Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Reasons to be Cheerful 3

Haven't seen the sun for two days. Wellington has been shrouded in mist. It goes up, it goes down, but it doesn't go. Overcast and humid like Orkland on a day when it's not raining. Women fighting with credit cards down in the city and box shops. Four hours in a car from Wellington to Kapiti. Time to see what good movies 2007 has in store.

2007 will be brought to you by the number 3. Namely, Pirates of the Caribbean 3; At World's End will be hoping to puff out Disney's balance sheets with numerous merchandising wet dreams. 007's main competitor, Jason Bourne, has his third outing in The Bourne Ultimatum. Spiderman 3 looks positively Gothic. Will The Simpsons Movie (trailer here) be more than just 3 episodes joined together? Will it be funnier that Borat, or merely amusing like their last six seasons? A couple of animatic previews were posted up here, but YouTube has pulled them on behalf of Fox.

Slightly further afield from the mainstream box office, Sin City 2 brings back Marv and the dames for a few more tales. Lee Tamahori comes in off the street and directs Next, based on the Phillip K Dick story The Golden Man. It stars Nicolas Coppola, who also appears in a lot of Ghost Rider as a CGI skeleton only he's called Nicholas Cage in this one. Pity he hasn't had a decent movie since Adaptation and he has to cadge glory off wunderkind Cousin Sofia and Uncle Frank.

There is so much hush-hush about The Corrections, I'm going to take a punt on this being a goodie. With a line-up of Brad Pitt, Naomi Watts (sigh), Tim Robbins and Judi Dench, it tells the the story of "several generations of a dysfunctional family". About bloody time. I've had nothing to watch since The Royal Tenenbaums. OK, there was Little Miss Sunshine...

Neil Gaiman's Stardust features not only Claire Danes, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, but also a veritable cornicopia of Brit actors; Jason Flemyng, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole. Matthew Vaughn, from the excellent Layer Cake, directs. While in Britland, may as well mention the sequel to the Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth, The Golden Age. The story focuses on ER I's conflict with Mary Queen of Scots, played by the ever-yummy Samantha Morton, and her relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh. No mention is made on whether Rowan Atkinson makes a cameo.

But my pick for 2007, in lieu of The Fountain ever getting to our shores, is Black Snake Moan, starring Samuel L Jackson & Christina Ricci. And, er, Justin Timberlake. Rotten Tomatoes:
"From the writer and director of the sleeper hit Hustle & Flow comes a gritty, seductive, blues-soaked tale of love, sex, music, and redemption. Writer/director Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan descends into the dark, spellbinding heart of fear and desire and comes out the other side."


Either this is a typo, or Deborah Coddington is minding Ana's Sideswipe column while she's on holiday. If the latter is the case, DC must have had a self-deprecation chip installed for Xmas. This Sideswipe lists PA's Word of the Year list, which includes Coddingtonswallop at #5.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Xmas Pressie

A reading from the Book of Trev:

Muldoon was not a historian, and the election was to be held on July 14th which was Bastille Day. It was an unfortunate omen for the National Goernment. Even Jim McLeay was staggered by it I think, and I don't know how far history will reveal Muldoon ever consulted with his Caucus before he made the decision to ask parliament to be prorogued. In a famous television interview, he said that he had caught the Labour Party on the hop and it didn't give them much notice.

It was true that we did not have the people on the electoral rolls at that time, but the party worked very hard indeed in both the central and local levels. By the time the election came round, we had our people well and truly upon the electoral roll. It was a defeat for Muldoon and the Labour Party formed the Fourth Labour Government in New Zealand. During the 1984 campaign, David Lange had as his minder his very good friend Joe Walding. Joe was an astute politician and I think Lange leant very heavily on Joe's judgement on matters in 1984. It is useful to compare the 1984 election with the 1987 election when Joe was no longer with us, he having died while our High Commissioner in London in 1985.

Without that guidance, Lange made a complete mess of the 1987 campaign. He offended some women dramatically on a television interview while he was on tour in the South Island. I think it was at Rangiora. In my own electorate, I had gone to considerable pains to prepare the way for Lange at the Palmerston North Teachers Training College in the morning, only to have him in the afternoon verbally abuse some student again on television over his shirt or some other trivial matter. These were two major television blues that forced the Labour Party to spend around half a million dollars on TV adverts in addition to what we expected to spend, in order to cover his misdemeanours in this regard.

I think that's where the rot really began between him and Douglas, because the 1987 election was really won by Roger Douglas in the fact that that people had faith in those policies. I don't think Lange and his supporters ever really forgave Douglas the fact that the electorate thought he was the person that was important rather than David Lange.

However, we did win the '87 election and by an increased majority. For the first time North Shore, the national stronghold, looked like becoming Labour as indeed did Remuera. It is somewhat ironic that the Labour Party after Douglas and I had left tried to distance themselves from the policies of the '84 - '87 Labour Government, when indeed it was those very policies that had met with such electoral success. That still seems to be the position that the Labour Party of today wishes to so distance itself and cannot face the fact that for the first time since the original Labour Government, we were returned for a second term in office.

