Monday, July 28, 2008

Surrendering to the wisdom of age

(First published Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, July 23)

There’s a well-known quote that goes: “A man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart, but a man who is still a socialist at 40 has no brain”.

I’ve seen the statement, or variations of it, attributed to Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, the French politician Aristide Briand, CIA director William Casey, US president Woodrow Wilson, the French statesman Georges Clemenceau and Count Otto Von Bismarck (all men, which perhaps explains why the quote seems to assume that only blokes have political thoughts).

But never mind who originally said it. What’s interesting is the proposition that as people grow older their perception of the world changes, and with it their insights. Youthful idealism is gradually supplanted by an appreciation of life’s complexities that leads them away from reliance on simplistic solutions, such as the socialist dream of the benign but all-powerful state (which history has proved to be a contradiction in terms) that fixes every problem and remedies every injustice.

Stephen Franks, the former ACT MP, calls it being “mugged by reality”. He’s one of a number of people I know who started out on the left of politics and ended up on the other side. An idealistic young Labour Party member at Victoria University, he remembers having political arguments with his conservative father (who doesn’t?). But his blinkers were removed on a trip to China in the mid-1970s.

He went there intending to live on a commune and saw at first hand the repression and hardship imposed by Maoist communism. When he met the famous New Zealand expatriate Rewi Alley in Beijing, he saw soldiers stationed outside Alley’s house and realised with a shock that they weren’t there to protect him – they were making sure he didn’t go anywhere. That marked the start of a radical political conversion that saw Stephen (now the National Party candidate for Wellington Central) become a champion of free enterprise and hands-off government.

There are many others like him, such as the former Labour cabinet minister Michael Bassett. Originally one of the radical young intellectuals of the Labour Party’s famous Princes St (Auckland) branch, he is now thoroughly disillusioned with the left and has become one of the Labour Government’s most trenchant critics (and one of the most effective, because as a former insider he knows exactly what he’s talking about).

Bassett rose to prominence in an era when most leading thinkers were left-wing, but like many others he learned in government that left-wing theory doesn’t always work in practice, often leading to unforeseen and disastrous consequences. Several of his colleagues – notably Richard Prebble, Roger Douglas and, to a lesser extent, Mike Moore – underwent a similar conversion.

When I think of lefties who have turned, I also think of my old journalism colleague Nevil Gibson. Nevil was a Trotskyite in his student days but renounced any lingering leftist sympathies after seeing how bleak and miserable Eastern Europe was under Soviet-style communism, and observing Britain’s economic and social transformation under Margaret Thatcher. For many years now, as managing editor of National Business Review, he has been a strident critic of left-wing folly and an uncompromising advocate of the free market.

Nevil makes the interesting point that leftists are often people who are attracted to radical solutions, which can make them also receptive to extreme right-wing ideas (such as the “muscular capitalism” of economists like Milton Friedman) that might frighten off more timid minds. Seen in that light, the route from extreme left to extreme right may be shorter and more direct than, say, from extreme left to centre.

Many members of the baby-boomer generation, raised on a diet of righteous protests against the Vietnam War and apartheid, find it hard to resist the natural tug to the right as they grow older. It can be quite entertaining to hear people like Brian Edwards, a lifelong leftie, getting all cantankerous and reactionary – despite himself – on Jim Mora’s afternoon panel discussions on The Station Previously Known as National Radio. And I sometimes imagine I can detect, in the cartoons of my former colleague Tom Scott, an uneasy tension between Tom’s old radical inclinations and the natural conservatism (I would call it common sense) that comes with age. There’s a natural reluctance to give up attitudes and values passionately adhered to when we were younger.

On the other hand some old radicals have clearly decided the game is up and it’s no use fighting. Just look at Tim Shadbolt, an incorrigible stirrer in his younger days, who was recently agitating on law and order issues – once considered the preserve of the kneejerk right – and has been a bitter opponent of some Labour Government policies.

Of course many people remain socialists for life. Some stay that way because that’s how they were brought up and it never occurs to them to question it (the “I’ve voted Labour all my life” syndrome). But there are also a few lifelong socialist intellectuals who have thought deeply about politics, and I wouldn’t dare argue that anyone who remains a socialist in middle age and beyond can only be a fool.

I think of people like the charismatic Professor Jim Flynn, emeritus professor of political studies at Otago University, who in retirement seems as staunchly left-wing as ever (he’s the Alliance Party spokesman on finance and tax). Or the columnist and commentator Chris Trotter, who seems never to have deviated one millimetre from the socialist path.

I might not share these diehards’ views, but I would never make the mistake of thinking they weren’t smart. In the case of people like these, belief in the ideals of socialism has nothing to do with intelligence or lack of it; it’s all about embracing an ideology. I would argue that they personify the triumph of idealism over experience and evidence. But dismissing them as silly is – well, silly, in the same way as it’s wishful thinking for an atheist to condemn as foolish and deluded all the brilliant thinkers who have been devoutly religious.

But back to that quote. Implicit in it is a recognition that socialism is founded on a worthy impulse of concern for one’s fellow human beings. That’s why it describes the man who is not a socialist at 20 as having no heart.

Does this mean that people who renounce socialist ideals as they grow older cease to have a heart? Cynics would probably say that. They would argue that the reason people become more conservative as they age is that with prosperity, they grow smug and selfish; or that with the passage of time, idealism and compassion are overtaken by economic anxiety, bigotry and fear of change.

It’s easy to stereotype conservative people as greedy and concerned only for themselves. But most of the thinking conservatives I know are no less concerned about the wellbeing of their fellow humans than the most ardent socialists. They all want a world that is peaceful, prosperous, just and secure for all its inhabitants.

The argument is not about the final goal. It’s all about how to get there.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The tragic victims of dementia technologica


I have been busy working on my Curmudgeon’s Concise Dictionary. Here are some of the latest entries:

Phone. Handy device for speaking to people who are somewhere else.

Cellphone. As above, but even more ingenious because it enables you to conduct loud conversations to the annoyance of those around you in buses, cafes, movie theatres etc. Handy additional features include ability to ring chirpily to tune of William Tell Overture or Star Wars theme during tearful eulogies at funeral services.

Dementia. Mental disorder characterised by irrational behaviour.

