Monday, February 28, 2005

Overqualified trainee tree surgeon required

As the daunting search for paid employment continues, I had a look in Wellington City Council jobs for something in the entry-level department. Trainee Arborist sounded promising, until I saw the unbelievably high standard of applicant required:
  • You must have demonstrated experience leading a team of arborists.
  • The person we are looking for will have a comprehensive knowledge of arboriculture and all practices associated with arboriculture.
  • We are looking for a person who has an arboricultural qualification, including experience with very large tree removals using different rigging techniques and cranes or helicopters.
With that much knowledge behind them, what else is there for a trainee to learn? Geez, the head tree suregon must have a PhD in aboriculturonomy or something.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Podcasting; the new pirate radio

Geeksheets New Scientist and Wired have featured stories on the wonder of podcasting. Download new music, interviews, comedy sketches, even bible stories straight to an MP3 player of your choice thanks to iPodder. It also lets anyone with rudimentary computer skills start their own amateur broadcasting. Podcasting avoids the licensing fees, advertising crap and regulation that AM/FM stations face.

It's almost as easy as blogging and with a lot less typing required! Check out iPodder for a glimpse of the possibilities. What a great way to do interviews and cover the election... :-)

Any reason National Radio isn't streamed? It's good enough for RadioActive, Kiwi, NewstalkZB, bFM, MoronFM, and ZMFM (Note: spits the dummy in Firefox).

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Life Imitating Art

No Right Turn has had a go at the mind-buggeringly huge security cordon thrown round George W Bush's visit to Mainz. It reminded me of an old graphic novel series by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons written in 1990 called Give Me Liberty; an American Dream.

Seducing the share pimps

Finance Minister Michael Cullen has seen fit to suggest that Kiwis should be throwing their money into abstract share portfolios as well as bricks and mortar. I'll just get the millions I hoard under the mattress in my rented bedsit, drive down in my shitty little Honda import to the stockmarket pimps and buy a few thousand Sky City shares. Cullen's got my vote.

That was laying it on a bit thick, but it's early in the day and I still haven't had my three espresso breakfast yet. You get the point.

It's election year, and every word a politician says is aimed at squeezing another vote into their pocket. Labour's secured the house pimp vote thanks to school zoning. Even Laila Harre must be tempted to tick Labour after the government paid for nurses' historic 14 to 30 percent pay rise. The working and not-working poor aren't rushing off anywhere, regardless of what Matt McCarten thinks (The Rebel Alliance Party anyone?).

Many Kiwis will tune out to Cullen FM's advice. He wasn't speaking to or for anyone I know. More people are likely to follow Tony Soprano's advice: "Buy land, cause God ain't makin' any more of it." Unlike share splits, for instance.

The housing bubble is not going to go away. Even local councils such as Queenstown trying to get a slice of the action. New Zealand is becoming a retirement village to the stars (Cher, Twain, Rhys-Davies, et al), an immigrant destination (like the US and Australia were earlier), and a safe-haven from terrorism. We are the nuclear fallout shelter of the Fourth World War.

As far as long-term investments go, you can't beat land. It will outlast Black Fridays, dotcom implosions, Enron scandals, and Asian Tiger blues. You can improve land yourself, tweak it to improve the value. The most you can do with a share certificate is frame it and stick it on the wall for friends to admire. Let's face it, land is undervalued.

Small to medium private companies still do most of the real work in this country (although franchises are getting a larger market share thanks to scales of regulatory economy). The diversity, entrepreneurialship and innovation that comes from these businesspeople will not be affected one jot by Mums and Dads buying abstract investments. Come to think of it, most times even public companies won't get any more investment out of it. Shares are bought off other shareholders. It's like buying rare Split Enz vinyl on TradeMe to support the Finn Brothers.

Speaking to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, Cullen's speech was Hannibal noises to the Nat voting bloc; the suits, breadheads and share pimps. "Follow my lead," he could have said, "I've already taken billions from Kiwis with the Cullen Fund and invested heavily in overseas companies."

Cullen voted against the Death with Dignity legislation and it shows. There's no pretty demise for the National Party if its core voters take a liking to the Cullen-lingus.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Vegan child abuse

Researchers have confirmed what I have long suspected; forcing children into a politically-correct diet is bad for their health.

Prof Allen said: "Animal source foods have some nutrients which are not found anywhere else. If you're talking about feeding young children and pregnant women and lactating women I would go as far as to say it is unethical to withhold these foods during that period of life.

"There's a lot of empirical research that will show the very adverse effects on child development of doing that."

She was especially critical of parents who imposed a vegan lifestyle on their children which denied them milk, cheese and butter as well as meat.

"There's absolutely no question that it's unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans," she said.

Will Sue Kedgeley be raising this matter in the House or in an alarmist press release? Hmmm, probably not.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S Thompson is dead

Hat tip Three Point Turn for breaking the breaking news.