The Labour Party is not good at handling success. After all it did not have a great deal of practice at it, and it is far better at rationalising its defeats. I once remember advising young John Kirk, who was interested in politics, that it didn't really matter what party you were in as long as you got sufficient power to put in your ideas you thought were best for the country. My advice was that even if he was going to stand for National, as National members really had three times the chance of power compared with the Labour Party member. That at any rate is the historical evidence.

Caucus and myself never got on well together. I was very cynical about the quality of the members that democracies so often vomits to authority over us. Although the Labour Government of 1984 and 1987 to '90 had a very high intellectual capacity and had a lot of members with degrees from the university, another amazing proportion of the caucus wouldn't understand a balance sheet if it was placed in front of them. People in the caucus who were dictating as it were the Government's economic policy, or supposed to, tried to look learned about matters upon which they had not the slightest knowledge or understanding.

I have always been reminded of the passage of Alice in Wonderland about the dodo in the caucus race. You started the race when you wanted to, you stopped when you wanted to, and everybody in caucus got prizes that Alice was supposed to donate. Lewis Carroll had a great deal to commend him with his view of politics. Of course it becomes quite apparent that if you are intolerant and don't like caucus, they don't like you. It wasn't long before this relationship developed between myself and the majority of members of the Labour Party Caucus. I thought that quite a lot of them were nothing but fools but then again the National Party had its fair share too.

I may say having a look at the present generation of politicians that caucus might have seen academically of genius quality compared with what MMP has placed in authority over us. You see, generally I am not in favour of democracy. It is a myth that people elect members of Parliament. They do not. Members of Parliament are chosen by very small numbers of people in their respective parties, the average person having nothing to do with it. Those parties stand these candidates and the people vote for the party and those people become members of Parliament.

To assert that they are either worthy of people's vote or that they will reflect that vote in Parliament is of itself an absurdity. They will not. There is a view adopted by Lenin and Stalin. That to its perfection, the party is the be all and end all and that members should just do as the party tells them. I, of course, never subscribed to that point of view. I do not now under MMP. It is manifest that a lot of other people have left the parties that voted them into power to follow their own bandwagons.

The Labour Party Economic Committee while in opposition had already formed its policy on quite a great many matters. These included devaluation of the NZ dollar. By July 14th 1984, it was apparent the country was bankrupt and that we could not meet our overseas debts and commitments as they fell due. Muldoon had performed abysmally in economic terms and had got the country into a terrible mess. Never in the future should a Prime Minister be also Minister of Finance. These are the only two people in Government that have anything like strong power, and they should never be held in one person's hands. They should counter-balance each other.

The history again shows that Muldoon would not countenance when we became Government the devaluation of the dollar by 20 percent. His outgoing Ministers later convinced him that this had to be done and it was done at the very last moment. Producer Boards and a great many people had kept their money overseas knowing our dollar had to be devalued, and many people had great windfalls following the devaluation. However, without it, we simply couldn't have survived as a nation.

In the Labour Governments, the cabinet in elected by the caucus and the Prime Minister allocates the portfolios. I was so naïve that I considered that ability had something to do with selection to the cabinet. That delusion was shattered and crumbled away to dust when Lange walked into the cabinet room immediately after the election and said he had to have a cabinet containing two Maoris and two women. This positive discrimination was part and parcel of the Labour Government performance over the next few years, and still is.

I was not elected to cabinet, although I did survive some of the votes. I thought then and there that I may as well get out of Parliament. I hadn't quarterised my income to come in as a backbencher and be cannon fodder. I actually stopped at the Rotorua Post Office on the way home from fishing at Tauranga to send a telegram of resignation to the Prime Minister. At the last moment, I changed that and suggested that I become under-secretary to finance with a special relationship to Inland Revenue. Roger Douglas, as Minister of Finance, had to have an under-secretary and he knew he was in for considerable tax reform. I think I got the job because I understood taxation which other people in caucus did not.

It was the greatest bit of fortune that has ever come to me in my life. I would rather in retrospect have been under-secretary of finance to Roger Douglas than I would have been Minister of Pies & Ice-cream in the cabinet. There were several reasons for this. The first was financial. Under the Higher Salaries Commission, Ministers and under-secretaries were paid one hundred odd dollars tax-free a day for the time they were not in Wellington. The idea was that they were doing their job elsewhere. I thought this was ridiculous but it rendered my under-secretaries' pay up with a cabinet minister. I didn't have to go down to Wellington on Monday and was paid this $100 for fishing and shooting. That later, on our own instigation, was altered and is not the position now. That was the ridiculous nature however of much of the way of fixing salaries for ministers and under-secretaries in those days. As under-secretary, I also had full access to the LTDs and all the status of other ministerial perks.

Helen Clark was I think unfortunately not made an under-secretary. She represented the left wing of the party and had a direct access to it. She was and is a terribly formidable political opponent to have. I think that from the day Lange did not make her an under-secretary, there was animosity growing. I accept it was not without reasons.