Dementia technologica. Particularly virulent form of the above that, unlike other variants of the disease, mainly strikes the young. Symptoms include queuing for days outside Vodafone stores for the latest model cellphone.

Gladwell, Jonny. Congenial, media-friendly young chap who generated a blizzard of publicity by queuing for 55 hours in Queen St, Auckland, so he could be the first person in New Zealand to buy the new 3G Apple iPhone. Tentatively diagnosed as having an extreme case of dementia technologica (see above), he was subsequently revealed to be a shill.

Shill (colloquial, US). Person paid to act as a decoy or plant; one whose job is to entice others into buying something.

Hype. Carefully orchestrated crescendo of promotional blather designed to maximise hysteria (see below).

Hysteria. Little-understood mob phenomenon that causes people to indulge in bizarre and potentially self-harming behaviour, such as queuing all night to buy something that they don’t need and could get by walking straight up to the counter if only they left it a few more hours. Highly contagious disorder; young people chewing gum and wearing headphones particularly susceptible.

Apple iPhone. Phantasmagorically ingenious device that can play all 26 episodes of the original 1963 Doctor Who, mix a perfect vodka martini, accurately predict the first three placegetters in the next 10 Melbourne Cups, perform an emergency tracheotomy, serve a six-course meal prepared by Gordon Ramsay, fold out to make a surfboard, provide an instant translation of Parekura Horomia’s parliamentary speeches, teach you to dance the pasa doble in three easy steps, convert into a superking-size bed complete with a recumbent Maria Sharapova wearing the lingerie of your choice (or Dan Carter in his jockeys, if you buy the pink ladies’ model), tell the time in 156 world capitals, download the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Latvian translation) in 3.7 seconds and take X-ray pictures showing your boss naked. You can even use it to make phone calls.

Vodafone. Telecommunications firm that ramps up customers’ expectations with feverish marketing campaign (see hype) in advance of product launch but very thoughtfully decides not to bother people with extraneous minor details, such as what it’s going to cost.

Consumerism. Little-understood social malady of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, also known as affluenza or status anxiety. Main symptom: panic-inducing fear that life won’t be worth living without the latest/smartest/biggest/smallest/most advanced car/TV/phone/computer/camera/videogame/whatever.

Tragic. Versatile adjective, applicable to much of the above.

Early adopter. Person who can’t wait to try out the latest of everything. The marketer’s dream.

Late adopter. Person still coming to grips with phones that don’t require the user to crank a handle before getting through to someone who asks “Number please”. Constantly at loggerheads with everything from digital cameras to microwave ovens, DVD remotes and CD players. Regularly flies into insane rage trying to contact help desks. Compiles Curmudgeon’s Concise Dictionary for relaxation.


WHERE would we be without television and radio journalists? If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have learned that a strike by Ear Nelson pilots had stranded passengers in Wullington and their representatives were in negoshayshuns. We would have been blissfully unaware that alactricity supplies were vunnerable because of low rainfall and that health experts were knowen to be worried about an obesity epidemic among chooldren. We would still be ignorant of the fact that a little Chinese girl was kidnapped while playeen outside her house and that no one reconnised her abductor, and we would have been denied that exciting jewel at Wimbledon between Federer and Nadal. It’s damned reassuring that when everything else around us is disintegrating, our broadcasters are at least maintaining impeccable standards of pronunciation.


SPEAKING of broadcasters, I am deeply worried about Mike Hosking. I happened to see his mugshot on the Newstalk ZB website recently and formed the conclusion that he has been sleeping rough – under the Grafton Bridge, perhaps? – and may be seriously undernourished, despite rumours of him being seen in expensive restaurants with Kate Hawkesby. In fact – and I don’t want to sound alarmist here – the expression on Mr Hosking’s face suggests that he is – how can I put this delicately? – in a state of some bewilderment.

If someone wishes to start a collection on Mr Hosking’s behalf, I will gladly make a donation. It’s a disgrace that a respected media figure should have come to this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Communists "not influential"? Pardon me?

An entertaining spat has been playing out in the pages of The Listener between historian Graeme Hunt and defenders of the late Bill Sutch. Hunt is convinced that Sutch passed information to the Soviet Union, despite his acquittal on spying charges, and wrote an article for The Listener setting out the basis for his belief (a remarkable occurrence in itself, since the Listener of old would have been very reluctant to publish anything likely to startle its genteel left-leaning readership).

There has since been a flurry of indignant correspondence defending Sutch’s honour, and the latest issue carries a long and detailed rebuttal of Hunt’s article by Sutch family friend John Edwards.

I wouldn’t know if Sutch was a spy. The circumstantial evidence against him seemed pretty damning, but my understanding is that the case against him failed largely because no one could prove exactly what information he gave the Russians – if indeed he gave them any at all. But I’ll leave that argument to people who know more about it.

What I do object to is people blithely rewriting history, as one of The Listener’s pro-Sutch correspondents did. Lenore Baxter of Khandallah wrote: “The NZ Communist Party was never particularly influential in New Zealand, even in trade union circles.” The latter part of this statement is demonstrably untrue.

Communist influence ran deep in the New Zealand union movement for decades and has been well documented in several books, including the memoirs of former Marxist insiders such as Dick Scott. Most famously, communists played a crucial role in the historic 1951 waterfront dispute, though they had been busy fomenting industrial unrest in key industries long before that (as Graeme Hunt demonstrates in Spies and Revolutionaries and his excellent biography of Fintan Patrick Walsh).

It’s unclear whether Jock Barnes, the charismatic watersiders’ leader in 1951, was a party member himself, though he used plenty of Marxist rhetoric. But many of those around him, including his close associate Alex Drennan, undoubtedly were.

Communist activists had a long record of involvement in other unions besides the watersiders, notably the seamen, miners, drivers and freezing workers. The militant activities of a communist element known as the Red Guard exhausted the patience of Labour Minister Jack Marshall (and to a lesser extent the seamen's own exasperated leader, Bill "Pincher" Martin) and led eventually to the deregistration of the Seamen’s Union after in the early 1970s. Dave Morgan, who was the seafarers’ leader for much of the 1980s and 1990s, was open about his Marxist beliefs though it seems unlikely he was a member of the Communist Party, which by that time had all but disintegrated.

