption to employment legislation.

Four: Social advocacy by Government agencies, like the Waitangi Tribunal and the Human Right Commission. And, presumably, the commissioners for children and for families, the Department of Women's Affairs. If tinkering with the curriculum had any role in the renaissance of Maori culture, if the State has had any leadership role in make difference acceptable - well that kind of thing stops now.

So the putative Department would presumably be charge with rooting out such things, as well as encouraging agents of the state not to have any regard for what people who are different to us might consider polite or whether the fact that we're mostly hiring white men might somehow be our fault.

Oh, and probably stopping "social engineering" as well. It just struck that, if you look at the meaning of the words, "social engineering" is exactly what the Government always does. It's practically a job description.

I can't help imagine some kind of flying squad, jumping out and eradication political correctness with extreme prejudice.

As it happens the items listed above do have something common, apart from just being things the gummint does that Wayne doesn't like. The principles I'm seeing are that the law and the offices of state should not discriminate between groups of people. Operating with the default assumption is that any change in the relative treatment of two groups since, oh, about nine years ago is away from equality.

I think that assumption is wrong. And I'm increasingly agnostic about whether the principle is universally practical and how we would be able to tell when we were following it. It's a bit like "Justice", which is treating people "Fairly": that is, treating everyone equally except for whatever considerations you happen to think are relevant.

One man's equality is another man's discrimination. One woman's blatant special treatment is another woman's inching toward inclusion. Perhaps - here's an idea - we can let the democratic process sort it out.

But all this we've heard before. What's new is the job title. And that's ridiculous.

Calling something 'politically correct' is, at least in the mind of the speaker, as much the end of the debate as accusing something of being - I don't know - 'culturally insensitive' might be for someone else.

But whether some practice should be gotten rid of should always be decided on a case-by-case basis. And the question to ask is not "Is this politically correct or not?" or "Is the culturally sensitive or not?" but "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"

Particularly considering that Dr Mapp's principles of what is PC may not stand universal application, that question is surely best answered by the Minister who has responsibility for whatever the policy being questioned is.

You may as well have a Minister of Being Right. Or - perhaps this is more to the point - a Shadow Minister of Berating the Government.

We'll se, I suppose. In the meantime, I consider the creation of a Shadow Political Correctness Eradication office a gimmicky, politically correct sop.

Don't get me wrong - some of the questions raised above do need to be constantly re-examined. The go to the heart of democracy. I think they do get examined: when Mapp says debate has been shut down I think he's wrong.

Remember that, as in any MMP Parliament, every bill the last government passed was supported by the representatives of a majority of New Zealanders. The Civil Union Act was a private member's bill that passed by members free to vote according to their conscience. How can there not be debate? It's just that one of the things that happen in a free and open debate is that people don't listen to each other and they complain that they don't know what the other's problem is.

Anyway, tyranny of the minority it isn't.

Kelly Pendergrast - blogging infrequently, San Diego

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hi Holly!
Thank jeebus we've got another lady on board - more of the XX goodness, more media drama, 1/3 (or is it 1/4) more bloggers than yesterday, and, well, just someone to pick up the slack. My slack.
But I've been busy!

(Ok, actually I just spent the last hour downloading five different cover versions of The Smiths' "Please Let Me Get What I Want").

You know us art students - it's just work work work and no blog.
So I'm breaking the silence with another "I live in America now" style rant, but hell! at least it's not a Gun's 'n' Roses song...

So, since arriving here, I've been revisiting some books that I read as a younger person - things like On the Road and Generation X. These are things I loved reading at the time, but now I can hardly believe they ever meant anything to me, being as totally embedded in American landscapes as they are.

For me, though, all these writings existed before America did. On the Road existed before Route 6 was a reality - Sal Paradise could have been traveling around Timbuktu for all I was concerned. Palm Springs existed because that'’s where they lived in Generation X, New Orleans was invented so A Confederacy of Dunces could have a suitably sticky setting, and Vermont was only there because Captain Beefheart put it in a song.