That night I took the LTD and took Helen Clark, who was very upset, out to dinner. I took her to a movie and then escorted her, as a gentleman should, back to the door of her flat in a dubious part of Brooklyn. As we got out of the car, she invited me up for a cup of coffee. I said I had better not come. We had had too much to drink, I thought she looked perfectly handsome and that I might try to get into mischief. I said I thought of her as a daughter. Helen laughed as she went in the door and reminded me that she was older than my wife.

My office was only about twenty yards from that of Roger Douglas and we were in constant communication with each other. Working for Roger was a joy. Once he delegated things to you on the condition that you kept him informed of what you were doing, he did not meddle or override what you were doing. I got on with the job of being Minister of Revenue, not of tax. we decided that revenue was the proper thing for government, rather than just the imposition of taxes.

We were dedicated to the reform of the tax system by changing to much more reliance on indirect taxation. Two top committees chaired by accountants, namely Ross and McCaw, had at various stages reported to Governments that this change should occur. In effect, that we should have a tax on expenditure. The National Government and previous Labour Governments had not had the political courage to make these changes, which were obviously beneficial. We knew that it would be difficult to sell what we called a Goods and Services Tax (some called it God Save Trevor) to the Labour Party Conference and to the party generally.

The argument was that such a tax would be regressive and impinge upon the working class people who speant most of their money on neccessities more than on the upper-class. Douglas, Treasury and all our economic people took the view that this was not so, that the regressive nature of the tax was minimised and indeed, discounted by income support mechanisms. Benefits to those most affected would rebut entirely the regressive nature of the tax.

We also knew that it would be difficult to launch GST through the Labour Party Conferences unless we had shown some sign that we were tackling benefits that had grown up under Muldoon, funded by the higher taxation rate of 66 cents in the dollar. Many corporate people, and indeed right down to the smallest employees, were getting benefits for motor cars, mortgages, tickle sheets, credit cards and all sorts of things, rather than being paid money which was taxed. we therefore began to institute a Fringe Benefit tax. Ideally, this should have been upon the employee who ultimately gained the benefits but, being a Labour Party, we couldn't do that. we therfore decided to tax it in the hands of the employer. The measure was not designed to get a great deal of income, but was designed to stop the perking nature that had become a feature on employment contracts and to show our Labour Party Left that we were serious about taxation reform.


Hippy Xmas

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Xmas Story

Every year was the same. I'd fly up to Tauranga, get picked up by one of the family at the glorified airfield Tauranga calls an airport. A round of plastic guddays, out to the shack out back where I always crash. It's my father's den. 27 deer skulls mounted around the wall, a single bed, a desk, the stereo. One man's heaven is another man's purgatory. I've been there five minutes and already I'm regretting it.

Unpack the necessities; cigarette tin and lighter. Stop to breathe for as long as I can drag out the rollie. Trapped in Tauranga and all the family is here. How long before the plastic wears thin and the arguments begin? Go up the stairs. Uptight Rodriguez and Trev are deep in a discussion on marginal taxation. Randy has brought along his friend from Orkland. As always, she is beautiful. As always, it's a different one every time. Uptight's husband, Chip, is slowly acclimatising to our thermonuclear tradition. I always enjoy seeing Randy's chick's reaction when the fireworks begin.

One year, we had a yelling match in a nice restaurant in Bethlehem for Xmas dinner. It was about nothing. Politics. The old man reckoned that higher pay meant people didn't work as long as his day. Uptight and Randy insisted the working week is longer now. I went out for a cigarette. That was one of the better ones. The dinners I dreaded were the ones at the house. Anything you say can and will be used as evidence against you later on. It's best to keep answers to a concise minimum. Elaborate at your peril.

In 2000, everything changed. December was the beginning of the end, the end of happiness. September had seen my relationship with Ms Machete fall apart. October, I walked out of my Telecom job. November, the old man had cancer again. 2001, I knew, was going to be a hell of a lot worse (I was right). So, I pondered, what to do for Xmas? One last Xmas fight with the old man? No. He had made it abundantly clear earlier that month that he didn't want me around and, besides, he never believed in Xmas.

So, what were the flatmates doing? Ms Machete (don't ask) and her new boyfriend, Tapanui Joe, were staying put. Michael Jackson was there for the duration too. No, not THAT MJ of course. This guy was born in India and had a ginger afro. In one way shape or form, we all wanted to take a break from the hollowed virtue of duty and actually have a Xmas we enjoyed.

December 25th, 2 pm-ish. Phone unplugged, mobiles off. The people who sublet the garage from our landlord had already been round to pick up a bushy pressie from their pungent lock-up. We had changed into the Gen X&Y version of our Sunday Best, that individual uniform of our most comfortable and favoured garments. The Mt Cook Slug House lounge was all laid out. A gargantuan antipasti sat dwarfing the crate it was placed on. Tomatoes, artichokes, olives, roasted capsicum, feta, pastrami, proscuitto, olive oil and salt. And bread, lots of bread. On the coffee table sat dessert; four Hoffmans on a Bike and an ounce of Xmas tree courtesy of Cousin Mork from Orkland, and a bottle of champagne I'd won off Jonathan Hunt in a bet.

