Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wintec Press Club: Sean Plunket edition

The Wintec Press Club luncheon is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year for the benefit of their journalism students. The guest list features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me. The MC is Steve Braunias.

It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students. I try to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The industry veterans like it too because this is the last Press Club left standing. The speakers are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included musician Dave Dobbyn (whose band Th’Dudes controversially won the 1976 Battle of the Bands, ahead of me and Jenny Morris); controversial poet Hera Lindsay Bird; and controversial Herald columnist and professional angry person Rachel Stewart. This year we had Labour’s then deputy leader Jacinda Ardern. I was banned from the luncheon with the then deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, but here we are with the third meet of the year, on Friday 17 November.

The speaker this time was Sean Plunket. Back-story: born 1964; son of legendary Wellington newspaper court reporter Pat Plunket; co-presenter of Morning Report 1997-2010; more recently Director of Communications for Gareth Morgan’s vanity project, the Opportunity Party.

Guests included Don Brash and his partner Margaret Mary-Benge (whom I like because she is from Tauranga); Hamilton West Nat MP Tim McIndoe (whom I like because he is very rude about Tauranga, having lived there); Waikato Times editor Jonathan MacKenzie; Louise Wallace, “the real one not the Housewife”, she declared at one point; television persons Jono Pryor, Te Radar and Heather du Plessis-Allan; and Duncan Greive, the entrepreneur behind the Spinoff website.

Brash was runner-up for best-dressed male; the winner on the day was Barry Soper. The best-dressed female winner was a tattooed woman called Erin.

The best part of these lunches I always think is the pre-event chat. I was seated with McIndoe and MacKenzie so heard a lot from Tim about what it is like dealing with Winston Peters and from Jonathan what the future holds for Fairfax. Eye-opening, both.

In his opening remarks Braunias kicked off with: “I understand that I swear too fucking much.” He quoted my old Metro boss Warwick Roger saying there was a question every journalist should ask at least once in their career: “Are you by any chance insane?” He put that question to Sean Plunket and I don’t think he got a straight answer.

In his opening remarks Plunket kicked off with: “Duncan, lovely to see you, you fucking c—t.” This was a reference to a slight disagreement he and Grieve had during the election over (I think) whether Morgan was available for interview. Then he asked that there be no live-tweeting during his talk “because it’s fucking rude” – correct – but also because the tweets would lack context. Correct again.

He talked about his controversial tweet about Harvey Weinstein and the pile-on that followed: “If fifty people who hate you already hate what you tweeted, that is a controversy?”

The staff in the Opportunities Party all had PhDs so, he said, it was “quite nice not being the smartest guy in the room”. As far as I can tell from the internet Plunket did not attend university but went straight from school to the Wellington Polytechnic School of Journalism, so he may be more impressed by PhDs as a metric of intelligence than the rest of us. This also tells us a bit too how he regarded his colleagues at Radio NZ.

Talking about the election he was censorious about Metiria Turei: “Checkpoint has never said what were the nine questions they put to her and she resigned rather than answer them.”

And then along came Jacinda Ardern: “All the oxygen went out of the room”, he said. “Suddenly it was Bill vs Jacinda, pale stale male vs new chicky babe.”

Next, Gareth Morgan tweeted about “lipstick on a pig”. The Green Party declared war on us, he said, “largely on social media”. As he tweeted back “Bullshit, you were never going to vote for us anyway.”

There was a long rehash of the Duncan Greive/Spinoff story, which was possibly of interest to the students because of the politics/social media nexus. Then came a whole lot of politics, tax policy, snore. There was much more about Twitter and Weinstein, in which he used the phrase “wilful self-revulsion” of those outraged by it. The Broadcasting Authority, of which he was briefly a member, “was inundated with complaints – which means they had twenty. Fifteen of them were from Green Party members.”

Best line: “After 32 years in journalism you could probably use my ego as tiles on a space shuttle.”

Then came question time, during which Margaret Mary-Benge suggested that Sean Plunket, not Gareth Morgan, should lead the Opportunity Party. Plunket shyly demurred.

