Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

Bai bai

After nearly three years of being the exotic dancing girl of Public Address, it's time for me to retreat behind the curtains of the champagne room. These Canto-peasant feet weren't made for stilettos.

Here are the reasons for my early retirement.

Some of you may remember my occasional reference to my paid employment a few years back at the Secret Place, a politically sensitive part of the wider New Zealand civil service (somewhere near the prostate perhaps). Now after a gap of self-employment and hobo-dom, I am a full-time civil servant again, an employee of the [Redacted Place], Geneva HQ.

Keith, on his Facebook status updates, has written eloquent one-liners on the struggles between his inner terrorist and his inner mercenary. Personally, I have an inner terrorist struggling with an inner bureaucrat. Ultimately though, I've ended up in a line of work where the bosses can't afford to know that they have terrorists in the workplace, even if they are well hidden inside non-terrorists (near the prostate perhaps). I have to do my best to help them not know - in Rumsfeldian terms, I have to be the thing that they don't know they don't know.

There are certain workarounds for blogging in the international civil service. One is to just blog about, I don't know, your period pains, consumer electronic toys you bought, how pretty the trees look in the Northern Hemisphere winter, and the amusing habits of the natives (within reason, that is, not insultingly). And your cat. Let's not forget the cat. This wouldn't necessarily compromise Yellow Peril, because all these things can be coded language for, eg, advocating the overthrow of the [redacted] government. For example: "Whew! This sure is a brutal red tide this month, it feels like it could last for ten thousand years. Maybe I could defeat it with the combined forces of a bourgeois movement for political transparency, and a restive peasantry rankling against widening inequality. And some Nurofen."


The other workaround is to get your workplace to use you as a PR hack blogger. But trust me, you don't want to read a blog every week about [redacted]. Even if we do have a working relationship with the [redacted] [redacted] of Outer Space Affairs.

Oh yeah, there is one more option. Keep doing exactly the same thing as you ever did, on an anonymous blog. If, and when you can be bothered. Maybe. Who knows.

But you know what? I'm a long way away. From New Zealand in general, and increasingly... from you. The truth is that as well as my [Redacted Place] labour conditions, the PA System experiment is large factor in why you're seeing the back of me. Although it's been a very successful exercise in online community-building, and although I have had a lot of fun with it in places, it has, overall, been strangely isolating for people like me. But I always knew that was how communities worked, and I knew even before it started that PA System would be dominated by a certain kind of perspective. It's not a terrible one, not at all. But it's not for everyone. For people like me, it takes a lot of effort to stay involved. I'm tired and isolated enough where I am, now that I'm a real hard-working immigrant at last.

From out here, I'm retiring from Asian stuff too, except for the food and the hot guys (remember them? Those were the days). I'm expending all my Asiany energy sourcing ingredients for jiaozi from three different grocery stores in the inner city. Europe truly is still in the dark ages. But at least in Geneva, everyone's a foreigner, everyone's transient, so everyone is alone together. I kind of like that. And from what I can see from here, the Movement back home is taking care of itself. The whole way through Yellow Peril, I've looked out for bloggers who can do what I do here, in case I ever got tired and had to leave. I couldn't find anyone who wanted to do exactly this, but there are so many old and new Asian politicos and scribblers who cover parts of this turf, a little bit here, a little bit there, and who do things that I could never do. We are legion. I think we're going to be okay.

Is everyone else going to be okay? Coincidentally, the day that I joined the [Redacted Place] and became unsure whether I could say exactly what I wanted on this forum without getting fired, was the day something happened in New Zealand that had me feeling sick to my stomach every time I checked my email and found no reply to a 'where are you?/are you okay?' callout to some of my activist friends. Good friends. Eventually, when the replies started coming with reports of raids of their homes and young families, and when the posts and discussions on Public Address showed their colours, it certainly drove home for me how far away I am from this country, and from the overall middle ground of this site, from its essential gut. I'm closer to the prostate, perhaps.

But even so, as I write this, I realise how much I'm going to miss you guys. Thanks for loving and hating, and above all, for reading.

To the crew, particularly Russell: I owe most of the many crazy opportunities of my bizarre career in the last few years to you. If only you had known that I was going to blow all my hard-won media-whore cred by getting a job at the [Redacted Place], you might have considered recruiting Lincoln Tan instead. Thanks for taking a punt and for not freaking out. Watch the gout.

To the chicks: As if to prepare me for my own exit, the author of some of the most well-considered, articulate, clearly argued, occasionally plagiarised by others, and least-linked political posts ever in the blogosphere, one of my oldest friends from middle-class activism [Redacted] [Redacted], AKA Span, retired earlier this year from blog-life to exist as a more well-rounded human being. At least we still have Deborah and Maia.