Later, we headed out the front door to a brilliant Wellington afternoon, stopping at the dairy for chewing gum and liquids. We walked. Taranaki Street to the sea. Acid babble would just as suddenly and naturally give way to silence. Not silence, clearly. Distracted by beauty, this This. Someone suggested parliament. A quick consensus. Mishing through town, the only others on the street are the ethnics. Hedons and heathens, Dagg bless 'em. Sure there were cars, but cars aren't people.

Parliament grounds deserted. Mooch around the Parliamentary Library a bit without bother. Go across the road to the church. 5:30 on Xmas day and no-one's there. Place is locked up tight. Someone suggests the Thorndon hills. Good for a view and all. So we mish up through the grey sector of ACC and IRD offices, past the State Services block with its statue on the lawn with birdshit on its head. Make a beeline for the Green Belt through the overpriced cottage boxes of Thorndon.

Halfway up, we stop for a breath. Just as we're about to sit, I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye. It's The Man With The Bucket setting up his shelter for the night. I turn around and for a moment I see what he sees, the sunset forming a shadow arcing across the harbour. The pines sway as the breeze sighs through them. Sunset. Somehow, that was important. Then it clicked. Sunset. Dark soon. I mooshed the crew back down the hill before we ran out of light. Merry Christmas, Mr Jones!

Later, I head off to Hataitai and Ozzy Scotty's flat. Everyone's pretty mellow, except this lippy chick who was on this completely different trip called bourbon. I hate bourbon. And rum. I wish she would just leave me alone. During one of her longer tirades, my beer can turns into a can of mace and I laugh at an inappropriate moment. Eventually, she has pissed enough people off to get her poured out onto the street. NZ women should stop whingeing about this alleged man drought. Due to substandard and even hazardous working conditions, NZ men are on strike.

A bunch of men sit round the table playing Grass, chain-smoking, telling stories and forgetting whose turn it was. Many many hands later I head off home, timing how long Mt Vic Tunnel takes to walk as opposed to long it seems to take. 7 and a half minutes. Nah, that's wrong. Home, physically stuffed but the brain still wants to play. I turn off the light, lie down and close my eyes. I sit at the back of my head chomping neurotransmitter popcorn as the Cinema Show and fireworks go off on the frontal lobe's widescreen.

In the morning, I open my eyes and everything was exactly how it was. But I had had one glorious Xmas. All the best to all the readers, the dreamers, the freaks, geeks and queers. Hope you have a glorious Xmas and an interesting '007.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

4:20 Geek Report

This just in... The BBC is releasing scores of their back catalogue through Hi-Definition Video Torrents through P2P software available from Zudeo, including Red Dwarf, Doctor Who and The League of Gentlemen (Tip BoingBoing).

Wired links to a Wiki of ISPs and their Torrent policies. The only NZ site listed so far is iBurst, who limit Torrent bandwidth. If you have not heard of iBurst, it's probably because the link on the wiki goes to http://www.iburst.co.za. Their coverage area includes such notable Kiwi towns as Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.

Perhaps someone should jump on their IRC channel, correct them and point them in the right direction. I would, but it's been ten years since I last played with IRC and I can't be arsed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

You poor bastards

There's a number of reasons I left Orkland. The bunch of loons that run City Council was one of them. I'm bursting with curiosity about the details of this billboard ban. Whatever lies in the details, I'm glad in an entirely non-gloating way that WCC has comparatively saner governance.

Stripping the Orkland CBD of its billboards to enhance its metropolitan beauty is akin to stripping Houston's residents of all their XXXL Nike T-shirts and Lacoste mumu to boost its civic attractiveness. Orkland, without its billboards, is even more of a pit. Without its $70,000,000 a year wallpaper, the CBD will look like the public toilet it is.

What inspired the ACC to such numbskulla lacuna? My guess is dispensations. Dispensations got very popular after the Brothel & Commercial Sex Premises bylaw was passed some years back. Dispensations, like their antecedents in King John's time, are decrees by supersized fees and arbitrariness. Dispensations are Orkland Council's latest money magnet.

I very much doubt that Council is going to similarly wipe advertising off their buses. Advertising cross-subsidises public transport. Are they preparing to hide a massive price-hike somewhere, or are bus billboards and Adshel shelters going to be the only players allowed in the CBD racket?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hospital case

One of the joys of my new job is the varied workload. One day I might be evicting someone for not paying their rent, the next I might be plastering up the holes left by a trannie tinnie dealer. Yesterday, while replacing a clothes line, the business end of a pair of pliers smacked my right eyeball. Wow, a new form of pain. This was a job for Capital Coast Health.