Of course, when I first read On the Road, I WAS indeed on the road; but trapped with my family in one of an endless succession of muddy campsites, holding the book in one hand, pumping up my parents velour air mattress with the other, creating an imagined geography of America in my head. I was a little bit right and a little bit wrong.

But now I'm here. And I guess it's a real place. Fortunately (if somewhat embarrassingly) I had never read any Joan Didion (another writer of American places) before now, so now I'm reading Play it as it Lays and I get to really feel what she means when she's crazy evangelising about the LA and SoCal freeways. I'’ve been on those freeways too! I've seen the exits and the on-ramps, and I know that those 7-11s are actual places where I could stop and buy soda if the desire struck.

Also, it is now evident to me that California is the most hilarious place in the world - because it seems like a state that was invented in a delirious haze, ecstatic about cars and straining towards some half-arsed idea of utopia. LA to San Diego is a procession of privatised utopias separated by a sea of roadway: Disneyland, Hollywood, Scientology, Sea World, Mormon Temple, Beach, Beach, Beach. The best thing about it is that there's so much space which isn'’t really anywhere - it's the grey in-between of the freeway.

I never thought I'd like like it, but I do.

PS All this and I'm going to a Q and A with David Lynch next week!

Lyndon Hood - Leeker, Wellington

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New Hood: New Zealand Conspirators Association Praises Victoria University

If you prefer a piss-take of National's environment policy try this (stop me if you've heard this one): Shane Ardern's solution to Didymo - we should have killed the rivers immediately - hilarious, eh?

This has more wrong with it than I can be assed writing about. Not least, I didn't find anything to suggest it would actually work. I know everything bad is always the government's fault, but is that the best he can come up with?

Presumably his solution to a foot and mouth outbreak would be a nuclear strike. Rather than his leader's suggestion of not telling anyone.

Oh and : While Canterbury celebrates it's Nobel-winning visitor, Massey's exploding trouser man nets New Zealand's first Ig Nobel prize!

Lyndon Hood - Happy End, Wellington

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sorces indicate that Salient will be released by about now - they are required to return their leaked document. And, no doubt, to forgive Vic for kidnapping their magazines.

The question of whether the media is only legally allowed to tell you what They Want You To Hear will remain unresolved for the time being.

I was holding off mentioning this, but the documents 'removed' from the web were actually still somewhere. Critic had taken their article down from the archive but it was still available in their technically wizardish 'virtual critic'.

And then there's the wonders of Google's cache, where they were this morning but seem to have gone now.

Also, the ever thoughtful No Right Turn has been providing a kind of clearing house.

Celebrity media lawyer Stephen Price was on Linda Clark's show and helped clarify what Vic thought it was on about. Apparently the media do have to be able to justify it in terms of "legitimate public concern" if they break other people's confidences. This is probably news to journalists.

The risk of bullying via injunction, even by institutions which have a social duty written into their charters, remains.

Oh, and I note that the url for the Critic story had made it as far as today's Capital Times (bit sad it doesn't work anyomre), as well as the relevant pre-injunction-released facts featuring on the TV and radio news and a Bill English press release.

Update: Or maybe not. Apparently, as of the mid-afternoon, all the people who might know where the magazines actually are had gone to ground. What this means is that Vic have effectively lost the magazines they stole. DICKHEADS! UTTER GORMLESS MALICIOUS DICKHEADS! This lapse of collective memory on Vic's part was apparently cured about 5:15 by the application of two TV crews and a Dom Post cameraman. Keep an eye on the news this evening.

One Last Update: Mr Nippert has What They Didn't Want You To Read. He's allowed now. Highlights: Salient knew legal action may have been coming when the put their shit on the ASPA wire. Cheeky without being contemptuous. Also, headlines aside, they cover every option under discussion without sensationalism. And gave truckloads of time to the objection (which effectively qualify the importance of the leak) from the administration. Good journalism, frankly, if about an obscure phase of a dull issue that only students normally care about.

