Outrageous misfortune(s)

May 21, 2010

On occasions I am gobsmacked by the awful things that happen in the world. There’s an outrage every day that can be upsetting, or make me angry; but of course I don’t just wander around in a slack-jaw daze. For the most part, I am able to moderate my outrage with a quick “Fuck you,” when some prick comes on the TV news to tell me how much better off I am now that GST is at 15 per cent and my rent’s gone up.

We tend to shield ourselves from “the horror, the horror”; then again, most of the horrible things don’t come to our attention. The news self-censors to ensure that we don’t get too depressed and turn on our masters.

Those awful things that do come to our attention are now so commonplace we are almost psychologically immune. When was the last time you were angered by a new wave of senseless killing in Baghdad, Kabul or Peshawar? Do you really care if the “red shirts” win or lose?

With this post I want to introduce a new category “outrageous misfortune”. A summary reminder that despite our ability for magical thinking there’s “shit happening” that we should be conscious of. Stuff that reminds us that there’s still a long way to go to make this lump of rock a really “wonderful world”.

Campbell quits amid gay sex club claims

A New South Wales government minister has been forced to resign his portfolio after a Sydney TV station revealed that the married man was visiting gay sex-on-premises venues.

That of course is not a crime in sexually-liberal Sydney, but David Campbell drove himself to the venue in his ministerial car. “Outrageous misfortune” indeed.

Channel Seven justifies its surveillance of Mr Campbell because he was seen as a “family values” politician. The serious implication here is that somehow family values are incompatible with being gay. Campbell was “accused” of visiting the gay club as if it was some sort of crime. It’s not illegal to be gay (even a closeted married gay)  in NSW; but the fucked up holier-than-thou moral police in the media sense blood in the water around state politics and so Mr Campbell is just meat to them.

He wasn’t a very competent minister and the Labor government in NSW is an electoral stinker, but outing Campbell in this cruel way is really not part of the game.

Emirati woman reports gang rape, hit with legal sex charge

We are no longer shocked by stories of woman being victimised and abused in Islamic countries, but we should not lose sight of the issue just because it is no longer unusual.

This is a particularly awful case. A young woman pack-raped in the backseat of a car. She is then charged with “sex out of wedlock”. The young woman had the outrageous misfortune to be born female in a disgustingly patriarchal society dominated by a fundamentalist clerical elite. However, we won’t be seeing any “Operation Emirati Freedom” anytime soon. This religious backwater is a glutton’s haven of oil reserves and a strong ally of The Great Satan.

Gay couple in Malawi sentenced to 14 years

Two young men expressing their love for each other. That’s OK right? Unless you’re a nasty bigoted God-botherer you should not have a problem with same-sex “relations”. This is the 21st century after all.

Apparently not in Malawi (nor in many other countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia).

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, and Steven Monjeza, 26 were convicted of unnatural acts and gross indecency under laws dating from the colonial era. That last bit is the most worrying. The hangover of repressive laws from the colonial period that are still used to persecute locals.

Tiwonge and Steven had recently been through an informal “engagement” ceremony. They had the outrageous misfortune to be gay in a nation that won’t tolerate homosexuality. 14 years in jail is as good as a death sentence for these two young men.

One bright spark in this outrage though; Amnesty International is going to adopt the boys as prisoners of conscience and campaign for their release.


Flying Air New Zealand? Bollocks!

May 15, 2010

Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe is signing a giant chuckle all the way to the check-in counter.

Now that several media organisations have piled on to ‘report’ the airline’s new marketing campaign as is if was really ‘news’, Fyfe can have his crumby little biscuit and eat it too.

How is it newsworthy that an executive (advised by an agency creative) launches an advert taking aim at a magazine editor for criticising his business? And really, the criticism reads more like the whinging of a woman accustomed to travelling first or business class, most probably at someone else’s expense; suddenly thrust in among the plebs at the back of the plane:

The public can rightly ask: is Air New Zealand on a path to become a mostly budget airline, and will that come at the expense of the quality service, superior food and wine, safety and courtesy that it offers at the high-margin non-budget end of its business?

[Turbulence ahead, The Listener 15 May, 2010]

Superior food and wine? Please, most airline food is totally unpalatable and the drink offerings from the budget bin.

How many people even read Pamela Stirling’s editorials in The Listener anyway? I gave up  recently after reading one that was an ugly riff on the “I’m not a racist, but…” theme. You know, Chinese are stealing “our” dairy industry and that sort of thing.

