Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Straight from the feminist propaganda handbook

Christchurch-based anti-abortion group Right to Life has rightly taken offence at biased reportage in the Sunday Star-Times.

The first paragraph of the story, by Marika Hill, read: "Anti-abortionists are taking aim at the charity status of the Family Planning Association in their latest assault against women and pro-choice organisations."

The story was a legitimate one about Right to Life's questioning of the FPA's charity status (Right to Life president Ken Orr says the association breached its status by lobbying the government for the decriminalisation of abortion) and there was nothing exceptionable about the neutral headline, Family Planning Association's charity status comes under fire.

What was inexcusable was the phrase "latest assault against women", which introduced blatantly ideological rhetoric into a story masquerading as straight news.

Either the phrase was ideologically motivated or it was extraordinarily sloppy journalism. I suspect the former, since the reporter's previous stories suggest she has been captured by the pro-abortion lobby. Either way, it should never have survived the editing process.

Quite apart from the implicit ideological bias, the reference to an "assault against women" is wildly misleading. It implies that the interests of all women are aligned with those of the Family Planning Association (try telling that to some of the women I know) and comes straight from the feminist propaganda handbook.

I don't know who edits the Sunday Star-Times these days - I get the impression the editor's office has a revolving door - but whoever it is should exercise tighter control over content if he or she values the paper's credibility.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The case for journalistic objectivity

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

JOHN CAMPBELL is a very talented broadcaster and a likeable man. But I believe he is dangerously wrong when he pooh-poohs the idea of objectivity in journalism, as he did in a recent interview with this paper’s Your Weekend magazine.
“I’ve never met a journalist who didn’t want to change the world and make it a better place,” the TV3 current affairs host was quoted as saying. “Without exception that’s why they get into journalism. And yet when they get there they are asked to be dispassionate and objective.

“Who came up with that rule? It’s stupid.”
In fact that “stupid” rule, which requires that journalists try to remain impartial, present facts and opinions in a balanced way and keep their own views to themselves, has underpinned good journalism in Western democracies for decades.

The importance of objectivity is recognised, if not always followed to the letter, by virtually all the world’s great news organisations, including the BBC. It’s also upheld by the bodies that adjudicate on journalism standards, including our own Broadcasting Standards Authority and Press Council.
There’s a very good reason for this. The requirement for balance is a vital check on the potential abuse of media power. If it were abandoned, journalists would be free to spin the news however it suited them – in other words, to exclude any inconvenient fact or opinion that didn’t align with their own world view.

It’s a curious fact that those who argue that journalistic objectivity should be discarded – a view now routinely promoted in journalism schools – are almost invariably from the Left of the political spectrum. Yet the same people are the first to condemn right-wing news outlets, such as the notorious Fox News, for making little or no attempt at journalistic balance.
It doesn’t seem to occur to them that objectivity, or more precisely the absence of it, can cut both ways.

Being objective doesn’t mean, as is sometimes dishonestly argued, that journalists have to be timid or defer to those in power. Neither does it prevent them expressing shock and outrage when faced with obvious atrocities. But it does require reporters to acknowledge that in most situations there’s more than one side to the story, and that things are often more complex than they seem on the surface.
There is still a place for impassioned advocacy journalism of the type Campbell practices, as long as it’s clear to the viewer or reader that that’s what it is. But as a general proposition, the abandonment of journalistic objectivity would be disastrous.

* * *

DISILLUSIONED fans who endlessly criticise the Black Caps and the Phoenix miss the point.
We tend to think of soap opera as a form of television entertainment, but the human need for melodrama is played out as much on the sports pages as it is on the television screen.

Just as viewers are addicted to the nightly cliff-hangers so cleverly devised by the scriptwriters for Coronation Street and Home and Away, sports fans too must have their daily fix of shock, disbelief, relief and elation.
This is the real reason why teams such as the Black Caps and the Phoenix exist: to inject an element of nail-biting uncertainty into humdrum suburban lives.

The All Blacks fall miserably short in this regard by consistently winning (although when they do lose, the country makes the most of it by sinking into bouts of anguished introspection and recrimination that can last for weeks).
But the Black Caps and the Phoenix intuitively understand that sport fulfils a much bigger purpose than simply satisfying the urge to win. That is their unacknowledged brilliance.