To the white boys who never minded being called white boys, which included actual people with exotic names such as Stephen and Danny: Cheers guys.

To the natives: I have never so much appreciated the importance of behind-the-scenes support from those who wisely refrain from commenting publicly at all. Kane, Teanau, Bini, Creative Combat and Conscious Collaborations, thanks for your staunchness, and laughter, and solidarity.

To the Movement, of whom there are too many to mention by now: what a time we had. Special thanks go out to Al, Keith, Charles, Kumanan, Hannah, Kah-Bee, Derek, Ruth, and James Liu.

This kitty is ready for a nap.


My black heart bleeds

Ah, nationalism. How it craps all over you when you least expect it. Unless you’re a minority of some kind, and therefore expect it constantly. That’s probably why some of us don't have much invested in rugby, which is serving me rather well right now.

Plenty of New Zealand-born ethnic minorities though, are just as crazy about national sporting teams as the rest of the ‘kiwis’. Maybe even more so. One of the two New Zealanders Of Colour I was watching the game with in Geneva (the one wearing two All Blacks shirts, one on top of the other and no, he wasn’t going to share with me or the other New Zealander Of Colour), had to go home directly after the match in a fit of depression. The other just pretended for a while that he wasn’t depressed, that he was only sad for the country, for all those people who really care about rugby, before going home an hour later in a fit of depression.

Boys do cry.

I wasn’t depressed at all. I was actually immediately worried about all those people who were going to be getting the bash in the usual post-defeat backlash against those real harbingers of the All Blacks' twenty year losing streak: the nation's lippy girlfriends. Yep, history repeats.

It’s odd that although I'm no rugby fan, I also seem to have a much greater sympathy for the All Blacks in the midst of this orgy of recrimination than that expressed by some avowed rugby maniacs. It was lamer than lame to see a commenter on PA System laying into Dan Carter for crying publicly and thus showing to a horrified world that he was not a real man. Is this 1956? That kind of weird anachronistic macho criticism makes me all the more fond of Dan Carter. I think they all need a bit of a hug. Especially Dan Carter.

I mean… leave Britney alone!

If you’re seriously blue, look at it this way. The French may have a shot at the World Cup, but they also have Sarkozy. They needed a break to feel better about themselves.

My 21st century guess is that teams of individuals who end up winning or losing a rugby match don’t do so because their country is famed for breeding assholes (sorry, ‘mongrels’) who never cry and instead just beat up their wives. I have this strange feeling that whether or not a country as a whole feels good about itself, or 'hard enough' or 'too soft', holds precious little sway over the abilities and successes of its sporting teams. I might even hazard that sporting success could be something to do with sports instead: talent, resources, training, and conditions of specific games, as opposed to the psychology of the nation. Hey, look at Switzerland, where I'm living right now! Europe's new far right Heart of Darkness. Women prevented from voting in some areas until 1991. How much more manly can you get? And pretty crap at rugby.

It's the reverse path of cause and effect that is out of control - the impact that the success of one's sporting team has on received 'national identity'. People wouldn't be so cruel to a losing All Blacks side if they didn't care so much - about how it makes them feel. That's sort of like saying your boyfriend beats you up because you screwed up making the fucking eggs in the last half, but also because he loves you, so that's ok. Not much comfort; and not true anyway.

It's can't just be me and Idiot/Savant - there must be other people who really don't care that much, are a bit freaked out at these nice bulgy-thighed boys, and their shadowy counterparts, the nation's vulnerable abused women, all getting the bash. There must be people, like me, who are confused to find out that the 'inquest' into the quarter-final loss refers to a real inquest, not a metaphorical one where boys just weep and cry out 'why? why?', then punch each other in the arm for crying.

One 'mood of the nation' effect certainly worth looking into, is the prediction that if the All Blacks had won this test, that Labour would have had a chance at winning the next election. And that if the All Blacks lost, Labour would definitely be fucked.

Could all come down to the ref though.

I've found, through this impervious experience with national loss, that a little baseline suspicious antinationalism goes a long way. It protects you from these strange moments of national frenzy and breastbeating over sport, even if it can't protect the rest of the country.

That’s not the purpose of this kind of ethnic minority-brand suspiciousness of course, it’s actually formed in order to protect you for when the shit really hits the fan, and you get sent to the internment camp for your own protection, during a spot of futuristic geopolitical bother involving some kind of proxy-war north of Australia. You need to learn faith in what you think the country actually stands for, not in what it, uh, ends up doing to you.

