‘Gonna make it after all…’

Husker Du. Mary Tyler Moore Theme. Thrashed a lot, very ironically, back in 1985. Seems less ironic now.

Rest in piece, Mary. Wasn’t till I got to journalism school in 1982 I realised many of the newsroom types in the MTM Show were everywhere. Not just the Marys, but the Ted Baxters & the Lou Grants.

Thought for the Day – from good ol’ Hunter S.

‘The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.’

– Hunter S Thompson.

Thought for the day – Mencken on books 

‘There are people who read too much: the bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.’
H L Mencken.

To which I can only say, ‘Cheers’. Though I’d query the “too much”.


The US Presidential elections…what would Mencken say?

‘My microphone is broken. She broke it. Her and Obama. They took it to Kenya and they broke it.’

I hope there is some mute village Mencken finding his or her journalistic voice in the United States this horrendous election year. It calls for some Menckenesque scorn, although I suspect he would see, in Donald Trump, all his reservations about providing the vote to people he would regard as a sub normal intelligence – i.e. about half the human race – made flesh.

Mencken – H L Mencken, to use the byline he wrote under, from his Baltimore office, for much of the first half of the 20th century – had a fine line in scorn and invective and for the follies of political life.

His scorn wasn’t just for the polticians themselves – it was more for the people who voted for them, for all the wrong reasons. There was often more than a tinge of contempt, unfortunately, in his attitudes to those less intelligent than himself – a rather large group. 

He was though, ahead of his time in some matters. It’s interesting to ponder what he would make of Donald Trump’s progress to head the party of Abraham Lincoln. 

‘A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in’, he once wrote. 

Well, quite. 

And Mencken was quite sympathetic to women’s fight for equality,  writing that ‘women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience.’

His scepticism – and his message that scepticism was a right and good thing, especially when applied to both those who hold formal political power and those who adopt the less accountable,but often more intrusive, power of moral certitude.

‘A Socialist who goes to jail for his opinions seems to me a much finer man than the judge who sends him there, though I disagree with all the ideas of the Socialist and agree with some of those of the judge. But though he is fine, the Socialist is nevertheless foolish, for he suffers for what is untrue. If I knew what was true, I’d probably be willing to sweat and strive for it, and maybe even to die for it to the tune of bugle-blasts. But so far I have not found it.’

..is a sentiment I find myself endorsing, with a small dose of scepticism (there are some things I feel are true,  but in the main they belong to the private sphere).

‘The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic,’ is another of Mencken’s aphorisms.

 ‘The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.’

I suspect Mencken would add a rider to that today. Trump is a cynic – but a cynic without any tempering influence of empathy. 

The effective cynic in fact has bags of empathy for other human beings – cynicism requires insight, a knowledge of, and instinct for, other humans, and that requires empathy.  Trump seems to lack any of this. 

Add to that the legions of religious fanatics who have, out of  a combination  of opportunism, convenience, venality and sheer stupidity, hitched their wagon to the Trump circus wagon, and you have potentially the worst of all governments in the making.

Blog catch up…Polls and media myths

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The latest Roy Morgan burst upon a breathless nation at the end of the week, showing National jumped 10% in support compared to the last poll, taking the party’s rating to 53%.

I’ll be writing more about this in my paid writing on Monday morning – suffice it to say, the Roy Morgan poll is notorious for its volatility in much the same way the Pacific Ocean is notorious for reasonably high degree of dampness.

The Young Nats are circulating a poster on social media triumphantly proclaiming the 53% rating.

I suppose youth must have its fling, and all that, but over at Home Paddock, Ele Ludemann, whose loyalty to the National Party is long and unquestionable, has some wise words in her post ‘A Snap In Time’. Don’t get too carried away here, is the essence of the message.

Ele’s blog to me epitomises some of the best aspects of New Zealand conservatism – low key, based on instinct rather than abstract ideology, essentially liberal in an open-minded rather than prescriptive way, and with a basic decency.

And as with many of the wiser people I’ve known, what is significant is often what is not said, or left out rather than what is made explicit.