Even in the generally moderate Public Service Association, communist influence was strong in the 1940s and 1950s. Both Jack Lewin, the national president, and Gerald Griffin, the Wellington secretary (uncle of Richard, the “silver fox” of media fame) were former communists who retained strong leftist sympathies. Party member Ken Stanton was the PSA’s research officer and communist stalwart Rona Bailey was on the national executive. The aforementioned Dick Scott, another party member, edited the PSA Journal (and had previously edited the wharfies' paper). None of this is paranoid speculation; it's a matter of record.

When I was an industrial reporter in the early 1970s, the union movement was sharply divided between communist factions, both of the Soviet and Maoist persuasions, and non-communists. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Federation of Labour conferences were a battleground between the two. But there was no doubt which was in the ascendancy: it was the communists.

Bill Andersen, who led the Northern Drivers’ Union for decades, was a member of the Communist Party before the great Moscow-Peking split of the early 1960s and subsequently became a leading light, with his Wellington Drivers’ Union colleague Ken Douglas, in the Moscow-aligned Socialist Unity Party. The SUP also controlled the Auckland Trades Council.

Douglas’s then deputy Pat Kelly was a Peking-aligned communist – there must have been some lively office discussions – before later turning respectable and joining the Labour Party. Frank McNulty, the leader of the powerful Meat Workers’ Union, was another SUP stalwart. Meanwhile a newer generation of communists - such as Graeme Clarke - won control of key union positions in the car assembly industry.

Ken Douglas, of course, went on to occupy the most powerful position in the New Zealand union movement – that of president of the Federation of Labour. Sir Tom Skinner, a moderate who led the FOL from 1963 to 1977, was moved to remark in a TV interview in 1986 that communists had taken over the movement.

The lonely figurehead of the anti-communist faction for many years was the late Tony Neary, leader of the Electrical Workers’ Union, who fought tirelessly against communist influence. In his memoirs, The Price of Principle (written with Jack Kelleher), the Irish-born Neary explained Communist Party tactics for infiltrating and taking over unions. The communists, having worked out their strategy in advance, would attend union meetings in force, always sitting in different parts of the hall so as not to arouse suspicion. They would then deliberately prolong meetings, throwing proceedings into utter confusion with constant noisy motions, amendments, interjections and points of order until no one knew what was being discussed. After several hours, most attendees would lose patience and drift away, leaving the communists in control.

If it happened in the Electrical Workers Union, then it’s reasonable to assume other unions were being similarly subverted. The difference was that in Neary, the communists had an opponent who refused to capitulate, and who commanded his members’ intense loyalty because he was an outstandingly successful union leader, negotiating pay settlements that were the envy of other unions (much to the chagrin of his Marxist enemies, who were notably less successful at achieving gains for their rank and file).

Incidentally, New Zealand was not alone in experiencing conflict between communist and non-communist unions. The Australian Labor Party was torn apart – literally – by similar tensions in the mid-1950s, leading to the creation of the right-wing, Catholic-dominated Democratic Labour Party which later worked with the Liberal Party to keep the ALP out of power. If anything, communists wielded even more power in Australian unions - and for longer - than they did here.

That so many unionists of that era were communists was perhaps understandable. They had seen the effects of the Great Depression and the terrible suffering inflicted by the rise of fascism in Europe. What is less easy to excuse is their willingness to subvert democracy and use underhand tactics to gain control of unions; and it’s harder still to understand how they could remain loyal to communism once the world learned what was really going on in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China.

Of course, it’s all history now. But that doesn’t excuse people like Lenore Baxter, whose name is unfamiliar to me, taking liberties with the facts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A convenient consensus

National Radio’s Mediawatch last week carried an item about the new Science Media Centre ( It’s run by the Royal Society but was initiated by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) and is funded by the government. Its purpose is to promote awareness of science and technology via the media and to help journalists seeking information on scientific issues. It’s headed by Peter Griffin, former technology editor of the New Zealand Herald.

Seems like a good idea, for several reasons: 1. New Zealand journalists, with a few notable exceptions, are notoriously science-shy (I include myself here) and could do with some help; 2. We’re constantly reminded that science and technology are fundamental to the transformation of the New Zealand economy; 3. Except when it becomes political (as in the genetic modification row), science doesn’t get a lot of coverage; 4. When science does break out of its ghetto onto the news pages, it’s not always accurately reported.

So there’s a good case for an independent, credible information source that journalists can go to when they’re floundering with an issue they don’t understand. But it goes without saying that the Science Media Centre will have to demonstrate independence, integrity and credibility if it’s going to win acceptance. And being government-funded, there will inevitably be a suspicion that it might be used to promote projects or ideas that are favoured politically, and to discredit those that the government frowns on.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that the top news item on the centre’s website is headed Experts respond on Royal Society climate change paper. Click on the link and you find that the centre has invited three experts to comment on the Royal Society’s recently released statement on climate change. This statement says concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions are well above levels seen for thousands of years and predicts further global climate changes. Reducing the impact will require substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions which can only be achieved by “major international policy changes”. In other words, pretty much the orthodox view expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and used by the government to justify its controversial climate change policies.

One might have expected the three “independent” opinions to include, if not a voice of dissent, then at least an acknowledgment that there is a large body of reputable scientific opinion that vigorously challenges the IPCC view and insists that the science relating to climate change is far from settled. But no: the three experts selected by the centre to comment on the Royal Society statement – two from Victoria University (including an ex-IPCC man) and one formerly from Niwa – unanimously welcome it and in doing so, obligingly fall into line with the government’s position.

Not a good start, I would have thought. Not being a scientist, I’m open to persuasion on climate change. But like everyone, I’m aware that there is a scientific debate raging on this issue and I’m instinctively suspicious of any “helpful” source - especially one dependent on government funding - that totally omits one side of the argument.

Catholic bishop's own-goal

The good PR generated for the Catholic Church by the Pope’s visit to Sydney for World Youth Day was partially undone, with spectacular ineptitude, by the comments of Australian Catholic bishop Anthony Fisher.

Questioned this week about the way the Church dealt with two Melbourne sisters who were repeatedly raped as children by their parish priest, Bishop Fisher – who is World Youth Day co-ordinator – complained that lingering controversy over sex abuse was detracting from the Sydney celebrations.