So hey, maybe I am the ultimate traitor, what with the not caring much about the rugby, and with the leaving of the country, and I was even a little apprehensive of being facebook-lynched by my sarcastic status-update: “Tze Ming is sure that the Burmese democracy movement is taking a moment to send positive energy to New Zealand to help our fragile nation with its identity crisis.” (more on that later)

I even sang along with the French national anthem a bit.

Like Mr Slack, I was in a pub full of the French on Saturday, where I remembered again who Dan Carter was (oh, the hot one?) and that the French national anthem is probably the best in the world. It was lame as usual to hear the scattered New Zealand contingent in the packed pub mumble and vowel their way through the Maori verse (but it sounds better if you learn it in Maori, don’t you guys realise? AAAOteaaaaRROOOOOAAA...) and then let rip the English verse in all its mediocre glory. After which, it was blasted out of the water by the Marsellaise.

The French national anthem is so rousing. Blood, revolution, oppressors, militancy, glory, weapons. Fantastic. War: it’s just like sport, but you get paid less. It’s almost like they wrote the thing to prepare for futuristic sports tournaments, rather than to commemorate the violent overthrow of a tyrannical regime in the name of the people, only to institute a regime of further tyranny, cycles of instability, and an imperial expansionist war. Which reminds me, what’s the new Iraqi national anthem like? I bet it rocks.

Well, fine, I'm an unfit New Zealander - at least I'm not in New Zealand anymore. I've transported my antipatriotism to Geneva now, an internationalist, Francophone outpost in what the Independent labelled, yes, “Europe’s new heart of darkness” – ye olde Switzerland.

You may have heard about the dominant party's now infamous posters for the upcoming election. In my part of liberal Geneva, the black sheep posters of the Swiss People's Party, led by Christophe Blocher, have been mostly defaced or torn down; here’s a shot the BBC prepared earlier, three white sheep standing on a Swiss flag, kicking a black sheep back over the border: "For More Security."

As part of the demonstration against some directly fascist-flavoured deportation policies of this party, the anarcho-kid wing of an anti-Blocher rally just tore up Berne in a serious riot, to depressing effect: a rise in support for the ‘respectable’ far right, with Swiss media showing only footage of the wholesome, cowbell-ringing pro-Blocher demonstrators, rather than the skinheads and neonazis also there in numbers. There are rumours of course, of agents-provocateurs planted in the anti-Blocher crowd. All the more reason for anarcho-kids to stop wearing those stupid fucking balaclavas.

My liberal Swiss friends (they exist) inform me that this country has major problems coming to terms with its past, particularly its complicity with Nazism. Now consider my situation: I am officially a Bad Migrant. I consider myself disloyal and transient in Switzerland, not actually a settler. I'm not even loyal to my home country's rugby team, and I definitely can't spell Switzerland in Swiss German. Actually, the Swiss Germans also cannot even agree on how to spell “Swiss German” in Swiss German. It’s that kind of language. I was an archetypal Chinese International Student at summer school here a few months ago: lazy at French, hung out with the Chinese girls a lot speaking Mandarin, and slouched around pool halls avoiding the Swiss.

Yep, now I’m really a foreigner, it’s my time to integrate poorly.

As a result, the creeping fascism has led to the inevitable end for me. I am currently being forced to wear a yellow badge with a black sheep on it.

Okay, it’s a protest badge, clearly. Cute! And at least one New Zealander here has thought it had something to do with the All Blacks, and New Zealand, what with the blackness, and the sheepness. But according to its semiotic layers, I am embracing and reclaiming my mouton-negritude*, while also rejecting it. Which doesn’t really make sense. But hey, this is Europe. It’s probably one of those ceci n’est pas un pipe moments.

*bête-negritude? bête-noiritude? mouton-noirité? I really should have paid more attention in class.


My patch: Chinese whispers updated edition

I'm the Mt Roskill mother! Give me the child! I will fight all comers using the mystical art of "taijuchuanj-wu style" I... oh. Sorry. I was unexpectedly overcome by the all-conquering force of little-Chinese-girl cuteness.

Damn but that mysteriously abandoned kid is cute. It makes me realise how racist I am. Actually, I've been told many times how racist I am by Public Address readers, so it should come as no surprise here. The purported cuteness of little Maddy had no effect on me, despite her larger than life-size picture being plastered over every European customs terminal I've passed through in the last three months. Italian bakeries. Swiss bus shelters. The sides of cardboard box houses of homeless people. Blonde tyke missing presumed horrifically killed? Meh. Cute little Chinese girl from Mt Roskill *not* missing at all and not actually in any physical danger but looking for a caretaker? Soooooo cute!!! Must blog cute child!

Give lah! I live in Mt Roskill! Or failing that, give me a puppy. Thankfully, I still think puppies are cuter than human children, even cute Chinese ones. Actually, I don't live in Mt Roskill. I live in Geneva now. Geneva, Switzerland, not Geneva, Illinois. So I ain't never getting my paws on 'Pumpkin'.