Goodbye Raoul Duke
Though I never knew you at all,
You had the guts to be yourself
While those around you faked.
You took life in both hands
And shook it til it made some sense,
Now you've gone and blown it off
Hemingway coup de grace.

Ah damn it. The Man is dead. Rest easy, Hunter.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hitchhiker's Trailer online

Amazon has an exclusive on the latest Hithhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trailer. Although squarely aimed at American audiences (emphasis on explosions and slapstick, less on satire and Dent's Englishness), the trailer still looks the business. The movie premieres in England on April 29th, so NZ should get it sometime between then and Christmas, depending on how the distributors are feeling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Brother from another planet

Just wiped the tears out of my eyes after watching Susan Wood interviewing Rongo Wetere on Close Up. I've seen more intelligible Spinal Tap interviews. Hopefully Jeremy Wells has a chance to cross-examine this master of deadpan drivel for Eating Media Lunch.

I'd gladly support NZ on Air funding for a chatshow featuring Rongo Wetere, Donna Awatere Huata and Parekura Horomia. Billy T James would approve.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

NCEA; dyslexic for EXAM

NCEA has taken the scholar out of scholarship. Untutored students are passing Geography, while the pass rate for Biology sank to 0.6 percent, Chemistry fizzled at 0.9 percent, and Physics got a subatomic 0.35 percent pass rate. English scholarships were OK with 0.33 passing and Accounting students did fine too. What does this all mean? Less scientists and doctors, more lawyers and accountants. Just what a Knowledge Economy needs.

I pity the poor smart bastards who end up with a "distinction" award. "I got fucked about by NCEA and all I got was this T-shirt" might be more appropriate.

Call me obtuse, but I always thought the aim of higher-level school exams was to demonstrate academic competence in order to prepare for the rigours of university; hence the phrase University Entrance. If this is so, why not just let university faculties set exams for possible entrants? I'm sure they would have a damned clearer insight into the skill set required than the NZQA.

Then again, I'd be horrified to see any entrance exams from the $239 million Un-university, Te Wânanga o Aotearoa. It's unbelievable that this jumped-up polywoly gets almost quarter of a billion dollars a year while UNITEC still can't call itself a university. TWA features four Bachelor degrees, one Postgrad Diploma, one Masters and one Doctor. UNITEC has 48 Bachelor degrees, 10 (useful) Postgrad Diplomas, 17 Masters and 2 Doctorates.

NZ Education; made by slackers, for slackers.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hawkins fed to the lions

Today's Hansard transcript of Question Time makes vivid reading. Who needs rugby or Iraq when we've got a full-tit boogie of an election year on our hands? The Nats may have been blooded, but nothing compared with the savage pummeling inflicted on Police Minister George Hawkins today.

Dianne Yates had a patsy question to start things off. Steve Maherey started things of chipper with name-dropping a lot of Kiwi talent. The Speaker made him withdraw an excellent jibe, referring to a band called “Don Brash and the Divided Nationals.” Was surprised by Maharey not taking credit for Channel Z changing to Kiwi FM. Good on you, Grant Hislop!

Marian Hobbs' lapsus lingae, referring to a singer by the name of "Rick Bunga", was forgivable. I'm sure she gets her mucking words fuddled a lot, which is how she ended up in Cabinet with Environment and Disarmament (two portfolios even she couldn't hurt herself with).
Then the main course arrived.

Rodney was chewing so much scenery, he got booted out of the House after egging on Marc "The Narc" Alexander of United Future. Not surprising, given all the fun had finished with Hawkins, reduced to parroting "inquiry".

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Monday, February 07, 2005

One Tree, None Tree, One Tree, None Tree Hill

Orkland's "One Tree Hill" epitomises the glacial progress that is local body politics in NZ's Big Smoke. Unknown terrorists planted a pohutakawa tree on that hill in the weekend, with a note stating "One Nation." The offending tree will be removed by council workers this week.

For five years One Tree Hill has been a misnomer. Council, not wishing to rush things, hope to have an official tree (two trees, three trees, more) planted later in the year.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Destiny's Women

You couldn't have picked nicer weather for Waitangi Day. Wellington was wall-to-wall sun and hot as hell. I spent the day at Porirua's Festival of the Elements with an NZ Flag stall. A more multi-culural Waitangi Day, you are unlikely to see. Saw some excellent performances and heard some music from around the world. Greek dances, Korean ceremonials, Polynesian dancing, Patea Maori Club and Gary McCormick as MC. A truly Kiwi celebration.

We managed to sign over 500 people up on the petition. There were the usual "not interested" comments, but that's no biggie. Only one incident spooked me.

Early on, I had signed a couple of women up for the petition. About ten minutes later, she reappeared insisting on taking her name off the petition.

