Montage

datePosted on 17:47, March 3rd, 2009 by Lew

As a dedicated media geek, I wake up each morning to New Zealand’s broadcast news of record – the masterful Geoff Robinson, the muscular Sean Plunket, and the metronomically-consistent Nicola Wright on Radio NZ National’s Morning Report. These three I consider to be among the top talent in the NZ media industry, and we are fortunate to have them.

I also have a lot of time for Checkpoint‘s Mary Wilson – not quite so obdurate as Sean Plunket, but with as little patience for prevarication. It seems the producer who put together the advertising frob for Checkpoint which aired between the sport and weather segments of yesterday’s 0600 bulletin also has a good ear. You can listen to it here, but I’ve transcribed the good bits:

First speaker: We are not a country of whiners, we are not a country of slackers and we are not a country of selfish individuals. We are a gritty little country with the smarts and determination needed to weather this storm.

(Mary Wilson introduces Checkpoint)

Second speaker: You feel as though you’ve been marched out with a blindfold on and tied up to a pole, and your own army is there as the firing squad.

Now, neither of the speakers either side of Wilson is identified. That’s an important point – the first speaker is immediately recognisable as John Key, and his words are clearly to do with the recession and economically troubled times ahead (in fact, from his opening speech at the Job Summit); a bold bit of chin-up-what-what jingoism. Even if you don’t know who the second speaker was or what he’s talking about, his statement is so strongly worded and his tone so far removed from Key’s that they jar in relation to one another; and although the statements are topically different, their contrast and proximity to one another implies a relationship. Although they’re not obviously linked, a listener (in principle) goes away associating John Key’s upbeat jingoism with one’s own army as the firing squad – a hugely disturbing mental picture if you care to think about it. This is an example of the semiotic technique of associative montage, perfected by Soviet filmmakers, where parts of a text are contextualised and given affective weight by their relationship to other parts of the text (in this case, audio; in the classical case, still or moving images on film).

Because I failed to listen to Checkpoint last week when the story about the Army raincoats was in the news, it took a bit of research to find out it was Davey Hughes of Swazi who said the second bit. And it turns out that there is a link between the statements – but not the link you might expect; a real army but a metaphorical firing squad, and nothing to do with John Key. As a matter of reality, the government isn’t in a position to force the NZDF to choose one supplier over another mid-term, and to do so would set a dangerous precedent and open the government up to well-justified allegations of protectionism.*

Not that this makes any difference to the message as received by a naïve listener to this piece. Montage, like other semiotic grammars but perhaps to a greater extent because we’re unused to it, transmits its meaning subconsciously. Actual rational reality doesn’t necessarily get a look in. Now, I’m not arguing that there’s a wily frob-producer at NatRad who’s employing Soviet montage techniques to propagandise John Key in the minds of loyal public-service broadcasting listeners, though I suppose if you were especially paranoid you could argue that airing it at wake o’clock in the morning makes it easier to prey upon the weakened rationality of the half-asleep.

This is the stuff of which peoples’ impressions are made – people have a feeling about a leader, they can’t quite put a finger on it and haven’t necessarily given it any serious thought, but nevertheless it’s their opinion and they cling to it. Despite Labour’s technically excellent but somewhat nasty `Mary’ ads in the dying days before the election, there seem to be very few such impressions of John Key. But he’s a leader going into a long term of economic downturn, and he can look forward to more such as this.

L

* You could argue that the NZDF should choose NZ-made gear – and the All Blacks should use Canterbury rather than adidas – but the fact is that Key can’t simply make it so.

Pink things/blue things

datePosted on 10:36, March 3rd, 2009 by Lew

Pink and blue are the canonical respective colours of femininity and masculinity, right? Always have been, and across cultures? Well, I’ve known for ages that blue was a traditionally feminine colour in the Judeo-Christian tradition, at least since the Virgin Mary apparently wore a blue cowl. JeongMee Yoon, in her Pink and Blue Project, argues it was the opposite until post-war. Since then, however, the change has been resoundingly reinforced by a powerful consumer feedback loop; nowadays girls want pink things because pink things are for girls and girls are marked as girls by their pink things. Substitute `blue’ and `boys’ for the converse.

Two of Yoon’s stunning images from The Pink and Blue Project illustrate this:

seowoo-and-her-pink-things

seunghyuk-and-his-blue-things

L

Nurses and Police Officers

datePosted on 19:05, March 2nd, 2009 by Anita

Which have trained for longer?

Which are at more day-to-day risk?

Which get paid more?

