Hard News by Russell Brown

Strung out, naked, etc

TVNZ's Sofia Wenborn was in touch yesterday regarding my comments on Close Up and its poll. She notes that the programmes won its timeslot with a "significantly higher" share than the equivalent Holmes show last year. I wasn't actually seriously suggesting that the audience had deserted the slot along with its eponymous host: it's quite clear that hasn't happened.

I'm rather less sure about her contention that, because the phone-in poll was opened only during the programme (rather than being promo'd from 4pm), it was "relatively speaking … a much larger poll than the first Orewa poll," which attracted 31,000 votes. It wasn't; and conjecture as to whether a longer voting period would have attracted more than the 10,000 votes it did get seem just that to me: conjecture. But that's enough discussion of meaningless responses to woolly questions …

DogBitingMen's Neil Falloon paints a sprawling political panorama around Orewa II, in which the best minds of his generation are strung out, hysterical, naked, dragging themselves through negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.

Meanwhile, Labourblogger Jordan Carter offers a rather good centre-left analysis of the speech, and Olivia Kember, who achieved merit in NCEA cynicism, pretends she went to the Big Day Out.

PA reader Philip Wilkie offers a breakdown of the "Bludger Numbers":

80,000 Unemployed. Currently about 4.2% of the working age population, and at historically low levels. A portion of these people are unemployable, for reasons of location, skills and age. Age is a particularly insidious one. I am a highly skilled automation engineer with up to date skills allegedly in short supply. Normally I work as a freelance contractor with an income in the $80k range. Last year however I applied for two full time positions, for which I was absolutely qualified. Both were very happy to agree to a package sight unseen over the phone, and agreed to interviews. I am fit, healthy and interview well. (I was a very successful sales engineer for over a decade.) Yet both got "cold feet" when they discovered during interview my age...49. One even admitted as such when pressed.

109,000 Sickness Beneficiaries. My younger brother has Ussher's Syndrome which is a challenging combination of deafness and encroaching blindness with age. He functions remarkably well and works as a gardner and handyman. Yet it took our family a 12 year battle to get WINZ to agree to a Sickness Benefit. And even now they insist on annual "checkups" just in case he has undergone a miracle cure. It isn't especially easy to get or stay on this benefit and yet there are many adults who deservedly qualify. Especially the significant number of individuals who used to care for in institutions and are now "cared for" on the cheap in the community.

120,000 DPB. Its all been said before, but how much is recovered by IRD from ex-partners?

The truly sad thing about Brash's "wedge" politics of envy is that his so called solutions are all tried and proven failures. Not one original idea or hint that he actually cared about the problem beyond what votes he can garner from the issue by appealing to the public's basest instincts.

On reflection, I think this is the thing I object to about the speech: not the policy prescriptions, which aren't all bad, but the considered attempt to drive a wedge between the "battlers" and the the beneficiaries. Having a long time ago had to feed a family on a benefit - and wrestled with the 97% effective marginal tax rate that applied if I was unwise enough to be paid for two freelance stories in any one month - I can testify as to what a battle actually is. As I've noted before, I've always been hugely grateful that I had access to two fairly loosey-goosey National government schemes - Taskforce Green and Job Plus - that allowed me the leeway to develop into the media colossus I am today …

Also: on Tuesday, I missed the fact that the New Zealand Jewish Council wasn't the only organisation to object to Wayne Youle's art at the Sarjeant Gallery. Representatives of two veterans' organisations also told the Herald on Sunday's David Fisher that they backed one of the Wanganui complainants. My point was that some groups (old soldiers included) can express cultural sensitivity without being reflexively accused of "political correctness". It would be nice if everyone enjoyed the same respect.

Meanwhile, The International Herald Tribune has an interesting story on the evolution of the meaning of Auschwitz in Europe, as the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camp is marked. Michael Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway and the Israeli minister of education and culture, advances the review that the enlargement of the EU is helping to "Europeanise the memory of the Holocaust."

Indeed, as the Holocaust begins to cross the border from human memory into human history, it appears to have taken on a renewed significance. The UN general assembly formally marked the anniversary for the first time this week, and Britain's Holocaust Day is only five years old. A Guardian editorial sees "a universal lesson about turning people of different backgrounds and beliefs (Roma, communists and gays also suffered and died in the camps) into pariahs - the first step, as Primo Levi warned, to physical extermination," and consequently laments the decision by the British Muslim Council not to participate in the commemoration.

The presidents of Israel, Germany, Poland, Russia, and France are among those to gather for the commemoration - it's a shame that Bush chose not to be there. It might have been useful in a number of ways.

And to conclude on a jollier note, a very funny advertisement on occasion of Australia Day …