He then went on – and you can imagine the reporters’ jaws dropping at this point – to criticise “a few people” for “dwelling crankily … on old wounds”. Presumably these few cranky people included the parents of Emma and Katherine Foster, both of whom were raped while at primary school by Melbourne priest Kevin O’Donnell.

Emma Foster killed herself six months ago at the age of 26, after years of self-harm and drug-taking that her father blames on her abuse by O’Donnell. The girls’ family negotiated a financial settlement with the Church after a legal battle that lasted eight years.

Fisher seems to take the view that the family should get over it and move on – possibly not the most tactful approach, coming just six months after the Fosters buried one of their daughters. The head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, didn’t sound terribly sympathetic either when he talked about the help the church had given the Foster family. There was a note of irritation and impatience in his voice, as if he resented having to discuss the subject and apologise all over again (which he did with notable brusqueness).

Interviewed on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report, Anthony Foster, the girls’ father, described Fisher’s comments as outrageous. If they were indicative of Church thinking, he said, then there was no hope of compassion for the victims of clerical abuse.

I thought Foster was remarkably restrained in the circumstances. He had married a Catholic, raised his children as Catholics and entrusted them to the Catholic system. The church had betrayed that trust, he said.

Foster claimed O’Donnell, who died in prison, had been moved from parish to parish over a period of 40 years – a pattern also seen in New Zealand, where the Church’s way of dealing with known serial abusers was often simply to shift them.

Bishop Fisher’s outburst suggests to me that the Catholic hierarchy still has a long way to go in dealing with the disgrace of sex abuse, though heaven knows they’ve had plenty of practice.

Often, as in the case of New Zealand priest Alan Woodcock several years ago, the Church has given the impression that it’s more concerned with protecting itself than with exposing and expelling the predators in its ranks. In the meantime not only is the suffering of the victims unnecessarily compounded, but a shadow of suspicion is cast over hundreds of priests who have led exemplary lives and must be sickened by every new case of abuse.

Fisher’s apparent resentment of outside scrutiny is particularly telling. It suggests the Church remains a cloistered, inward-looking institution, still coming to terms with the novel concept of accountability to the wider community, and with no idea how to engage with the secular world outside.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Give us a break, Rosemary

There wasn’t a lot to disagree with in Rosemary McLeod’s column in the Dom Post today. It was basically an attack on blokedom, with specific reference to Paul Holmes’ nauseating interview with his mate Veitchy in the Herald on Sunday. But I wonder if it ever occurs to Rosemary to insert the vital qualification “some” in front of that word "men". To suggest all men are into boozy male-bonding, macho rugby talk and the relentless pursuit of status symbols is as unfair and inaccurate as labelling all women ditzy airheads or squawking harpies.

PR man acquires vineyard

A press statement arrived yesterday from Klaus Sorensen, a long-ago journalism colleague, now a prosperous PR man and bon vivant in Auckland. It announced that the Sorensen family had acquired a vineyard in Poverty Bay.

Klaus now joins that growing class of hedonistic urban professionals whose interest in wine has progressed from drinking the stuff – which he always did with great enthusiasm – to actually making it. Along with the BMW and the beach house, vineyard ownership has become something of a status symbol. But in Klaus’s case, he has a personal connection with the vineyard concerned and a longstanding family association with the Gisborne area.

The vineyard he’s bought is the 2.5 hectare Bridge Estate, which is notable for the fact that it was the last remnant of the Matawhero Wines holdings formerly owned by the enigmatic winemaker Denis Irwin, with whom Klaus has a friendship going back 30 years.

Irwin holds a place in New Zealand wine history as the man who proved that Poverty Bay, once noted mainly for bulk production of undistinguished müller-thurgau and muscat, was capable of producing premium wines of world class. His Matawhero Reserve Gewurztraminer, first made in the 1970s, was one of the milestone wines that signalled New Zealand’s emergence from the era of “Dally plonk”.

Michael Cooper, in his Wine Atlas of New Zealand, described Irwin as an individualist. Cooper might have gone further and labelled him a contrarian, always swimming against the current. “In a Women’s Weekly world, I’m doing Hemingway,” Irwin told Cooper. He didn’t seem to care much for commercial success and indeed sometimes seemed, to observers, to be wilfully making wines of a style calculated not to appeal to popular taste. Even the winning style of his gewürztraminer was not sustained.

In recent years Irwin has suffered ill-health and made wine only sporadically. Other wineries, notably the Millton Vineyard, have filled the vacuum and kept Gisborne on the international wine map. The vineyard that once produced Matawhero Gewürztraminer was sold several years ago to Pernod Ricard, owners of Montana, and is now the source of the excellent Montana Terroir Series Riverpoint Gewurztraminer.

Even the vineyard Klaus has acquired says something about Irwin’s idiosyncratic approach. It’s entirely planted in red Bordeaux grapes – merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec – which conventional wisdom says are not well-suited to Gisborne’s warm, moist climate and fertile, loamy soils. But smart viticulture can triumph over inauspicious conditions – just look at Australia’s Hunter Valley, or West Auckland’s Kumeu River – and Klaus intends to retain the existing vines, even though they have fallen into “elegant disarray”.

His press statement says the Bridge Estate vineyard, named for the moribund steel-arched Matawhero Bridge nearby, is “renowned for some of New Zealand’s great Bordeaux-style red wines of the last 20 years” (well, Klaus is a PR man) and will continue to produce premium wines under the Bridge Estate label, though the new company will be known as Poverty Bay Wine Estates.

A second label, Poverty Bay, will also be established. Expect to see the first wines on the market later this year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The crucifixion of Deborah Coddington

Last year, Deborah Coddington was crucified for an article she wrote in North & South magazine entitled Asian Angst: Is it time to send some back?, in which she examined Asian (well, Chinese really) immigration and involvement in crime.

The article caused an outcry and resulted in several complaints to the Press Council, which were upheld. One of the complaints concerned inflammatory language (such as “a flick through the crime files show the Asian menace has been steadily creeping up on us”), but the main complaint turned on Coddington’s use of statistics.

Several complainants argued that in calculating the Asian crime rate, Coddington had ignored or overlooked the fact that the Asian population had increased overall. They said, and the council agreed, that her flawed figures undermined the whole thrust of the article and rendered it unbalanced.