In the pay equity debates we tend to focus on the argument about the effect and value of child raising, perhaps because it’s a handy dead end. In fact, however, the gender pay gap exists between whole professions: why are police officers paid so much more than nurses? There are plenty of other examples of pairs of equally trained equally skilled professions where female dominated one is paid significantly less than the male dominated one.

There’s a straight forward gender pay equity issue, but also questions of how we value women (why is the kinds of things women do worth less than the things men do?). By extension there is a question about why we value professions which care for people lower than professions that care for things, as that tends to be the gender split in professions as well.

But to come back to original question, is it right that we pay nurses significantly less than police officers and, if so, why?

[For a broader discussion of pay equity, try Julie’s Pay Equity Hub at The Hand Mirror or Queen of Thorns who’s hosting the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival]

Commander-In-Chief

datePosted on 21:50, March 1st, 2009 by Lew

How about this for a photo:

85132251LM001_OBAMA

He’s telling them the Iraq war is over in 18 months – later than the campaign promises, and with more of them in-theatre than expected, but sooner and fewer than the alternatives.

Do they believe him? Do they approve? Does it register?

(Hat-tip: BAGnewsNotes.)

L

Worker organised resistance

datePosted on 10:10, March 1st, 2009 by Anita

Once again Indymedia is the only place providing coverage of worker organised resistance against the current government’s policies.

While the media, major political parties and even the left wing blogs have concentrated on  what was going on inside the Jobs Summit a good old fashioned protest was going on outside. Despite the great messages, the photo friendly images and reality of the protest the coverage we’ve seen has focussed only on the centre-left’s response.

Even the left wing commentary on the lack of men at the summit has been full of images of men (to show the absence of women) rather than images of strong women raising their own voices.

I also haven’t seen any mainstream coverage of the Christchurch picket against the 90 day sacking law which attracted a variety of workers groups and unions.

Sometime in the next few years the left needs to realise that we’re no longer part of the orthodoxy, it’s ok to protest (in fact it always was). We can take our banner and loudspeakers out on the street and tell the world that our voices and our rights are important.

Fear itself

datePosted on 20:37, February 28th, 2009 by Lew

Chris Trotter seems to think I’m being culturally precious and pandering to Māori separatism with my post on the h issue. He misses the point, and fearmongers about vague Orewa-like shadows of a savage threat to the settler way of life.

While it did a lot of describing, the purpose of the post was not descriptive, (is) but normative (ought). The question was not whether Wanganui has become the de facto and de jure name of the town; it manifestly has, a fact I acknowledge by using that spelling throughout that post and this one.* The question was whether those who made it so had the right to make it so, and whether they have the right to keep it so against the will of those who retain rights to the name and its usage – rights granted in principle (but not necessarily enforceable in law) by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Chris seeks to derail this by reference to the changing nature of language, but his example hardly addresses the point, far from invalidating it. The `ought’ I’m arguing is that those with a legitimate historical, linguistic and cultural claim to a name – nobody disputes that they do – which forms a core aspect of their whakapapa and regional identity and who have been actively working to maintain that name for generations should not have that claim summarily invalidated by the whim of a majority whose sole attachment to the word is the ignorance of colonial hegemony – wanting to control whatever aspect of the local culture they can for fear of their own insecure identity. The Bowalley Road example, while interesting, is fundamentally different from the case in point for two reasons: first, it is a name which was attached to a place by individual fiat rather than from long-established common usage; and second, nobody seems to care that it has been changed. My argument rests firmly on both these considerations, and they lend it legitimacy: if it were a made-up name, and if nobody cared, my claim would clearly be invalid. The proponents of retaining the current spelling also appeal to both these grounds for legitimacy, so the question is not which of the two causes is legitimate – it is which of the two spellings should take primacy over the other. Who gets to exercise cultural control – rangatiratanga – over the name? Its originators, whose regional and whakapapa identity is tied to in it, at whose pleasure the original Pākehā settlement was founded, and who have since been systematically excluded from its affairs to the point where they are now outsiders on their own historical lands; or the settlers, whose cultural and linguistic dominance is already evident in myriad ways, who are responsible for the marginalisation of the tangata whenua, and who fight tooth and nail against every attempt at reconciliation or reparation unless it is on their terms and their terms alone. The two claims to primacy have the same grounds in principle – it’s just that the grounds of one are stronger than the grounds of the other.