They realise their function is to give meaning to sports fans’ dreary existence by taking them on a roller-coaster emotional ride, plunging them into the depths of despair with a run of humiliating losses and then, just when all seems lost, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and restoring hope.
Ridiculed as no-hopers one day, they always retain the potential to win the next and be hailed as heroes. People who condemn them for inconsistency fail to appreciate how dull life would seem if they won all the time.

In any case, their erratic performance merely mirrors the fickle emotions of their followers, who can be transformed in the space of a few hours from howling, vengeful mob to fawning admirers.
This is what sport is really about. Far from ridiculing the Black Caps and the Phoenix, we should salute them for having such a clear-eyed view of their real purpose.

* * *
WATCHING TV One’s Breakfast programme this week (not a habit of mine, but I was on holiday), I noticed a promotional caption underneath that read: “Rawdon [host Rawdon Christie] share’s some of his summer holiday antics.”

Surely that should have read “Rawdon share’s some of his summer holiday antic’s”.  I trust the caption writer has been disciplined.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, January 16.)
The two most-hyped films showing on New Zealand screens this summer were Skyfall and The Hobbit. I can’t muster the stamina to sit through all two hours 50 minutes of Peter Jackson’s latest epic (more on that later), but I did see the new James Bond movie.
I admit I went with an ulterior motive. Several years ago I had seen Casino Royale, the first Bond film starring Daniel Craig, and thought it was a stinker. I walked out, as I often do these days if a film hasn’t hooked me within the first 30 minutes.

I couldn’t understand why so many critics were hailing Craig as the greatest Bond since Sean Connery. His acting style, if it could be dignified with that description, was so wooden it would have made a plank look animated.
I was similarly unimpressed with his one-dimensional performance in the only other film I have seen him in, a World War II action drama called Defiance, in which he played a Jewish resistance fighter.

But the release of Skyfall saw Craig again being lauded by the critics, some of whom even suggested he had now seized Connery’s mantle as the greatest Bond ever.  So I went along to check him out again, expecting to be as unimpressed as I had been with Casino Royale. After all, there are few things more satisfying than having one’s prejudices confirmed.
I wasn’t prepared for what began to unfold on screen. The first half-hour of Skyfall is a cinematic tour de force. From the spellbinding title credits (featuring Adele’s theme song, arguably the best Bond tune since Nancy Sinatra sang You Only Live Twice in 1967) through the obligatory opening high-speed chase, I was swept along on an exhilarating ride that reminded me of those memorable action sequences in the original Indiana Jones films.

It was superbly filmed and brilliantly edited. If any Bond film has produced a better opening pursuit, I haven’t seen it.
What’s more, I found myself warming to Craig, who seemed less of an automaton than in his first outing in the role. He even showed traces of the trademark humour familiar from earlier Bonds.

But sadly (and you must have known there was a “but” coming), that first 30 minutes or so represented the best of the film. What followed was formulaic Bond stuff – much of it highly implausible, as you’d expect, but entertaining enough: exotic locations, beautiful but untrustworthy women and, of course, an evil and fiendishly clever mastermind (played by Javier Bardem, whom many will recall as the icily efficient assassin in the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men). 
Had the director of Skyfall (Englishman Sam Mendes) called it quits after, say, 110 minutes, he might have had a respectable film – not a great film, but a respectable one, given the limitations of the genre. The action scenes were done well enough to take your mind off the plot, which grew sillier as it went on.

But just when I expected the film to neatly resolve itself, it lurched into a ludicrous, drawn-out climactic sequence that gave the impression of having been tacked on as an afterthought. If the first half-hour of Skyfall is as good as Bond films get, the last half-hour is preposterously, tediously bad.
It sees Bond and his boss, M, implausibly lead the villain and his gang of cardboard-cutout henchmen to a remote, abandoned Scottish mansion – the Skyfall of the title – where Bond had spent his childhood. There Bond is reunited with the faithful old family gamekeeper, played by Albert Finney, and together the three of them make a stand against the bad guys (although why they didn’t just call in British security forces to do the job isn’t explained).

I was going to describe Finney as a distinguished actor but it should really be “formerly distinguished”, since the 70-something thespian may not live long enough for his reputation to recover from this load of hokum. His performance is risibly bad and you can only wonder what possessed him to accept the part. He surely doesn’t need the moolah.
Bardem too will have some way to go to regain the respect he previously enjoyed as a serious actor, but at least he has time on his side. In Skyfall he plays a pantomime villain, more comical than scary.