In this debate, New Zealanders must ensure their objections are not simply racism in another guise. Would we have the same reaction if the entrepreneurs were Australians? Well, quite possibly, yes, if the proposal was identical.

[Selling the farm: Should we tell the Chinese to get off the grass?, The Listener, 10 April, 2010]

Who cares what Ms Stirling thinks about anything really.

I bet Rob Fyfe doesn’t give a flying proverbial. Air New Zealand just saw a marketing opportunity; pitched a clever little viral campaign and are now quite happy that it has been legitimised as a news story by TV One and the NZ Herald.

Fyfe's loony grimace scares babies

And look at Fyfe in the video, he’s roaring mad (in the insane way).

Let’s just recap some journalism 101 principles here:

News has to have a ‘Who cares’ factor. So really who cares about Air New Zealand having a pretend bust-up with The Listener?

News has to be something of interest to the public. Where’s the public interest in this story; it’s fake news. It’s a media advertising campaign dressed up as a spat between the company and the editor.

There is no public interest here.

News needs to have news values. Conflict’s a good one, so I guess the manufactured conflict (the theme of the Air New Zealand advertising spot) fooled some journos and news editors into thinking they were dealing with a real issue here.

The only thing this whole farce has got going for it is that once again we get to see Rob Fyfe acting badly, showing off and grimacing like a hyena on acid.

Not pretty, not funny, not news.

Bollocks, anyone?


A singer must die – sometimes; or at least leave the band

May 12, 2010

We have a Canadian colleague (and now friend) staying at Chez WhiteHirst this week and she brought with her the sad news that Steven Page has left the Bare Naked Ladies.

I know sometimes news travels slowly and I seriously thought this was something that just happened, but no; Google tells me it occurred in February 2009.

That says more about my interest in fandom than I’d like.

However, MC also went to JB and bought Moac and me a copy of the “new” Bare Naked Ladies CD, All in good time, which features a track (You run away) in which Ed laments the betrayal of a friend. It seems to refer to Page.

Where's Mr Page? Exit stage right.

The speculation when Page left BNL was that it had something to do with his cocaine bust in 2008.

Whatever the cause it seems that both Page and the band have moved on. All in good time is a pretty good BNL CD, the vocals and arrangements are similar, but perhaps without the band’s famous sense of fun, except on one or two tracks.

Page has an album out too; a collaboration with a funky and contemporary group of classical musicians called Art of Time Ensemble.

Page’s record with the ensemble is a series of covers, including this classic, ‘A singer must die’, from Leonard Cohen.

I really like ‘You run away’ and the first time I heard it – in the car on the way to work – I had to wipe away a nostalgic tear. I love BNL and I like Steve Page too, I will be going out to get A singer must die later today.

And, I would argue that this is still martini music. Rock for grown-ups to be enjoyed in a cool bar, or even at home. But remember, it’s not the drinking, it’s how we drink and I would be careful with the martinis here. Too many and you could get all maudlin and pine for the past. Tears before bedtime, not good.


What part of the word “collide” don’t you understand?

May 11, 2010

Not before time the New Zealand government has begun to ask politely if the Japanese government would mind terribly sharing some information about its case against Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune.

Captain Bethune has been in a Tokyo jail for some weeks now and there is no indication that charges will be laid soon, or that he will actually receive any real justice while incarcerated.

Prime Minister John Key announced this week that he is seeking more information from Japan about the incident that led to the sinking of Bethune’s ship the Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean in January.

There was a collision and that is clear from the video footage of the incident, but what is in dispute (in a legal sense) is which vessel was responsible.

On the TVNZ news last night [8pm TVNZ 7 bulletin] it was reported like this by Guyon Espiner:

The Ady Gil collided with a Japanese whaling ship, the Shonan Maru.

That’s a slight paraphrase, but the simple subject-verb-object construction of this sentence is absolutely loaded with meaning.

The implication is that the Ady Gil hit or ran into the whaling vessel.

If this was the case we might expect the nose of the Ady Gil to be crumpled in the fashion that a car colliding head on with the side of another car will have a crumpled nose and the second (object car) will have dents in the side of it.

But the nose of the Ady Gil was sheared right off. A simple understanding of the laws of physics would suggest that for this to happen the impact would have to be to the side of the vessel, not directly front on.

The only way that this could happen would be if the Japanese vessel in fact collided with the Ady Gil.

