Friday, December 2, 2016

Just shut up and sing, for God's sake

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, November 30.)

Back in the 1990s I attended a rock concert on the Wellington waterfront. The headline act was Carlos Santana, who had burst onto the scene in 1970 with a string of hits that included Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman and Oyo Como Va.

Those records still sound good today. Santana fused Latin and African rhythms with West Coast acid rock, a heady mix that made his early album Abraxas a best-seller. He was a guitar god too, producing arresting solos in a tone that was uniquely his.

Alas, Santana turned out to be a one-trick pony. His Wellington concert revealed a limited repertoire that ran the full gamut from A to B, to borrow a line from Dorothy Parker. The support act, George Thorogood and the Destroyers – exponents of honest, straight-ahead, no-nonsense boogie – were much more entertaining.

I could, at a stretch, have excused Santana for being predictable, but what was unforgiveable about that night’s performance was the frequent verbal interludes in which he insisted on sharing his philosophy, for want of a better word, with his audience. His droning, meandering homilies were even more monotonous than the music.

Santana gave the impression of suffering from some sort of Dalai Lama complex. Perhaps he thought we’d all paid good money to hear his half-baked, New Age theories on how to expand our cosmic consciousness.

Well I hadn’t, and I bet most of the other people there hadn’t either. But being polite New Zealanders, we suffered in silence.

Not for the first time, I wondered about the peculiar conceit that makes rock musicians – and some actors too – imagine that we look to them for inspiration on matters of politics, religion and philosophy.

They are probably encouraged in this delusion by adoring music critics who read profound meaning and insight into even the most banal song lyrics. Bob Dylan, who almost single-handedly intellectualised rock music, has a lot to answer for – although to give him his due, to my knowledge Dylan has generally avoided the trap of delivering sermons to his fans. On the one occasion that I saw him in concert he barely spoke at all.

Some other rock stars, regrettably, seem convinced that the world is vitally interested in their views on political issues; that we lack the gumption to think for ourselves and must wait for their guidance. Step right up, Bono – a man whose name has become synonymous with pompous sanctimony.

John Lennon was another who made the mistake of thinking that being a pop star conferred some sort of moral authority on him. Lennon became a bore from the moment he began using his music to deliver lectures about peace and love.

What made it worse was the sheer hypocrisy. Like many of his ilk, Lennon found it easier to sing about love – as in his puerile hit Imagine – than to demonstrate it in his personal life.

In her 2005 book John, Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, portrayed the former Beatle as cruel and indifferent to her and their son Julian.   She recalled Julian saying: “Dad’s always telling people to love each other, but how come he doesn’t love me?”

The truth, of course, is that most rock and pop musicians are not moral exemplars. Neither do they have any more political or spiritual insight than you or I. But their celebrity status deludes them – and many of their gullible, star-struck fans – into thinking they’re oracles. The media are complicit in this, reporting celebrities’ political views as if they carry special weight.

Politicians have become adept at turning this to their advantage. Just look at the way Hillary Clinton co-opted Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Madonna and others in her unsuccessful bid for the White House.

These stars exploit their appeal as singers and musicians in an attempt to exercise influence in a totally unrelated field. This is a misuse of their power, and I lose respect both for the stars and the politicians who indulge in it.

The absurdity becomes evident when you imagine the roles being reversed. Would Springsteen invite Clinton to sing with him? I doubt it. To put it another way, Springsteen has about as much credibility as a political commentator as Clinton would have as a vocalist.

We sometimes see the same thing happening here, albeit on a much more modest scale. The actor Sam Neill and the musicians Don McGlashan and Chris Knox have all thrown their weight behind the Labour Party in past election campaigns.

Usually it’s the left of the political spectrum that benefits (if that’s the right word) from such celebrity endorsements, but there are exceptions. The psychologically unstable rapper Kanye West recently announced during a concert that he would have voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election, had he bothered to vote at all.

For this he was booed, as he deserved to be – not because he supported Trump, but because he assumed his fans were interested in his politics.

In hindsight, we should have booed the tedious Carlos Santana too.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trumpophobes in the media need to get over it

(First published in The Dominion Post, November 25).

It’s now more than two weeks since Donald Trump became US President-elect, and I’m wondering when the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (to use a biblical metaphor) is going to stop.

Many commentators in the media, both here and in the US, just don’t seem to get it.