Having said all that, I accept that if I had a chosen a career as a film director, I would have been a wretched failure. Films that I think are absurd show how out of touch I am with public taste. Skyfall is already one of the most successful releases ever.
Avatar, which I considered laughably bad, was the highest-grossing film of all time. Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which was just as silly, made $550 million and was one of the top five films of 2005.

Speaking of Jackson, I had intended to see The Hobbit but was put off after watching bits of his overblown trilogy The Lord of the Rings on television during the Christmas-New Year period. I don’t think I can bring myself to sit through another in the same mould.
Jackson is a clever man who has done great things for the New Zealand film industry, but his films are simply noisy spectacles – all sound and fury, signifying nothing, to quote Shakespeare. But clearly that’s what appeals to modern cinema audiences, judging by the list of the all-time top 20 box office earners.

Movie fans don’t want believable, human stories and nuanced characters; they demand action, noise, fantasy and special effects by the truckload. And directors oblige, making films that not only insult the intelligence but are overlong and undisciplined because the directors can’t bring themselves to leave anything out.
The best two films I saw in 2012 were the American black comedy Bernie, starring Jack Black (which surprised me, because I’d never been a fan of his), and a German Cold War-era drama entitled Barbara, featuring a very good actress you’ve never heard of.

Both were low-budget, character-driven stories that used no special effects and didn’t bombard their audiences with cringe-inducing noise. Both were immensely satisfying and needless to say, went virtually unnoticed.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why I'm over Attenborough

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

THERE ARE some people you’re just not supposed to criticise. The sainted Sir David Attenborough, who has just celebrated 60 years making wildlife documentaries, is one.
We have grown up with Attenborough. My children and I were captivated by his landmark series Life on Earth 30 years ago. There has probably never been a better natural history programme.

His documentaries continue to set standards for their breathtaking photography and inspired use of music.
Yet I’m over Attenborough. I started to have my doubts at the time of his Frozen Planet series in 2011, when scenes showing a polar bear and her newborn cubs, purportedly filmed in the Arctic wild, were revealed as having been shot in a European zoo using fake snow.

Attenborough’s defence of the deception – namely, that it would have ruined the effect to say, “Oh, by the way, this was shot in a zoo” – said a lot about his attitude toward keeping faith with viewers.
Since then I have watched him more critically. I believe Attenborough, for all the good he has done, has become very adept at manipulating viewers’ emotions. 

He consistently anthropomorphises the creatures he’s filming – in other words, encourages us to think of them as behaving and feeling like humans. This ramps up the emotional impact of the programmes, because who can’t feel teary at the sight of a forlorn-looking polar bear apparently adrift on an ice floe?
This is a technique originally perfected by Walt Disney and used with great success by production companies like Pixar, but we expect more of BBC wildlife programmes.

I have also found myself questioning Attenborough’s honesty. It strains credulity when he purports to single out one juvenile wildebeest from several thousand, as he did recently, and follow its struggle for survival. It seems far more likely that his crew filmed several young wildebeest in life-threatening situations and then presented it as the story of one individual heroically prevailing against the odds. Disney would have been impressed.
It makes gripping television, but I just don’t buy it.  

* * *

EVERYONE I know seems to have a story about the frustrations of dealing with council bureaucracies.
Try to build a simple garage to keep your car out of the weather, and you’re bombarded with engineering requirements more appropriate to the construction of a nuclear reactor.

Apply for consent to build a standard house – which these days requires submitting hundreds of pages of documents – and you can expect to wait the full 20 working days allowed before getting a response, only then to be told that you’ve overlooked some minor technical detail and will have to put your builder off until it’s been rectified.
Seek permission to launch a modest coffee trailer to cater to passers-by on a popular walkway, and prepare yourself to be treated as if you’re proposing an aluminium smelter in a national park. 

On no account, in any of the above circumstances, should you expect constructive advice as to how you might overcome the obstacles in your path. Council functionaries exist to tell you what you can’t do, not to make helpful suggestions. 
My own council has been co-operative in my very limited dealings with it, but I know plenty of people who tear their hair out with chagrin at having to jump through endless regulatory hoops.

Politicians must hear such complaints all the time, yet seem either powerless or unwilling to act. Councillors must get an earful too, but the rule-bound bureaucrats always prevail. That’s where the real power resides.
The standard explanation, of course, is that catastrophes such as leaky buildings and slipshod construction standards exposed by the Christchurch earthquakes have forced councils to be more diligent. The exquisite irony is that these were the results of councils’ own failings, yet the hapless citizen ends up carrying the can.

