Thursday, January 27, 2005

Off the waiting list

Well, it's been 18 months since I first applied, but I finally had two hearing aids fitted by the public health system. I can hear!! It's the first time in my life that I can listen like a relatively normal person. First impression; the world's a fucking noisy place, but I love it.

I had one aid in the spectacularly deaf left (fact, not pun) ear for a few years, but that broke when I was destitute and picking bananas in Oz after Sept 11 killed the tourist trade in Queensland. Since then, I have missed women chatting me up the most. "WHAT WAS THAT?" doesn't get you laid, no matter how many times you say it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Jeux sans frontières

Next time you're playing Halo 2 or Counterstrike and someone tells you off for wasting time, just tell them you're training for war. In an excellent example of turning plowshares into swords, a military arms company has converted a remote bomb defuser into a remote control killbot.

SWORDS, short for Special Weapons Operations Reconnaisance Detection Systems, are 3-foot high and light enough to be carried into combat by a soldier. They can climb stairs and be armed with a grenade launcher, anti-tank launcher, 12-gauge shotgun or many other useful plug and play gizmos.

"Operators work the robot using a 30-pound control unit which has two joysticks, a handful of buttons and a video screen. ...That may eventually be replaced by a "Gameboy" type of controller hooked up to virtual reality goggles."

They are off to help bring freedom and democracy to Iraq (hat tip NZPundit).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The state we're in

Rodney Hide launched his first State of the Nation speech as leader of Act up in Orkland today. I missed the News at 6 coverage, so I'll have to wait for the late news to tell me what to think. Meantime, I checked out the script.

Nice start linking the tsunami with Labour's lack of The Vision Thing as drifting. Ominous sense that we are in a prelude/eye/aftermath of a disaster. The Wellington earthquakes earlier in the week seems to underline that there's a crisis somewhere, waiting to happen. Rodney as a prophet of loss.

A good go at the youthful entrepreneur (geek) vote. Much flattery, with references to "bright", "keen" and "confident." This is an untapped well for most political parties, which Rodney has shown savvy to exploit. Like him or hate him, he was the first and remains the most respected MP blogger. Makes Don Brash look C++.

Changes up a gear appealing to the self-employed. Another clean move. Labour gets its support from unions and public servants, not the thunderstruck builders, plumbers and so forth. With building construction in Orkland the way it is, there's bound to be more self-employed and SMEs to please with compliance culling.

Labour's Working for Families gig looks like it will need to fend itself off from the Closing the Gaps' fate. Some artfully written (no, I don't know who wrote them. If I'm being sychophantic, I'll make the Hannibal Noise) parliamentary questions earlier in the term yielded some stark realities which have Election Issue written all over them. For example:

"A family with one income earning around $50,000 will keep just 11 cents of every extra dollar they earn. The Government takes 89 cents, 33 cents tax, 30 cents loss of family support, 25 cents loss of accommodation supplement, and 1.2% ACC levies."

The implicit point is that Labour favours both parents (or whatevers) working and raising a family instead of one breadwinner supporting a whole-parent family upbringing, be they Tom, Dick, Dyke, or Harry. No, not Harry... Thankfully there's television, Playstation 2, and X Box to babysit and supervise while both parents juggle debt. Or maybe they're all on drugs.

Reminding the uninitiated of his party president position in Act's genesis, Rodney reaffirmed the party's commitment to the Personal Responsibility, Individual Freedom (PRIF) thing. Probably aimed at keeping the party backbone from going Nats-wards. Don't be spooked by a change in leader. Same aim, different angle.

In a remarkable show of optimism and determination, Rodney managed to turn the poll slump and leadership primary split into positive experiences. Painting Act as the persistent battler, he pointed out his commonality credibility; his Dad, the truckie.

The Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, aka the Liberal Party is now, also, the Workers' Party. What a thought.