There was always going to be a Harvey Weinstein question. Asked if he had ever sexually harassed anyone at work, he replied, “Shit no!”

Eventually Braunias said: “We have five more questions while this train wreck lasts.”

In his wrap-up – these invariably begin with “What have we learned?” – Braunias compared Plunket’s account of working for Gareth Morgan with Pam Corkery’s chaotic account at this same event in 2014 of working for Kim Dotcom: “You kind of blamed everyone else.” About Plunket’s ban on live-tweeting his speech, he said, “There wasn’t really anything worth tweeting.”

He concluded, “Maybe the problem is when journalists stop asking the questions and think they have the answers.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I couldn’t agree more.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Spectator sentence of the year

From Dot Wordsworth’s language column about Bishop Heber’s hymn “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”:
He was a clever man and agreeable, leaving an account of the once-a-century Mallard ritual enacted on the rooftops of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1800, but dying upon taking a bath as Bishop of Calcutta, aged 42.
Are you as curious about what the “Mallard ritual” might be as I am?

UPDATE:
Thanks to Stephanie in the comments we learn that the Mallard ritual involves the Mallard Song, which “was sung after a rude manner about 1658 about 2 or 3 in ye morning, which giving a great alarm to ye Oliverian soldiery then in Oxon they would have forced ye gate open to have appeased ye noise”. 

The lyrics may be found here at the Mallard Society’s website, which warns that the fifth verse “was expunged on grounds of decency in 1821”. If you are bold enough to explore, you will realise that “swapping” in the lyric meant something different in Middle English from what it means now. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #83

From the edition of Saturday 4 November. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Monster planet find
Today’s (November 2) page 4 headline “Kiwi leads team’s ‘monster planet’ find” once again dismisses scientific perspective as the best tool for ascertaining cosmic truth, in our search for understanding all of “existence” and our attempts to define “limits” to the universe. The article clearly establishes that the “find” of the giant planet in orbit around a small star which could not have “created” that planet, confounds the scientific perspective of how planets and solar systems are formed . . . ie, the perspective of our science highly distorts the search for actuality, when the generally accepted theory of planet and star formation is now shown to be wrong, or at least subject to exceptions, even within the tiny part of existence that perspective and science arrogantly describe as “the universe”.
Even such discoveries as this one in question, while a great credit to some of the scientific research going on in this field, also serves to show us that the philosophical and intrinsic-intuitive understanding of the reality of existence will eventually reveal far more truths of its nature than our ego-centralised scientific perspective ever will.
Dennis Pennefather
Te Awamutu  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #82

From the edition of Wednesday 18 October. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Remove limitations
Is it to do with something that in this country incredible limitations are placed upon students in schools and universities?
The terms of doctrinal demands to fit within hard and set limits, universal. To solve these problems would be an education in itself. Society can encourage exploration and excellence to feel the freedom of peace where others can understand the way we see.
We see things now in a modern context way, dictatorships and social subjection are outmoded concepts. It is for society to decide how they are ended. Replaced with organisations created by those with the wit and philosophy to allow people the gift of enjoying life.
Peter J N Garland
Hamilton 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Economist letter of the week

Breezy rhetoric
You stated that Britain remains the world leader in offshore wind power (“Hull of a wind behind it”, September 16th). That would be contested by the Danes and the Germans who supply Britain with the turbines, the Italians who make the cables, the French who provide everything but the turbines, and the Dutch who install them. The subsidy, however, is 100% British.
A.J. MACKINNON
Ely, Cambridgeshire

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Election 2017: Dancing Cossacks edition

For younger readers baffled by their elders’ occasional references to Dancing Cossacks, this was a three-minute “party political broadcast”, i.e. an ad, for the National Party in the 1975 election. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Written by Michael Wall, then of the Colenso advertising agency, it was credited with National’s massive win. The ad was controversial at the time, essentially for accusing Labour, led by Bill Rowling, of being a bit, well, you know, socialist, but looking at it again the most shocking thing about it for me is the lack of an apostrophe in “April Fool’s Day” in the first few seconds of the animation. 