(Oh, and apparently the delay with getting the magazine was at least partly due to them being stored off-site.)

Now, I'm not going to link to Hamish's new post, cos he's a bit of a larrikin to. You find it yourself. If it stays there. Even without it, there's ample evidence some Vice-Chancellors still don't understand where the stable door is.

Kelly Pendergrast - vagrant, San Diego

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

As the leaders of my abandoned homeland stumble towards some kind of governmental formation, I hear a whispery sigh of relief from antipodean artists, musicians, bums, and Oliver Driver. Because, whether or not spending $500 000 to send et al's installation to Venice was A Good Idea, I am still glad that having Labour back at (or near) the helm will mean some of The Arts will continue to receive some kind of funding.

However imperfect and occasionally ridiculous New Zealand politics and policies may be, the American version is infinitely more ridiculous. I mean, really, who's the governor of California? How much do teachers get paid? How much does rent cost around here? How does the federal government handle a massive crisis?


Ok, ok, I know you know all this.

Funny thing is, though, so many of the Americans I meet (even the smart ones) tell me that, despite the badness, they still know how lucky they are to be living in America.

I mean, sure, it's definitely better, or at least easier, than living in Iraq at the moment. But I don't know if I'd consider myself lucky. There's certainly not much in the way of arts funding, that's for sure.
I tell people here that the government gave me money last year to help make my film, and they don't believe me.

Last week I attended a function at the house of an exceedingly rich patron of the arts. This woman has a garage which is actually a gallery full of esteemed contemporary Japanese photograph, and a projector in her guest bathroom that screens Metropolis while you pee. She invites art students from the university to mingle with visiting academics, listen to artist talks, and eat Mexican food and drink liquor served my innumerable waiters. She also has been known to buy artworks off the students. It all made me feel EXCEEDINGLY UNCOMFORTABLE.

Is this how things work in lieu of a government handout? Sucking up to the monied, hoping they'll take a shine to you or your work and fork out some dollars so you can pay rent? I suppose so.

Once again: while the PACE scheme and the workings of Creative New Zealand will always be contentious, at least they don't involve nodding and smiling and eating free enchiladas and drinking free imported beer.
It's a hard life in the US of Aaaaye.

Lyndon Hood - Ex-Technical Editor, Lower Hutt

Monday, October 03, 2005

[UPDATE (5:30 4 Oct): 1) The Critic story and Salient's press release seem to be gone from the web. 2) On the bright side, Keith Ng's original post is stil there, along with the story of what happened when Victoria found out about ASPA, involving a pre-expired ultimatum threatening action against all the other ASPA papers. 1) may or may not have something to do with 2). If this is negotiation, I'm sure as hell ain't breaking out the free-speech champagne.

{UPDATE UPDATE (7:30): For those of you who - still - don't know what it says, Mr Matt Nippert, who is not in New Zealand, had the forsight to save his own copy of the Critic piece here. My regular hard copy arrived in the mail this arvo. Pics, anyone?

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE (8am, 5 Oct): Or not. Nippert has a certain level of explaination. So far, the "lull in hostilities" seems to consist of the good guys caving. You know, if Vic hadn't physically abducted Salient's magazine, they could have torn out the offending pages by now.} ]

[ENDS (4:15, 5 Oct): The story more or less concludes...]

The full results for the student media awards are available on Scoop. I suspect I could have used my admin access to put this directly into Hamish's post, but that would have set an alarming precident.

Speaking of which...

Poor dears. Straight after coming second to Critic, there's this.

Victoria has and will continue to embarrass itself by trying to silence Salient. Even if they win. Particularly given the circumstances, it's just drawing about a gagillion percent extra attention onto the facts it was trying to hide.

Critic and conscience indeed.

What gets me is that their (still only interim) injuction against publication has been upheld. Never mind that the university has also taken it upon itself to enforce the order by basically stealing Salient's magazines. I can't understand how they got the injunction in the first place.