Moving along quickly, Rodney then lists The Big Six Points.
  • The safest country in the world. The Get Tough on Crime platform is well-worn and, judging from United Future's opening salvo, looking at turning into a farce. Goff is already building prisons like Labour built state houses in the '50s. The Sentencing Act has incurred longer sentences for Evil People. If accused of soft-cock policy on criminals, Labour can fight from a well-defended position. No mention made on catching white collar criminals, just the thugs and bullies. How to get the courts to process the existing backlog and presumed extra workload is also left unsaid.
  • The Claytons payrise. Rodney wants the government to give that staggering surplus back to workers. For a $40K job, that's $35 extra a week or equivalent to around a 2 percent payrise. Could have been dovetailed into Stuff's report of Scots-like stinginess on pay rises.
  • Quango hunt. A Regulatory Responsibility Act mooted. Sounds like a companion piece to the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Nice touch, do-able and one concrete way to nail down unbridled power.
  • Colour-blind government. Sounds like someone should be rummaging through the Human Rights legislation, looking for a another way to skin this kitty.
  • Immigration. It's all good, of course. Best leave this chestnut to Winston. He wears it so well.
  • The kitchen sink. Rodney presents the work done by the Act team. Heather Roy has been doing a good job chipping away with question time. Her press statements are read with alarm and concern, as opposed to Judith Collins' hysterics on teenage abortions. Nothing new in the Education sector. Somewhat mitigated by Deborah Coddington's recent acquisition of the portfolio since the Donna Awatere Huata fireworks. Muriel Newman's War on Welfare is mentioned. Nothing new. OECD quoted NZ as 'low middle income' next to Greece, Israel and Cyprus. Would have been more incisive if juxtaposed with NZ second 'longest hours at work' behind Japan.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Fundamentalist school board loses court battle

You may remember an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit featuring a God Squad in Atlanta called the Cobb County School Board. They put stickers in the front of Biology textbooks in school saying Evolution is a theory, not a fact. A few days' ago, they were ordered by a judge to remove the stickers and never hand them out again in any form.

Just goes to show how useful judges can be be, no matter what the president thinks.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Better dying through MDMA

The Food and Drug Administration in the US has approved a Harvard study looking into the palliative effects of MDMA on terminal cancer patients. Research is continuing on Ecstacy treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder as well. Check the MDMA Research site for more details.

Researchers are hoping to expand their research into other areas of beneficial psychotropic uses. Studies into psychedelic drugs have only happened since 2002. Up til then, they haven't been permitted for study since the 1970s.

About bloody time.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Fine with light breezes and occasional ice blocks

For the first time in human history, scientists have successfully landed a probe on an alien moon. Armed with a mass spectrometer, three cameras and a few other dangly bits, the Huygens probe sent back data that will keep the curious and speculative busy for hours. The first full colour picture can be seen here.

According to New Scientist, the Cassini-Huygens probe cost $A3.27 billion. That's about half New Zealand's budget surplus for this year. Given the choice, would you buy one election or two space probes?

NB. I Might be Wrong
TVNZ reckons Cassini-Huygens at $US 3.2 billion. You can buy one NZ election or only one space probe.

Bloody foreigners

DPF has commented on a call for foreigners to not be allowed on our roads. I was originally intending to post the stuff below as a comment on his blog. But then it grew into a rangent (a rant on a tangent) and thought it more appropriately stuck in my blog:

I'm surprised they weren't asking to ban Germans (Who won the bloody war anyway?!). Then Italians. Everyone knows Italians are crazy drivers. Maybe it should just be foreigners who travel on the wrong side of the road in their countries, like those awful Americans.

Mr Hutson should vote Greens. They want to remove all drivers from the roads and replace them with cyclists.

I favour a change to a tax on momentum. Due to differing Mess Potentials and the past experience of the clown steering each of them, a free market system would quickly apportion fiscal bills where they are due. For instance, tuktuks and scooters would be a fraction to keep on the roads compared with SUVs and other tanks.

Before you say, "Hey, we've already got that! It's called insurance," consider this; you are a lot more aware of your surroundings on a scooter than a tank. Whose insurance premiums and registration costs are higher?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

One brave Borat

Boraq Sagdiyev from Kazakhstan (aka Sacha Baron Cohen aka Ali G) went above and beyond the call of satirical duty at a US rodeo recently. In a demonstration of support for America's war in Iraq, Borat said, "I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards...and may George W Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq."