* * *

A RECURRING lament in 2012 was that New Zealand has an intolerable level of poverty. Kids go to school hungry, families live in sub-standard accommodation, benefits are inadequate and wages are not high enough to provide a satisfactory standard of living.
People are right to be concerned about cold, damp homes and children who lack adequate food and clothing. No one benefits from such deprivation.

But what’s striking is that the lobby groups demanding government action seem to think the problems of poverty can be eliminated at a stroke by increasing welfare payments, providing children with free medical care and meals in schools, raising the minimum wage and building more rental housing.  Just like that.
Like the Greens with their money-printing plans, they propose seductively simplistic solutions for very complex problems.

They prefer not to think about where the money comes from; too hard.


Friday, January 4, 2013

2012: year of the buffoon?

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, January 2.)
In the week before Christmas I was invited to take part in a radio programme where we were to discuss, among other things, the good and bad of 2012.

Worryingly, I had to scratch my head to think of anything that had happened in 2012. I put this down to my many years as a daily newspaper journalist, a career which revolves around the event of the moment. Once a story has been written and published, it’s expunged from the memory bank to make room for the next one.

It follows that casting one’s mind back over an entire year was a tall order. But I duly went back through my files and slowly, little by little, it all came back to me.
Here, then, is my highly selective resume of 2012.

It was a year in which, bizarrely, a large and buffoonish-looking German named Kim Dotcom became a national celebrity and caused enormous political embarrassment.
Buffoonish-looking he may be, but Herr Dotcom is a very shrewd customer with a natural flair for public relations. He cleverly turned the controversy arising from an over-the-top police raid on his home near Auckland to his advantage, in the process becoming something of a folk hero.

Public support for Herr Dotcom (even his adopted name sounds like something created by a Hollywood scriptwriter) arose largely from the perception, not entirely unjustified, that America, determined to put him on the mat for alleged copyright infringement on a massive scale, had told the New Zealand government to jump and the response had been, “how high”?
Public unease at this perceived grovelling to the Americans would have been accentuated by controversy over the government’s sweetheart deal with the Sky City casino company and, going back further, to the furore over The Hobbit, which saw prime minister John Key swiftly moving to placate Warner Brothers to ensure production remained in New Zealand.

In each of these instances, the government’s opponents were able to portray the National Party as a pushover, ready to sell New Zealand’s soul.
There was a time, decades ago, when many New Zealanders accepted that we had no choice but to bow to powerful outside interests (usually British, in those days), but all that has changed. Since Britain abandoned us for the EU and we fell out with the Americans over Anzus, we have acquired a taste for asserting our autonomy.

The problem is that we are a small, vulnerable economy, often at the mercy of external forces. The government must seize what opportunities it can without appearing to compromise our sovereignty. Getting that balance right will present a continuing challenge for the government’s political management skills, which looked distinctly ragged in 2012.
It was a year in which Mr Key seemed to forget the words of the magic incantation that protected him against political damage during his first term, but whether he has learned anything is a moot point. His final act of the political year was to indulge in juvenile clowning on a radio station – not a good look when the education sector was in turmoil. 

Herr Dotcom’s other significant achievement was that he effectively destroyed the Act party, although not without a great deal of help from the pathetic John Banks and the man who unwisely installed him in Epsom, erstwhile Act leader Don Brash.
Mr Banks had been happy to accept Herr Dotcom’s generous help when he ran unsuccessfully for the Auckland mayoralty, but ungraciously disowned the German the moment he looked like becoming a political embarrassment. Herr Dotcom took his revenge by publicly exposing Mr Banks’ duplicity, and fair enough. Now Mr Banks’ reputation is in tatters and so is Act’s. (In fact the more I think about it, the more I'm forced to conclude that, given Mr Key's radio antics and Mr Banks' embarrassing attempts to wriggle out of his predicament, buffoonery may have been the defining quality of 2012.)

Many people will rejoice at the prospect of Act being obliterated at the 2014 general election, but I’m not one of them. It was a bold, radical and idealistic party – as idealistic as any party on the left – but like many idealistic parties, it suffered from a surfeit of talented but idiosyncratic and often undisciplined personalities.  Dr Brash’s ill-conceived takeover of the party sealed its fate.
But back to 2012. There was ACC and the Bronwyn Pullar fiasco, which claimed more victims than a cluster bomb. Yet I still refuse to buy Ms Pullar’s portrayal of herself (with a huge amount of help from TV3’s disgracefully partisan Sixty Minutes) as an heroic whistle blower. It’s my opinion she was driven from the start by pure, undiluted self-interest and adopted the mantle of crusader only after her attempt to exploit her highly-placed connections failed.

