Posts Tagged ‘Kiwiblog’

Aren’t they precious?

datePosted on 09:11, July 27th, 2009 by Lew

DPF is trying – on an experimental basis, mind, without any predetermined outcome in mind, no horse-scaring intended – to impose standards on his comment threads at Kiwiblog. The proposed standards are not especially onerous:

  1. Respond to the topic and the arguments
  2. Don’t get personal

Even these are too much for the commentariat on the announcement thread (which at time of writing has only been going for a bit over an hour and a half); plenty of high dudgeon, snark and poorly-masked animosity. They just can’t help themselves, dear wee things.

I’ll watch with interest, but it looks to me like David will need to give up his day job to keep on top of it, or appoint some of the usual suspects as deputies to enforce these standards (presumably with zero tolerance for misbehaviour and draconian penalties for miscreants). At worst, one dysfunctional community culture (of incessant attack disguised as ‘robust debate’) could end up replaced with another which is just as bad (of obsequious positioning, sucking up to authority, and (where that fails) of alleged bias being transferred from commenters to the moderators). The General Debates will remain a lawless free-for-all, and I predict also that the worst vitriol will simply spill over into them. Can anyone say “you wanna take this outside?”

At best, though, the move could result in a culture which might actually do some justice to David’s frequently thoughtful and relevant content.

If he has time to write any.


The role of the judiciary is to judge

datePosted on 00:29, July 19th, 2009 by Lew

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over Dame Sian Elias’ remarks about the prison muster. Nevertheless, this is what Chief Justices (and their equivalents elsewhere) do from time to time – make pronouncements about the law and the state of the justice system, which carry no policy mandate but tend to get people talking.

I would note that the speech was much broader and more considered than ‘let the prisoners go free’ as it has been dramatised. But that Dame Sian has made a pronouncement so far out of step with government policy and public consciousness demonstrates either a remarkable sense of personal responsibility for the justice system or a desire to legislate from the bench.

There are three ways to slice it:

  1. The judiciary is right to involve itself in this sort of thing and you agree with the position taken
  2. The judiciary is right to involve itself in this sort of thing and you disagree with the position taken
  3. The judiciary is wrong to involve itself in this sort of thing, and should stay the hell out of wider matters of justice regardless

I’m the first, with Toad and most commenters on Eddie’s post on The Standard. Labour Justice spokesperson Lianne Dalziel is too. In another case I might be the second. Danyl Mclauchlan seems to be either in the first or the second; Idiot/Savant and Bomber are clearly the first; Madeleine Flannagan, herself a lawyer, seems somewhat grudgingly to be in the second camp. Peter Cresswell definitely is.

But it’s tricky; the third is a cover for the second. I think Simon Power and Garth McVicar (along with DPF and some stalwarts of the KBR hang’em-flog’em brigade) are taking the third position for rhetorical purposes when, if they were honest, they’d be defending the right of the judiciary to participate in NZ’s discourse of criminal justice but disagreeing with Dame Sian’s argument in this case – the second position. Dean Knight points out that, when it suits, the government does actually consider the judiciary’s views as integral to justice policy.

If the particulars of the Chief Justice’s speech had been different, I reckon they’d be singing from a songsheet other than the one which reads ‘butt out, you lily-livered liberal panty-waist’. Perhaps the one which reads ‘I disagree with your position but, as the head of NZ’s judiciary, you are entitled to take it’.

The flipside, I suppose, is whether those of us who agree with Dame Sian’s general position today would be supportive of her right to take it if we disagreed. We should be; all of us.

Edit: Andrew Geddis is in the first position; Stephen Franks is in the second.


Protesting too much

datePosted on 23:09, April 28th, 2009 by Lew

I don’t mean to post on Kiwiblog so frequently, but oh well – there’s a lot to post on.

Annette King (or the minions who write her press releases) appear to have jumped the shark, intimating that a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is behind David Farrar’s release of two of David Shearer’s old papers advocating the use of mercenaries. Ok, we know that this sort of thing happens – that some right-wing blogs are used to fly kites for politicians or parties who can’t afford to fly them themselves, and undoubtedly the same happens on the other side. But honestly, DPF does background research like this consistently and well, there’s no secret there, and when you allege this sort of thing in relation to a discrete event then you can expect to get taken to the cleaners if you don’t have the necessary documentary evidence. And, frankly, the real story here is the contents of the papers, not the circumstances of their discovery. So King looks like a weeny whinger unless she can put up, and perhaps even then.

