Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bad flu confirmed in NZ and Israel

Yikes - three New Zealanders have tested positive for 'Swine Flu'. I understand these cases are not as serious as those in Mexico at this stage, thanks to early medical treatment. I wish all those afflicted a speedy recovery.

Sandy Szwarc, on her Junkfood Science blog, suggests a good reason why there have been more deaths in Mexico than elsewhere. Rather than being exposed to a more virulent strain, Szwarc says Mexicans are afflicted by extreme poverty.

The leading story on BBC World News is the confirmed cases of 'swine flu' in New Zealand and Israel.

I watched parliamentary debate on Tony Ryall's ministerial statement on the flu outbreak. Good to see all parties taking a constructive approach. Many were thankful of the work carried out over the past four years in preparing for the day New Zealand would face a potentially deadly flu outbreak. One hopes this makes National a little more kindly disposed to the public service in the upcoming budget.

Unfortunately the reaction from the government in Israel has been less than helpful.

"Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman on Monday declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents 'Mexico Flu,' rather than 'Swine Flu, as pigs are not kosher. "We will call it Mexico flu. We won't call it swine flu," Litzman told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases. "

'Swine' flu may not be the most medically accurate term to use, but it sure beats unfairly tainting the citizens of an entire country by naming it after them. It would also be unfortunate to give the public the impression only those with contact with Mexico are are risk - confirmed human to human contact and the age of air travel makes this a nonsense.

One wonders what Israel's Ultra-Orthodox politicians would be saying in the case a flu started in Israel, and people suggested calling it Israel flu. I suspect their reaction would be hysterical and predictable.

That only serves to demonstrate the stupidity of naming the flu after a particular country.

The 1918 flu only came to be known as the Spanish flu because it received greater press attention when it moved from France to Spain in November 1918, and Spain did not have wartime press censorship at the time. There are a number of theories regarding its starting point - suggestions include the Far East, Kansas and Austria. Of course in New Zealand, it would be most appropriate to call the 1918 outbreak the Massey flu.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The 25th of April is still a day of selective rememberance

With the media full of stories related to ANZAC day, my favourite contribution this year is provided by Dean Parker in an opinion piece in the NZ Herald. While there is value in a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in war, this is not the issue many in the peace movement have with ANZAC day. A common problem is the determination of who is going to be remembered, and often this is highly selective.

"After the end of World War II, a veteran of the fight against fascism turned up at an Auckland Anzac Day parade to march with the RSA. He was told he couldn't."

In other words the RSA refused to recognise those who had the foresight to fight fascism before World War II. Those like Tom Spiller who demonstrated against Mosley's black shirts in the UK in the 1930s and fought in the Spanish Civil War. The RSA told Tom his Spanish service did not make him a real war veteran, and he could only tag along at the end by himself.

Perhaps this has something to do with the history of the policy of appeasement, which was strongly supported by conservatives all over the world prior to the start of the war in 1939.

Britain and France, instead of leaping to support the Republican government of Spain when it faced a military coup d'etat in 1936, chose to place an embargo on support for the besieged democracy. Only two governments spoke up to defend democratic Spain in the League of Nations - the USSR and the New Zealand's first Labour government. This is the genesis of New Zealand's independent foreign policy, not David Lange's reluctant establishment of the anti-nuclear ban. In 1936, the New Zealand National party were indignant Labour were were failing to support our traditional allies - in other words the National party are the original promoters of appeasement in New Zealand.

When Tom came back to New Zealand as part of nationwide tour for the Spanish Medical Aid committee he was greeted by special branch police and asked how long he intended to stay. This is consistent with the approach adopted by western intelligence services to the Spanish conflict - their sympathies did not belong with the Republicans.

Parker explains how this was a gift to Hitler and Mussolini
"The Germans and Italians had tested their weapons in war and tested the parliamentary democracies' resolve to fight fascism. When the former were found unexcelled and the latter non-existent, the two powers pushed ahead with territorial expansion and the Spanish Civil War became the overture to full-blown war in Europe."

This morning I watched a documentary on the experiences of New Zealand prisioners of war. Landing back in their homeland many faced negative reactions from those who believed the act of surrendering to the enemy meant that these New Zealanders were not real veterans. Thankfully such views are no longer commonplace, but it does demonstrate how 'selective remembrance' of war has changed over time.

