Brian Edwards Media

Catch 22 and the war on terrorism

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Some days ago I wrote a post in the form of a short story. In the story a young man walks into a New Zealand Army recruiting office. He’s 23 and his resume makes it clear that he’s the sort of candidate the Army would welcome with open arms. The recruiting officer can’t believe his luck. This kid is officer material for sure. He tells him as much. But the ideal candidate expresses a reservation about signing up. He wants an assurance that he will never be placed in harm’s way, that he will never be asked to go to war. The recruiting officer is astonished. With as much patience as he can muster, he points out that it’s the New Zealand ARMY the young man wants to join – a fighting force. Armies go to war. Soldiers are trained to fight. Though he might never be required to risk his life, the assurance he seeks clearly cannot be given.

“I know all that, of course,” the young man says, “I thought there might be exceptions. Thank you for your patience.”

Two weeks later a hooded gunman mows down 15 people at a Westfield mall. CCTV footage will  show him  hacking off the head of a late-middle-aged man with a serrated knife before running from the complex. In less than 12 hours Isis has claimed responsibility for the slaughter.

Within 24 hours the young man reappears at the door of the Army recruiting office. The recruiting officer looks up from the papers on his desk. “You’re back!” he says, “What changed your mind?”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Um, er, like, y’know and what the hell happened to the schwa?

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We Kiwis are as a rule not a highly articulate people. We tend to the taciturn and, when we do have something to say, struggle to get the words out in a coherent flow. We ‘um’ and ‘er’ our way through the simplest proposition. Even those in the speech-making business, whom you might expect to be fluent  –Trevor Mallard, John Key and the lovely David Shearer come to mind – pepper their responses with time-to-think, space-filling noises. And you could have driven trucks through the late lamented Rob Muldoon’s rasping ‘ers’.

I sometimes think that this phenomenon may reflect the emphasis placed in Kiwi culture on the virtue of humility. Our heroes blush when praised and pronounce themselves “humbled” by the nation’s applause. The word seems to indicate they feel their success wasn’t  deserving of such acclamation. Overt celebration of a win or achievement might suggest vanity. People might think they were “up themselves”. So they keep their heads down and communicate through half-closed mouths and clenched teeth.

To be absolutely fair, the fear of public speaking – from making a two-minute speech at an office “do” to addressing the United Nations – is recognised as being near the top of the commonly accepted list of debilitating phobias. But our Kiwi inability to express ourselves fluently can be observed in everyday conversation and not just in those scary situations. We stammer and stutter, mutter and mumble.   Read the rest of this entry »

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An atheist reflects on God, religious belief and Isis [Updated]

Isis

I was 18 or 19 when I told the local Church of Ireland minister in Dunmurry, Canon Robert C Ellis, that I was an atheist and could no longer sing in the church choir or superintend the Sunday School classes on the council housing estate in nearby Seymour Hill where I lived with my aging mother. [Note the background similarity with John Key, though it stops there!)

Canon Ellis, whose initials ‘RC’ were a cross he had to bear, was  a liberal on most things, including sex, but his liberalism did not extend to the Roman Catholic faith which he could not stomach. He was a gentler man than Ian Paisley, though cut from the same cloth in matters sectarian.

My declaration that I no longer believed in God did not faze the Canon one bit. His brilliant son Stuart had, like me, found and then lost religion. The university did that to impressionable young minds.

“You can,” RC said, “continue to attend church, sing in the choir and teach Sunday School. Just don’t say The Lord’s Prayer or take communion and confine your teaching to the historical account of Jesus’ life.”

I spent a day or two considering this solution before deciding that it really wasn’t feasible for the person of conscience I considered myself to be.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Why are New Zealanders so effing loud?

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Dizengoff on Ponsonby Road is one of the area’s better know eateries with a particular reputation for excellent coffee. There are plenty of tables for diners inside the cafe but, like several other local establishments, the acoustics aren’t great. When the place is less than half full you can’t hear yourself think.

Like most Auckland cafe patrons, if the weather is temperate, I prefer to sit outside. Dizengoff  boasts two pavement tables, one on either side of the entrance. Each table seats six people, three a side. You are cheek by jowl with anyone sitting next to you.

As a general rule diners aren’t particularly comfortable sitting immediately next to strangers and least comfortable if there’s very little space between the chairs or tables. This is in part a reflection of our sense of personal space and in part because we neither want to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations nor to have them intrude on ours. Common courtesy dictates that when seated next to a stranger in a restaurant or cafe – not to mention in a cinema or theatre – we keep our voices down.