This simple reversal of subject-verb-object changes the picture immediately and irrevocably.

The  Shonan Maru collided with the Ady Gil.

In fact, the video footage suggests that the Shonan Maru ran right over the top of Captain Bethune’s ship.

There’s a simple lesson here for journalists and journalism students.

Writing in simple subject-verb-object sentences is the right way to do it. It makes the meaning very clear, but if you get it arse-backwards as Guyon Espiner did in his report, the meaning changes.

Active voice suggests that the subject does the action [verb] to the object. In this example the reversal of subject-verb-object distorts the story in a bad, bad way.

As the caption on the Youtube video puts it using a slightly different construction:

“Ady Gil rammed by Shonan Maru”

This keeps Ady Gil as the subject, but the choice of verb clearly implies culpability lies with the Shonan Maru. This is an acceptable alternative because the verb clause “rammed by” makes it clear who was at fault.


Is the magazine industry falling over too?

May 6, 2010

This week I was invited to give a presentation to the staff of NZ Doctor magazine and a couple of its sister publications. I was asked to reflect on the state of the magazine industry and the future of news and journalism.

The slideshow is available for download, but today a story about the potential sale or closure of Newsweek brings the issue into stark relief.

According to news reports Newsweek is losing money fast and if a buyer is not found soon, it may close, but perhaps it’s not the only title to be facing an uncertain future.

I recently got an email from the publisher Conde Nast offering me heavily discounted subscriptions to most of its magazine titles. Unfortunately, it seems that because I live in New Zealand I can’t take advantage of this bargain.

Wired for $US 10 and The New Yorker for $40, a delight for magazine readers. But, why would Conde Nast do this? I can only think it’s because the magazines are not doing well and they want to shore up circulation figures to shill the advertisers.

News stand sales of magazines are also falling, around 7 per cent last year in Australia and by even more in the United States.

1. Cosmopolitan – 1,616,908 (down 7.8 percent)

2. People – 1,319,350 (down 12.77 percent)

3. Woman’s World – 1,175,550 (down 8.31 percent)

4. First – 1,066,167 (down 9.29 percent)

5. Us Weekly – 843,479 (down 2.98 percent)

6. In Touch Weekly – 745,123 (down 17.67 percent)

7. O, the Oprah Magazine – 693,054 (down 5.58 percent)

8. Family Circle – 673,286 (down 22.55 percent)

9. In Style – 625,589 (down 20.13 percent)

10. Star – 601,115 (down 14.29 percent)

Industry types are saying that the slump in advertising revenues that dogged news and magazine publishers in 2009 might now be over and that sales are trending up. Figures seem to be still reasonable with the top four US titles all still selling over 1 million copies, but the percentage drops are huge for some.

Perhaps there’s not many real magazine buffs out there anymore, but I for one will not be curling up in bed with an iPad anytime soon. I like to read a magazine and to do the puzzles with a pencil.


Martini Music: A funky jazz comparison

May 2, 2010

My dream gig this week would be Sharon Jones with Hollie Smith. The big question: Who would headline?

If you’re reading this outside New Zealand you might not know Hollie Smith, but if you’re a fan of Jones and the Dap-Kings you will like the Kiwi singer too.

Smith’s voice has a deeper bass note and her music is not quite in the same danceable be-bop/funky groove as Sharon Jones, but the jazz-blues roots are there and so is the lyrical and musical weight.

They are modern divas of soul and both have new-ish albums out (as of Feb/March 2010).

Smith’s Humour and the misfortune of others is a hard-hitting mix of ballads and jazz-influenced rock-blues  that move the soul and lift the spirits, despite being written to express Smith’s emotional roller-coaster existence through 2008-2009. The lead track and first single is “Mamma”.

The stand-out track for me is “Let me go”, it has a soul choir that wouldn’t be out of place in a Memphis tabernacle.

Jones and the Dap-Kings are based in Brooklyn, but they too have some bluesy roots and have got the funk-soul thing down to a fine art on I learned the hard way, their fourth studio album.

And they’d bring the house down live.

Jones is super cool, check out this interview from South by South West earlier this year.

There’s a 30 year age gap between Jones and Smith (alias Smith & Jones), but I’m sure they would get on and certainly they’d fill the stage and the auditorium if they were to gig together in New Zealand.

If you’re a promoter, get this double bill together and give Kiwi audiences a real musical treat.


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