In the aim of a more inclusive ANZAC day I would personally like to see the RSA also recognise conscientious objectors as prisoners of war - the only difference was that COs were imprisoned by their own Government instead of being imprisoned by the enemy. Given the so called apology given to the Vietnam Vets by the Government last year for having to face low public opinion, the RSA might like to apologise for their role in encouraging the disgraceful and dismissive treatment of COs by the Government and the own attitudes and actions towards the peace movement.

I like the concluding thoughts of Anna from The Hand Mirror on her ANZAC day post
"The theme of ANZAC day is 'Lest we forget'. If we treat war as some romantic, nationalistic boys' own adventure, then we've already forgotten."

We will remember them, but glory is misguided.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No more Scrutiny confirmed

The CEO of Triangle Television has confirmed that the current affairs interview show Scrutiny has been cancelled. Here is the reply I received from Jim Blackman of Triangle TV/Stratos

"Hi Joe – Thank you for this supportive email – we really appreciate it – and I have to say I was delighted to read your Scrutiny column. We are sorry to have lost Scrutiny too, but unfortunately it is a sign of the times

News and current affairs are a priority for us – but unlike the “major” players we are tightly constrained by the almighty dollar – especially in these times – to give you an idea – the TOTAL NZoA funding available for 13 regional channels last year was about 850,000 – and thats paper thin...OOOOH But thats been raised for next year they will say – to 1.5 million ---- still of course among the 13 channels....... thats the equivalent of about an hour and a half of prime time doco on the main broadcasters!!!!

The problem is that we need to try to make cloth fit and we have to assess costs all the way along.

I want to assure you that we are working on a replacement show which we hope you will find equally thought provoking – all I can say is “watch this space”

So while it is pleasing that Triangle are working on a replacement show, it still can not hurt to let Triangle know why the format of Scrutiny was appreciated, as this may influence the makeup of any new show. So let them know at

The meagre funding of regional television stations suggests too little consideration is given to the non-profit television sector. While the previous Labour government gave TVNZ additional charter funding it still required TVNZ to operate as a profit making entity. Indeed it was said the Government provided the funding for 'public service' broadcasting along with an expectation Treasury would take it away again. The new National government plans to transfer this money back to New Zealand On Air (NZOA) so it can be accessed as a contestable fund that TV3 and others can also access. They are wrong to assume public service broadcasting can be delivered in a platform neutral way - I can already hear the profit seeking turkeys starting the next great gobble gobble.

While public broadcasting advocates should always hope for the day we get a Government with a commitment to public broadcasting and a real policy to carry it out, there remains a question of how we might respond in the current environment. It may be worth advocating for National to at least modify their policy so that providers with fewer avenues for alternative funding, that demonstrate prime time public service values, could be given greater priority for funding from NZOA.

In the current environment there is a danger regional TV stations may be squeezed - some may even have to close. On the other hand, one can only hope that such stations do not begin to slash and burn their greatest assets - good quality programming that people want to watch. Too much focus on the immediate bottom line can sometimes be a recipe for ever decreasing circles.

In March Peter Thompson published a thoughtful column on the prospects for public service broadcasting in New Zealand, pointing out that while Labour's broadcasting policy was flawed, the plans by National to dispense completely with the TVNZ charter risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Grocery Store Wars

This is very cute (Hat tip Claire D)

The farm is what gives us our power, it is a kind of field, that creates all edible things. But alas the market has been taken over by the dark side of the empire of pollution and pesticides has ruthlessly cornered the market....

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

No more Scrutiny for Auckland?

Last month I said some nice things about Triangle TV's current affairs interview show Scrutiny. In particular I highlighted how its host Edward Rooney is a far better interviewer than the recently reheated has-been on TVNZ's Q&A, Paul Holmes.

Last week David left a comment on my post with some concerning news.
"Scrutiny just got the chop after Triangle pulled funding. The idiots need a kick up the arse. Scrutiny's one of the best current affairs/interview shows on T.V"

Scrutiny screens on Wednesdays at 7.30pm.