Yes, Trump is a thoroughly unappealing man, but the political narrative was rewritten on November 8. There was a sudden change of scriptwriter. The world has moved on and whether we like it or not, we’d better get used to it.

Unfortunately the US media seem determined to compound the mistake they made during the election campaign, when they were so blinded by their virtuous metropolitan liberalism that they failed to see what was going on around them.

Now, rather than admitting they gravely misread the public mood, they’re further undermining their credibility by attacking American voters for supporting the wrong candidate.

You’d think, when traditional media are struggling for survival in the face of disruptive digital technology, that they would do everything in their power to make themselves more relevant to the lives of ordinary people. Instead they seem intent on accentuating the perception that they are remote and disconnected.

Earlier this week I read a report in the Washington Post – one of the most brazenly biased of the major American papers – that purported to be an account of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s attendance at the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, where he was pompously lectured from the stage at the end of the show.

The Post’s story was heavily coloured by the reporter’s own opinions and freighted with questionable assumptions. It opened with the sentence: “Mike Pence was elected vice-president by a coalition of mostly white voters nostalgic for what they thought of as the good old days in America and galvanised by promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.”

There you have it, right there – the same elitist disdain that was evident in Hillary Clinton’s ill-advised dismissal of Trump supporters as “deplorables”.

Well, even deplorables have a vote, as Clinton discovered. Trump, whatever his shortcomings, pitched his rhetoric directly at the large number of American voters who felt forgotten by the political establishment.

There seems little doubt that these voters felt as poorly served by the news media as they were by mainstream politicians. Trump capitalised on that too.

But rather than step back and critically assess their own performance, the US media elite insist it was the electorate that got it wrong.

There’s a fierce antagonism toward “uneducated” voters who apparently don’t know what’s good for them. This was also evident in the recent rant by the British celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, who suggested that Britain and America are now uninhabitable following the Brexit vote and the presidential election, and that New Zealand suddenly looks a highly desirable bolthole.

Dawkins explicitly attacked “anti-intellectual” voters. He was just one step away from arguing that plebs shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all.

The irony is that Dawkins and his ilk smugly think of themselves as liberal. In fact their bitterness at the outcome of the election reveals them as deeply intolerant of dissenting opinions – the antithesis of liberalism.

Even now, the US media seem to have learned nothing from the election result. The playwright Arthur Miller’s famous observation that a good newspaper was a nation talking to itself no longer seems to apply. Like the politicians, American journalists have become remote from the people they purportedly serve.

The Washington Post article went on to say that Pence’s attendance at Hamilton – written by a Puerto Rican and starring a multiracial cast – brought him face-to-face with a symbol of “the new America”. It might have been truer to say that like it or not, right now Pence himself is a symbol of the new America, if only the myopic reporter could see it.

Admittedly, the world was dazed by the speed with which the political ground shifted under everyone’s feet with Trump’s election. If political events were measured on the Richter scale, it would have been at least an 8.

But Trumpophobes need to get over it. They need to move beyond anger and denial to acceptance.
A week after Trump’s election, I read a hand-wringing lament by a left-wing New Zealand commentator. What struck me was how pointless and irrelevant it suddenly seemed.

The world had moved on and left the writer stranded on an island of her own outrage. She was shouting "Help!", but the passing ship had already vanished over the horizon.

Friday, November 18, 2016

New Zealand: a bolthole for disillusioned liberals?

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, November 16.)

I see Richard Dawkins, celebrated scientist, atheist and author of The God Delusion, is talking up New Zealand as a possible bolthole for disillusioned liberal refugees from the northern hemisphere.

Dawkins thinks our little country suddenly looks very attractive following Britain’s exit from the European Union and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

He suggests New Zealand should seize the opportunity to lure great scientific and artistic minds from America and Britain – “talented, creative people desperate to escape the redneck bigotry of their home countries”.

I’m not entirely sure we should be flattered by Dawkins’ attention. He’s the personification of what is pretentiously termed a “public intellectual” – a towering figure to whom we lesser beings are supposed to look for enlightenment and moral guidance.

But I note that his intellect doesn’t stop him from resorting to simplistic, undergraduate name-calling. What he calls “redneck bigotry”, others would call democracy: ordinary people exercising their right to choose who will govern them.

Most of us accept the outcome of democratic votes even if we don’t always like it. But when voters make choices that people like Dawkins don’t approve of, their arrogance and intolerance is exposed for all to see.