A big Maori fella wearing an Enough is Enough T-shirt turns up. He wants the Flag of the United Tribes as the national flag. "Right, sign up then," I replied. "It's already the national flag," he says. "No, it's not. But I'd have no problem if it was chosen as the national flag by Kiwis in a referendum. Sign here..."

"I'm not signing your paper. The (Flag of the United Tribes) is the national flag." His presumed wife viciously crossed out her signature and her daughter's. "You keep your papers to yourself," he warned.

Destiny and Free Will are mutually incompatible.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Real and Complete goNZo Reasons for supporting the flag change debate

Adam Hunt at Public Address has made an excellent and reasonable comment on the Change the Flag campaign, which I hope to answer with equal skill. Why do I spend hours on the streets of Wellington, asking people to sign a non-binding referendum in record time in unpredictable weather, dodgy public space restrictions, and occasionally hostile responses?

Well, if truth be told, I'm mentally ill. It takes a certain madness to face insurmountable odds. Edmund Hillary should be locked up. You are absolutely right; there's no material gain by changing the cloth. This is something that can't be bought or sold. Sorry.

There are many noble causes to support in order to alleviate suffering. Wars, pollution, and poverty are nothing new and will exist for the foreseeable future. We're already on our Forth World War ( the Cold War was the Third one). Humans have been in shitting in their nests since the discovery of fire (patent not pending). Someone, somewhere is always starving. While we are striving to fix these woes, this is something that is achievable. If we want to.

Why on earth would anyone want to change the NZ flag? Well, let's look at it:

The top quarter is a Union Jack, or the Royal Union. This is comprised of the St George Cross of England

the Scottish flag

and Ireland's St. Patrick's Cross

Significant parts of Ireland are no longer held as British territory. Scotland has recently formed its own parliament. Even the English rugby teams wear St. George's Cross.

The Royal Union set on a blue background was the flag flown by the British colonial fleet, the stars differing on the colony. Fifteen stars for Cook Islands, six stars for Oz and four for us. At one time we were going to be a dependency of New South Wales and it made sense to have a similar, if inferior, flag to Australia's. Did you know the stars on our flag are different sizes? Did you care?

The New Zealand colonial ensign was used at sea and slowly adapted to land dwellings for lack of other identification. In 1902, when New Zealand was a dominion of the British Empire, it was officially adopted as the national flag. Hastily thrown together by British seamen in 1865, our current flag is a symbol of inertia.

This is not the first time an effort has been made to overcome this inertia. After WWII, the British Empire was in smoking ruins and England was getting out of the colonial business. When the Empire fell in 1950, New Zealanders were questioning the design of our flag. In the 1970s, renowned artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (Kawa Kawa toilets) gifted the koru flag to New Zealand as a stimulus for this debate. Ask an old Kiwi and they'll tell you.

Flags are important at all sorts of times and not neccessarily at times of crises. Yes, the peaceful swastika was hijacked by some hateful ideas. Does that make it inherently evil, or was it something to do with the humans who let it happen at the time? There is a simple way to avoid the fervent nationalistic zeal that can bring symbols into disrepute. Just don't do it. Seeing as our combined miltary forces couldn't hold back a surprise attack by our nearest neighbours, the penguins in Antarctica, there is little for us to fear our flag becoming a symbol of global conquest.

Flags can be tribal things, but they also denote context and identity. More Kiwi backpackers put a silver fern or, well... a kiwi on their backpack to identify their starting point. The NZ flag? No way. There are some places in the world where mistaken identity can be fatal. Hey, we didn't vote for Bob Howard.

An old friend of mine likes taking a barge down some French river every year. Naturally, they fly the NZ flag to identify their vessel. "Fucking Brits!" yell the locals. "Fucking Kiwis!" she yells back. Immediately the locals lighten up. "Sorry about the bombs!"

Boating is a damned good reason not to have the silver fern on a black background as our national flag. On the waters, you wouldn't see it at in full moon, let alone a dark and stormy night. That's why pirates had black and white flags.

I bloody hate the NZ Flag logo. It has the sterility and moral backbone of a Nike swoosh. Nice if you're trying to sell a brand, but I agree with Adam Hunt. Kiwis can't be branded. While the silver fern is good for sports teams, and looks flash next to an adidas logo, it's not so good, for example, for our military. It is mistaken for a white feather (coward symbol) by some people. Maybe these people need to be properly educated. It's their fault. We can educate them over the gunfire.

Just as well, then, that this logo thing is merely a reference point for the debate, not some definitive choice.

Instead of just bitching about other symbols, I considered a question. If I didn't relate to the existing flag or the logo substitute on offer, what did I think would be better? So I put this together, based on the hills, the white cloud and insurmountable blue. The hills are in the wind. Hat tip Hundertwasser.

