Hard News by Russell Brown

Foreign hordes etc

Most depressing story of the weekend: Tony Wall's Page 3 lead in the Star Times on an increase in the number of foreign citizens in our prisons. Not because of the increase - frankly, the story provides almost no context which would allow us to work out what that even means. But because it's cheap and shallow.

How does the increase relate to the change in the respective populations? How much of it is an increase in the rate of imprisonment as opposed to an increase in the number of crimes committed? What kind of crimes are being committed? By whom? Is there reason to believe that many obvious "bad apples" got through immigration screening? What's the actual crime rate in those populations as opposed to the general population?

I understand, for instance, that the Asian community's crime rate is lower than that of the general population; and on the figures given in the story - 64 out of 7500 - Chinese nationals account for a whacking 0.85% of the current prison muster.

All this, of course, would have been a bit more work than simply soliciting rent-a-quotes from Garth McVicar and Simon Power and then leading with the claim that the figures have "sparked calls for better screening of immigrants at our borders and a 'first strike and you're out' policy for immigrants who break the law."

But it would have been much better journalism.

NB: Tze Ming, having determined that respectful disagreement won't get her fired, has also posted on this issue.

The test match in Cape Town will almost certainly end in a draw, but that should not detract from Stephen Fleming's wonderful innings of 262. After Vettori went on Friday night I thought I'd watch until the end of the New Zealand innings. Then I thought I'd watch until the Fleming-Franklin partnership was broken. But dang me if they didn't just bat all day.

Anyone who follows cricket will know that Fleming's record stands in contrast with the grace of his batting. So many times he has eased his way to 20 runs and then nicked one to slip. Or, famously, got within sight of a ton and then got out. But for almost all of that mammoth innings he timed the ball beautifully to all parts of the ground. Gee it was good to watch. Nice to Franklin get his first hundred too.

I popped over to rec.sport.cricket to see what people were saying there - an option that, as John Holley points out today, will very soon be denied to Xtra customers. This is wrong and contemptuous. Usenet has been part of Internet service in New Zealand since before I got online in 1993 and I simply don't buy Xtra's contention that hardly anyone was using it. And if usage was falling, just scale down.

A couple of readers directed me to Stephen Colbert's amazing turn - in character - at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. You can almost hear the sound of teeth grinding in the audience. Editor & Publisher has a follow-up report.

Meanwhile, PZ Myers notes that Ann Coulter appears to have jumped the shark with her latest book, which, according to the publicity guff, "exposes the essential truth about Darwinian evolution that liberals refuse to confront: it is bogus science." Coulter's main squeeze on this one is intelligent design booster William Dembski, who has been quite well sorted out by actual scientists.

I spent enough time debating Ian Wishart last week, I have work to do and I really don't want to get into some silly feud with him. But it seems reasonable to report that on Friday he sent the following email to editors and senior journalists at The Herald, the Herald on Sunday, the Star Times, Newstalk ZB, Radio Live, Radio New Zealand, The Press, The Dom Post, The Listener, Allied Press, the ODT, the Waikato Times, TV3 and possibly others:




Bearing in mind the events of this week in the Parker affair, and the Government’s powerful spin on those events, I have had cause this morning to haul one media commentator over the coals by way of an email below. I have decided to forward this email to all of you however because undoubtedly your own op/ed commentators will be working on columns for the weekend papers, and it is important for their sakes and yours that they don’t fall into easily avoidable traps and so cause defamation actions.

This email is, in effect, a legal heads-up, and I suggest you either brief your columnists/commentators as to the legal issues, and/or cast an eye across what is written yourselves.

I’m not trying to quench legitimate expression of opinion, I’m merely trying to make sure people realize that while Crown law has given an opinion clearing Parker, other opinions exist to the contrary and Investigate magazine is absolutely confident its case against Parker is rock-solid and watertight, so don’t assume that the Companies Office clearance provides carte-blanche to attack me or the magazine, unless you are very sure of your legal position and the facts.

Ian Wishart

He really needs to calm down a bit.

And, finally, thanks to the nice people at New Zealand MacGuide. The new issue includes a feature on ways to get legal downloads that actually work on your iPod. There is of course the fine service provided by our friends at Amplifier for local product. But MacGuide also recommended eMusic.

I did a little research, then plunged in. It's really good. eMusic's service runs on a subscription basis (starting from $US9.99 a month), but if and when you cancel your subscription, you keep your music. And the tracks are high-quality LAME-encoded MP3s completely unencumbered by DRM. Best of all, they have a free trial offer for new sign-ups: 50 free tracks! I could, in theory, cancel my sub in 12 days' time and keep the music, but I won't be doing so.

The content is almost exclusively from independent labels, but it ranges very widely, from Folkways heritage recordings to the Naxos classical catalogue, dance music and, impressively, two of the new albums (The Streets and Neko Case) that I actually bought at Real Groovy on Saturday morning. I spent the afternoon listening, checking out other people's playlists and having fun downloading music with a clear conscience.

I was a little concerned about how good a deal eMusic represents for the artists. And then I read this, about how much Sony BMG pays its artists for each 99 cent sale on iTunes - 4.5 cents. Right.