On a recent Jim Mora panel I confessed to a penchant, as I was leaving a restaurant after a meal, for approaching any diner whose loud or droning  voice had annoyed me, making an ironic or sarcastic remark and walking off leaving them (and their fellow diners) to contemplate their crimes. Read the rest of this entry »

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I offer my humble opinion on Eleanor Catton’s treason

Photo: Robert Catto

Photo: Robert Catto

I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand in mid-September 1964 to take up a lecturing position at Canterbury University. My wife, infant son and I had been airborne for around 36 hours with a two-hour break in Los Angeles to have a shower and freshen up. We were greeted at Christchurch airport by the head of the German Department, not yet a professor, who escorted us to his Volkswagen Beetle into which we poured ourselves, our child and our luggage with some difficulty.

We were, it transpired, to be billeted in a motel until we found permanent accommodation. The motel was in somewhere called Riccarton where the yet-to-be-professor said he would deposit us while we ‘settled in’.

As we were shoe-horning ourselves out of the V-Dub I twisted my ankle on the unexpectedly deep culvert that is a feature of some New Zealand cities, but unknown in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  A twisted ankle is extremely painful and I made a comment along the lines “stupid bloody gutters”. My new boss responded that if I wasn’t going to like it here, perhaps I ought not to have come.

I would later discover that it was a prerequisite of acceptance to New Zealand society that you should “like it here” and fulsomely express that liking from the moment your plane touched down and certainly no later than the second  when your feet met the tarmac at the bottom of the gangway. Jetlagged heads of state, visiting politicians, Hollywood stars, the famous and semi-famous were greeted by anxious media with variants of the same question: “What do you think of New Zealand?” occasionally more directly expressed as “How do you like it here?”    Read the rest of this entry »

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On the uncanny resemblance between John Key and Sergeant Schultz

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In the 30-odd years that Judy and I have been providing media advice and training to prime ministers, prostitutes and pretty well every profession in-between, our teaching mantra has remained the same: “Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes”. It’s a practical rather than a necessarily moral slogan. Being straightforward with the media, telling the truth and admitting your mistakes is quite simply the only strategy that works. Everything else will get you into trouble or more trouble than you’re already in.

Our experience of our elected representatives – left, right and centre – has led us to the conclusion that most are reasonably honest and that the lying politician is a much rarer creature than the general population appears to think. Persuading MPs, Cabinet Ministers and the men and women who held the top job to be straightforward and tell the truth has not been a difficult or even a necessary task.

But will the buggers admit their mistakes? No way. To avoid the usual accusations of left-wing bias on my part, I’ll cite two examples from my side of the house. Helen Clark and the painting which she signed but didn’t paint; Helen Clark and the police car speeding her to Eden Park to watch the rugby.

Neither of these were hanging offences and reasonable explanations (or excuses if you prefer) could have been offered for both: PMs put their moniker on all sorts of things with charitable intent; the New Zealand Prime Minister arriving late for an international footie match isn’t a good look. And anyway, these cops are brilliant and safe drivers.

But Helen, who had been brought up in a family where lying was just about a capital offence, was unwilling to own responsibility for either of these relatively minor transgressions. She was reluctant to admit that she’d made a mistake or even that she’d failed to prevent others making mistakes on her behalf.

The outcome in terms of public and press reaction was extremely negative in both cases. Simple concessions, perhaps with a touch of humour, could have avoided all the fuss: “Well, I sign a lot of things for charity; but maybe I didn’t make it clear that I hadn’t actually painted the picture. I couldn’t paint like that to save my life; Yes, not a good look, I’ll admit, and not a good example to other drivers. Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.”

The problem with denial when you’ve done something wrong is that far from making the issue go away, it amplifies and protracts it. Admitting your mistakes tends to have the opposite effect. Your opponents may have a field day of self congratulation, but it will at least be brief.    Read the rest of this entry »

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Andrew Little: A Man for the Time?

In an ideal world good men and good women would be elected to government; the best would achieve high office and a few the highest office in the land. New Zealand, still one of the least politically corrupt nations in the world, may well have come closer to that ideal in the past than many other developed countries.

In the sixties the arrival of television in New Zealand complicated this simple equation.  The largely impersonal relationship between voter and politician, limited mainly to town hall election meetings and radio broadcasts, was gradually displaced  by the intimacy of the television close-up and the advent of the increasingly personal and probing political television interview.