In her defence, Coddington said the purpose of the article was “to expose readers to the downside of Asian immigration, which I clearly stated has been overwhelmingly good for New Zealand”. She also pointed out that her article drew on information from experts such as the head of the Auckland drug squad. The reason she hadn’t measured the increase in Asian crime against the increase in the Asian population overall was that she didn’t want to insult her readers’ intelligence.

The Press Council accepted North & South’s right to investigate immigration policy and crime rates relating to a specific ethnic community – I don’t see how it could have done otherwise – but held that “the key issue was the absence of correlation between the Asian population and the crime rate”. It did not accept Coddington’s argument that she had mentioned the increase in the Asian population and that it would have insulted readers’ intelligence to link that with the crime figures. “The linkage was vital and should have been made explicit,” the council said. To talk of a gathering crime wave was wrong.

The council noted that there was an explicit statement in the third paragraph of Coddington’s article that the vast majority of Asians in New Zealand were hard-working and focused on getting their children educated and avoiding dependency on the state. But it held that this was negated by the subsequent use of phrases such as “The Asian menace has steadily been creeping up on us”. The failure to place Asian crime in context “could not but stigmatise a whole group”.

I was uncomfortable with the council’s finding in this case, though it appears to have been unanimous. I thought the council failed to strike a proper balance between freedom of expression, as set out in the Bill of Rights Act, and the prohibition on discrimination in the Human Rights Act, both of which it cited in its decision.

The Human Rights Act prohibition on discrimination is reflected in the council’s own principle that publications should not place “gratuitous emphasis” on minority groups, race, colour etc. But the Bill of Rights Act provides, crucially, that whenever a statute can be given a meaning consistent with the Bill of Rights Act, “that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning”.

I’m no lawyer, but that suggests to me that where the right to freedom of expression comes into conflict with anti-discrimination provisions, or the right to feel offended, the law holds that freedom of expression should take precedence.

Besides, if Coddington's piece stigmatised all Chinese in New Zealand, does that mean the media should stop reporting the criminal activities of Black Power and the Mongrel Mob for fear it will stigmatise all Maori?

Perhaps the most distasteful aspect of the “Asian angst” controversy, however, was the way in which the left – including many journalists – savaged Coddington and pinned that obnoxious and simplistic epithet “racist” on her. I suspect this had a lot to do with the fact that she was a former ACT MP.

Coddington’s article examined a legitimate issue. No one reading newspapers over the past 10 years could fail to be aware of increased Chinese crime (let’s be specific here, and discard that vague euphemism “Asian”). Coddington’s critics seized on one central weakness in her story and argued that this negated the whole piece. I don’t agree that it did. We are still left with the fact that we have a Chinese crime problem – mostly manifested in drug dealing and kidnapping – that we didn’t have 20 years ago. The danger is that the uproar over Coddington’s story may have created the impression that the subject is now a no-go area, and any journalist foolhardy enough to venture there can expect to be pilloried as she was.

Why do I mention all this now? Because both The Dominion Post and The New Zealand Herald report today that five-year-old Cina Ma, aka Xin Xin, may have been kidnapped by a fellow Chinese. The Dom Post quoted a Chinese friend of Cina Ma’s family as saying it’s a common practice in China for children to be kidnapped and used as leverage when business deals go wrong. Cina’s grandparents and aunt were reported as believing that could explain her abduction. The Herald, meanwhile, said the fact that Cina Ma shouted at her masked kidnapper in Chinese suggested that she thought he would understand the language (Cina Ma evidently also speaks good English).

The Dom Post also ran a helpful side panel listing other high-profile crimes in recent years involving Chinese. Most are kidnappings, a crime virtually unheard of in New Zealand until relatively recently. The paper reports that in 2002, police recorded 22 cases of kidnapping or extortion involving “Asians”. But the Dom Post’s list is far from exhaustive; reports of Chinese involvement in high-level drug-smuggling and other crime are commonplace.

Does this reflect on the Chinese community generally? Of course not, any more than stories about Black Power and the Mongrel Mob reflect on all Maori. Most Chinese (as Coddington’s article acknowledged) are hard-working, honest citizens who make a welcome addition to New Zealand’s demographic mix. But no amount of politically correct sensitivity can disguise the fact that there is a hard-core criminal element in the Chinese community, which is what Coddington’s article tried to explain.

As Chris Trotter pointed out in his Dom Post column last week, Chinese community activist Peter Low has confirmed the existence of triad gangs in Auckland. Trotter suggested, rightly, that Coddington would be justified in standing up and demanding an apology from her tormentors.

Trotter went on to write that triads dominate the traffic in Class A drugs and are responsible for most human trafficking, money-laundering, loan-sharking, counterfeiting and prostitution. Who, I wonder, is going to take him to the Press Council? Or the Dom Post, for having the audacity to list Chinese involvement in kidnappings and extortion?

[Disclaimer: To forestall the inevitable accusation of mates defending mates, I am not a personal friend of Deborah Coddington. I have met her two or three times at functions and spoken to her on the phone maybe four or five times over a period of many years. But I believe she was unfairly targeted over her Asian angst story, and I suspect some of her critics were out to destroy her credibility and end her career as a journalist.]

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Think about it, Winston

Dear Winston

So you’re in Fiji for a few days then.

Nice place, eh? Balmy temperatures. Shimmering blue sea. Golden sand. Gently rustling palms. Colourful shirts and gleaming smiles. Hardly a journalist in sight. A bloke could be pretty happy living in a tropical paradise like this.

Look, I’d hate you to take this the wrong way, but really … think about it.

You’ve lost Tauranga and don’t seem to stand much show of winning it back. Your most fervent supporters are – how can I put this delicately? – dying.

You’ve had a whale of a time as Minister of Foreign Affairs – heck, you spent nearly a million bucks on travel in three years, but as long as you were out of the country no one seemed to mind too much. You might call it a win-win situation, Win. (Sorry, but I will have my feeble little joke.) But face it: the chances of scoring the Foreign Affairs gig again, even in the unlikely event that you’re still in Parliament after November, don’t look too flash.

I know this has been said before, but the tide really does seem to be running out. Your scraps with the media are getting tedious. Dammit, Winston, you’ve become a caricature. Nothing you say or do surprises us any more. Some of the smarter guys in your party – there are one or two – might start wondering whether you’re more of a liability than a meal ticket.