He’s angry that “anti-intellectual voters” should have been allowed to wreak “catastrophe” in the world’s two largest English-speaking democracies. The unmistakeable sub-text here is that in the ideal political system, voting rights would be restricted to the right-thinking intellectual elite. People like Dawkins, in other words.

But never mind – he finds hope of redemption in our remote corner of the Pacific.

Dawkins regards New Zealand as a “deeply civilised” country that cares about the future of the planet, and suggests we should promote ourselves as the Athens of the modern world. Cue visions of a glorious, golden new realm where Trump would become just a nightmarish memory.

We’re on other people’s radar screens too. US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg told the New York Times in July that she couldn’t contemplate America under a President Trump, adding with a rueful smile: “Now it’s time for us to move to New Zealand”.

The actor Billy Crystal is another who visualises New Zealand as a potential sanctuary. Asked for his reaction to Trump’s success on the campaign trail back in April, Crystal said he might consider buying a “nice little ranch” here.  

Of course they would be welcome, but it all suggests a rather idealised vision of New Zealand – one far removed from the reality of a country blighted by some of the same social and economic ills, albeit on a lesser scale, that afflict America and Britain. 

Still, the attention of such luminaries reminds us that we inhabit a very desirable little haven, safely distanced from the world’s pressure points and weeping sores.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Dawkins’ glowing assessment of New Zealand is that it conflicts sharply with the image we have of ourselves.

Day after day the media bombard us with gloomy reminders of all the things we imagine are wrong in God’s Own Country. The picture is of a nation permanently mired in crisis.

There’s a housing crisis and an inequality crisis. The health sector is struggling to cope, our rivers are shamefully polluted and our major cities need huge infrastructural investment.

Our prisons are bulging and we’re not doing anything meaningful to arrest climate change. Our native birds are in danger of extinction. The Maori language is dying and there’s a booze outlet on every corner. Children are going to school hungry and there’s an epidemic of morbid obesity.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Listen to Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report any day and you’re likely to hear a litany of grievances from agenda-pushers and interest groups clamouring for government action (which invariably means money) to ease their grievances.

If you’re easily taken in by alarmist propaganda (and many Morning Report listeners are, judging by the anxious emails they send in to the programme), you could easily get the impression that New Zealand is a country perpetually teetering on the brink of collapse.

It’s both ironic and amusing that it should take an anti-establishment figure like Dawkins, who's generally regarded as a hero of the Left because of his fierce denunciation of religion, to put things in perspective by reminding us how blessed we seem in the eyes of others. 

His sunny assessment is sharply at odds with that of the glass-half-empty New Zealand Left, but it lines up with other views. Only two weeks ago New Zealand topped the Legatum Institute’s worldwide prosperity index, which takes into account not only economic factors but also education, health, personal freedom and the environment. 

We scored especially highly for the strength of our society - a rating that could only have been enhanced by the way communities reacted to this week's earthquakes. 

Sure, there’s always a plethora of things we could be doing a lot better. But we have one of the world’s most stable democracies and we enjoy freedoms and a standard of living that much of the world’s population can only dream of.

We are a civilised, liberal and tolerant society. Dawkins got that bit right – although, speaking personally, I’m not sure our tolerance should extend to pompous, condescending intellectuals who don’t bother to conceal their disdain for people who disagree with them.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It's their country

(First published in The Dominion Post, November 11.)

Well, at least Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected. You have to take whatever positives you can get out of the US election result.

Many of Clinton’s supporters seemed to think she deserved to win the contest just because it would make her the first woman president. Sorry, but that’s hardly justification for putting her in the White House.

There will be other female candidates, ideally with fewer skeletons in their closets.

Having said that, I probably would have held my nose and voted for Clinton if I were an American citizen, simply because she seemed marginally the less ghastly of the two options.

But now we’re stuck with President Trump, and the most we can hope for is that somehow, the American polity will find a way of turning him into someone worthy of the most powerful office in the world.

It will be a challenge, but don’t rule it out.

America’s weirdness and excess tend to dominate our perceptions of the country, but we should have faith in the basic decency of its people. As Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else”.

I also believe that Americans are fundamentally resilient and optimistic. That’s one of the keys to their economic success.

My wife and I travelled widely in the US during and after the global financial crisis, which knocked the stuffing out of the US economy, and saw no sign that Americans were paralysed or demoralised. They just got on with things.