Oh, and politics is not treated as the be all and end all of life.

Elsewhere on the blog front….Danyl at Dimpost asks the source of the tale, recounted occasionally in columns by babyboomers perusing the New Zealand culture, of a small provincial newspaper editorial booming ‘once again, we warn the Kaiser…’.

Or, in some versions,  the Tsar.

The tale is usually, locally, associated with the Grey River Argus, a West Coast paper which was at one time a Labour Party organ. I first heard this tale on the Wellington Polytechnic journalism course in 1982, from one of the tutors.

At the time I took it as one of the legends of The Profession: as I grew older and more sceptical I wondered a bit more about its accuracy. I’ve heard it applied to both the pre-World War One build up, and aimed at Germany, as well as the Russian Scare of the 1880s.

It seems it is a regular legend about the pretensions of provincial, Victorian/Edwardian newspapers, around the English-speaking world.

A lot of the informal tales of The Profession are like that.

One involved when explorer Vivian Fuchs was in New Zealand, for Sir Edmund Hilary’s expedition to Antartica.

According to the legend, a  sub-editor at the Christchurch Star was being let go, and his final front page, which featured a story about Fuchs, was headlined, ‘Fuchs Off To Antartica’  – only with a strategic and obvious misspelling of the explorer’s surname.

The error was spotted, according to the story, as the presses rolled, leading to a ‘STOP THE PRESSES’ moment and all papers hurriedly burned and a new edition quickly put together.

Great story – and one which has been told in other English speaking countries, about other newspapers.  Apocryphal tales told by journalists over a drinks or five are without borders.

Besides, what I do know about my fellow scribes, and survivors of the era when there were real print rooms, is that if any such edition had been printed, someone would have illicitly saved a copy.

Yes, even with the threat of being fired if you did so.

Come on. Why wouldn’t you?  It’d be a great story.

My favourite legend of journalism…well, one of them… is from the era British Fleet Street.

The story goes one of the dailies – probably the Telegraph, although the Times is possible – realised, as print time approached, the regular editorial writer was away and the job had not been assigned to anyone else.

A senior journalist was given the task and bundled into one of the small side offices with a bottle of whisky,  a topic and a deadline.

Right on the dot someone realised he hadn’t filed: a quick check found him, slumped over his typewriter, the tide having gone down considerably in the bottle and a magisterial “Notwithstanding….” the only word produced.

And while I usually raise a dubious eyebrow at many tales from The Profession, I choose to believe this one.




Marvellous-ish years, seething energies, and the trick of blogging upright

There is an elephant in the room – this computer,
an evolutionary change happening in our lifetime,
reducing our customs to fossils and converting
our children to new formats. As the Digital Age
powers on, I look wistfully at my books,
pen and notepad, and see that language is mutating.
Now the Web is a field of seething energies,
ready to extend and pool consciousness, is this
the transformation of the world to a unified virtual mind
or merely another noisy playground and marketplace?…

That is Roger Horrocks on the effect of the digital world on books, writing, literature, culture – and, ultimately, identity. The full piece is here and it’s well worth a read.

He doesn’t come to any conclusions – sensibly, I think. We’re in the middle of a revolution right now – and for once the word ‘revolution’ is not hyperbole – and it isn’t at all clear what the outcome will be.

Horrocks isn’t sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Personally, I’m tentatively optimistic.

New Zealand has always had a very “thin” cultural scene – it is a function of our small size and distance from everywhere else. The internet has broken that down and will no doubt break it down further.

My optimism lies in Horrocks comments about the ‘field of seething energies, ready to extend and pool consciousness.’

It is in the process of wrenching our notoriously parochial cultural scene out of its small-town-ness: it is also breaking down hierarchies and – dare one say it? – the ivory towers of universities.

Technology is breaking down both distance and walls and this has only just begun, I believe. It makes our small size less telling, provides easy access to a more global perspective and ideas and, obviously, helps ideas get around.