Do we need an obligatory media parse? Let's throw convention to the wind and start with our 'own' side. Skykiwi is currently reporting, or misreporting, or mistranslating, far too hopefully, the Xue's Roskill neighbour Charlie Rata, based on a story in The Age. The original quote from the Age story in English:

A neighbour, Charlie Rata, said a young Asian woman had arrived at the house last Friday night with an airline ticket. "She kept saying, 'I've got airline tickets for them'. I just said, 'I can't help you'," Mr Rata said. "She said, 'Do you know where they might be?' but we hadn't seen them for a few days. She almost didn't want to leave, but there was nobody there."

Skykiwi has interpreted this young woman as being the mother, Annie Liu, in a spurt of wishful thinking. Here, in my own crappy translation into English:

But today, according to Australian newspaper The Age, the news has suddenly come forth that [an idiom I don't know] little Qian Xun's mother has been seen! Neighbour Charlie Rata provided an important clue to the media. Last Friday she had seen Anni, carrying a plane ticket, return to the Mt Roskill home, but Xue Naiyin had already flown to Melbourne, Australia, with his daughter on Thursday. Charlie said: Anni kept asking where were her daughter and husband? But Charlie said I don't know, I can't help you. Anni wanted to hang around the house, but there was already no-one there.

(my bold, and whoops, duh, 千寻 is actually Pumpkin's name I realise now)

Yes, that was literally:

"她在上周五还看到Anni... Charlie说,Anni一直问她,她的女儿和丈夫在哪?但是Charlie说不知道,也无法帮助她。Anni想留在那个家里,但是那个家已经人去房空了."

My Chinese literacy is kind of crappy, but I understand that much.

Well - Rata saw someone - you would assume he would have recognised his neighbour if it had been Annie Liu, or that it would have been mentioned in the original The Age article which is so clearly being directly translated. An overeager interpretation of 'clues' perhaps? It's understandable, but it seems to be presented as fact, and as a direct translation from The Age. Or do they know something The Age, the Herald, and Pansy don't? It's always possible, although I don't know what Mandarin-language insider info they'd get from Charlie Rata. Skykiwi might want to iron this one out: it's the kind of thing that raises hopes and launches unhelpful rumours. I'm a little confused myself.

Meanwhile: to the MSM! I must say, this description of the troubled father shouldn't be funny, but it is: ""He was a bit of an odd one. He used to walk around during the day in his underwear with a singlet on," Mr Rata said." Um... no-one tell our Malaysian grand-dads that this is odd, okay? A further detail in the Herald: "(the missing man) taught ...taijuquanj wu style, a Chinese martial art." I think that would be spelt taijiquan. AKA Tai Chi. Yes indeedy, a Chinese martial art. I have no idea where that extra 'j' came from... Quanj? Is that, like, Finno-Ugric? Is it the Herald online girls spilling coffee on their keyboards?

I'm betting, along with the rest of the Roskill Chinese, that there are sadder things to uncover about Mr Xue and his wife than the fact that he teaches taichi, and despite being a mainlander, dresses like a daggy old Southeast Asian Chinese guy (although one doesn't get full daggy old Southeast Asian Chinese guy points until one pulls the bottom of one's singlet up and over one's beer belly and tucks it into one's neckline, to air the stomach during a humid spell).

These are barely quibbles though, and it's actually refreshing to have seen the girl reported as a "New Zealand child" from the beginning. Whatever is going on in this family, these are our communities, and I'm even glad that the neighbours have as much as noticed that the guy walks around in his undies. As Pansy Wong snaps into action, I am a little homesick, for no defensible reason - merely the merciless combination of community identification and the helpless face of a pixie-like, quasi-orphaned Chinese child. Kind of sick, yes? Well, it's what keeps me making dumplings for Keith.

Update: Sometime after I blogged this and contacted them 12 hours ago, Skykiwi altered its online report to a straight translation of the story in The Age. No more exclamation marks, vital clues, or saying that "Anni" had been seen. *But* not before the Herald reported this in its running online updates:

3.00pm: The mother was seen with an airline ticket and was looking for her husband and daughter on Friday, according to a contributor to the Chinese-NZ website

Sigh. I contacted the lead journalist on the story, and she quickly put out that particular fire, thankfully - the 3:00pm entry is gone. I'm guessing the 'update' would have been on the Herald site all afternoon and evening up until a couple of hours ago.

Reminds me of a postmodern poetry translation game I once did with an actual Chinese poet and a literary academic in an issue of Landfall. I translated "the surprise of words grows older and more intense" into "the older people are, the more roasted they look." I wish this case was as amusing.

