OnPoint by Keith Ng


Back! (And on the Crusading Herald)

Changing countries is always a disorientating experience. You have to think in a new currency, speak in a new language, adapt to new cultural rules – and all before you get out of the airport, preferably.

I knew about three words in Japanese, but fortunately, much of Japanese is written in Kanji, which is more or less the same as written Chinese. That meant that I could read a third of everything. It's also the third which is hardest for Westerners to learn, which was a happy coincidence. Traveling with my Kiwi friends in Japan, they could read everything *but* the Kanji, and so with our powers combined, we had the literacy of 9-year-old.

I couldn't say anything in Japanese, though. Except for “hai”, which is accompanied by a slight bow and means “yes”. They're big on agreeing in Japan, and 80% of the time, “hai” is the appropriate response to whatever the other person is saying.

My one word Japanese impersonation was so good, in fact, that people genuinely thought I was Japanese. Though that presumably meant that they also thought I was... um, differently-abled. Conversely, when I cracked out my spectacularly awful Mandarin in China, everyone thought I was speaking quite well... for a Korean.

The experience made me far more understanding of the touts in India who kept yelling “hello Japan!” at me.


Traveling down south, I passed through Kokura, an uneventful city with a surplus of spicy cod roe (the mysterious fish-egg sausage I had in Kyoto), as well as a lovely monorail.

It's little more than a footnote in the annals of history, but I suppose it's happy to be there – it was the original target for the second atomic bomb. Cloudy skies meant that Kokura became synonymous with cod roe, rather than nuclear annihilation.


“Democracy Under Attack from Government”, eh? Jebus – big call from the Granny.

The editorial makes a sound argument (and one that's been bouncing around on blogs for a long bloody while) though it neglects the other side of the debate. i.e. How to stop elections from being bought.

Still, they're putting themselves in an awfully vulnerable position. Much of the spending covered by the Electoral Finance Bill would be spent on advertising, and plenty of that would be spent on advertising in the Herald and its sister publications – or not, if the bill is passed.

It's not that I don't trust the integrity of their reporting. I have a great deal of respect for John Armstrong, and Audrey Young's work on this has been particularly incisive and meaty. But for the Herald to take a strong editorial stance on an issue where they have a big financial stake, it is, even with the best intentions, a bit iffy.

And while it may be rich for this to come from a blogger, a campaigning paper looks really ugly, too. Asking loaded questions like: “Is the bill restricting political campaigning an attack on democracy?” is bad enough. (Consider how “Is secret campaigning by private lobby groups an attack on democracy?” would have gone down.)

Then using a comments page to justify a report of a public landslide? Newspapers still seem to engage with readers on a “excite, incite, sum up outrage in 20 words or less” formula. These kinds of stories are always frustrating, but with the Herald on crusader-mode, it's taken on an extra element of pompousness:

Public opinion has swung behind the Herald's call for the Electoral Finance Bill to be scrapped.”

Readers ... have also been almost unanimously in support of a front page editorial today which said: 'democracy is not a device to keep the Labour Party in power'.”

The campaign has also won the support today of National leader John Key”

... as if John Key didn't give much thought to the issue until the Herald brought it to his attention.

For all its flaws, this bill – and the debate surrounding it – is about the role of money in elections, not free speech. The role of public funding, private donations, anonymous contributions are all, quite legitimately, up for debate. Trying to vilify anyone who supports public funding as trying to hijack the machinery of the state, and anyone who supports more private funding as trying to buy elections really doesn't help.

It does, however, go to show why this debate is so difficult and so damn ugly.


Throughout my year away, the only New Zealanders I saw on TV were the Flight of the Conchords. They always make New Zealand seem so small, so accessible and so funny. So I get back into the country, and immediately see Jemaine walking down the street.

I guess what they say about NZ is true, after all. Good on ya, Jemaine.

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