One of my workmates dropped me at Wellington Hospital's new A&E entrance, and I staggered through the doors up to reception. Being three-quarters blinded (my undamaged left eye had become hyper-sensitive to light), the nurse kindly filled in the forms with the aid of my Community Services card. I was prepared for a long wait, so it was a surprise to be asked through the magnetic doors after about 10 minutes. I Stevie-Wondered my way after the nurse into the hospital hive which, to my eyes, was populated by kinetic green blobs.

The nurse blur sat me in an ocular triage alcove, tested my eyes. Cover your left eye and read the chart. What chart? OK, left eye. She stops me after I rattle off the first seven lines. I might be deaf, but I'm proud of my eyesight. Dad used to use me to spot bunnies when he went poaching. I'm prepared for deafness and death. I'm not prepared to lose my sight, touch wood. I need to read.

Shortly thereafter the doctor arrives, a Yank or Canadian (they all sound the same to me).
The man looked most like Dr Greene from ER, had the steely precision of Dr House, and the bedside manner of Dr Bob. Less than an hour after checking in, I had checked out with, Dagg bless Dr Gabriel, a prescription including Codeine. I haven't had codeine since they took Linctus Gee off the bronchitis menu. Its effect is similar, I suspect, to eating half a dozen too many hash cookies with a head cold. Cotton wool everywhere. I see how some people get hooked. You don't feel a thing.

So this morning, I'm off to Wellington Hospital for a follow-up. I Boy In The Bubble down OK Road, foregoing the usual espresso thermos as unnecessary and futile. I'm glad I'm not driving, which I could legally do before or after this idea from the Department of Morons comes to fruition. Hey, he's walking funny! Down to the station with you, mate!

Off the bus at the Basin, enough distance for a ciggie. I arrive at the old Eye & Ent Centre at 10:15 for my 10:30 appointment. No trees in the waiting room. They're outside sharing my cigarette, a very convenient distance from the ward. Two hours later, the Head Eye Guy ushers me in apologising. After much prodding and dilating of pupils, he reassures me that the injury is temporary, a corneal abrasion with no retinal damage. I'm to return on Monday.

So, sitting here with one eye fused shut, high on Codeine, red wine and Dagg knows what else, what are my thoughts? Well, the Health service didn't fail me. I couldn't ask for better from the private sector. Yeah, the wait was an inconvenience. I was planning on sitting at home with my eyes closed at home.

Instead, I was doing it next to a wheelchair-bound lady whose husband had taken time off work to help her. She was a 10:15 appointment sharing her thoughts with the Ents at noon. The parking meter was ticking furiously, her husband's boss was ringing to see why he was talking so long. I wouldn't have sat next to the old couple who stoically sat through the two hour wait in silence, nor the gang member and his missus leading him around.

While the idea of an eye patch would go some way to fulfilling my pirate fixation, I value my depth perception and symmetry too much to sacrifice it to an illusion. I'm glad that this too shall pass. I'm hoping I'm fit to Walk the Bypass tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping that Tom Beard will be my eyes. Tomorrow will be a beautiful day.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Get Stuffed

Like any member of the Labour Party, I bear grudges. I have one right now with Stuff, who will only get linked to if absolutely necessary, because of their behaviour towards the Stash site. RB covered the cease and desist issue nicely in the Listener. Dr Goode deserves an apology, especially seeing as how Stuff is undergoing a make-over.

At this point, I'd like to add an image but I fear Fairfax would sic their infinite number of lawyer monkeys on me. Go have a look at what they have come up with, then come back. Is the updated logo "still colourful, fun and friendly like our old logo but with a more professional and contemporary look?" Is it original? No, the spectrum index was perfected by Realworld.on.net about, ummm, 1996. This is clearly a case of intellectual property theft, plagiarism, whatever. I hope Peter Gabriel sues them.

I also hope Stuff's new archive lasts longer than a journalist's long-term memory span (7 days), if for no other reason than so this link to Karl du Fresne's back-handed compliment to bloggers doesn't de-link. My initial vehement reaction was quickly replaced by pity. Any column mentioning Tom Cruise cannot be taken seriously. It's a throwaway piece, fluff. Sure, Mr du Fresne reckons:
"many blogs - both of the Left and Right - are barely literate rants written by angry, selfabsorbed no-hopers with too much time on their hands. They are often toxic, petty, juvenile and malicious. To that I should add cowardly, since much of the personal abuse on the Net (and there is plenty) is anonymous."
He backs this up with no quotes, no examples, no facts. Just an anonymous attack on the Them. I put it down to laziness, what with silly season upon us. I mean, it can't be that Fairfax is worried about getting sued for defamation by a blogger or two?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Minority Report

I visited the dentist for the first time in over a year earlier this week. This old geezer on The Terrace has been cleaning the excesses of an epicurean lifestyle from my teeth on and off for a good twenty years. I go to him partly out of loyalty and idle chit-chat, partly because he already has as much money as he can usefully use and doesn't try to up-sell me crap. I gave up on haircuts long ago because I got sick of being hassled by shampoo salespeople.