You can see where this is heading, can’t you?

Take a look around while you’re away. Fiji’s a cruisy, laid-back sort of place. You can light up a smoke pretty much anywhere you please, the duty-free whisky’s cheap, and you don’t have to put up with hassling from pests like Audrey Young and Barry Soper. And just think how much you’d save on all those tailored pinstripe suits.

As for Frank Bainimarama … well, I know you’ve gone over there to put the hard word on him about the elections, but when you think about it, you and he have a lot in common. There’s no reason why the two of you couldn’t get along. He doesn’t like the media either, but unlike you he’s got the buggers sorted. He just gets his heavies to put them on the next plane to Australia. Boy, that Frank! Isn’t he the man?

Come on, you’ve got to admit it’s tempting. You’ve had a good innings: 26 years in Parliament, including spells as deputy prime minister, Minister of Finance and now Minister of Hobnobbing and Big-Noting. All those flights in First Class, all those leather-seated limos. You’ve been a crafty old dog, all right; but has it made you happy? Not judging by the way you keep snarling at reporters. So maybe it’s time to let go. Quit while you’re ahead. It will never be this good again.

Your parliamentary super would buy you a nice bar on the Suva waterfront. One with bamboo curtains, cane furniture and languid ceiling fans. A visit to Winnie’s Bar and Grill could be the highlight of cut-price pilgrimage tours organised by Grey Power. Your mate Tommy Gear could look after the drinks while you charmed the punters. And if anyone got too inebriated to be served, you could hold up a large white card saying “NO”. You’d be a hit.

If none of this persuades you, just think of the sullen looks on the faces of all those media vermin waiting for you at Auckland Airport when they realise they won’t have Winston Peters to goad any more. Surely that must clinch it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Veitch affair: a few questions

A few questions about the Tony Veitch furore:

So he “deeply regrets” what happened. But what does he regret most – the fact that he assaulted his former partner, or the fact that the world now knows about it? Much of his statement of contrition – “I was working seven days a week … two stressful jobs … emotionally and physically exhausted” – read like a carefully pitched plea for sympathy.

Can we assume, given that none of the Dominion Post’s claims about the assault have been denied and no writs issued (and that the Dom Post would have taken great care to get its facts right in the first place), that what has been reported is substantively correct?

Which is more repugnant: the fact that Veitch assaulted his former partner (kicking her and breaking her back in four places, according to the Dom Post), or that he then apparently tried to buy her silence with a payout, estimates of which range from $100,000 to $170,000?

If the police don’t (or can’t) prosecute Veitch, doesn’t that send a message that people with lots of money can simply pay to escape the consequences of their criminal behaviour? How corrosive is that to public confidence in the justice system?

Did anyone at a senior level in Television New Zealand know about Veitch’s attack on his former partner before the Dom Post broke the story? If so, who? And how long ago?

If it’s established that senior people in TVNZ did know, and took no action against him, what does that say about the integrity of this state-owned organisation? And if it’s established that TVNZ knew but took action against Veitch only after the public furore erupted, wouldn’t that expose them as utter hypocrites, tacitly condoning his behaviour until forced by public opinion to take a moral position?

How uncomfortable did Veitch’s on-air colleagues at TVNZ feel at having to pretend it was business as usual on Monday and Tuesday nights, and how realistic would it be to expect them to keep up the chummy on-screen banter if Veitch was allowed back on air?

Media intrusion in the private lives of public figures is a grey area ethically – but was this a case where exposure of a public figure’s private behaviour was wholly justified? Veitch is a high-profile employee of a public organisation. He’s also paid a very substantial sum of money ($200,000 by TVNZ, according to the Dom Post, but that doesn’t include his substantial earnings from other activities). Can an argument be made that the tradeoff for people who are paid such lavish sums, and who enjoy the status and lifestyle that goes with their celebrity profile, is that their lives will be held up to scrutiny? When a person’s high status and income depends on public recognition and endorsement, is the public entitled to know what that person is really like? (It shouldn’t take a lot of guesswork to conclude that I think the answer is yes.)

Finally, did One News reporter Lisa Owen single-handedly do her utmost to uphold public confidence in the integrity of TVNZ, or at least the independence of its journalism, by courageously reporting that her bosses were running for cover? Owen has never been my favourite reporter, but I couldn’t fault her gutsy performance when the pressure was on.

[Footnote: For the benefit of overseas readers who may be mystified by all this, Tony Veitch is a celebrity broadcaster who presents the sports news on the state-owned One network and hosts a jockstrappy sports quiz on the same channel. The Dominion Post reported last Monday that two years ago he assaulted his ex-partner so severely that she spent months off work and for a time was confined to a wheelchair. Veitch has now been taken off the air both by TVNZ and by Radio Sport, where he presented a breakfast programme.]

Labour's new aristocracy


I HAVE a friend who works part-time in the emergency department of a hospital. She is literally at the front line of the health sector, dealing with patients who stumble in at all hours of the day and night with all manner of injuries and illnesses. She gets them to fill out the necessary paperwork – of which there is never any shortage, this being the health sector – and then refers them to the appropriate clinical staff.

It can be stressful work and the hours are often anti-social. For this her hourly rate is $13.95. Her teenage son gets paid nearly the same amount for his after-school job.

Contrast this with the fat cats of Sparc, the government sports funding agency. National Party leader John Key revealed last week that 47 of Sparc’s 86 fulltime staff were paid (I refuse to say “earned”) more than $100,000 last year. Of those, 14 got more than $150,000. Fourteen!

They must surely be doing work of the utmost importance; work that requires the very highest and rarest of skills. It must also be work of a highly secretive nature, because no one has explained exactly what enormous contribution Sparc’s highly paid employees must be making to the wellbeing of the nation in order to justify such generous emoluments. In the interests of transparent government, I think we should be told.

The gross discrepancy between the extravagant salaries paid to pampered Wellington bureaucrats and the pittances earned by people like my friend, who perform vital but under-valued functions, illustrates how skewed our system of rewards has become. The result is a growing and corrosive cynicism about what the state truly values.

