Hard News by Russell Brown

Fisking, feminism, etc

A quick word on the Marae Digipoll survey of Maori voter intentions: it didn't surprise me. The Maori Party will be in the next Parliament in numbers, and it deserves to be, because it has harnessed community support in a way that political parties rarely do these days. It's too soon to tell if the party really will win five of the seven Maori electorates - polling in those electorates has zipped about a bit historically - but it seems almost certain that its electorate success will produce a Parliamentary overhang and we'll have more than 120 MPs.

It would also be best not to place too much store in what the protagonists are saying right now. Tariana Turia can insist all she likes that her party could deliver National a coalition majority: in reality, it would be suicidal. That doesn't mean, on the other hand, that the Maori Party would form a coalition with Labour if Labour had another choice. It would suit everyone, I suspect, if the Maori Party spent at least one term as an independent bloc.

I've been watching tributes to the late feminist Andrea Dworkin since she died last week, reading all about her brilliant mind - and I still can't shake the feeling that she was a strange figure, and, on the basis of what she said and wrote, mentally unbalanced.

It's something of a relief, then, to see Reason's Cathy Young sally forth with The Dworkin Whitewash ("It's sadly obvious that this supposedly bold and visionary prophet was, in actuality, insane."). Young's piece is worth a read - and its observation that the political right has been praising Dworkin's legacy is interesting. The Times has a story noting that she is now being "hailed by conservatives and supporters of family values in America for speaking out against casual sex and pornography" and the New York Times lists tributes from the likes of David Frum.

By her own account, the impetus behind much of Dworkin's non-fiction work was autobiographical. But, so far as I can tell, the multiple incidents of rape and abuse which blighted her life - and which she repeatedly wrote about - seem weirdly uncorroborated. She cried foul when Newsweek asked for some sort of medical or police evidence before it would publish her account of being assaulted by her husband. A timeline notes various gaps in the record, and Catherine Bennett wrote sadly (but not without sympathy) about her controversial account for the New Statesman of being drug-raped in a Paris hotel. I remember the original flap about the New Statesman piece, and it still doesn't seem to add up. Was all of her terrible history true? Some of it? None of it? I honestly don't know.

Laura Miller's Dworkin obit on Salon is also quite good:

But Dworkin was also a pioneer of a particular and pernicious type of rhetoric, one currently being used much more effectively by talk radio hosts and the extreme political right. Here's a classic example: During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Dworkin quarreled with feminists who did not consider Bill Clinton's sexual encounters with the White House intern to be sufficiently exploitative to merit impeachment. A principled, reasonable argument could be made that Clinton's behavior was unethical, but Dworkin was never about reason. "What needs to be asked," she told a British journalist, "is, was the cigar lit?"

The statement (it seems too sensationalistic to be called a quip) is pure Dworkin: a ghoulishly creative melodramatic flourish that has little bearing on the matter at hand. Clinton may have acted sleazily, with a callous disregard for the emotional consequences of his actions on a young woman who was too naive and eager-to-please to grasp them herself, but no one suspects or has accused him of sadistically torturing her. Yet Dworkin was never able to enter into a conversation about morality unless the stakes were escalated to the stratosphere. The everyday realm where most of us commit our minor sins against, and injuries to, each other didn't really interest her. She only cared for the Grand Guignol.

This week’s Newmanoid Report: you can't accuse Muriel of being lazy. She has released a statement questioning the usefulness of Family Group Conferences on the basis of answers to Parliamentary questions that showed youth crime increased 4% between 2002 and 2004.

Such an increase was actually predicted in a 1998 Ministry of Justice report that said youth offending (which generally refers to crime committed by 14-16 year-olds) was likely to rise “in the first few years of the next century,” because the youth population would rise over the same time - it's that early 90s baby boom coming through. But - and I don't have all the figures to hand - it seems to me that youth crime may have risen less than the youth population in the period Newman was referring to.

All youth crime is, of course, of concern, but this seems a bloody ropey basis on which to be condemning Family Group Conferences.

Why have there been so many FGCs? Apart from the fact that they appear to be a considerable improvement on the system that existed before their introduction in 1989, cost might be one reason. It costs the taxpayer 20 times less if an offender exits the youth justice process after a FCG than if the process reaches the stage of a custodial sentence. In part, that’s because it takes much, much longer, whereas the median time taken to hold a FGC at the request of the police is about 12 days.

This document by the Principal Youth Court Judge, Andrew Becroft, is a useful summary of the issues. It points out that after a "significant increase" in the early 1990s, youth offending stabilised, and notes that "important and necessary recent public discussion about youth offending has been based on some misleading and incomplete statistics. It is important that the real position, as best we know it, is made clear so that sensible discussion can take place."


On a similar theme, DPF notes a good fisking of yesterday's very ropey story in The Press claiming that a new study found that the number of sex workers had increased 40% since the passing of the Prostitution Law Reform Act. Actually, the count was taken at the time that the law was changed in June 2003 - it's meant to be a "before" number in a longtitudinal study - and The Press's comparison with a 2001 police study is simply meaningless. The Herald managed to get it right.

I know I'm a little slow on this, but blog arrivals of note: the Green Party's official FrogBlog, and Christiaan Briggs' blog.

As several readers, including Chad Taylor, have pointed out, subsequent news and reviews have strongly suggested that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie is actually rather good. Phew.

And I still need more dispatches from Public Address readers in distant places (amusingly, I have one from Christchurch). So send me a few paragraphs on what it's like where you're livin' …