Friday, July 23, 2010

Decision makers

Ever notice how often people in business are referred to
in the media, and refer to themselves as, ‘decision
makers’? You gotta love it. I get that businesses want to
talk themselves up as decisive, bold, robust, confident
and shrewd (I think that covers most of the bases) but do
the rest of us have to buy into it too? Here’s something
we could do by way of countering this ‘business-knows-
best’ mentality that so infects and indeed corrupts our
social thinking. Every time you see or hear the word
‘mother’ in relation to, say, some story about education
or children, substitute ‘decision makers’. For example:
‘Decision makers are up in arms about funding cuts to
preschools.’ Or: 'Most of the unpaid work in society is
done by decision makers at home.' I would hazard a bet
that, when it comes to decisions that really matter in
life, far more of them are made by mothers than by
businessmen. Conversely, when it comes to business
news, try replacing ‘decision makers’ with ‘people who
don't matter as much as mothers,’ eg, 'A survey shows
that 85% of people who don't matter as much as
mothers think the Reserve Bank should hold the line
on interest rates.’ I suggest this stratagem purely for its
educational value, not wishing to imply for one moment
that really serious stuff like breaking down trade
barriers and creating investment opportunities isn't
being dealt with maturely and responsibly by people who
don't matter as much as mothers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Suck it up

Soft pop on the radio and singing along while doing the
vacuuming: it doesn’t get much better than this. Then I
saw her face… It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday… Pretty
flamingo... You know that’s all you ever were… Even
(ulp) Good morning starshine… Of all the films I ever
saw in my life there’s only been one, just one, in which
a character sings along to the radio while doing the
vacuuming. That was Dennis Hopper in The American
Friend. I felt a jolt of recognition: yes! Let us have
more of this fundamentally human and intolerably
joyful behaviour depicted across all media platforms.
Altogether now: Glibby glubby glooby, nibby, nabby
nooby, la la la lo lo… Tooby ooby wa-la... (feel free to
extemporize from this point on; and don't forget the
windowsills and ledges).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Four into six won't go

Outrageous Fortune’s as good as ever, says Jane Clifton in
today’s Dominion Post, as the sixth and last season of this
great Kiwi comedy-drama begins. Much as I respect
Jane’s writing, I must sadly disagree with her on this one.
Essentially, Outrageous Fortune—sublimely brilliant for
the first four series—passed its use-by date a couple of
years ago and should have been laid to rest with honour.
Now all we get is the same old characters doing their same
old shtick over and over again, and boy, is it tiresome.
What once was fresh and sharp is now stale and outworn.
The dialogue between, say, Van and Munter positively
creaks: they might just as well get robots to say these
lines now. The core problem, I think, is that not one of the
main characters has grown or changed for the better or the
worse. Maybe that’s OK for a half-hour sitcom, no matter
how many seasons it runs, but with a more wide-ranging
drama like this you need some serious character
development after a while. The problem is compounded
by the fact that everyone looks older, as indeed they are;
yet they’re still carrying on like 14-year-olds. Outrageous,
yes. Fortunate, no. It’s a classic example of not knowing
when to quit while you’re ahead.

Past passive

What is this curious tense that the police use when
talking about criminal or suspected criminal activity?
Preliminary research suggests that it’s the past passive.
They will say, for instance, ‘The suspect has driven off at
high speed’ rather than ‘The suspect drove off at high
speed.’ There are more examples in today’s paper, eg,
from Western Australia, ‘He has attempted to sit on its
back and the croc has taken offence to that.’ I know of
no other sphere in which language is used this way. It
lends what the police say a stilted, formal quality—
which may indeed be why they use it. It puts just a little
distance between them and the event; makes the
description just that little bit less absolute. I think. I
dunno, really. The blog has been written in a state of
some mystification.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


For all the damage it's doing, not another word should be
published or report broadcast about the Gulf of Mexico
oil spill until at least twice as much coverage is given to
similar but far more devastating disasters in countries
like Nigeria. These are all too easily ignored or under-
reported because they don't happen in richer countries
where all the best-resourced and most influential media
organizations operate. As for the New Zealand media,
not having a single foreign correspondent worthy of the
name, and none at all in a non-Anglophone nation, it
inevitably gives disproportionate space to American
and British news. Thanks to the papers like the Guardian
and the Observer, though, some stories from poorer
parts of the world still get through; and I'm grateful to
the New Zealand Herald for reprinting this:

We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian
village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava
plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into
the warm tropical water and began swimming,
cameras and notebooks held above our heads.

We could smell the oil long before we saw it—the
stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation
hanging thickly in the air. The farther we travelled,
the more nauseating it became. Soon we were
swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the
best-quality oil in the world.

One of the hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that
crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed
oil for several months...

The rest of this eye-opening report by John Vidal is here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The ETS explained

Imagine (if you will) an ocean oil slick creeping ever
nearer the coast of a country. In this scenario, the oil
is leaking from several wells owned by a number of
different companies. Wildlife habitats, fisheries and
estuarine waters are threatened by the black ooze;
already there are pictures in the media of oil-soaked
seabirds. Something must be done. The government
of the country comes up with a solution. It will divide
the quantity of oil that is leaking—at least six billion
litres a day—into tradeable units. Anyone wanting to
pollute the coastline with oil will thus be able to do so,
provided they then buy credits from a company that
is not polluting the coastline with oil. The second
company can then trade those units on a pollution
market for others to buy and sell as they choose.
There is an exemption, however, for really big oil-
polluting companies: they don't have to buy credits
or indeed do anything at all about the oil their wells
are leaking. They have been advised that they can
expect to be brought into the scheme in 2015 or
thereabouts but that the deadline may be extended
when the time comes. Payment for the pollution is
required, however, from wage-earning individuals
onshore whose regular purchases of petrol help to
keep in business the oil-polluting companies: that
would seem to be eminently fair. Meanwhile, more
oil, lots more oil, keeps coming ashore. Some people
say this scheme is flawed. But it's a start, isn't it?