It can definitely be useful to go to ethnic minority language media for insider knowledge and context. Still, for every bit of genuine community scoop, there are a whole wad of stories just translated and summarised on the fly from the mainstream media, and which are vulnerable to being warped, oversimplified, or rendered unrecognisable in translation. This was a classic case of the news eating itself, but at least it was minor.

By comparison, the talkboards have offered up more realistic sounding neighbourhood information about the domestic violence in the Xue household, and other private details, which don't feel too good to read about or healthy (legal?) to repeat - but to the Chinese commentor on Skykiwi who said 'the wife is good-looking but the father looks like a pig - and the kid is piggy-looking like him' - Hey! Shut your face, the kid is totally cute! Go back to your Madeleine McCann shrine!

Southern Comfort

Reading about Russell's case of the good ol' Singaporean Heebie-Jeebies made me realise just why I've been enjoyed Hong Kong so much: it's like Singapore but without the annoying bits.

I've just been transiting a couple of days in Hong Kong, and it took me a while to figure out why I was finding it so... homey. Although I've leveled a fair amount of vitriol at the Singaporean-industrial complex, it is ultimately the place where most of my family is concentrated, and the country that I spent the second-most amount of time in as a child, after New Zealand. And so I do have fond memories of the place, as well as the... well... odd untamable heebie-jeebie.

Like Singapore, Hong Kong has a muggy, mumsy humidity, and you are smothered by Cantonese comfort food everywhere you turn. You quickly sink into deep obsessions over models of cellphones, cameras and laptops due to pure environmental immersion. They subway is wildly efficient, so much so that the integrated transport card got bored of just facilitating your transport and decided to start paying for your movies, 7-11 snacks and phone calls too. Everyone looks and dresses like one of my Singaporean or Malaysian relatives, in the way that people don't in Northern China. Even Keith's mum reminded me of a cross between my mum and Pansy Wong. I'm not sure whether this is an explanation of why I liked Keith's mum, or why Keith likes Pansy Wong.

Yes, Singapore offers all these comfy attractions - but it has an inescapably weird feeling about it, if you're a political person. Even with the Chinese Communist Party casting its ten-year shadow over Hong Kong, the Singaporean heebie-jeebies are markedly missing from Secret Pirate Island.

Ten years after the handover, and Hong Kong is still a place where you can wander through the pedestrian mall streets and amid the product demonstrations, happen upon civil society demonstrations too. This week on Sai Yeung Choi South St, aside from the perennial Falungong street-performers (next: organ juggling!), was a campaign against a potential regulatory threat to the status of the de facto public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, within the broader issue of protecting press standards and free speech. According to the masking tape label on their PA, their system either belonged to the NGO 'Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor', or it was a mislabeled bit of events equipment. Here and there down the main shopping drags, median barrier-advertising announces events for various political NGOs and Human Rights groups, nestled between all that stuff that makes your skin really white.

While getting lost in a mall with Keith, we happened upon a photojournalism exhibit commemorating ten years of the return to China, complete with records of the regular mass demonstrations to commemorate the Tiananmen Square incident, the huge 2002 turnout against the potential curtailing of civil rights, and the WTO demonstrations of 2005. Just across the street from the Peninsula Plaza, where I blundered into Tiffany's, Prada, Versace, and Manolo Blahnik in my Kumfs, dude, was a photojournalism exhibition at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on the lives of the homeless street-sleepers who bed down every night outside the, um, Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

I'm now officially counting Hong Kong as Southeast Asia, just so I can say that it's my favourite Southeast Asian city so far.

Actually, Keith seems to despair of the Hong Kong media, which is apparently as obsessed with food-safety as the New Zealand media is obsessed with the weather. Maybe he has a point - I don't live in Hong Kong. But Keith sure doesn't live in Singapore. It's pretty clear that even though Hong Kong doesn't have universal suffrage, that its population and media enjoy a deeper level of political freedom, or perhaps, political motivation to maintain and deepen their civil society.

Singapore has changed in recent years, and I haven't been there for quite a while (once a place gives you the heebie jeebies you don't tend to run back), but at some point I'd like to pop back in and see how things have come along. If you're in Auckland for the upcoming Banana conference, you'll probably get a better idea than I can, when Mr Brown dishes the dirt (not our one, the Other one).

But I'm missing the Banana conference for the first time ever, and revisiting the irritating-aunty-land, as opposed to the Motherland, is a distant prospect right now, as I'm sitting in Hong Kong airport, enjoying the free wifi, about to leave the Eastern hemisphere completely.

I may be some time.


Asian Angst: is it time to send some payback?