The dancing Cossacks themselves were on screen for just five seconds, so 2.78% of screentime –  from the 1 min 15s mark it is just National leader Robert Muldoon behind his desk talking directly to the viewer about his policy on superannuation and why it was better than Labour’s. Leaving aside the politics, the ad treats the viewer a lot more seriously than today’s election ads: nearly two minutes of the party leader talking policy, not feels. (Thanks to Simon Carr aka @simonsketch for the link.)

It would be interesting to see some Labour ads from that year – from memory they were made by Wall’s friend and fellow Westie Bob Harvey, then of the McHarmans advertising agency.  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book review of the month

Adam Rutherford, a geneticist who tweets at @AdamRutherford, has posted on Amazon a brief review of AN Wilson’s new Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. He gives the book one out of a possible five stars, and heads his review “Deranged: literally the worst book I have ever read about Darwin and evolution”. 
I am a scientist who has studied evolution and genetics for many years. I have also extensively written about Charles Darwin. Singularly, I have never come across a more incoherent, inconsistent, deranged attempt to analyse Darwin as a man and his science. If AN Wilson has indeed researched this book for 5 years, as he has claimed, he has managed to do something impressive, which is to draw conclusions which are so comprehensively bonkers as to fall into the category of ‘not even wrong’. This book is littered with errors, both trivial and fundamental, ones that could easily be fact-checked. But Wilson seems not to care. His understanding of evolution, of genetics, and of science in general is comically egregious – based on this book, he would fail GCSE biology catastrophically. The anti-Darwinian arguments presented here are not even as cogent as those presented by Young Earth Creationists.
* To associate Darwin with Hitler’s policies is at best misguided and at worst intellectually dishonest: Darwin’s scientific ideas have little to do with the political ideas of Social Darwinism, and the deranged policies of Nazism drew from distortions of the works relating to Norse mythology, the Bible and a host of other sources.
*To suggest Darwin did not credit others who thought on evolution before him is not borne out by the fact that he lists more than 38 who did just that, in the Origin of Species itself.
*To assert that there are no transitional fossils is not supported by the fact that there are literally millions of transitional fossils.
*To suggest that genetics does not support Darwinian natural selection is contrary to the view held by every biologist in the world that genetics fully reinforces natural selection.
The only valid criticism I can find herein of Darwin is that he might have been flatulent, which can be attributed to a serious disease that he picked up on his travels on the Beagle.
And so on. I can’t for the life of me work out how a serious writer could draw these conclusions about someone who has been studied for more than a century, on a subject that millions of people have spent millions of hours and millions of £££ testing. I can only conclude that AN Wilson is not a serious man.
The pagination is excellent. I like the picture of the bat on the back cover.
Fun fact: the original version of the review had “batshit” instead of “bonkers”, and Amazon refused to publish it. This is the genetically modified version.

So here is David Bowie live in 1995 with “I’m Deranged from that year’s album 1. OutsideGail Ann Dorsey on bass, obv.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The uses of humour #1

In Britain, humour is used to cut off conversations before they can get emotional, boring or technical.
So here are Procol Harum in 1967 with “Quite Rightly So”:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Today is my birthday

So here are the Killers at the Isle of Wight festival in 2013 performing “When I’m 64”. 

Yes, that is how old I am. Even though I did maths to Stage III so obviously can count, I really did not see this coming.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Money for writers #3

The University of Waikato invites applications for Writer in Residence for 2018. The salary is $52,000. Yes, $52,000.

The position is open to writers of serious non-fiction, dramatists, novelists, short story writers and even poets. It helps to have a record of previous publications of high quality, and (I am paraphrasing based on my experience of assessing similar applications) making a good case for why this particular residency would help with your project.

As well as the $52K the fellow gets an office with computer in the School of Arts and access to the university library. There are no teaching or lecturing duties, and the fellow will be able to make use of the Michael King Writers’ Retreat in Opoutere for up to two weeks. A fortnight in Coromandel all paid for!

On the other hand, “The Writer is expected to live in Hamilton during the tenure of the award.” So, swings and roundabouts.

Full information is here: applications close on Friday 29 September.