After a bad-english version of the Star-Spangled Banner, complete with a final stanza of "your home in the grave," Borat and his film crew were rushed out of the area after the crowd turned nasty.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Speaking of war...

I would strongly recommend The Fog of War as essential viewing. 82 year-old Robert Strange McNamara, former Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, lists lessons learned. As relevant today as ever.

Fifteen lines of chaos

Ed Felton of Princeton University has developed the world's shortest P2P program. The 15 lines of Python code were devised to prove a point. Regulation will not work. Like the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, the War on Internet Freedom is another War Without End.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Coca-cola; the new tobacco?

There has been a call from developing countries to boycott Coca-Cola. Mohammed Mesbahi writes on why Western consumers should too.

Do a Google on Fanta and Nazi, this is what you find. Hell, check Wikipedia for that matter.

No politics please, we're sponsored

Wellingtonians may remember last year's Cuba Street Carnival, when all political groups were banned after the Anti-Bypass group threatened to disrupt proceedings (as it was, the protesters managed to insert themselves into the night parade anyway). I had just moved down from Orkland and ran a NORML stall in Lower Cuba Street, unaware of the draconian ban. No-one seemed to mind, no-one (official) told us to stop the stall.

Fast forward to 2005. Summer is allegedly upon us, and there's not only the NORML business to attend to, but also the petition to get signed. Citzens Initiated Referenda rely on physical signatures. You cannot sign a referendum online. They must be filled in precisely, or the signature is invalidated. It is very labour-intensive work, especially when it relies on volunteers donating spare time.

Over the last month, I have been ringing around seeking permission to collect nzflag signatures at various places where people might be found. Thanks to the Public Places Bylaw, anything in a public place (except commuting) requires council permission. After repeated phonecalls and emails, permission was granted to collect signatures in most of the Wellington CBD (Civic Square is still being hummed over, in spite of Mayor Kerry Prendergast's support for the cause).

Increasingly, Kiwis are turning into Americans. They drive to Malls, Plazas and Supermarkets instead of hanging out in the streets. If you're wanting to collect signatures, you are not welcome there.

Charities are OK. Pity increases consumer demand. "I'm so glad that we didn't get hit by a tsunami, I'll go and buy a DVD player." However, political material may antagonise consumers, associating the venue with the cause. Everyone remembers how the Enough is Enough March led to a boycott of Lambton Quay (not).

Retailers don't want politics anywhere near their merchandise. Consumers might start thinking. Is that hoodie made in a sweatshop? Am I contributing to New Zealand's fucked-up Balance of Payments record? Such matters are on a want to know basis, and retailers have rightly surmised that consumers do not want to know. Ignorance is strength.

Johnsonville Mall and Queensgate Plaza refused permission for nzflag to collect signatures on their property. North City Plaza went so far as to warn us not to accidentally wander through their territory or park in their carpark. Pak n Save Kilbirnie learnt the hard way not to let politics near their store. When Helen Clark opened the store a couple of years back, rowdy protesters spoiled the opening. It's just not good for business.

The pro-business part of me understands all this. It's their property and they have the right to say who's allowed and who's not allowed. The pro-citizen in me, the one who read Naomi Klein's No Logo and nodded at the parts where she decried the extinction of public space, weeps.

It really hit home yesterday. I was wearing my NORML hat and seeking permission for a presence at the One Love Concert next month at the Velodrome. One Love is a celebration of Bob Marley's birthday, and was started by NORML at the Auckland Domain in the late '90s. One Love organiser, student station Radio Active, has advised that NORML is not allowed at One Love. "It's a fun event and we don't want to spoil that with politics."

This is largely thanks to generous sponsorship from Smokefree, the people who take cigarette tax and turn it against smokers. With a cash cow like that to milk, NORML is out of its league. There is no ill will with Radio Active. Events require money and if a government quango (who would tell Bob Marley to stop smoking and get a job, if he were alive and living in New Zealand) wish to sponsor a commemoration of his birthday, so be it.