In one sense this was for the public good. Television had the potential to reveal the cracks not only in the politicians’ policies and claims but in the facade of personal virtue which they hoped to project. The small screen was and remains a more effective lie-detector than radio or the town-hall meeting. It exemplifies the dictum that a picture is worth a thousand words.

But television in the 21st century is also first and foremost an entertainment medium. Those who appear on it are required to engage their audience, to hold their attention, to perform. As my colleague Ian Fraser once put it, “to act themselves”. If indeed it ever was, being a good person is no longer enough. You have to look good as well.

Whether being good and looking good, whether being yourself and acting yourself are entirely compatible is not something I want to canvass here. But I do know that if you don’t “come across” on television, your chances of political success are greatly and quite possibly fatally reduced.    Read the rest of this entry »

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Man meets gorillas – up close and personal!

My Cook Island friend Bill Carruthers sent me this. I’m not sure how widely publicised the clip has already been but I thought it was absolutely wonderful. Enjoy and be amazed:

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The New Zealand Herald: Demise of a Quality Publication

Herald Front Page

Under the editorship of Shayne Currie the New Zealand Herald has been transformed from a quality newspaper into little better than a trash tabloid.

I need to be a little more precise here. Mr Currie has responsibility primarily for the Monday-to-Friday Herald and it is to those editions that my remarks apply.

The Weekend Herald, which appears on Saturday, is edited by David Hastings.  (*See correction below.) The Sunday Herald is edited by  Miriyana Alexander whose function appears to be to make even the Monday-to-Friday Herald look good. It is a wretched publication.

Now if Mr Currie or Ms Alexander had the slightest interest in Brian Edwards’ opinion of their papers – which they certainly haven’t – they would reply that their circulation figures and the Qantas and Canon media awards on their office shelves tell a different story. In those terms they are extremely successful publications. And they would be right.

My only comment would be that tabloid trash and high circulation go together in pretty well every Western democracy and that there are so many media awards and so few major newspapers in New Zealand that it is almost impossible not to have accumulated several shelves-full.

Shayne  and Miriyana would therefore be entirely within their rights to dismiss me as a journalism snob. But we journalism snobs have hearts and we are entitled to mourn the loss of the quality publication that the Herald once was. We are consoled by the excellent Weekend Herald, but there are signs that the populist wolf is already sniffing at the door there too. Read the rest of this entry »

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Lessons in “Followship” from the Labour Party

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In the past I’ve written several posts and articles about voluntary euthanasia. The ‘voluntary’ bit is crucial, since no-one who wants to go on living, however great their pain or however inconvenient their continuing existence to others, should be cajoled or browbeaten into changing their mind.

But it is hard to come to terms with the overweening arrogance of someone who believes they have the right to deny another human being, whose ongoing suffering has deprived them of all joy in living and who wishes to end that suffering, the right to do so.

The laws that govern these decisions and procedures will of necessity be complex and they must be watertight. But they are not beyond our ability to design and implement. Other countries have done so.

I don’t want to restart this debate. That is not the purpose of this post. This post is about the significance of comments on euthanasia cited in this morning’s Herald by the four contenders for the Labour Party leadership.

Iain Lees-Galloway has taken over responsibility for the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’  after its sponsor, Maryan Street, failed to get elected in September. Lees-Galloway is apparently gauging support before deciding whether to put the Bill back on the private members’ bill ballot. It was removed last year under pressure from the Labour leadership who, according to the Herald, “were concerned it could be an election-year distraction or that it could deter conservative voters”. The new Labour leader, whoever that is, could apparently have the deciding voice on the voluntary euthanasia question.

So what did the contenders for that position have to say?

Well, Nanaia Manuta was in favour of reintroducing the bill  because it would show “that Labour would stand up for those difficult conversations that need to be had”.

I thought that was a pretty principled position to take.

David Parker, who voted against legalising voluntary euthanasia in 2003, didn’t want to comment till he’d talked to Lees-Galloway.

Non-committal and therefore less satisfactory perhaps.

Grant Robertson and Andrew Little both support voluntary euthanasia, but neither considered it a priority at the moment. The fairly clear subtext of their replies was that it was a vote-loser and that a party that had polled 25% in September couldn’t afford to be seen supporting unpopular policies.

I’d call that unprincipled.     Read the rest of this entry »

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Thieving Bastards Steal Big Red Umbrella! Read All About It!

View from the bach at Leigh

View from the bach at Leigh

Our house in Herne Bay was burgled some years ago. We were woken in the middle of the night by crashing sounds from downstairs.  It requires a really brave person to investigate strange noises in the night. So down Judy went. She returned to say all was well. Nothing out of the ordinary to be seen. Must have been the cats.