It is ironic that much of this has happened under a Labour-led government supposedly committed to looking after the battlers on Struggle St. The people who have prospered most from eight years of Labour rule are, in fact, the new aristocracy of the public sector, whose numbers have multiplied at the same time as their salaries – which are subject to no market discipline, since it all comes out of the pockets of the obliging taxpayer – have moved inexorably upwards.


I’M PLEASED to see that nice young man John Campbell on TV3 is wearing a tie again. For a while he fell victim to the peculiar fashion of going tieless despite still wearing a suit and business shirt.

Apparently he hoped that by looking less formal he would boost his ratings outside the big cities, but plainly the experiment has been abandoned – and rightly so.

The thing about a business shirt is that it makes sense only when it’s worn with a tie. In turn, the only purpose of a tie is to make a business shirt look good. The tie and the business shirt exist in a state of co-dependency, a sartorial symbiosis.

The prevailing corporate fashion for wearing one without the other, in a misguided attempt to look casually cool, is nonsensical. The collar of the business shirt collapses under the lapel of the jacket and just looks unsightly.

I’m not sure who pioneered this trend, or why. Presumably it was initiated by some rebellious accountant aching to stand out from the crowd. But imitative behaviour is nowhere more rampant than in the corporate world, and soon everyone was doing it. So what may have begun as a subversive gesture of defiance rapidly became a fashion cliché.

Anyway, why stop at throwing away ties? Once the tie is discarded, the rest of the corporate uniform looks even more pointless than it did before. Why not jettison the whole outfit?


COULD there be anything more tedious than going to a dance where the band played the same tune all night?

I get that feeling every time that suave crooner John Key steps up to the microphone in his tuxedo and announces that Johnny and the Keynotes are going to launch into the Tax Cuts Samba – again. You can hear a groan run around the dance floor as the opening chords ring out for the umpteenth time.

Aren’t there any other songs in their repertoire? When are we going to hear the Benefit Cuts Boogie, the Employment Relations Shuffle (well okay, a few bars of that leaked out last Sunday when someone left the rehearsal room door open), the Resource Management Reform Rag, the Privatisation Polka and all those other catchy tunes they’ve supposedly been working on in secret all these months?

And what about Johnny Key’s rumoured signature tune, the U-Turn Blues, with its complicated dance steps (two steps to the left, three to the right, then back again – or is it the other way around?). The crowd is starting to get restive.

Heck, even the tax cuts number isn’t original. It’s a cover version of a song originally recorded by Rodney and the Prebbletones, whose much grungier rendition never cracked the charts. It’s bland Pat Boone ripping off raunchy Little Richard all over again.

Abortion law travesty exposed


The last thing many New Zealanders wanted – politicians especially – was for the abortion debate to break out again.

The agonising conflict over the passage of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act in 1977 left many of the combatants on both sides exhausted. The memories are still raw. But abortion is back on the political agenda, and so it should be, because it represents unfinished business.

The CS and A Act was seen as a compromise that granted protection to the unborn child while still allowing women to obtain legal abortions under certain circumstances. Women who had become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, for example, were allowed to obtain abortions, as were women whose life or mental health would have been at risk had they carried their babies to full term.

Those and other specific exceptions aside, abortion remained an offence under the Crimes Act, and still does today.

Parliamentarians and lobbyists who opposed abortion on demand were satisfied that the Act fulfilled their objectives by stipulating that full regard should be had for the rights of the unborn child. But from the very beginning the legislation was subverted by the simple stratagem of approving virtually every request for an abortion on the basis that the mother’s mental health was imperilled.

The number of abortions rose rapidly, from 2094 in the year after the Act was passed to nearly 13,000 by 1994. For the past few years the figure has been hovering around 18,000. Roughly 99 percent of those abortions are authorised on the ground of risk to the mother’s mental health. We have, in effect, a regime of abortion on request – a situation the Act was supposed to avoid.

Meanwhile the Abortion Supervisory Committee, set up to ensure the law was properly observed, looked the other way and wrung its hands impotently. The committee even acknowledged in 1988 that women were obtaining abortions on “pseudo-legal” grounds, but did nothing.

The politicians looked the other way too. Notwithstanding the fact that Parliament’s authority was being mocked, abortion was seen as a no-win issue and quietly dumped in the too-hard basket.

Whether it can remain there is now highly doubtful, since a High Court judge has exposed the administration of the abortion law for the sham and travesty that it is. Ruling on a case brought by the Christchurch-based group Right to Life, Justice Forrest Miller found that there was reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions. He agreed that New Zealand effectively has abortion on demand and further, he held that under the law “the unborn child has a claim on the conscience of the community”.

In coming to these findings Justice Miller was not expressing a personal view, but simply doing what judges are required to do: interpreting the laws made by Parliament.

The ensuing debate has shown that there’s a lot of heat in the issue still. On a radio talkback programme I heard a male host – one who normally takes an emphatic liberal-left position – angrily attacked for daring to suggest that Justice Miller was right. The host remained calm and courteous, which was more than could be said for his female callers. It was a reminder of the intensity of the emotion surrounding the issue, and of the refusal of closed minds to engage in reasoned discussion or even allow the legitimacy of an alternative view.

For many surviving feminists from the 1970s, the right to abortion remains a powerful symbol of women’s rights and a hard-won victory that must not be surrendered under any circumstances. They are locked into such a mindset that the supposed right of a woman to control her own body must be asserted at the expense of an unborn child’s right to life. To me this is a desperately cold, arid ideology.

There are fundamental philosophical differences here that I don’t think will ever be reconciled. Either you believe that all human life is precious, and that life logically begins at conception, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you can arbitrarily decree that life begins at any point right through to birth, in which case abortion can be justified even past the time when the foetus is capable of independent life outside the womb. At that point all distinctions between abortion and infanticide evaporate.

Of course, if you’re male you are dismissed as not being entitled to a view on the issue anyway – a preposterous proposition, given that the abortion issue goes to the heart of human morality and concerns us all (just as murder and capital punishment do).

The view that men have no right to an opinion on abortion is only one of several myths that hardline pro-abortionists have pushed quite successfully. They have also persuaded many people to think of the foetus as just a formless blob of tissue, and they have carefully played down both the reality of the abortion process – in which the foetus is violently dismembered – and the serious emotional consequences that many women suffer afterwards.