For a moment, I saw the abyss. Abandon all hope. We are re-writing our past to suit the present. We can't see the wood for the fake plastic trees.

Welcome to the '00s (the zeros). We stand for nothing.

Monday, January 10, 2005

I'll drink to that

The Liquor Licensing Authority has ruled that asking under 25 year-olds for identification is unreasonable and unlawful. The LLA has pointed out that selling booze to under 18s is illegal, not under 25s.

There is no law against 18 to 25 year-olds buying booze. A scheme started in Orkland a few years' ago suggested identifying anyone who looked under 25 to ensure they weren't under 18. Why was 25 used as the cut-off? Oh, it sounded like a nice round figure. This recommendation somehow snuck into dogma, becoming commonplace around the country.

The upshot of this was that anyone who could have passed as a 25 year-old was asked for ID. Those who didn't have ID were refused alcohol on the grounds that they might be 18. Is that clear?

For example: Late last year I (34 year-old) was at the Metro New World in Willis St with a friend (23 year-old). We each got a bottle of wine and went to the checkout. Even after presenting her 18+ card, she was refused the purchase (the automaton said her ID looked fake). I volunteered to buy it for her and was asked for ID too. I refused. "Do you really think I'm under 18?" I asked incredulously.

"That's not the point," the checkout robot said. "Anyone under 25 must be ID'd." I wasn't permitted to buy the wine until I showed them my drivers' licence. Through gritted teeth, I flicked my ID at the checkout crone and her supervisor. "No need to be rude," said the troll. "I'm just following policies and procedures." Ja, ich weiss. Seig Safety!

It is with no small satisfaction that the do-gooders and wowsers have been knocked back by the Liquor Licensing Authority's ruling. It's just a pity that some expensive lawyer had to argue in defence of common sense.

Monday, January 03, 2005

A morality act

Just going through my mail. Apart from the usual fanmail (Genesis power bill looks more like Revelations, motor vehicle licensing demands an ACC levy without the chance of a no-claims bonus), there was the annual Act Members' poll.

Each year, the poll asks members to rank the importance of general issues from a national and personal perspective. There are two new issues to choose from in the poll this year; constitutional arrangements and... public morality. I had to double-take when I read that. At first, I thought some fool had signed me up to United Future for a laugh. Nope. Act's logo, complete with the catch-cry The Liberal Party, sat at the top of the page.

What on earth is happening when the Liberal Party thinks public morality is a concern up there with Health, Education and Welfare? My guess is the conservative liberals insisted on putting it in. After all, polls are self-fulfilling prophesies and including public morality is a way of inserting the concept into the political subconscious.

Just as Labour can be divided into wets and drys (sic), Act can be split into two camps which I call the Libz and the Rabids. The Libz are the principled Act members who accept that liberalism is a coin with two sides. Personal freedom and responsibility is consistently supported whether it is social or economic in nature. Richard Prebble was the leader of the pack, until Rodney took over the helm last year. Other members include Deborah Coddington, Heather Roy, and Ken Shirley.

The Rabids are headed by Muriel Newman. Her elevation to Deputy Leader was obviously a power-play to keep the Libz in check by the Rabids. Other members include Stephen Franks and Gerry Eckhoff (Donna Awatere Huata's position in the Rabids has been transferred to Kenneth Wang). They are characterised by a strong theory of liberalism that is not reflected in practise. For example, see how they voted on social issues here.

This split in the party is the one thing that may fatally damage Act's election chances this year. While the Labour and National parties are broad churches, niche parties such as Act, the Greens, NZ First and United Future cannot afford the luxury of ideological dysfunction. It confuses the punters.

When public morality appears on the annual poll, I start to seriously ponder what direction Act is heading. I would like to vote Act and keep the experienced, vocal and hard-working team in parliament. However, unless it can get its shit sorted and work out what it stands for (liberalism or Nats-in-drag), Act will not survive.