Anyways, during the forepain, we got talking about his recent trip to Rome. Two and a half millenia of human history accumulated in one city. He stayed in this crap hotel near the Piazza and enjoyed its This. He summed it up: "The river sliding past, the place, the moment. I cannot describe its beauty. Words falsely constrain the idea." I would never know exactly what he meant, but I can approximately understand. Neurons lit up inside me.

This is the tragedy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By naming "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status," it has niched humans. It is the Declaration of Human Rights that has permitted the Safety Nazis to gain leverage, forcing through bigoted legislation such as the Smokefree Environments Act. The War on Drugs, a proxy war of minority persecution based on a variant of intoxication, is another case in point. Smokers and other dope fiends don't have a 'status'. So you chocoholics, fast food junkies and caffeine fixers better watch out. They're coming for you next.

Is Winston Peters' vote sponge, known as the Supergold card, a breach of the Declaration? It certainly seems so. A clear prima facie obiter dictum habeas corpus ad infinitum case of age discrimination. Winston P's speech on the topic is a goldmine of unintentional humour:
"The Supergold Card is a concession card for the nearly 540,000 New Zealand residents who are aged 65 or over, or who otherwise qualify for and receive New Zealand Superannuation, including non-qualified spouses, or a Veteran's Pension.

It will be available from August 2007 and will provide negotiated commercial discounts from participating businesses, and will help facilitate seniors’ access to concessions on government and local authority services.


The Supergold Card will be credit card sized. It will carry the cardholder’s name, client number, and will indicate whether they receive New Zealand Superannuation, a Veteran’s Pension and Community Services Card benefits.

It will replace the Community Services Card and Super Card for senior citizens. People who currently hold those cards will be able to access their entitlements through the Supergold Card, and other government concessions may be added later."
Old people, regardless of income or assets, will be treated preferentially to standard poor people. Yeah, that's fair.
"The first amendment in Part 1 will allow regulations to be made for cardholder photographs to be placed on entitlement cards. This will enable the government to provide cardholders with the choice of having their photo on the Supergold Card, which will be useful for those who do not have photo ID.

The second amendment in Part 1 will enable regulations to be made allowing a microchip to be embedded on entitlement cards, containing the same information as can currently be contained on a magnetic stripe.

This will allow the future possibility of embedding a microchip in the Supergold Card, should this prove to be useful for cardholders. It is in essence future- proofing the capability of the Supergold Card."
So, these old people will carry a card containing biometric data, even if it is a photograph just for the moment. RFID chip later. Last time time I checked, most old people couldn't tell a modem from a mouse. Is Grey Power at all concerned by this? Judging by their dire website design, poor spell-checking ("New Zeeland") and bad links, I'd say no. Yay. Identity theft, anyone?
"A dedicated Supergold Card website, 0800 phone number, and printed directory will promote the range of concessions and discounts available to cardholders across the country, from central government, local authorities and businesses.

The large number of seniors who will be eligible for the Supergold Card represents a valuable, loyal and rapidly growing market for businesses to be involved in. Already several large companies have expressed a strong desire to be involved in offering business discounts.

Their enthusiasm at this early stage bodes well for the Supergold Card rapidly becoming a valuable discount card for seniors."
This is a government-funded Fly Buys scheme for people born before 1941. And you thought UFO's Families Commission was a waste of space.

Unfortunately, Winston is not alone. There are times when I wish Tariana Turia would just shut up. This is one of them. Although I understand what she's getting at, her suggestion of including Pacific Islanders in the Maori Roll is complete nonsense. It denigrates the whole idea of the unique relationship the her whanau enjoys with the Crown. Shane Jones states the obvious in his designated soundbite: "The last time I checked, the Treaty is between the Maori tribes and the Crown, not the Tongans and the Samoans or anyone else."

Any moment now, I'm expecting someone to suggest making the summit of Mt Cook wheelchair-accessible. Then I remember. NZ is not yearning for a more glorious time in the long distant past, like Italy mooning over Roman times, or Britain and her nostalgia for Empire, or even the Yanks with their present nightmare hegemony. NZ's glory, like Oz's, still lies in the future. We'll suss it one day. Just not today.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bollards to that

If Wellington City Council wants to improve the well-being of the CBD, they should introduce pop-up bollards on our Bus Only lanes as soon as possible. Hours of entertainment and providing a public service are both possible, as this video from a webcam in Manchester can attest (Hattip BoingBoing).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Four dimensional labour theory

Thankfully, I was too young to be materially affected by the Price and Wage Freezes instigated by Muldoon. The old man was self-employed and a lawyer to boot, so the only real difference was the random presents. In a weird twist on the unbirthday motif, Trev would give us shit out of the blue. In spite of not showing the slightest interest in smacking people, Dad gave me a pair of worn boxing gloves one day. Couple of years' ago, I discovered the why of it. It seems one of his clients, a burglar if I remember correctly, had a barter/contra arrangement with him.