On the other hand, it’s a bit rich for DPF to take such exception to the fine distinction between the parliamentary National party and its wider community apparatus. DPF and the KBR are highly important to National’s political strategy, and the lines between traditional media and citizen media, between internal (orthodox) and external (unorthodox) channels of political advice and communication are getting more blurred by the day. King’s press release makes the mistake of being too specific and trying to pin the issue on the official National apparatus, rather than simply being vague about it and probably having the same effect. Because ultimately, it’s no different whether National’s proxies David Farrar and Cameron Slater do the work or whether someone on the inside does it.


Cry havoc

datePosted on 18:38, April 27th, 2009 by Lew

DPF is up to his old tricks again – this one about Hone Harawira is content-free and David’s own comments are typically innocuous, but it functions very well indeed as a bone for the slavering mastiffs of the KBR to gnaw upon, making him look like a sensible moderate, if you squint a bit. For once, this one wasn’t tagged `Fun Things’.

All the necessary ingredients are there – race, privilege, power differential, obscenity and homophobia – because all minorities are equivalent, right?

Aspiring demagogues, take note.


Ink by the barrel

datePosted on 00:52, April 17th, 2009 by Lew

There’s an interesting range of responses to the Tony Veitch guilty plea of reckless disregard causing injury to Kristin Dunne-Powell, his conviction and sentence to a fine and community service.

Some are baying for blood. The KBR aren’t quite unanimous that he should go to jail, but they’re close (though there is a foul stench of `men have rights [to kick the shit out of people who don’t behave]’ as well). Haiku Dave is particularly grim:

should have got jail, then
he’d know what it’s like to be
attacked from behind

Idiot/Savant is arguing it’s Bruce Emery all over again (and he’s not wrong). Commenter Alison at The Hand Mirror shows some sense, figuring that if prison isn’t a good thing for a random violent offender, it’s not going to be a good thing for Veitch either. Heather Henare, of Women’s Refuge, is similarly cool-headed. The Herald’s Your Views is divided, as are the talkback hordes. A particularly inspired friend and colleague of mine suggested he be made to front the ACC back injury ad campaign, needing to stand on a rickety chair or somesuch in order to reach something up high. Humiliation comes in many forms.

Judge Doogue told told Veitch he was the architect of his own misfortune, and I think that if he does genuinely intend to take legal action against the media for their treatment of the case this past year, then Tony Veitch will also become the architect of his own humiliation. The facts of the case are fairly simple: there is no possible justification he can give for his attack on Dunne-Powell, no argument he can make which will put him on the side of right, and any moral high ground he tries to occupy will come under sustained fire from more sources than he and his team of lawyers can possibly afford to shut down because public sympathy toward celebrities evaporates pretty rapidly when they are seen to be taking advantage of their celebrity status. At this point anything Tony Veitch says or does will play against him. If he tries to smack down the media establishment, any publisher who chooses to fight gets the chance to put the whole stinking mess on the public record. Tim Pankhurst, if he were still editor of the Dominion Post, would pick it up in a moment out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Veitch might be planning to go back to work for The Radio Network, and that might mean APN goes easy, but that’s a great risk to them – while NewsTalk ZB and Radio Sport might not need to demonstrate their lack of fear or favour, the NZ Herald surely does.

My advice to Tony Veitch: keep your head down and take your lumps like you made Kristin Dunne-Powell take hers [though you deserve yours, and she didn’t]. If you want to show us you’re better than we think you are, there is no short-cut, no easy atonement which you can buy or create from words or gestures. You can’t fix this by becoming a legal bully as you are (or were) a physical bully. If you genuinely want to be known and recognised as a good and righteous person, then the time to undertake good and righteous action is now. For your own sake if for nobody else’s.


Very sadly ironic, indeed

datePosted on 11:32, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

DPF has just blogged on the murder of Aasiya Hassan. He comments on the irony of an apparently reformist Muslim beheading his wife in a way resembling an honour-killing. The irony he doesn’t seem to see is that he is guilty of doing the very thing he claims is a problem, when he says

The problem is when people apply a stereotype to all individuas in a group, rather than treat people as individuals.

