Hard News by Russell Brown

Playing to the whistle

Nice to see the Prime Minister adopt my referee metaphor in reference to the election spending debacle at Labour's conference over the weekend. As she somewhat belatedly says, you might disagree with the ref's call, but you accept it and get on with the game.

The conference also served to showcase the party's new pitch: sustainability.

I'm astonished they've taken so long to arrive at this, because, as I realised in researching a Listener cover story earlier this year, they actually have a good story to tell, and lord knows they need one of those.

For sound economic reasons, sustainability is a keynote across science and technology policy, and the stakeholders in those sectors are on board with it. They're actually on the front foot here, and if they now find the nerve to develop an actual climate change policy, so much the better.

No Right Turn has some further discussion.

The troops seem very happy with their weekend. My friend Paul, loyal soldier that he is, always declares party conferences to be a success, but he texted me yesterday to declare that it was the best party conference he'd ever attended. Perhaps the enforced interruption to business as usual will turn out to be what the party needed in the first place.

You'll note that I've published a response from Jim Evans of Auckland University to the recent scathing assessment of the Auditor-General's report by "Rex", for the same reason I published the original: it's well-written and strongly argued. I like to think it demonstrates that it possible to argue forthrightly on this issue (and others) without resorting to abuse, excess bile or hysterical comparisons with North Korea.

It does strike me that Jim's assessment of a periodical party newsletter being a "prima facie" acceptable use of Parliamentary Services funding highlights the confusion generated by Kevin Brady's report. That, after all, is what the Green Party thought Green Times was. It still seems to me there needs to be a very clear rule on acceptable practice in conveying party policy to the public. Anyway, "Rex" is welcome to respond and then I think I might be done with it.

My Playing Favourites chat with Kim Hill on Saturday morning is online, if you missed it and you're interested. The music I chose isn't in the online version, but we spent most of the time talking anyway.

I gather a few people took issue with Kim's approach in the interview, but I didn't have a problem with it. Being a little bit obtuse is a valid way of requiring someone to explain themselves, and I enjoyed the interview. Meanwhile, Nathan Torkington picked up my point about the ability to distinguish good from bad information online being a core modern skill that should be taught in schools.

As for teaching kids to distinguish genuine from crackpot on the Internet, that's an extension of the current School Cert (sorry, NCEA Level 1) English look at advertising and persuasive language. That prepares students to identify bullshit (and, if they're destined for a career in marketing, create bullshit) in commercial messages. It only remains to look at bullshit in non-commercial messages, e.g. Wikipedia or Google Search Results.

I was actually on the verge of saying something very similar, but we moved on. What was in my mind something that I still recall from my schooldays: a visit to our Form 2 class by someone from the Consumer Institute. That was revelatory for me - discovering that advertising lied, and learning some of the ways it was done. I think Nat's right: there's a logical and useful extension of the existing curriculum sitting there waiting to be adopted.

Meanwhile, the hammer might be coming down on YouTube. Reader Masked Marvel noted a report of new DMCA requests from Comedy Central, demanding that YouTube remove offending clips from The Daily Show, the Colbert Report and South Park. Oddly enough, searches on YouTube swiftly reveal many instances of each still there for the viewing.

AmericaBlog is also noting very speedy takedown requests relating to CBS News clips. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, and whether the actions spread to other sites, or whether it's just be-mean-to-GooTube month.

OneGoodMove is still happily posting stuff, including another great 'New Rules' from Bill Maher.

As Maher notes, closeted gay Republicans are being outed on what seems like a daily basis in the mid-term election campaign, and some of their smear ads are backfiring too. An outrageous Republican National Committee-funded ad in the Tennessee race accused the Democrat candidate Harold Ford of taking money from porn producers (Ford apparently returned several such contributions of his own accord, but he did once attend a Superbowl party organised by Playboy).

Funny thing is, it turns out that the RNC chief Ken Mehlman has himself been happily pocketing cash from a leading gay porn producer. Honestly, you couldn't make this shit up …

And finally, the Idolblog folks have launched Throng, a very impressive site for news and discussion about television. I hope that advertisers recognise what they're doing and get behind it.

PS: We have a little something new in the works for you too. Stayed tuned for an announcement this week. I think you'll like it.