NZ Press Council, 11 June 2007:

"The Press Council has upheld complaints by Tze Ming Mok and others, the Asia New Zealand Foundation and Grant Hannis against North & South for its report on Asian immigration and crime. The Council has found the magazine breached its principles on accuracy and discrimination."

It was a unanimous ruling and - despite the current unlawfulness of such behaviour - "an unmitigated spanking", as one observer put it.

I have archived all the documents relating to the three complaints against 'Asian Angst' and North & South here, including the full ruling, Deborah Coddington's official responses to the complainants, a timeline, some background explanation, the article's text, and all the statistics one could possibly desire. Choice excerpts from the conclusion are below (additional emphasis mine).

Magazines are entitled to take a strong position on issues they address (principle 7). But that does not legitimise gratuitous emphasis on dehumanising racial stereotypes and fear-mongering and, of course, the need for accuracy always remains. The key issue is the absence of correlation between the Asian population and the crime rate. Ms Coddington argues she has recorded the rise in the Asian population and it would have insulted the readers to link that with the crime figures. The Council does not accept this argument. The linkage is vital and should have been made explicit. It is abundantly clear and is not effectively challenged by Ms Coddington, despite quibbles about terminology and direct comparisons of her figures with those of her critics, that the rate of offending is dropping pro rata. To then talk of a gathering crime tide is therefore wrong.


The language used is emotionally loaded. There is an explicit statement in the third paragraph of the article “we’ll make it loud and clear from the start, the vast majority of Asians making New Zealand their new home are hard-working, focused on getting their children well educated and ensuring they’re not dependent on the state (unlike so many New Zealand citizens.)”. But the subsequent use of phrases like “The Asian menace has been steadily creeping up on us”, “Asian crime continues to greet us with monotonous regularity” and “as each week passes with news of yet another arrest involving a Chinese sounding name” combine to portray a group that has a disproportionate tendency to crime.

[...] That there are serious crimes committed by individual Asians is not at issue but the failure to set this in context, both of other sectors of New Zealand society and of the Asian communities as a whole, cannot but stigmatise a whole group.

There are counter-references in the report. [...] But th[ese are] followed by a reference to ignorance of “a major problem” and the quotations do not therefore change the overall tenor of the material which in the Council’s view does breach the Principle referring to discrimination.

An example of the new epithets now officially available for use: 'Officially discredited award-winning journalist Deborah Coddington, said of her officially discredited and racist article 'Asian Angst', after reading the Press Council ruling "I can only conclude that I was correct all along."

We have our victory; what are the lessons? Here are a few I can think of, shared in the spirit of learning, jurisprudential interest, and constructiveness, rather than of gloating (okay, *as well as* gloating) - and these were interesting findings for everyone in the media game, including me.

Lesson 1: For journalists

It's not a dogwhistle when every damn person on the street can hear it.

Officially ruling on whether an article is discriminatory is a tricky and often very subjective business. That's why this article should probably should be used in journalism training as an example of how not to get away with it.

Importantly, this ruling draws a line in the sand about 'balance'. If your story has an overriding mission to portray an ethnic group as negatively as the officially discredited, officially racist article did, even if you try to round out the edges with one or two counterquotes from bemused officials the intent will still be clear. You can't have it both ways.

They tried hard though. In her correspondence, Coddington gave us valuable insights into the magazine's convoluted attempt to have their cake and feed racism with it too, hitting the heights of semantic contortion with hilarious results. With regard to the "gathering crime tide" that didn't exist, at page 3 of her response to our complaint, she states: "The metaphor was carefully chosen." And this is the killer:

A "gathering crime tide" is not a synonym for a "crime wave', as Mabbett and Mok seem to think... A tide goes in and out..." (my emphasis)

Let's pause there, to appreciate the glories of that distinction. You couldn't make this shit up (even though this shit is about making shit up). You can see Coddington and Robyn Langwell examining the cake. How? How can we make sure that the racists eat the cake? But that no-one can prove that we fed it to them? The Press Council was good enough to call this rationalisation "disingenuous".

Lesson 2: For publishers and editors

Letters ain't enough unless they spell 'S-O-R-R-Y'

When your journalist has done their utmost to misinform under your editorial watch, not even printing dozens of critical letters over three months will save you if you don't take editorial responsibility for your actions.

The racist icing that Langwell laid on the racist cake (or for our side, the insult atop the injury), was that despite printing negative feedback about the article in following issues, the response from the magazine itself only perpetuated the misinformation over statistics. An admission or a correction printed in the magazine may have helped them feebly fend off a complaint. But they tanked, publishing Coddington's obfuscatory right of reply in the January issue, and printing an editorial defense, not an apology. No-one took responsibility for the fudged 'crime tide'. The Press Council didn't buy it.