The second part of Chris’ article is worse, though, because rather than misunderstanding the point and its arguments, he misstates the cause and repeats a divisive propaganda line about the dangers of allowing the natives to exercise any authority. Although Chris might not agree, this kite about the Māori radicals in the closet just waiting for their moment to disrupt the nice harmonious race relations we have in NZ is not too dissimilar from that flown by Don Brash five years ago at the Orewa Rotary Club. Let me deal with the two paragraphs in turn:

What’s more, Ken Mair’s demand that the pre-colonial appellation be restored is, I strongly suspect, part-and-parcel of a much more ambitious plan to reclaim his people’s sovereignty over the entire region. To do that, however, Ken and his people would have to fight the colonial wars of conquest all over again – this time emerging as the winners.

Why didn’t we see through their nefarious plan?

1. Change the name.
2. ?????
3. Declare the Mairist Republic of Whanganui.
4. Profit!

The assertion is beyond preposterous; comparing it to the Underpants Gnome business model almost does the model a disservice.

The goals of tino rangatiratanga ceased to be cession/secession, revolution and mass reoccupation by force generations ago. Tangata whenua – and particularly those of the Whanganui region – have embraced the legitimate governmental and judicial processes at their disposal, so much so that one of their daughters is a minister in the current government.

So perhaps the “grasping settlers” Lew condemns are smarter than he is willing to admit. Perhaps they see right through Ken’s seemingly harmless demand that the spelling of the city’s name be changed. Perhaps, by resisting this little challenge today, the Wanganui District Council and its Mayor can avoid resisting much more dangerous challenges tomorrow.

I never condemned the settlers as stupid – I freely admit that they’re not; they have very smartly and efficiently suppressed almost all Māori resistance, to their great advantage. I condemned their actions and attitudes as unjust and counterproductive in the long term. Chris’ whole argument here begs the question that there’s a race war on, and this is the fundamental assertion that the logic of Orewa and of the iwi/kiwi billboards and of the underclass and the warrior gene expects us to accept – for without it, the edifice crumbles. The entire assumption rises from that same grasping settler mentality I identified – fear of the other, fear of scarcity, fear of losing control, the constant feeling of being embattled and under siege and somehow insecure.

If one accepts – and there is copious evidence for this – that there is no intractable race war, and Māori no longer want to fight, but to retain rangatiratanga over the things they still have, and gain control – mostly symbolic, rather than material – over a tiny fraction of what they lost, there’s no argument to be had here. Work with them, rather than against them, treat in good faith and look to the future, and the future begins to look a whole lot brighter.

Today, 28 February, is the anniversary of the 1995 occupation of Pakaitore, the grounds upon which the Wanganui District Courthouse stands, known formerly as Moutoa Gardens in honour of the `loyal Māoris’ who defended the settlement against a Hauhau assault at Moutoa Island in 1864. The occupation lasted nearly three tense months during which the settlers thought their town had been invaded – my wife’s cousin phoned from London in the middle of the night to make sure she wasn’t in any danger; of course, she wasn’t because there was no violence beyond the usual which happened between the Rutland and Commercial Hotels. The occupation centred upon the claim that the land had been expropriated by the city, not sold by tangata whenua. On this same day in 2007, the Māori Land Court returned the block to iwi, who now receive a rental from the Ministry of Justice, whose courthouse continues to operate undisturbed. The land remains publicly accessible to all, although the statue of John Ballance no longer stands. Today, in the wind and rain, there were tents set up selling fry bread and hāngi and raw fish and home-grown veges and artwork; people standing around talking and kids playing. Ken Mair was there; he doesn’t know me and I’m just about as white as can be, but he greeted me warmly and bid me welcome and we chatted for a moment. There was a big tino rangatiratanga flag, but no chest-thumping or politicking or nationalistic fervour – it was a marketplace, on the site of a historical marketplace. The only problem was that there were hardly any white folk there, and those who were there looked guilty and suspicious, like they thought they were trespassing. The people selling the raw fish were embarrassed that they had trouble producing change for a $20 note. A girl of about seven wanted to know where I was from, and when I told her `Wellington, but I grew up here’, she asked `why don’t you live in Wanganui any more?’ What’s needed, and wanted, is more understanding, not the entrenchment of colonial ignorance or its endorsement as a valid way of life.

So, Chris, beyond the vague shadows of Orewa, what `dangerous challenges’ might the latter-day settlers of New Zealand face if they allow tangata whenua a bit of symbolic and linguistic authority over their own names and history?

L

* I use the spelling `Wanganui’ because this spelling currently has primacy. While I believe the spelling should be `Whanganui’, it’s not good enough to just have it become the de facto spelling. In order to recognise rangatiratanga, it must be made official – ariki ki te ariki, tangata ki te tangata.