Similarly, although many Americans might be temporarily stunned by Trump’s election, they will get back on their feet and carry on. That’s what they do.

And who knows? Maybe Trump will undergo a transformation once the mantle of the presidency settles on his shoulders.

The immense responsibility that goes with the office, the weight of history behind it and the great legacy of presidents such as Abe Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, may prevail over his vulgar, hucksterish impulses.

People are capable of rising to the occasion, after all. It’s the reverse of the Peter Principle, which states that people rise to their level of incompetence.

Already, a more moderate, conciliatory Trump has emerged. He felt magnanimous enough in victory to speak kindly of Clinton, although one suspects it would have been a very different story had he lost.

President Obama, similarly, changed gear overnight from attack dog to statesman, extending an olive branch to Trump and offering to do whatever he could to ensure a seamless handover of power.

Perhaps both men understood that the presidency, and the need to maintain stability for the benefit of their fellow Americans, was bigger than either of them.

Perhaps too, as has been suggested, Trump deliberately presented himself as an unreconstructed bogan on the campaign trail just to exploit voter resentment against the political elites, and that he always meant to tone things down if he won. We shall see.

In the meantime, we’re left to scratch our heads over the perversity of the American political system.
This manifested itself in two ways. The first mystery is how a country as enormously rich in human capital could throw up (double meaning intended) two such deeply flawed candidates.

The US is due for a serious national conversation on the shortcomings of the selection process. Some suggest that the reason good people don’t put themselves forward is that the price they would have to pay – the relentless media scrutiny, the character assassination, the viciousness of social media – is just too high.

While they’re about it, perhaps the Americans should also be asking hard questions about the increasing isolation of the professional political class from ordinary working stiffs, just as people are doing in other countries.

The second issue is that the candidate who wins the most votes – in this case, Clinton – can still finish second.

No electoral system delivers results that perfectly mirror the popular vote, but America’s electoral colleges produce more distorted outcomes than most.

Trump got fewer votes than Clinton, yet won 279 of the crucial electoral college seats to her 228. You can imagine the fury of the Trumpeteers if it were the other way around.

One final thought. It seems that virtually every New Zealander has a firm opinion on American politics.  I include myself.

As I wrote in my recent book A Road Tour of American Song Titles, it’s remarkable that so many non-Americans know what’s best for America. But ultimately it’s their country, and their right to conduct their affairs in their own way.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The rise and rise of control-freak government

(This is a slightly extended version of a column first published in The Dominion Post, October 28.)

The ancient Greeks left us several words describing various forms of government: democracy, autocracy and oligarchy, to give just three examples.

But there was one omission, probably because it describes a type of administration that the Greeks never envisaged. For want of a better term, I’ll call it control-freak government.

This is a form of government in which policy-makers, politicians and bureaucrats constantly devise new ways of controlling our behaviour on the pretext that they have to protect us from our own foolishness. Perhaps we could call it a bullyocracy.

Control-freak government is based on the supposition that we’re all basically incapable of making our own responsible decisions. We need paternalistic minders and a suffocating regulatory regime to stop us from getting into trouble.

This busybody culture pervades our lives slowly and insidiously, eventually reaching the point where we become so accustomed to it that we assume it’s the natural order of things and accept restrictions on what we can do without a murmur of complaint.

In the meantime it restricts individual autonomy, erodes personal responsibility and piles needless extra costs on society.

One tiny example: Small-scale cheesemaker Biddy Fraser-Davies recently protested that at least half the $40,000 annual income from her four jersey cows gets swallowed up by government fees.

Fraser-Davies, who farms near Eketahuna, has been hounded for years by food safety officers from the Ministry for Primary Industries. This, incidentally, is the same government department that turns a blind eye to the large-scale, illegal dumping of fish.

Elderly women (Fraser-Davies is 74) are clearly a much more tempting target than big, hairy fishing companies . She says she was recently billed $10,000 for testing 10 of her cheeses and calculates the cost comes to $240 per kilo.

On radio recently, she recalled that after she featured on Country Calendar in 2009, the Food Safety Authority pounced within minutes because it had no record of her having filed a risk management plan. I suppose we should be impressed by the authority’s 24/7 vigilance (it was a Saturday night, after all), but this suggests an almost obsessive level of control-freakery. 