The fact is that murders, like suicides and like rapes, are committed by people from all strata of society, from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and by and large for the same sorts of reasons. This includes honour-killings, which occur frequently enough (and are tacitly accepted as being `provoked’, attracting less opprobrium and lesser sentences) in western cultures as well – just using different methods, and not formally defined as such. We call them by the more appealing handle `crimes of passion’. Such acts are committed using methods and technologies which are readily available to the murderer, both in a physical sense of I-can-get-my-hands-on-it and in the cultural sense of that’s-just-how-it’s-done. Middle-class [Anglo-American] people tend to use poisons and firearms; working-class [Anglo-American] people knives or blunt objects or nooses, and so on. That a Muslim man, wronged in his marriage, might resort to beheading is as obvious as saying that he might have shot her if he was a white middle-class American. But DPF implicitly privileges some murder methods over others, and implies that Hassan might have avoided the stereotype by choosing another method, as if the method – not the fact of the killing – was the important thing.

David is appealing to the symbolic nature of a beheading to demonstrate that the stereotypes about Muslims are well-founded, rather than treating this murder as an individual case, as he preaches.

This is a bone thrown to the wolves of the KBR, but unusually, this one does not make David look sensible by comparison.


Edit: Added [Anglo-American] above to distinguish the generalisation somewhat.


datePosted on 07:33, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

The Standard and Kiwiblog last night, but not for the first time, crystallised what it is to be two sides of the same political coin. Both covered Health Minister Tony Ryall’s removal* of Richard Thomson from the Otago DHB chair using, respectively, the verbs to sack the old one and to appoint the new one. The difference in emphasis couldn’t be clearer.

For what it’s worth, DPF’s headline is more correct. Ryall didn’t actually fire Richard Thomson, he has been removed from the chair but will remain a DHB member (though the Herald article referenced in the Standard post also uses the `sack’ terminology). On the other hand, I think Tane’s analysis is more correct – Thompson has been removed from the post for political reasons more than for reasons of governance. However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so – he’s got two birds with one stone here.


* see how hard it is to avoid partisan terminology?

[Edit: Silly me for believing the Herald – it’s spelt Richard Thomson – changed.]

On blog conduct

datePosted on 10:48, February 13th, 2009 by Lew

Or, this is not a democracy, it’s a private residence, get used to it. But we need you, and you apparently need us, so let’s do what we can to get along.

Weblogs and online discussion forums are a type of feedback media, where the published content forms the opening chapter, not the entire story. In feedback media, there are broadly two groups of participants, who I’ll term proprietors and contributors; the former being those who operate the medium and provide its `official’ content, the latter those who participate in the medium by adding their own content. The nature of the relationship between these two groups is critical in determining how the medium functions. This post is a quick examination of how feedback media operate at a theoretical level, a survey of examples, and a rationale for dual-mode gatekeeping, with a view to creating an environment conducive to quality discourse which is largely free of personal feuds and partisan point-scoring.

The Dump Button
Though there are others, the canonical mainstream feedback media are the letters-to-the-editor page and talk radio. In either of those media, a proprietor has the unilateral ability to prevent or limit contributors’ participation – in the case of the newspaper editor, the mechanism is `points noted’; radio hosts have a button with which they can drop a caller between when she starts speaking and when she goes to air – traditionally, this timeframe is seven seconds. Blog proprietors have a range of similar devices at their disposal.

This has important implications when viewed in the light of one of the fundamental pieces of media theory – Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model, which argues that a given text is encoded with meaning by its creator, and that meaning is decoded by the person reading it, who can accept, partially accept or wholly reject the encoder’s frame of reference (not the content; that’s a different matter with which Hall was not largely concerned). In principle, the presence of gatekeeping mechanisms such as those described above means it’s virtually impossible to have a statement published which the proprietor doesn’t want to be there. The logical flipside of this is: if your comment gets published, it’s because the proprietor wants it to be published, and for their own reasons.

Proprietors of feedback media generally have plenty of reasons for wanting to allow content to be published, the primary one of which is the symbiotic relationship they have with contributors. The nature of the content and the nature of the gatekeeping are the two primary factors which determine the tone of a medium; the former largely because of the contributors it attracts and the latter largely because of the contributors it drives away. When Lindsay Perigo took over from John Banks on his Radio Pacific talk show, many regular callers kept calling because the political content Perigo aired was quite similar. Banks was extremely tolerant of callers who took a while to get to the point – he rarely, if ever, cut people off, and he had a great deal of time for listening to peoples’ stories. Perigo was the opposite; he guided the show much more firmly and did not generally tolerate callers chatting about trivial or mundane matters, and that changed his audience and his contributors. Banks’ loyal callers became quite displeased when Perigo, for instance, dedicated an entire hour of his show to the songs of Mario Lanza, of whom they’d never heard, and became irate when he lost his temper with some of the more elderly callers and began to cut them off for not sticking to the programme or saying anything he considered meaningful. Gradually, the old callers stopped calling and were replaced by a new set: younger, less religious, sharper of tongue, etc.