But I believe that as the passage of time takes its inevitable toll on those impassioned feminists who fought for the right to abortion 30 years ago, community attitudes toward abortion are subtly shifting. A generation has grown up that doesn’t regard women’s right to abortion as some sort of ideological touchstone and may be more receptive to moral and humanitarian arguments against it.

I don’t think I’m being fanciful when I sense growing disquiet about the abortion rate. Even newspapers that once took a strong “pro-choice” line in their editorials now find it unacceptable that the CS and A Act has been so flagrantly disregarded.

It remains to be seen whether Justice Miller – who has yet to decide where to go next with the Right to Life case – will force the politicians’ hands.

Monday, July 7, 2008

In defence of lycra and other unspeakable cycling clobber

Commenting on my 25 Rules for a Righteous and Contented Life (see earlier post), in which I poked fun at men who dress up in peculiar clothing, someone said to me recently that I should have included a reference to cycling gear.

Being a cyclist myself, I naturally bridled at this. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard a non-cyclist ridicule the strange outfits bike riders wear, so I’ve taken it upon myself to offer some sort of explanation.

What distinguishes cycling gear from the preposterous get-ups worn by freemasons, Ku Klux Klansmen, military brass and religious clerics is that it’s essentially utilitarian, not purely decorative. Try going for a long bike ride wearing ordinary clobber and you’ll soon find out what I mean.

First, let’s take the lycra bike shorts that seem to attract most ridicule. These are light, flexible and body-hugging, meaning they allow freedom of movement while also minimising wind resistance. This latter factor may seem unimportant until you’ve discovered how crucial wind resistance is when you’re riding at a reasonable pace, even in relatively calm conditions. The last thing you want is loose clothing flapping in the breeze – it not only slows you down, but it’s irritating too.

Lycra is surprisingly resilient too, and can withstand repeated violent contact with the ground, whether it’s a rock-strewn track or a bitumen road surface.

But the most important thing about cycling shorts is the imitation chamois padding sewn into the crutch. We won’t go into gratuitous anatomical detail here, but suffice it to say that the bum and the crutch take a hammering on a long bike ride, and comfort in these nether regions, for sheilas as well as blokes, is crucial. I once made the mistake of riding for several hours on a hot day in a pair of track pants – not something I’m anxious to repeat.

The other thing non-cyclists tend to scoff at is the gaudy, attention-grabbing colours of most bike shirts. Well yes, they are designed to attract your attention. That’s to ensure cyclists are seen by motorists. Personally, I recoil at a lot of the garish, multi-coloured tops worn by road cyclists and sometimes wonder myself if they’re not a tad exhibitionist. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t want my last thought to be, as I disappeared under the wheels of a truck, that perhaps I should have worn something more colourful.

Finally, there are the shoes. Yes, you can ride a bike wearing ordinary footwear such as sneakers, secured in a crude fashion by cumbersome toe clips with adjustable straps. But one of the great evolutionary leaps in cycling was the advent of the clipless pedal, for which you require special bike shoes with cleats that lock in to the pedal. Few if any cyclists who have made the progression from conventional to clipless pedals ever wonder for even a nanosecond whether they did the right thing.

For a start, clipless pedals increase your pedalling efficiency. Because you’re locked in to the pedal you can apply power on the upstroke as well as the downstroke. But perhaps more important, and this applies even more to mountain biking than road cycling, clipping in to your pedals make you feel as one with the bike. Your feet stay securely in position – there’s no slipping around – and control of the bike is enormously enhanced.

And again, it’s much safer. Before I acquired clipless pedals I would often be distracted by the effort of trying to get my foot into the toeclips, but with clipless pedals it becomes instinctive and effortless; you do it by feel. That reassuring metallic snick as the cleat on your shoe locks into the pedal is a signal that you and the bike are functioning as one unit.

And miraculously, when you’re about to crash, you usually manage to unclip to avoid going down with the bike. Usually, but not always. I recently had the undignified experience of coming to a dead halt in deep soft sand on my mountain bike and not being able to free my feet from the pedals. I fell sideways in slow motion, letting loose a string of expletives as I went down.

This happened in a very remote spot on the Wairarapa coast and normally would have been observed only by seagulls and sheep. But as luck would have it, a couple of stoned surfers were sitting only metres away and must have found this a gratifyingly surreal experience. It’s not every day you get a floorshow in the middle of nowhere while you wait for the waves to come up.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lines to avoid at all costs

There are two lines that politicians should be coached to avoid at all costs.

One is: “Don’t you know who I am?” Australian Labor Party MP Belinda Neal uttered these words, or an approximation thereof, to staff at Iguana Joe’s nightclub in the New South Wales city of Gosford. Now Neal’s political career is in tatters – and her husband, NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca, is on a slippery slope too – as controversy rages over claims that the couple behaved in an intimidating and abusive manner, demanding that nightclub staff be sacked and threatening to have the club’s liquor licence cancelled. It’s never a good look when a bullying, egotistical politician tries to pull rank and status on lesser beings, least of all when that politician happens to be from the party of the workers.

The other line that press secretaries should advise their bosses against using under any circumstances is this: “Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you”.

This, the Dominion Post reports, is how the Right Honourable Winston Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Her Majesty’s Government, responded when reporter Phil Kitchin sought comment from him about the enigmatic Tommy Gear’s involvement with the New Zealand First Party. Gear, the Dom Post reports, is a close friend of the New Zealand First leader and has been paid for many years out of the Parliamentary Service budget, but no one seems to know exactly what he does.

There’s something almost endearing about Peters’ snarling response – part Humphrey Bogart, part Detective Inspector Regan of The Sweeney – to Kitchin’s inquiry. It’s so true to character that if you close your eyes you can hear him saying it.

Peters’ evolution from shrewd, populist politician to self-parody is now virtually complete. He risks being the only person in Wellington who takes Winston Peters seriously.

The other interesting thing about his comic attempt to scare Kitchin off is that it seems to suggest Kitchin is on to something, which is probably not what Peters intended. When a politician says “Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you”, it could easily be decoded as confirmation that there is indeed a good story there, but if the reporter gets so much as one small detail wrong, Peters’ lawyers – Messrs Huff, Puff and Bluster – will come after him.

This can be an effective way of frightening off a timid reporter, but I don’t think it will work on Kitchin. He’s been monstered by experts.