To my knowledge no one ever fell sick or died from eating Fraser-Davies’ cheeses, unless she’s buried the bodies somewhere on her farm.  Perhaps the MPI should send some men to start digging the place up.

To her credit, she refuses to be cowed by the public-sector commissars. This sets her apart from most timid New Zealand business owners, who keep their heads down and meekly comply. Presumably, getting offside with the enforcers is more trouble than it’s worth. 

The MPI justifies its cheese-testing regime because there’s a theoretical risk of harmful pathogens. Eliminating risk can be used to justify all manner of bureaucratic meddling. It’s all part of the grand mission to create a perfect world where Nanny State keeps us all safe.

A priceless example was the edict that went out years ago forbidding brass bands from playing on the backs of trucks. I must have missed the news reports about hapless tuba players toppling from truck decks and being crushed under the wheels while playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in Christmas parades.

Perhaps I also missed hearing the anguished cries of builders and roofers plummeting from house rooftops. There must have been an epidemic of such deaths to justify the requirement that safety scaffolding now be erected around the roofs of houses under construction.

I'm told even chimney sweepers are now saying they can’t work without protective scaffolding, which can bump up the cost of the job from $200 to $1000.

It goes without saying there’s an element of risk in many undertakings. The crucial consideration should surely be whether the action taken to minimise risk is proportionate – or, to put it another way, whether the cost of trying to eliminate risk far outweighs any possible benefit.

Compulsory scaffolding around rooftops may have averted a few broken limbs, but at what cost to house owners and home buyers?

The police, too, have been captured by a control-freak mentality. Just look at their heavy-handed enforcement of liquor controls.

Wellington Police have an “alcohol harm reduction officer” (how Big Brother is that?) who gives the impression of being on a moral crusade. And while police numbers are stretched and burglars are able to strike with apparent impunity, there always seem to be enough officers to operate drink-drive checkpoints in the hope of nabbing some harmless mug who’s unwittingly had one glass of sauvignon blanc too many.

It’s another case of low-hanging fruit. Burglars are hard to catch; women on the way home from bowls, not so much.

Speaking of which, I wrote a column in this space roughly a year ago criticising the lower drink-drive limits introduced in 2014, which I predicted would catch out responsible, otherwise law-abiding people while hard-core recidivist drunk drivers would continue to behave as they always had.

I also said I would quite likely get pinged myself, since the new limits had made it much harder to judge when you were at risk of breaking the law.

My column attracted a pompous response from an overpaid poo-bah in the New Zealand Transport Agency. He wrote that there was no such thing as safe drink-driving, thus confirming what I’d suspected: that the objective of the law change was to deter us from drinking altogether.

But here’s the thing: road deaths have increased since drink-drive limits were lowered, from 293 in 2014 to 319 in 2015 and 263 so far this year compared with 253 at this time last year.

It’s a crude measure, admittedly, but it reminds us of what the economist Milton Friedman said about the folly of judging things by their intentions rather than their results.

Of course a few more country pubs have gone out of business in the meantime, because the people who previously socialised in them are terrified of having one too many and getting caught.

But why should the city-dwelling bureaucrats worry?  They never drank in them anyway. And if they go one over the limit at a fashionable Thorndon cafĂ©, they can just call a cab. Theirs is a different world from the one inhabited by the people whose lives they seek to control.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ross Bremner and the great mental health experiment

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, October 19).

The American economist Milton Friedman once said it was a great mistake to judge things by their intentions rather than their results. I was reminded of that quote when I read about the tragic series of murders perpetrated by the Waikato man Ross Bremner.

Bremner, you may recall, stabbed his mother to death and left his father critically wounded. He then drove to a remote settlement on Kawhia Harbour where he killed a harmless and helpless elderly couple, apparently at random, before taking his own life.

Obviously, Bremner was very seriously disturbed. He had been treated for schizophrenia at Waikato Hospital. His mother had called mental health services for help only two weeks before she died at his hands.

People who knew Bremner, including a neighbour who had worked in mental health, were worried about what he might do.

Presumably a coroner will investigate the circumstances of the four deaths.  If there was a failure of the system, as seems pretty clear, the people responsible must be held accountable.

In the meantime, we are entitled to ask some questions, such as: why was a man as disturbed as Bremner not in care, for his own wellbeing as well as the safety of others?

That brings me back to Friedman’s quote.  Until the 1980s, mentally ill people in New Zealand were mostly looked after in hospitals. Older readers will remember the names of these institutions: Tokanui, Sunnyside, Lake Alice, Porirua and Kingseat, to name a few.