I have been looking around the net for some confirmation of this news, at least so I had something to link to when I blogged about it. In the absence of finding anything I thought I would write to the CEO of Triangle TV, Jim Blackman about this issue. If others also want to send Triangle a message they can do so at

Dear Jim,

Last month I made a post on my blog where I praised Triangle TV's current affairs interview show Scrutiny. I made a comparison between a recent interview of EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little on Scrutiny and a similar interview by Paul Holmes on TVNZ's new show Q & A. I concluded that Edward Rooney's interview was far more competent and revealing.

Some fellow Scrutiny fans later responded to my post. I was disappointed when they informed me that Scrutiny is to be no more, as Triangle has cut the funding to the show. Is this true?

It would be a real shame to lose yet another real current affairs show given there are now so few shows free of hype, haste, hyperbole and tabloid values. I also enjoy watching Triangle's feeds of DW-TV and Aljazeera English TV, and hoped this content would help build an audience for a local current affairs show. With the impending reorganisation of Auckland's local government I thought Scrutiny would not be short for potential topics or guests.

Now I admit I have not watched Scrutiny from week to week, but have enjoyed it when I do. As I hope the show will continue, I was wondering if more could be done to promote the show online among bloggers and other news nerds. For example, Triangle could send out a press release to with the names of upcoming guests so people would have a reminder to tune in. I also really liked how the old Agenda would publish transcripts of interviews - this made it easier for interviews to be commented on blogs and other media. If the old Agenda is anything to go by, the comments made by interviewees could end up creating leading stories in the primetime news.

So I hope there is still a place for a show like Scrutiny in the Triangle TV schedule.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Germaine Greer on Thatcher

Feminist Germaine Greer tears Margaret Thatcher's legacy to shreds in a great article in the Guardian (UK). I liked this bit in particular.

"A story is often told of how, when she was leader of the opposition, Thatcher turned up at a seminar at the Centre for Policy Studies with a copy of Friedrich Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty, banged it down on the table and declared "This is what we believe". She claimed to have first read Hayek when she was at Oxford, but her version of his arguments is one he might not have recognised. Her commitment to a free market, wealth creation and lower taxation was absolute. She had no time for Hayek's misgivings and probably never knew that he believed that "probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rules of thumb, above all of the principle of laissez-faire capitalism". "Wooden insistence" describes Thatcher's style exactly...."

"Success and profit were identical. Her career shows a bland disregard of the principles of honest dealing that ought to underpin the free market in which she had such blind faith. One of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century will be how on earth she got away with it.From her first days in power Thatcher developed and refined ways of circumventing political protocol and procedure, partly because hers was usually a minority opinion."

Greer goes into some detail on Thatcher's dodgy arms dealings, believing it demonstrates "the kind of recklessness and lack of scruple that is now being blamed for the global financial crisis.". Thatcher exported arms to many a nasty dictator, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq (despite a ban officially being in place), Suharto in Indonesia and Pinochet in Chile. It has been suggested Thatcher's own wayward son Mark gained a commission of between 12-20m pounds from a deal involving the Saudi defence minister's son. While Mark Thatcher has denied this, it is not a good look for Maggie.

It would have been useful if Greer had also highlighted the reliance of the UK economy on the defence industry, as this is a useful context for the points she makes. The UK remains the second largest defence supplier in the world, with the defence industry a key source of export dollars. As Thatcher's policies had the effect of narrowing Britain's industrial base, her advocacy on behalf of the defence industry, is not a surprise. Moving Britain closer to a military-industrial complex was one way among many Maggie modelled the UK to be more like America. NewLabour have embraced this element of Thatcherism just like they have embraced the rest, with a Minister of State For Defence recently crowing with pride that the projected UK defence budget is now 10% higher in real terms than it was in 1997.

Given the difficulties now faced by the UK with the global financial crisis it is about time Thatcher's role in in all is revisited, given that she largely began the wholesale liberalisation of the banking and finance sectors. Lax regulation is now widely cited as a key cause of the crisis.

No doubt when Thatcher kicks the bucket the neo-liberal myth making machine will go into overdrive and produce all matter of sick making hagiography. Personally I liked this take on the death of Ronald Reagan...

Rooksmoor, a blogger in the UK also commented on Greer's article.

In 1980 Thatcher's famous catchphrase was "this lady is not for turning". Well to end on a lighter note - I always took this to mean Thatcher was denying that she was a vampire :)

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