Lesson 3: For the magazine industry

Desperate measures imply desperate times

Worried by sinking magazine sales and circulation due to market saturation and the explosion of web media? Think that tapping into the so-called "anguish" of the excessively invoked 'middle-New Zealand' by scaremongering about some minority group is the answer? Think again. Not only is it insulting to those who you consider the mainstay of your "Thinking New Zealand" readership, it also makes you look desperate.

I heard Coddington say plaintively on NatRad during a grilling over the article, "it wasn't even my idea!" (NB: I, uh, 'stand by' my quoting of her comments on the radio, although if you are reading any of her responses to the complainants, her use of quotation marks around what she thinks people have said about her on the radio should definitely be taken figuratively rather than literally) I have some sympathy for Coddington's 'Robyn made me do it' defense. The idea and the direction of the article very much seemed to be an editorially driven attempt at strategic positioning - one that backfired. Even if there was a spike in sales for that issue (perhaps to fuel mass burnings), was it worth it to position one's magazine so clearly on the side of the grumpy racist codger market, which is only going to die off in the future? Even invoking the "anguish" of middle-New Zealand about house-prices, keeping cheerful, and maintaining one's brain function on successive Listener covers comes off as insightfully fashion-forward by comparison.

Also, the more you try to tap into generalised bigoted "anguish", the more likely your journalists are to screw up on the facts as they are warped to suit the editorial purpose. And the watchdogs are watching - even 'crazed bloggers' are able to make Press Council complaints. Is getting raked over the coals by the rest of the industry ever good for a magazine?

Lesson 4: For anyone going before the Press Council

The Press Council is not a talkback radio audience

You can mostly get away with intellectual bankruptcy in an op-ed column; hey it may even be compulsory. But if you think you can take the same tactics to a credible, adjudicatory industry body and think you're going to win... well, prepare for a reality check.

Coddington defended the article to the Press Council using methods familiar to anyone who's read her op-eds or witnessed her defend herself anywhere in the media:
a) make ad hominem attacks
b) accuse your critics of having made ad hominem attacks
c) accuse your critics of having secret agendas
d) dismiss your critics because they have criticised you before
e) dismiss any substantive points with either mischaracterisation of the argument, obfuscation of the facts, misquotes, or bait-and-switch non sequiturs.

It might fly in the Herald on Sunday (her embargo-breaking pre-emptive strike yesterday for example, ran the full gamut), but the Press Council weren't having any of it.

Ultimately, Coddington didn't - and couldn't - fight us on the facts. During the process, she dismissed the group complaint and Asia:NZ's criticism of her statistics, saying (just as she had in the letters page of both the Listener and North and South) that we weren't comparing "like with like." This was despite our specific use of the same statistics to do exactly that. Grant Hannis' later complaint kept on at her over the statistics - she again tried to say he wasn't comparing "like with like" (uh, he was using exactly the same table-builder as she was on the StatsNZ site), but because he didn't have any distracting qualities that she could attack (being Asian, being part of a conspiracy, etc) she eventually ran out of insults and bait-and-switch options. And so, the great victory of the Hannis complaint was that it forced her to say one thing that was actually on topic in defense of her use of statistics - that referring directly to the actual, real Asian crime rate by including the population increase in her calculation would "insult the intelligence of my readers..."

It was rather more likely that the Press Council were the ones who were feeling insulted by her off-point submissions - they rejected her criticism of Asia:NZ's right to complain, and totally ignored her very odd and conspiratorial comments about the group complaint. But her submissions made fascinating reading, and by fascinating, I mean sort of mad. See? Entertainment has its place. I have it on good authority that she was royally bummed when she heard the Press Council result, because of all the effort she had put into her submissions - I hope it will give her some satisfaction to know that some value is being derived from her work.

For the benefit of all you co-conspirators reading Public Address, at page 6 of her response she said of the group complaint:

The principal author, Russell Brown* has been personally criticising my[sic] since 1996, when I published a book listing paedophiles and sex offenders (referring to me on radio as the most bizarre woman in Auckland, or something).** I note he now calls me "Coddingtonswallop" on his website.*** I therefore do not give his criticism any credibility.