Gatekeeping Models
Plenty of different gatekeeping models exist in practice. I’ll focus on four which are fairly archetypal. Each creates a different atmosphere.
1. Slashdot. The lunatic asylum model. Members control almost everything. This results in a community which is extremely tolerant of insults, memes, tomfoolery, and has an incredibly low signal to noise ratio.
2. Kiwiblog. The echo chamber model. Content is published by DPF, commented upon by members, who use a karma system and are subject to a demerit system (operated by DPF) which is more theoretical than anything. This results in a sort of groupthink; not because DPF enforces it, but because he allows his commentariat to do so, creating a recursive loop of abuse which deters dissenters from participating. There is an argument that DPF (who’s a thoroughly decent bloke, quite unlike his comment threads) keeps his blog this way in order to make himself look sensible and reasonable by comparison.
3. No Right Turn. The Holy Sepulchre model. Content is published by Idiot/Savant, and that’s what you get. Idiot/Savant took the opposite line to DPF and turned off comments altogether a good long while ago. The result is almost pure signal, very little noise. I/S is frequently referred to by and comments on other blogs to maintain the feedback aspect of his medium.
4. The Standard. The noisy tavern model. Content is posted and comments are moderated by a group of writers, and Lynn Prentice, who tolerates very little of the sort of abuse for which KB is known. In general this results in a more congenial atmosphere, with a wide range of dissenting voices who are usually treated with at least a modicum of respect. However, it still gets pretty heated because there is no clear delineation between content and conveyance.

The Living Room Model
Anita’s model for Kiwipolitico is of a living room in which robust and complex but civil and reasoned discussions take place. This implies rights and responsibilities, and although I’ve only recently moved in (as it were) I shall presume to list a few as I see them. These apply equally to proprietors and to contributors.

* You have a right to be treated as an honourable contributor and to be free from serious personal attacks, abuse or character assassination.
* You have a right to not have your personal or professional life dragged into a discussion unless you allow it, or it is somehow germane to a legitimate matter of debate.
* You have a responsibility to defend and substantiate your arguments and assertions, not to assume that because people here are civil you can get away with a weak argument or unproven claims.
* You have a responsibility to adhere to and enforce these standards of conduct to the extent you are able.

Sir Karl Popper (and others) argued that if a society is perfectly tolerant of any and all behaviour, it must tolerate behaviour which is destructive of toleration itself, eventually leading to a general absence of toleration. This is pretty clearly evident in the Slashdot and Kiwiblog examples above and to a lesser extent in The Standard example, where because of a greater or lesser lack of discipline, much worthwhile discussion is simply drowned out, and the signal to noise ratio drops. The problem is usually not with the arguments, which can be well-reasoned and supported; it is the attacks and epithets which accompany those arguments which deters dissent. Therefore, in order to privilege argument over attacks, the content to be argued and the means by which it is argued need to be treated separately. The living room model requires that there be little or no gatekeeping of argument itself, coupled with strict gatekeeping of the means by which that argument is conveyed – essentially: make what points you choose, but do so in good faith and in accordance with decent norms of conduct and reasoned debate.

The point and purpose of the model is to separate arguer and argument for the purpose of criticism. You should be vulnerable to critique only on the grounds of your arguments, your ideas, or your conduct. Good ideas and arguments, cleanly made and supported by evidence and logic, will thrive here regardless of their ideological bent, but arguments resorting to personal attacks, abuse, absurd hyperbole, rash generalisation or wilful misinterpretation to make a point will perish whether we agree with their premises or not, because these are the signs of a hollow argument which lacks a valid foundation. While you will be sheltered from personal attacks, don’t expect your argument to be sheltered or defended by the proprietors; indeed, we may take great glee in watching it be torn asunder, as long as the tearing is done in a civil, justified and reasoned fashion. Finally, toleration breeds toleration. If you consistently exhibit good character and careful arguments, occasional minor indiscretions may be overlooked. This is a privilege to be earned, and I hope everyone will earn it.