I mean, I know that if the the article were released it's not like it could be taken back. But surely before a judge does something like holding back a magazine for almost the whole of its production cycle, the complainant has to show they have a leg to stand on?

What I'm hoping is that it was because the case actually is unprecidented. That nobody has before has the combination of opportunity and gall to try to stop a media organisation publishing leaked material. I'm hoping this because that would make all this more likely to be a one-off, and because the other possiblity is that judge sees some merit in their case.

All I've seen from Vic's side was on Stuff:
[Vic spokewoman] Ms Urlich said the university was forced to take out the injunction because Salient "had documents they were not entitled to have in their possession".

"Unfortunately, we were unable to secure the return of those documents and Salient was determined to publish information from those documents."

The university had a "strong obligation" to protect the integrity of government processes.
As far as the integrity of government processes goes, I'm sure the Tertiary Education Commission can make its decision without being unduly influenced by what Salient thinks.

As for being "not entitled" to have documents: what her argument - and any argument in Vic case - must surely boil down to is that it is illegal for media to publish leaked information.

Because if ever there was a leak with a right to be published it's this one.

If it's a question of weighing public interest against damage done: we have information that is of keen personal interest to Salient's readership and some significance to the entire country - tertiary policy was an election issue, after all. What damage does the release of this information do to Victoria? It embarrasses them.

And it's not all that secret. Universities (and presumably the TEC) come under the Official Information Act, so all this stuff is in principle public information. Victoria might be expected to claim commercial sensitivity at this point, but if the did that they would be talking ass.

And if Salient shouldn't have it, that's not Salient's problem. Salient, I'm guessing, never signed any confidentiality agreements with the University. Even if it were supposed to be secret, Salient has no duty to conceal it. The person who leaked it may have done, and if they're caught they will no doubt be punished. But if it's news, and it's true, and it's important, Salient has a positive duty to run it. Leaks should be plugged at the source, not at the media level.

I'm pretty sure the above is fundimentally a freedom of expression issue.

And of course, by the time the actual case swings around everyone will know that Vic is proposing 5 to 10 per cent across the board fee increases. Because before Salient was injuncted, Salient told the Aotearoa Student Press Association a number of those magazines also ran the story. To choose a random example, Critic's version is online. It seems Vic's lawyers left this contingency out of their injunction. Someone just needs a URL and a photocopier to render the whole case moot.

The leaking of confidential documents is - at least in a real democracy - an accepted and vital part of the media process. It is one of the last defenses society has against corrupt, duplicitous or merely sneaky practise. And if the media can't use this leak, there is no leak the media can use.

Big media might do well to offer Salient support if they need it, because if this stands - if even the likehood similar injunctions remains, it will be bad for what's good about the media.

I don't think it will stand. But then, I didn't think the injunction would stand. And I didn't think TV3 would lose over who they put on their own election debate. What that judge is generally though to have been getting at was that the media, in some specific and significant circumstances, has particular obligations that the court can enforce. And kind of fair and quite satisfying it was at the time too.

What that also amounts to is the assertion that the media is not free. But we knew that already; there's plenty of stuff - defamation for example - that it's illegal to say. It also suggested that the media was actually less free than the average person, and was restricted in a new way nobody had previously thought of.

I wasn't rejoicing to hard at the time, pleased as I was in fact but not in principle. It's characteristic of the thin end of wedges that they are thin.

So given that that judge is the same chappie who is presiding over Salient's case, I worry.

In other student media news, Critic's offensive issue is now before the Censor's office. The article in question does seem to have done more of drink spiking awareness than practically anything ever, which should support the Critic crew's argument.

Anyhow, in the event that the censor finds against them - there's about three tests in the law, I forget the details - I think it's a fine and/or jail, plus - just take a moment to imagine this - everyone with a copy of Critic 23, 2005 could be charged with posessing an objectionable publication.

Those top-flight student magazines. Larikins both.