Are FTAs OK?

datePosted on 15:40, February 28th, 2009 by Pablo

The Feb 27 announcement that NZ and Australia have signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA)  with the ten member Southeast Asian regional grouping known as ASEAN has been hailed as another triumph for NZ’s economic openness, especially coming at a time when protectionist and nationalising policies have re-emerged in response to the global market crisis now ongoing. Although Trade Minister Tim Grosser signed the AANZ-FTA agreement at the 14th ASEAN summit in Thailand, it was MFAT officials working under instruction from the 5th Labour government who sealed the deal (after 4 years of negotiations), and it is these officials who are now beginning talks with India on a bilateral FTA similar to the one signed last year with the PRC. Yet, amid all the self-congratulation by government officials and business leaders, the nagging questions remains: are such FTA’s always good for the average Kiwi?

Pro-trade advocates will say yes on three counts. First, increased markets for NZ exports means more jobs in those sectors as well as their subsidiaries and ancillary industries. Second, increased foreign investment opportunities for NZ firms will eventually increase dividends for Kiwi shareholders. Third, access to a wider range of import markets means more competition and lower prices for Kiwi consumers. But there is more to the picture than this seemingly positive sum outlook.

The AANZ-FTA, like the FTA with the PRC and the P4 FTA signed earlier by NZ with Brunei, Singapore and Chile, is more properly seen as a tariff reduction scheme. In the case of the AANZ-FTA, the goal is to reduce common tariffs by 96% by 2020, thereby paving the way for the development of a a EU-style common market along the Western Pacific Rim that can compete with the EU, the US and emerging giants like the PRC, India and Brazil. NZ estimates are that it will eventually enjoy a 99% reduction in tariffs on its exports to ASEAN while ASEAN members will receive an 85% reduction on their imports to NZ. With US$ 31 billion is ASEAN exports to Australia and NZ  and US$16.8 billion of Australian and New Zealand exports to ASEAN members in 2007 (75% of that volume being between Australia and ASEAN, with NZ exporting US$4.6 billion to ASEAN members in 2008)), the objective is to raise the flow of goods and services ten fold over the next decade. Tariff reduction is seen as the key to achieving this goal, as it will lower transaction costs and remove fiscal impediments to investment within the partnership.

The problems with this arrangement stem from the asymmetries in the respective economies involved, from the lack of “after-entry” provisos, and from the dubious character of some of the regimes involved. With regard to the latter, the AANZ-FTA includes Myanmar and Brunei, two despotic regimes whose trade reliability and fiscal responsibility, much less human rights records, are open to question. It includes Thailand, which has the appearance of a politically failing state where sex tourism weirdness competes with highly exploitative labour-intensive low-cost production as the primary source of GDP, all amid grave ethnic conflict in its southern regions. It includes Laos and Cambodia, two states that barely meet the criteria for inclusion in a globalised trade regime. Its leading members, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, have issues of political and/or corporate governance (be it in a lack of corporate transparency and/or a lack of political accountability), and the remaining member, Viet Nam, is a one party authoritarian regime that, if not as retrograde as Myanmar, has yet to exhibit the developmental potential of some of its most proximate neighbours. ASEAN is, in other words, a polyglot of corruption, nepotism, economic underdevelopment and exploitation mixed with crass materialism and indifference towards basic human rights and civil liberties in a highly charged ethnically diverse and stratified demographic, with a profoundly unequal distribution of resources and reliability amongst its members. Is that what NZ wants in terms of preferential trading partners?

Not surprisingly, the AANZ-FTA, which is due to go into effect on July 1 2009, has no common labour standards, including provisions regarding collective bargaining, right to organise, female and child labour, occupational health and safety and quality control. It has no environmental clauses. All of those are left to the industries involved. The Fontera PRC subsidiary’s Melanin scandal gives an indication of what can happen when such is the case.

Then there is the issue of size asymmetries and economies of scale. Is it plausible to think that with Australia coupled to NZ on one side of the AANZ-FTA ledger, NZ is going to be an equal beneficiary of the new tariff regime? If Australia turns out to be the major focus of ASEAN trade, will that not accelerate worker exodus and capital flight from NZ to Aussie under the terms of the CEP? Is it plausible to believe that with the lack of labour and other standards, NZ businesses in a variety of value added or service sectors will not have an incentive to re-locate their workforce in ASEAN countries where wages and benefits are lower? Is it plausible to think that NZ, with an export base in relatively inelastic primary-good industries and their derivatives (say, milk powder or paper pulp) will enjoy an equitable balance of trade with more elastic value-added importers? Is it plausible to think that foreign investors will not use the opportunity provided by relaxed investment regulation to assert direct control over NZ productive assets (which is an issue that also is at play with regards to the FTA with the PRC)? What NEW productive activities will actually  be created in NZ that will help diversify the economy while providing new employment opportunities that require so-called “knowledge-based”  skills? (For an earlier discussion of the problems of asymmetric trade, with specific regard to the PRC FTA, see http://scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0803/S00263.htm).