History is also deepening. The passage of time itself is helping, of course. But there is, I’ve noticed, a real hunger to talk, argue and occasionally throw things about New Zealand’s history, amongst the generation coming through.

As for the choice Horrocks outlines in the last line quoted above: I don’t think its a choice. It’s both.

The trick is going to be making sure the extension and pooling of consciousness happens along with the noise.


Journalists are known and celebrated for both our organisational ability and numeracy skills.
Mostly, we’re known and celebrated for not having them.
This is an infuriating generalisation, of course But,  (a) like most generalisations it has more than a grain of truth and (b) journalists, as a group, are really in no position to grizzle about other people making generalisations about us.
OK, this is a start….


In my own case, I’m a journo with an ongoing interest in economic and related matters, which assumes* at least a bit of mathematical ability. I’ve also been freelancing for 16 years, as of this week.

It seems to suggest a bit of organisational nous.

Other journos have commented on my organisational ability and my ability with maths. This is a bit like being complimented by Vladimir Putin for your ability to get on with the neighbours.

My Better Half, who is Dutch, is inclined to collapse in hysterical laughter when I tell her other journos think I’m good at this stuff.

…and this isn’t a finish

According to family legend, my younger sister (then aged 10) had to put my school lunch together when I was in the 7th form because otherwise I’d have forgotten it.

I have no personal memory of this, but of course to the rest of my family that proves the point. When I point out I actually have a very good memory, they say things like “yeah – for political stuff, and historical dates and things like that. But what did you have for breakfast, and where are your car keys right now?”

Both unfair, trick questions, in my book.

The reason I’m writing this is I began a re-organisation of the home office over the Easter break and I am still suffering.

So this is an example of that most important sub-genre of blog posts: the Procrastination Post.

I reckon these account for around half the stuff written in social media, and that is being generous.

Normal service will be resumed once I’ve worked out just what normal is.

*Please note: this word is chosen with great care. 

25 Days In November

Will be spending much of the next four weeks writing about the election, along with covering whatever form the global economy’s ongoing impersonation of a hormonal emotionally incontinent 14-year-old takes this particular cycle.

Oh, and tax.  There’s bound to be some tax stuff in there. Yummy yummy tax.

The twitter feed is probably the best short form way to keep up with things, as the entire news industry is now being twatted.

I may not be making much sense by the end of the month. Wibble.

Round the traps….

A series of choice lines from blogs I checked out this evening.

Ally rises up to the challenge of her rivals:
I wrote an awesome song based on my experiences in the campground showers, it is called “Pubes of a Stranger” and it has the same tune as Eye of the Tiger.

Stephen Stratford visits the ‘great literary lines that might get you laid’ and votes for  “Stuff me in a tutu and let’s screen experimental videos all day.”

Doesn’t do it for me. I’d go for the Amisian 

“You know how it is when two souls meet in a burst of ecstatic volubility, with hearts tickling to hear and to tell, to know everything, to reveal everything, the shared reverence for the other’s otherness, a feeling of solitude radiantly snapped by full contact — all that?”   

because I love the way the last two words deflate the whole thing. 

Afterthought: Amis junior’s prose here borrows from a passage in Evelyn Waugh’s great novel about journalism, ‘Scoop’ which also uses two words at the end of a long, apparently emotive sentence, to undercut what has gone before:

Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn’t know any different, got out, went straight to a hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spread-eagled in the deserted roadway below his window — you know. 

In more serious mien, Cactus Kate in one sentence puts her finger on the great thing about court coverage and in the next sentence the problem with it:

“Publishers must love court reporting because it is generally excluded from possible Press Council complaint and other proceedings because the court is public. If you study court reporting in any depth to a case you are familiar with because you have sat in court everyday with them during it...”

Every day.  All Day, or most of it.  When you could be chasing other stuff.  And the court staff hate journalists and usually will do anything they can to obstruct you.  

Oh, that’s not the bad bit…in fact, that’s the fun bit, because unless you do something really objectionable they can’t throw you out, so you can entertain yourself coming up with ways to subtly annoy them.  

No, its the all day thing.  Opportunity cost and all that.