But hey, that's just my opinion. Jeffy James has got a nice one. So has Nick Wood of Rosehill College, Auckland. More designs are popping up the whole time. There are about four million Kiwis here and more abroad. Do you think between all of us, we could find something better, something that more accurately represents who we are?

Flags are dynamic things, as the evolution of the Royal Union flag shows. Hell, even the Yanks have changed their flag on numerous occasions, even if it is to add a star or 37. Before fellow Commonwealth member Canada changed its flag in 1965, 6000 design submissions were received. It is a good example of how common sense and general knowledge can help us come to the best possible answer. I hope all Kiwis take their opinions and stick 'em on paper and send them in for a go. One of us has the perfect flag, and it will be interesting to find out what it looks like.

Canada was "almost unique" in changing the flag without significant constitutional upheaval, although my late English teacher Mr Guerin would have berated me for poor word usage. If New Zealand has to wait for a revolution or civil war before looking at changing a national symbol, we'll be waiting another 150 years or more. If some people think referenda are expensive, it's certainly cheaper than civil unrest! The flag debate is not about republicanism, although there are some supporters of flag change who are republicans. When New Zealand considers this subject later on, we'll have enough to discuss among us without having to ponder a new flag too.

Machiavelli once said that one change leads the way for others. If this NZ Flag referendum is successful in motivating our representatives to actually do something, it will set a precedent for all future referenda. The NZ Flag referendum has learnt from previous attempts. The question is concise and unambiguous, as opposed to the Norm Withers petition. It is not a direct attack on our representatives' jobs, unlike Margaret Robertson's one. As far as partisan political topics go, this is pretty neutral ground. So what is the big tricky question we want the permission of our government to ask in this year's election?

"Should the design of the New Zealand flag be changed?"

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I wanna get trashed with Don Brash

Oh dear. Thirty weeks out from election day, and National still haven’t got their shit together. Nor, as Mark Sainsbury pointed out on TV One, have their strategists learned anything from last year. Murray “Mickey Mouse” McCully has a nasty habit of shooting Don Brash in the foot.

Katherine Rich, if she has the tenacity to stick around for another term, has done herself a world of good. Sticking to your principles is a rare and treasured commodity in politics. She’ll go far.

Judith Collins, the one who wants John Banks’ parents’ profession brought back to life, is stepping up as Jenny Shipley II. Another patronising Mother of the Nation has all the appeal of imagining one’s parents having sex.

As far as Don Brash goes, he must be feeling a bit of a Homer Simpson right now. Which is a bit of a pity. If he listened more to his gut than his Goneril, he has the possibility of winning a minority government this year.

Although I have never been formally introduced to Don Brash, I have had the chance to view him first hand on a number of occasions. The TV public persona of Geoffrey Palmer nerdiness does no justice to conversational Brash. He is a pragmatist with wit, and he knows a bit about gambling from his days at the Reserve Bank.

The current path is the safe bet, trying to hedge those safe seats and pick up the Fear and Loathing vote from… somewhere. The Nats have never got on with the Maoris, with the exception of Rob Muldoon. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain with Orewa I – A New Hope. Brash has disenfranchised a significant chunk of that support with Orewa II – A Nightmare on Elm Grove.

Bashing DPB Mums is not the best way to win brownie points. Not only does it piss off the solo Mums, but will annoy more Soccer Mums in net scheme of things. Kicking the only chick off the front bench is saying to our egalitarian households, “Although women make up half the population, we can’t find a single smart one to sit with the boys.” Half the population is a big minority vote to isolate.

To win an electorate, you aim at the incumbent’s record not the punters. Governments are voted out, not in. Attack the policies and outcomes.

For instance, between 2000 and 2003 the total number of women and children recorded by Women’s Refuge has increased by almost 50 percent. This is stuff Labour is supposed to be good at, and they are not. The social policy meant to paper over society’s cracks are failing. Katherine Rich would support that attack in a way Judith Collins won’t.

Unless Don Brash sets a mouse trap, he will sow the seeds of his undoing. Murray McCully must be replaced as strategist if Brash is to avoid a Rich, “Hungry”& Power-led post-election coup (“Hungry” = Gerry Brownlee). This would mean yet another bloodletting and frankly the Nats have a shallow talent pool for yet another leader.

Simon Power still has a bit to learn about falling off his bike before he gets pole position. Katherine Rich needs a couple more lessons too. Hungry is best suited to being a bouncer, not the DJ. The rest of the front bench are past their peak and yesterday’s men (Bill English), or Baby MPs such as John Key.

The tragedy lies in the thought that Don Brash does not truly believe the sentiment behind some of his words. From what I have observed, he is quite a social and economic liberal. Don Brash Unplugged could grab a hefty slice of Labour’s support, if only he was just himself. Alas once again, it seems not.