There was a sensational murder trial that resulted in an equally sensational acquittal. Ewen Macdonald, who was accused of murdering Scott Guy, shows every sign of becoming another cause celebre in the tradition of Arthur Allan Thomas, David Bain, David Tamihere and Scott Watson, with the obvious difference that those cases resulted in convictions whereas Macdonald will walk free. It’s as if New Zealand has developed a craving for murder cases that fail to produce, at least in the public mind, a satisfactory and definitive conclusion.
There was The Hobbit: all two hours and 50 minutes of it, and there are still (spare us!) two films to go. Sir Peter Jackson is the new Ed Hillary. Whatever one thinks of his films, he has done more than anyone since Hillary to put the country on the world map and make New Zealanders feel good about themselves. Even the late Sir Peter Blake was never this big.

There was an unholy mess in education – the result of an inexperienced but headstrong minister pushing too hard? – and mounting unease about child poverty and income disparity, with no shortage of suggested solutions (increased welfare payments, a higher minimum wage, meals in schools, more cheap rental housing) but a conspicuous failure to explain how a struggling economy could afford them.
There was noisy agitation for alcohol law reform and same-sex marriage. Parliament emphatically rebuffed campaigners on the first issue – not that that will silence the taxpayer-funded wowser lobby for long – but it remains to be seen how much traction the marriage reformers will get.

And then there’s potentially the most troubling and divisive issue of all: race, biculturalism and the Treaty. Of all the issues that bubbled away in 2012, this is the one most likely to change the face of New Zealand fundamentally and permanently. And it’s one on which the political consensus in Parliament seems entirely out of step with the mood of the electorate.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Peter? Are you there?

I recently had an exchange here with New Zealand Herald senior journalist Peter Calder. It began with him challenging my statement that Auckland University academic Elizabeth Rata was Maori, but soon degenerated into a catty tit-for-tat exchange (the tone of which I accept some responsibility for) that probably no one other than the two participants bothered to persevere with.
To recap, I had drawn attention to a noteworthy piece Rata wrote for the Herald warning of the dangers of “co-governance” with iwi, a Treaty “partnership” model that Rata points out subverts the basic principles of democracy. Calder made no direct comment on Rata’s piece (though his opinion subsequently became very clear in the course of our exchange) but took exception to my statement that Rata was “one of very few Maori” with the courage to speak out against the concept of biculturalism.

That specific issue – whether Rata was Maori – remains unresolved. Calder wanted me to say she wasn’t, and claimed some personal knowledge because his wife is a university colleague of Rata. All I was prepared to do was accept that I couldn’t prove she was Maori, just as I suspect Calder can’t prove she isn’t. I find it interesting that after having said that Rata made a point of not disclosing her ethnicity, he stated categorically that I was wrong in saying she was Maori. Thus, having lectured me for being sloppy in asserting she was Maori, he appears to have committed the same error in reverse.
So I conceded that Rata might not be Maori, though equally she might be. Having spent time with her at a symposium years ago, I have no more reason to doubt her Maoriness than I do the many pale-skinned Treaty activists with European names who choose to assert their Maori ancestry over their European bloodlines, for reasons only they can explain. But ultimately, as Rata would undoubtedly argue herself, her racial background is irrelevant. I described her as Maori because I thought it a point of interest, but it’s incidental to the issue. What matters is the force of her arguments. And here’s where it gets interesting.

Having answered Calder’s question in the only way I could – namely, by acknowledging that I couldn’t confirm Rata was Maori – I put some questions to him. I asked him to admit that what really riled him was that Rata had the temerity to attack the wearyingly predictable (to pinch a phrase that Calder applied to my own “reactionary drivel”) orthodoxy of the left on Treaty issues; and what’s more, that his own paper had given her a platform. No answer. Missing in action.
I asked these questions because Calder has previous form. In an online journalists’ forum a few weeks ago, he sided with several non-entities who had argued that the media gave far too much coverage to people like Sensible Sentencing Trust man Garth McVicar, welfare watchdog Lindsay Mitchell and University of Canterbury law academic David Round (who, like Rata, is a trenchant critic of the Treaty grievance industry). Calder wrote then that he was proud to be in the same business (journalism) as two contributors to that online discussion who had attacked me for defending the right of people such McVicar, Mitchell and Round to be heard in the media.