It is also important to note that Russell Brown's website "Hard News",**** publishes regular contributions from Keith Ng and Tze Ming Mok. It is therefore very easy to come to the conclusion that the personal vilification meted out to me by all those writers on this website is the same spirit behind the official complaint to the Press Council.*****


Clearly there is no conspiracy here, but I believe the authors of these letters and complaints to the Press Council have multiplied their efforts in an attempt to bulk up what, in essence, is just one complaint."*****

*did not author the complaint, and not a party to the complaint
**probably means he never said this
***he never called her this
****not the name of the website
*****Fails to notice that Keith and I also are both Chinese, or even, "Asian", which may have been another motivating "spirit behind the official complaint to the Press Council."
***** ie there is a conspiracy. Or maybe she just managed to annoy a *lot* of people

Coddington referred to Russell as the "principal author" of the original complaint letter to North & South, and noted a suspicious similarity between that letter (which the group considered our warning shot) and the formal complaint to the Press Council (duh). Ultimately, both versions were mostly my work, on top of a reworking of Keith's initial analysis, and with helpful input, support, admin/logistics, and quality screening from several dozen other concerned members of mostly Asian communities. Russell signed on to the 'warning shot' letter, along with a couple of other Pakeha and Maori supporters, and I think he would be horrified to be blamed for drawing up tables that look as ugly as this (as would Keith). Russell actually excused himself from the Press Council complaint when it came time to haul out the big guns, as he thought it might be weird for journalists to be taking each other to the Press Council.

After we sent our comments to the Press Council to clarify authorship, Coddington's response was:

"My only comment is on Ms Mok’s allegation that I made “peculiar assumptions as to authorship, imputing that the complaints were instigated by the journalist Russell Brown (not a party to the complaint).” I never imputed Brown “instigated” the complaint, as is clear in my original submission. I merely addressed the fact that Russell Brown, I believe, is motivated to complain about me by less than professional reasons."

So, she "never imputed Brown "instigated" the complaint"; just that he personally authored it... And there was no conspiracy, except for the conspiracy.

The complainants couldn't have hoped for an opponent whose submissions were more destructive to her own credibility than Coddington. In fact, the Council's disdain for her responses seemed so palpable, that I almost get the sense that all our pages and pages of detailed textual and statistical analyses were barely necessary.

Lesson 5: For everyone

Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuttin' ta fuck wit'

I've dished all this inside procedural dirt above, not only out of the pleasures of gloating, but because I actually have a point: it seems that Deborah Coddington simply could not acknowledge that Asian people would or could ever effectively take her on (let alone win), on their own steam, with support from genuine allies, as a united and diverse group, and motivated by their real interests as members of ethnic communities who could be harmed by her article.

Perhaps she was so keenly aware of her non-Asian critics that she saw invisible vindictive hands everywhere? Perhaps she thought that our English wouldn't be good enough to write the complaint? Or maybe when referring to the original group letter of indignation to North & South as 'Russell Brown et al" she was going alphabetical out of convenience, but was having difficulty spelling 'Sekhar Bandyopadhyay et al'?

While she was incredibly rude in her response to Grant Hannis' complaint, Coddington's attitude to the Asian complainants were oddly patronising. She suggested repeatedly that Charles (Fei Loong) Mabbett of the Asia:NZ Foundation didn't have the moral authority to make a complaint. She also seemed to think that because the Embedded Asian Underground showed some ability to coordinate joint actions and work the media, that our complaints were invalid. Presumably, the reason a whole bunch of Asians were out for blood, had coherent arguments, and were getting media coverage, was not because she had written a crappy article that pissed us off and insulted everyone's intelligence, but because some mean, powerful media people had it in for her.

To be fair (very briefly), I have no doubt that there are a lot of journalists who will take pleasure in this ruling, and that cannot be a pleasant experience for Coddington, as this is her profession and her peer group. The fact that many journalists don't seem to like her much, certainly played a part in how *easy* it was to generate a goodly amount of press reaction to the article. But clearly, the reason some journalists are happy to knife her, is because of articles like this. Not for no reason. The fact that Charles Mabbett, Keith and I, all had our own non-conspiratorial connections in the mainstream press that we were perfectly entitled to make use of, wasn't because we were part of a pre-existing anti-Coddington coalition, but because we wrote our way into the business, on our own merits, as part of the slow but inevitable increase in Chinese people in the media.

The Embedded Asian Underground has done itself proud, so allow me a further moment of smugness to say, props to us. Still, we didn't win this in a vacuum. It's damn good to see how the landscape has changed since 1993 and the 'Inv-Asian' article. When 'Asian Angst' was published last year, there was a widespread sense of disbelief that something like this was actually happening again - it seemed so anachronistic, a kind of journalism from another era, repudiated long ago. The strength and success of the response has showed that we were right to think that our political culture had already moved on from the these overt, aggressive displays of media xenophobia - and many, many thanks are due to everyone who has helped prove us right. That probably includes you.

Finally: for Deborah Coddington:

Zen is not to be feared

In a strange echo of Keith finding out that former Labour Party candidate Stephen Ching literally did not know the meaning of the word 'tokenism', we also discovered during the complaints process that Coddington cannot spell 'xenophobia'.