Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A field day for kibitzers

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, October 25.)

KIBITZER is a wonderful Yiddish word for which there’s no precise equivalent in English. It means someone who stands around giving unwanted advice.

Kibitzers, usually men of a certain age, have had the time of their lives since the container ship Rena hit the rocks. Tune into any talkback show and you’ll hear them expounding on all the things the authorities have done wrong and how, with a pair of tin snips, a garden hose and a roll of duct tape, they could have had the containers offloaded, the oil pumped out and the ship safely refloated within 24 hours. If only someone had asked them.

Listening to talkback radio, I am agog at the depth of engineering knowledge – salvage expertise too, it seems – acquired by Kiwi blokes who have spent a lifetime changing the oil in Mark II Cortinas, sharpening the blades on the Masport and clearing blockages under the kitchen sink. I mean, who would have thought?

Speaking of the Rena, I worry for Britain because it seems we’ve pinched all their experts on maritime safety and salvage operations. As was also noticeable in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, a striking number of the officials who appear on the TV news each night to update us on developments speak with British accents.

There was a time in New Zealand when virtually every union spokesman had an accent that identified them as English or Scottish. Nothing puzzling about that; they were simply carrying on the class war. But can anyone explain why so many British immigrants end up working for regulatory authorities?

* * *

I WAS SHOCKED last week by the cost of a return air fare between Wellington and Nelson, particularly when compared with a recent international flight. So I did some sums.

Wellington-Los Angeles return via Auckland is a round trip of roughly 22,000 kilometres. Cost flying Air New Zealand: about $2400.

Wellington-Nelson return is a round trip of about 264 kilometres. Cost flying Air New Zealand: $361.

I’m no Einstein, but I calculate that flying to LA (with meals and drinks provided) costs slightly more than 10 cents per kilometre while the cost of flying to Nelson (with a complimentary drink of water) is $1.36 cents per km, or nearly 14 times as much.

You can’t help but feel the national carrier is taking advantage of its virtual monopoly on some provincial routes, particularly when a friend tells me he booked a return flight on Air New Zealand from Wellington to Queenstown for less than $160. The difference? Competition.

Oh, and I paid $27 for nine hours’ parking at Wellington Airport when you can get all-day parking for $12 in the CBD. But no one ever pretended that capitalism is perfect.

* * *

IN A RECENT column I complained that making a one-off donation to a charity invites a barrage of unwanted mail for years thereafter. The assumption is that having given once, you’re fair game.

More recently I’ve been reminded of another fundraising technique that’s even more intrusive. This happens when you respond to a telephone charity appeal and then get phoned annually by someone asking if you’ll be repeating your donation.

The expectation seems to be that you’ll comply. I object to this because it puts people on the spot in a way that a letter doesn’t. Many New Zealanders are too meek and polite to say “no” to someone soliciting donations on the phone.

Old-fashioned door-to-door salesmen knew that the key to making a sale was to get inside the house. Most householders – usually women at home alone – were then psychologically vulnerable because they thought the only way to get rid of the intruder without any unpleasantness was by making a purchase.

Telephone appeals use essentially the same technique. Once they’ve got you on the phone there’s nowhere to run.

Worse still, some charities follow up the phone call with what they call an “invoice”, which implies a legal obligation to pay. I accept that raising funds is a challenge in a market crowded with hundreds of deserving charities, but this is getting perilously close to a hard sell.

* * *

A MOMENT’S silence, please, while we mourn the loss of another good word.

“Passion” was once used mainly to describe a particularly ardent form of love. But like so many other words, its piquancy has been eroded by misuse.

“Passion” these days is something sports writers ascribe to sports teams. In future, no writer will be able to use the word without conjuring up images of Brad Thorn.

It’s just one of a grab-bag of New Age, psychobabble cliches that are now applied to sport. We constantly hear about teams possessing self-belief, having their character tested, being on a journey, wanting to express themselves and - perhaps worst of all - “living the dream”.

Good grief. I bet Colin Meads never talked like that.

1 comment:

The probligo said...

Many of the same pundits who would have fixed Rena in 24 hours were probably also among those who had all the answers for the Pike River mine disaster.

It seems that no one is able to say the likes of "I don't know..." or "With what we know at present we can't...". It seems to be verboten in this day and climate.

One only has to listen to the likes of Mary Wilson interviewing, repeating the same question over and over in an attempt to "force" an answer that she can ring back with later and say "You were wrong. What are you going to do about...".

Re the flight cost to Nelson - trip on up to Paraparaumu and head from there. It will probably cost a whole lot less in airport charges. The fact that the international leaves from Auckland would make for a similar saving; ANZ taking the profit on the overall trip rather than each leg individually.