As I remarked then, I found it ironic that people who considered themselves journalists were arguing that certain views should be suppressed just because they didn’t agree with them – a view that would have found favour with totalitarian regimes, of both the left and right, down through history. Intriguingly, that exchange was touched off by an editorial in the Herald that said we should disregard the views of “enthusiastic amateurs” campaigning on issues such as climate change and heed only the voices of experts. I understand Calder’s duties at the Herald include writing editorials, and it’s dollars to doughnuts that this was one of his. Do you see a pattern here?
As I say, Calder didn’t respond to my questions – he was interested only in trying to discredit me for asserting that Rata was Maori – so I put them again. I asked him to confirm that his preoccupation with this ultimately irrelevant issue was just a smokescreen, and that what really pissed him off was that the Herald provided a platform for an opinion that he couldn’t stomach. I went on: “You made it clear, by your recent support in another forum for two noxious fleas who argued that people such as Garth McVicar, Lindsay Mitchell and David Round should be ignored by the media, that you think any opinions that don’t conform to your own left-wing world-view should be suppressed, although how you reconcile that with your position as a senior journalist employed by a mainstream newspaper is a bit of a mystery. So why don’t you just give up the contrived indignation and declare honestly that you think people like Dr Rata should be silenced?”

Now I would have thought these were quite serious claims to raise against a journalist, but I’m still waiting for a response. Calder has gone to ground. He’s more interested in trying to discredit my post on Rata on the ground that she’s not Maori (although I challenge him to prove that, just as he challenged me to prove that she is). Presumably he thinks she dishonestly assumes a spurious credibility because she happens to have a Maori surname.
I don’t think I’ve ever met Peter Calder, but I feel I know him. He reveals a lot about himself by what he writes.

He’s something of a bon vivant. He reviews expensive restaurants in the Herald and recently enjoyed Stonyridge Larose ($45 a glass) during two days of wining and dining on Waiheke Island. In these hedonistic endeavours he is accompanied by someone he cutely refers to as “The Professor”, whom I assume to be his wife. I sometimes find his writing style pompous, but then he might well say the same thing about me.
He also writes film reviews, and like many film critics he grabs whatever opportunity he can to make a political point (for example, using a review of a documentary about Donald Trump to have a shot at the New Zealand government, which he says is “keen to bend the rules for rich foreigners”).

So he enjoys the good life. BUT (and this is a very important but), he also has a social conscience. He’s a champion of the poor and downtrodden, which must make him feel better every time he tucks in his bib at an exclusive restaurant or accepts a freebie from an airline or overseas hotel. He tugs at readers’ heartstrings with stories about the queues at the Auckland City Mission, the “hardscrabble” Housing New Zealand tenants heartlessly being “booted out” of their homes at Glen Innes (the bits about the government building new houses and the displaced tenants being offered accommodation elsewhere must have been edited out) and the heroic attempts being made, in the face of government indifference, to save the Maori language.
He gives himself away with telltale moralising (in this case, dropped into an admiring article about a 1960s-style collective) about “modern life having prized ruthless individuality over and above the greater good for a generation now” – a clear reference to Rogernomics, which 1970s-era lefties like Calder tend to view in much the same way as fundamentalist Christians regard Adam and Eve’s Fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden.

In other words Calder is almost the perfect embodiment of what has become known as the chardonnay socialist. There’s no shortage of them in journalism, which needn’t be a problem, just as long as they don’t fall prey to the conceit that they have a monopoly on virtue. That can easily morph into a conviction that anyone holding contrary views must have dodgy motives (greed, indifference, malice, racism, whatever) and should therefore be ignored, if not suppressed.
There are several things that intrigue me about chardonnay socialists. One is that they insist the government eliminate poverty but never bother themselves with the vexing question of where the money will come from. Another is that they are quick to condemn the wickedness of capitalism but never pause to wonder which economic system enables them to eat and drink in fine restaurants, live in tastefully restored Grey Lynn villas, accept free overseas trips and drive cute, environmentally responsible European cars.

But I digress. To get back to Calder, I’d be interested in his answers to the following simple questions: does he accept that Elizabeth Rata has a legitimate point of view on biculturalism and the Treaty, and does he agree that the Herald is doing what a good newspaper should do by giving Rata – along with people of contrary opinions – a platform? Yes or no will suffice.