These are the questions that need to be asked in the parliamentary debates leading up to the July 1, 2009 ratification date. It is important that the Greens and other groups with concerns about FTAs avoid the appearance of knee-jerk protectionism that they have been saddled with in the past (as was the case with NZ First). Instead, the emphasis must be on the hidden “F” in an FTA–the FAIR aspect of trade, which for a small democracy such as NZ is as important as its free aspect. After all, free trade is not necessarily synonymous with fair trade, and it behooves the political Left to make that point since no one else (to include Labour) will.

The department of made-up numbers

datePosted on 16:15, February 27th, 2009 by Lew

This excellent article did the rounds in my department at work today, about the methodological rigour (or lack thereof) in ratings, on which I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while.

I refer almost daily to such demographic information – ratings, audience/circulation, readership and particularly advertising value equivalents – as `the department of made-up numbers’ because, basically, that’s what they are. At best, they are a set of figures which, while deeply flawed, are horizontally and vertically consistent, and well-enough understood that their failings can be accounted for (this approximates a definition of any useful long-term demographic data). At worst, they are the patina of officious statistical rigour over a set of numbers tuned to tell people whatever the media outlet, its owners, or its PR company want people to know – and that means they’re designed to fool. Most often, a given dataset lies in between – in the murky liminal zone where it’s impossible to tell whether it’s the former or the latter or something else entirely without access to the raw data and its provenance, which is nearly always impossible to get, and would entail phenomenal amounts of very specialised, expensive, time-consuming work to make sense of even if you could get it.

Despite these dire problems, demographic data, ratings, audience/circulation and advertising value equivalent data are the mainstay of the media and communications industry’s performance measurement infrastructure, for two simple reasons: First, it gives you nice clear figures to prove your department is doing its job; and second, nothing else does, because media demographics is the art of measuring the unmeasurable. So people who are otherwise cautious and crafty and suspicious just accept the numbers at face value and trust them implicitly because the alternative is no data, and with apologies to the Bard, nothing will come of nothing.

This reliance on demographic figures is highly detrimental to the health of the media industry, because the data can’t be verified, and there exists an inflation imperative. I dislike comparisons to communism as a rule, but there’s a parallel in this sort of reporting in the media/PR/comms industry as it presently is to the problems of productivity reporting seen in the 20s in the USSR and the 50s in China. When both producers and their supposedly independent auditors are ranked according to the quantity – not the quality – of the figures they produce, there inevitably emerges a tendency to inflate those figures.

In the USSR and China, wheat and rice yields were inflated in this way, because the producers would be punished if their yields fell, and the municipal authorities didn’t look too closely at the production figures because they would be punished if their municipality’s yields fell. Central government assumed these figures were correct, and based budgets and food allocations and projections and such upon them, planning more than they could realistically achieve because there was in fact less food than they thought in the granaries.

If we substitute `food’ for `ratings, I think the parallel is pretty clear: the media are relying on bad data to demonstrate that their product has value to advertisers first and journalistic merit second and to boost the egos of their stable of opinion leaders third; internal communications departments use it to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and initiatives; external PR firms use it to prove their worth to client companies; boards of directors rely on it to make decisions about what publicity campaigns to fund, which products to launch, and who to promote. All this is good money thrown after bad – frankly, it’s a miracle it hasn’t all come tumbling down sooner.

L

27 Feb 1951: Lest we forget

datePosted on 08:42, February 27th, 2009 by Anita

On 27 February 1951 the government deployed the army onto the wharves in an attempt to break a union.

My summary of the Waterfront Dispute: the workers took action as part of a pay dispute by refusing to work over Finn, the ports locked them out, the government declared a state of emergency, rolled in the army and put in draconian regulations that, amongst other things, made it illegal to give food to the children of locked out wharfies.

Today I’m thinking of three things

  1. The courage of the wharfies and their families
  2. The strength and kindness of everyone who broke the law to make sure they had food and shelter
  3. That the “reforms” of the 80s and 90s broke the unions in a way the army never could.

What do we need to do to return power to workers?

The documentary produced for the strike’s 50th anniversary is available here, thanks IrishBill.

A rhetorical Bermuda triangle

datePosted on 05:17, February 26th, 2009 by Anita

I love the description of the political strategy of turning an accusation about an action into a defence from a personal attack.

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