Back then, there was no money. The tyrant Muldoon had outlawed reality. Not freezing it per se, merely postponing the consequences. Result? Catastrophic inflation and a mad run on the dollar. A timequake, which the Fourth Labour Government have been taking the heat for ever since. It was a shame that Helen Clark glossed over that time as an aberration at Labour's Ninetieth Anniversary gig at the Beehive earlier this year. Convenient. I'm waiting for someone in Labour to stop apologising. If you have to, defend it, but stop saying sorry. Those times are not these times. The same measures are not required, which shouldn't stop us learning from that path anyway.

What have we learned? Well, nothing it would seem. We're bouncing between Keynesianism and Friedmanism. Never mind that the ceteris paribus of Bretton Woods that clinched Keynes is long gone, and the world economy is in the hands of currency speculators and funds conglomerates. Ignore the fact that Reserve Banks have lost their grip on the money supply thanks to private lending institutions setting their own arbitrary and profitable finance options. Any wood in a shipwreck.

Which leads me circuitously to the storm in a teacup that is the annual parliamentarian payrise. It is not important how much they will earn. It will never be enough. Honestly, I wouldn't wish being an MP on my worst enemy. What is important, is that the increases are on the generous side of the inflation rate. That is very interesting. What if, instead of shuddering along with the various individual and collective employment contracts, wage and salaries were indexed with the CPI?

Of course the CPI would have to be a much more elegant beast than it currently is. Women's shoes, for example, are grossly under-represented in the CPI computations. I am constantly amazed at how much money women spend on shoes. Go Blumsky. There would also have to be a localised adapter, which I like to call the Consumer Services Index (CSI). This would take into account localised factors. CSI: Eketahuna would be lower than CSI: Auckland, if for no other reason than getting the kids to footie and getting a sparky to install the spa costs more.

Doing so would shift the burden of inflation from the central bank to the private sector, who would have a vested interest in suppressing inflation. Unions would have to show evidence of productivity gain in order to strike above inflation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Park

A minor fracas has broken out between RWB (Right Wing Bloggers) over John Key's first speech as Nat leader to a soft audience of friendlies at North Harbour stadium. DPF reckons it's goodstuff, while David Slack remains cynical. Both are right, of course.

It is a good speech, as far as overtures go. John Key loves everybody. He offers an olive branch to the Maori Party and the Greens, the two parties that will matter when it comes to coalition forming in 2008. Multiculturalism is great. While not hugging and kissing the gay vote, he at least acknowledges them with a nod. He empathises with the welfare crowd, stating how John Key was once one of them. The role of education in changing his plight is also mentioned. He dips his toe in geopolitical realities, demonstrating he has a better understanding of context than, say, George W Bush did when running for president in 2000.

But it does have a ring of Generic Maiden Speech #17 about it. 'Aspirational' is clearly the buzzword of the week. One subject clearly comes to mind for its absence from the speech. Health, that minefield of irreducible complexity, is neatly avoided. It is entirely reasonable to look at this speech and think it a smorgasbord of platitudes.

Perhaps we should make speech-writing illegal, and leave the pollies to choose their own words.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Haka Redux

I've got one big finger pointed at the Brit press and the Welsh right now. Isn't it a bit rich for a Brit to call the All Blacks' haka performance "pompous"? Britain, the home of pasty-faced morris dancing hoity-toity slack-jawed stiff-lipped whinging twats. God Save the Queen is a terrible dirge which keeps me wondering what stops ERII from slashing her wrists every time she hears it.

Perhaps all this Brit vitriol is a bit over the top. It seems the Herald might have had to dig deep to such a negative vibe. The Telegraph's sports blogger, Mick Cleary, doesn't even mention the incident, although he does draw attention to Wales being dubbed the village idiots of world rugby. James Corrigan at the Independent:
Alas, this game will not be remembered so much for Sitiveni Sivivatu's hat-trick or Jerry Collins' campaign of terror, or simply as the 80 minutes in which the All Blacks delivered proof that they are, indeed, world champions in waiting. No, this will forever be the day New Zealand performed the haka in the dressing room.

Why? Because the Welsh Rugby Union insisted that their anthem came after the haka and not, as the norm, before, something that Graham Henry and his All Blacks found disrespectful. Cue a stalemate that took even the Welsh team by surprise. A petty irrelevance to the game some said, although not Collins. Not only did the brilliant blindside think that the Wales players had been distracted, but that the "private" haka the All Blacks enacted for their own benefit had the right effect. "Did it fire us up?" said Collins with a sinister grin. "Take a look at the scoreboard, mate."

The All Blacks did the right thing performing the haka in the dressing rooms. I'll do my best to explain why, in terms that even a Yank could understand.

The haka does not go in between national anthems. National anthems are not replies to a challenge, unless one counts the wave of phlegm thrown at the All Blacks by the Welsh anthem's guttural utterances. No, if the WRU wants to play silly buggers, and neither the Welsh team nor the stadium audience do a thing about it, the All Blacks had little choice but to perform on the closest thing to home territory; the changing rooms. The challenge was broadened in its intent by doing so. It was extended to everyone in the stadium, the WRU, the opposition.