They tended to be drab, depressing places where patients were managed rather than treated. I know this because my brother-in-law, who was schizophrenic, spent years in Porirua. I also once had an opportunity to observe things from the inside when mental health nurses went on strike and I responded to a call for volunteers to help.

It was an imperfect system, but patients had a roof over their heads, three meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in. They had companionship and nurses to ensure they took their medication. Their families didn’t have to fret constantly about whether they were okay.

Perhaps just as important, the mentally ill were sheltered from the stressful world outside the gates. The word asylum, after all, means a place of shelter and protection.

The nurses and orderlies seemed dedicated and caring and did the best they could in less than ideal circumstances. They were certainly not the stereotype sadists personified by the vindictive Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

But those hospitals no longer exist. Well-meaning reformers decided they were inhumane. Mentally ill people deserved to live independent lives in the community.

This suited the government bean-counters, because it relieved the state of the cost of maintaining all those big institutions with their expansive grounds and endless maintenance demands.

Closing them down and flogging them off also fitted the ideology of the time, which favoured cutting back the state sector. “Community care” was a convenient excuse to spend less on mental health – a perfect confluence of touchy-feely idealism and hard-headed fiscal management.

The transition happened with indecent haste and there were a lot of casualties. As in so many things, we lurched abruptly from one extreme to another. And we still haven’t got it right, as the recent events in the Waikato show.

The reforms worked for some patients, but many ended up living in squalid flats and boarding houses where they were left to fend for themselves. The least fortunate ended up on the streets.

In theory, someone was still supposed to make sure that those living on their own looked after themselves and took their medication. In practice, it doesn’t seem to have worked like that.

Bureaucrats and politicians love to waffle about providing “wrap-around support” for vulnerable people but it’s more preached than practised. Under the mantra of “community care”, the state was able to wash its hands of day-to-day responsibility for the mentally ill while maintaining the pretence that they were living more rewarding, fulfilling lives. 

I know that when my brother-in-law was living independently, he was essentially left to himself. When there was a problem, it was almost impossible to find anyone in “the system” who would take responsibility or even provide information to the family.

Mental health care became highly politicised. The Privacy Act was used not only to keep patients’ families in the dark, but as a shield to prevent scrutiny of the sector and to disguise its failings. 

I remember being angrily heckled by mental health professionals at a conference where I spoke as a journalist about the importance of transparency in the sector. At the time there had been several violent deaths caused by rigid adherence to privacy codes that prevented people from being told about potentially dangerous patients living in the community.

As recent events have reminded us, not all the casualties of the reforms were patients. They included ageing parents who felt forced to provide a home for unstable and often unmanageable adult children. It seems Ross Bremner’s hapless parents fell into this category.

What a dismal way to spend the last years of your life, desperately trying to care for unpredictable and potentially dangerous offspring and unable to get professional help when it was most needed.

Community care remains a good idea in principle. But if judged on its results rather than its intent, it has been, at best, a costly experiment in human terms. The people who died at Ross Bremner’s hands are the latest evidence of that. 

Is Lowell Goddard a victim of post-colonial prejudice?

I wouldn't profess to have a clue what the truth is behind the controversy over Dame Lowell Goddard in Britain, but one thing I do know is that the English don't like having to defer to colonials. In their eyes this is a reversal of the natural order of things.

Rupert Murdoch discovered this when he bought The Times. The English media never forgave the Aussie upstart for taking over one of their most illustrious institutions. Never mind that Murdoch outwitted the unions that had been rorting Fleet Street proprietors for decades, and by doing so, dragged the British newspaper industry into the 20th century.

On another level, you can see this English resentment of colonial success reflected in the way choleric British rugby hacks like Stephen Jones rage over the fact that we routinely humiliate them at the sport they invented. (He was at it again only this week.) 

The English still carry a lot of nationalistic baggage dating from their glory days as a great imperial power, and I can't help wondering whether Goddard is, at least to some extent, a victim of the Poms' unwillingness to accept a New Zealander sitting in judgement on them. 

The snide Times headline 'Disaster from Down Under' was telling. The sub-text was that no good was ever likely to come from hiring someone from a godforsaken colonial outpost to sit in judgment on her cultural superiors. Goddard may have been on a hiding to nothing from the outset.