Daylight revealed that my office window had been partially jemmied open. The thieves had managed to get their hands through the gap and make off with my laptop. There were bits of cable still caught in the window. Judy turning the lights on and bellowing had obviously scared them off.

The police were helpful, but your chances of recovering stolen property really are slim.

There’s a near universal theme in people’s storise about having been burgled: it’s less the loss of property than the sense of personal invasion. You could perhaps describe the feeling as akin to grief. Nothing is ever quite the same again. And some things are irreplaceable. I didn’t mourn for my laptop, but for the hundreds of personal photographs that were stored on it. The worst type of theft is the theft of memories. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why my money’s on David Parker. And why Labour’s should be as well!

OK, eventually you have to put your money where your mouth is. So who, of the four declared contestants – Nanaia Mahuta, Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and David Parker –  should, in my opinion, win the Labour leadership contest? And let’s be clear: the only criterion for the job is that that person should have at least a snowball’s chance of beating John Key in 2017.

Nanaia Mahuta has already conceded that she’s unlikely to win the race and she is to be admired for her honesty.

Of the remaining three I’m going to discount Andrew Little first. I simply don’t believe that the country is ready for a grim-faced former union leader to be Prime Minister or to be this country’s envoy overseas.    Read the rest of this entry »

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On flocks of drunken sheep and pillow-fighting teenage girls

 

 

It would have been nice if the Labour Party caucus had just been able to get together and pick a new leader, following the departure of David Cunliffe. That would have been the tidy way of doing things – a secret ballot, no dirty laundry washed in public, no protracted taking of soundings from all and sundry, no overt competition between the aspirants.

Let’s not do that then! Too sensible. Too easy. Too quick. Too like the way the National Party does things. And look where that got them.

So when the unions and the membership and the caucus have been consulted and weighed up the respective merits of the four contenders, there’ll be a new leader ready to take on John Key and the Nats.

Not an easy job when three out of four New Zealand voters just made it crystal  clear that they didn’t want a bar of you. And even less easy when you’ve just made it plain as a pikestaff to the electorate that no-one in your caucus stands out as the obvious, unchallengeable, next leader of the party. And certainly not Nania Mahuta, Andrew Little, Grant Robertson or David Parker.

It’s not that they’re unintelligent or palpably untrustworthy or – as far as we know – have deep dark secrets waiting to emerge from the abyss like Kafka’s beetle. No, it’s just that three of them are dull and the fourth is interesting for the wrong reason.

No X-factor, no pizzazz, no charisma, no capacity to generate excitement. Oh for a Kirk, a Lange, a Clark. Good lord, even Geoffrey Palmer could play the trumpet!

And here’s the rub. For the first time, Key really looks vulnerable. ‘Prime Minister admits to speaking with forked tongue’ might have been the most apt headline this week. There are hints that the honeymoon is over, that the media are falling out of love with the Leader of the Government. Or is it the Leader of the National Party?

But never mind, Labour is providing just the distraction that National needs.

It’s actually bloody hard to be a Labour Party supporter, let alone a Labour Party advocate, when your team behaves like a flock of drunken sheep.

Ladies and gentlemen, do me a favour – get your act together. It’s just not dignified to have your potential leaders cavorting round the country like teenage girls having a pillow fight at a sleepover.

Get a grip! Please!

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How to Sell a House: Free Advice from a couple of experts. (Self-Described!)

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In the 32 years that Judy and I have been together we have bought and sold quite a few houses. Six years is the longest we  lived in any one of those houses.  Our friends regard us as gypsies. The best explanation for this is that we like houses and looking at houses. Sometimes looking means falling in love and falling in love can lead to buying, preceded of course by casting off the old love. This was the case with the house we recently sold. We had a perfectly good house, walked in to an open home at a house across the road, fell in love and bingo – divorce followed by another marriage. This one has lasted a little over 5 years and the house will soon have far more faithful owners, a delightful young family who expect their children, and maybe even some of their grandchildren, to grow up there.

In the process of all this pillar-to-posting we’ve learnt quite a lot about buying and selling houses which could be summarised as ‘win some, lose some’. And we thought we might pass on some of that accumulated experience to you, dear reader. What follows is amateur stuff really and may not be 100% correct. But it’s our experience of the fascinating world of real estate. I say ‘our’ because my editor, JC, as she always does, has read the text and given it her tick of approval. So here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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I say, I say, I say: What is the secret of successful comedy?

“Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense dancing. Those who lack humour lack common sense and should be trusted with nothing.”

Clive James penned that glorious truth. Examples of the correlation between humourlessness and lack of common sense are all around us in present-day New Zealand. They proliferate like weeds. No doubt some will occur to you as you read these lines, but it may be wiser not to name them, to keep your counsel. The humourless weed is prickly and cannot see the joke.

I was reminded of Clive James’ words by the current race for the Labour Party leadership. If James is right  - and everything I have observed about my fellow man in more than seven decades persuades me that he is –  if those who lack humour should indeed “be trusted with nothing”, then we would be wise to include evidence of the presence of a sense of humour among our criteria for electing those who seek to govern us.    Read the rest of this entry »

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Shock! Horror! Wife defends husband!!!!

 

 

In recent posts I’ve made some fairly trenchant comments about David Cunliffe, primarily about his media performance. Others, including some of his Caucus colleagues, have gone even further. The now resigned Leader of the Opposition has been under sustained and often vitriolic attack from friend and foe alike since Labour’s catastrophic showing in the General Election just over a fortnight ago. The media have feasted on his downfall.

Political survival and the retention of one’s self-respect require stoic denial from a political leader in these circumstances. To reveal hurt will  be taken as a sign of weakness. The response to Helen Clark’s tears at Waitangi in 1998 when Titewhai Harawira angrily challenged her right to speak on the marae is evidence enough of that.

But no politician can be totally indifferent to personal attack. David Cunliffe has admitted to being ‘close to tears’ following the 7-hour Caucus bloodletting after the election. That admission took courage and  should be admired rather than derided. A politician without feelings would be a dangerous creature indeed.

But what of the politician’s family, whose hurt or rage can be aired only in private, who must literally suffer in silence. For such  is the convention. So it was for Ruth Kirk and Thea Muldoon who kept just such a dignified silence in the face of the abuse, rumours and scuttlebutt that attended their husbands’ public and private lives. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Tough call!      Read the rest of this entry »

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Long run or short season for David Cunliffe?

Cunliffe and Key

When you’ve read this short post have a look at the interview below with David Cunliffe on last night’s Campbell Live .  But first,  if you haven’t done so already, please  read my previous post on the ex Labour leader, titled “Some acting experience an advantage but not required”.

To be absolutely fair to David  Cunliffe, I should perhaps add that, like all senior politicians, he has on his team people whose job it is to advise him on media issues, to analyse and comment on his radio and television appearances and to prepare him for upcoming interviews and debates, possibly by workshopping those exchanges. Their job is not to ra-ra their employer’s efforts but to be brutally frank in critically analysing his performance.

The blame for Cunliffe’s misguided and vote-losing approach to his exchanges with the Prime Minister during the last election and particularly his final televised debate with John Key on TV One, must be proportionally shared with those advisers.   Read the rest of this entry »

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The Labour Leadership: TV or not TV

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Following my earlier post, in which I argued that the ability to communicate effectively on television is a sine qua non for any politician hoping to occupy the highest office in the land, I thought it might be worthwhile to rate the current pretenders to the Labour leadership with particular –  but not exclusive –  reference to how they perform on the box. To assist in this exercise I’m using the Television Compatibility Matrix or TVCM (My own invention!) to place the prospective leaders on a scale of 1 to 10, one being ‘totally hopeless’ and ten being ‘makes Bill Clinton look like an amateur’. So here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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Some acting experience an advantage but not required.

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If David Cunliffe were an actor, his preferred acting style might best be described as Shakespearean – declamatory, expansive, grand in tone and gesture, rich in soliloquy.

It is a style suited to the stage but unfortunately totally unsuited to the more intimate vehicle of television and in particular to the television interview or debate in which small groups of people in their living rooms at home eavesdrop on an equally small group of people in a studio talking and debating.

Cunliffe’s failure, and the failure of his advisors to draw this distinction between what is appropriate to the stage and what is appropriate to television was in my view a significant factor in Labour’s defeat. He was too big, too loud, too OTT. You could see that he was acting.    Read the rest of this entry »

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Felix the furless feline

After being hit by a car, Felix arrived home post-surgery looking like this:

Day after the orthopedic surgeon got at me.

Two weeks later, bandages gone and sutures removed:

Felix two weeks on

He’s semi-naked, resentful and (mainly) confined to a cage – for another month! But he gets out to sunbathe for a while.  And he still knows what handbasins were designed for:

Still knows what handbasins are for

 

 

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