Do not fuck with the haka.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

You're nobody til everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard

"And, lastly, thanks to my old friend and colleague, Trevor de Cleene, with whom I debated the concepts at length but to whom I still have not dared to show the text."
-Roger Douglas, Unfinished Business

It's April 1988, and the old man is giving me a lift into town, where I'm at Vic Uni and failing Legal Systems badly. He has a lot on his mind, and he vents. There has been another Lange Douglas spat and Dad truly doesn't know how much longer it can go on. By year's end, it's all over. After sending Roger a letter of commiseration, I receive an invite to the Backbone Club, which I decline.

Now it's 1998 and, as El Presidente of Prebble's Rebels, I arrange a members' talk with one of the smartest men it has been my honour to know, Dr Roderick Deane. I had fluffed the date, and the good Doctor had rescheduled to fit my aural hallucinatory Filofax. Now that's honour. He went on to tell the tale of how, as Head Honcho of the Public Service, Roger Douglas betrayed him over a union pay negotiation with Ken Douglas. It was a salient point, and a good reason why gentlemen should never go into politics.

Kiwis love a bastard for leader. The most vivid characters in living memory: Norm Kirk (Fair Bastard), Rob Muldoon (Hard Bastard), David Lange (Funny Bastard). To be a leader, one must be prepared to be a bastard. Don Brash was not that man. Don Key, on the other hand, has the potential to be a real bastard.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Think goNZo

After a Labour party meeting earlier this year, I paused outside to roll a ciggie. I got talking with an engaging Old One from the Silent Generation. She sounded like she had been a Labour member from Mickey Savage's time on. The lady had outlived Norm Kirk's Camelot, Rogernomics' Quantum Leap, and will still be signed on long after Helen Clark's Office is over.

She said, "Whatever happened to the really important things? I look at the Kelburn Viaduct or the Karori Tunnel, or the Mt Victoria Tunnel. All their commission dates are a lifetime ago. What public works are being done today, to leave something as good as our forebears gave us?"

I really didn't have an answer to give her. Moa Point seemed not quite right and the Bypass, for all its engineering, seemed too small. I knew what she meant, and extending a motorway 300 metres wasn't it. There was nothing new. No link road from Karori to Owhiro Bay, not even a Johnsonville route fit for anyone but Sunday Drivers and hoons. Transmission Gully was still not happening then (Is it now?). No extension of rail into the heart of the city.

On a bigger scale, there was no Main Trunk Line to gloat about. No bridge between the Heartland and the Mainland. Auckland still had no rail to the North Shore, or even a bridge more worthy than the 1950's clusterfuck it uses now. While the Kaikoura Roulette is finally getting fixed, we still haven't got a decent drive linking Wellington to the Wairarapa after we turned down the Yanks' tunnel offer back around WWII. The Rimutakas are a beaut to tramp on, but a cunt to drive over. Same same with Arthur's Pass, without the tramping.

So the only answer I could give this Old One was, "We pay our way." And that's us all over. It is writ big with Michael Cullen's new GAAP and Cullen Fund. We will pay and pay and pay. We will have student debt, personal debt, hire purchases, mortgages, car finance. We pay for insurance just in case any of the things we are paying for Get Cartered. Plus GST.

Little wonder then that Labour's student loan interest write-off was a vote-winner. In one fell swoop a Gordian knot is cut. The Old Ones oblige, because they know what's happening. Gen X and Y and probably Z are getting screwed. We will be picking up the tab for the Baby Boomers for a while yet.

The Boomers have had it sweet. Raised by parents who knew the value of a dollar, becoming self-made people before the laws got too complicated, or university graduates when education was still free. There is no class war in NZ. It is generational. One day, the Boomers will pay.

And this is how. Y'know that Cullen Fund, that one that all the PAYE-earners are paying for on top of the seven percent for current Super? The Super Fund throws cash into such things of negligible public good for NZ as $19 million dollars in Verizon or $44 million in Macquarie Infrastructure Group, which is "the world’s largest listed infrastructure fund, with assets in Australia, the UK, Germany and Portugal."

Instead, we should put our money where our mouth is, along with the rest of us. Just like Muldoon did in 1975, it's only a matter of time before someone cracks that piggy bank. Better now, for the right reasons. Just make sure that you gamble and win.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Shot in the Dark

Inspired by Jeremy Greenbrook's outrage at the shooting of a machete-wielding moron at a gun shop, I present you with another Tale of Trev:

It's 1981 or thereabouts. The old man is defending a guy who did a hit and run on a mob member in Palmy. It's night, and Dad is down at the Masonic with his mates and a few beers. My brother, Randy Gonzales, is home alone. A mob guy comes up to the house in Chaytor Street, slowly driving his Harley Davidson up and down the driveway. After he's made his point, he gets bored and leaves. When Dad gets home, Randy tells him what happened.

The next night, Dad stays in. He sits up late at night in the lightless lounge in his singlet and Y-fronts waiting with a shotgun straddling his lap. Sure enough, the motorcyclist returns. Just as the mobster turns his bike to head back to the house, Trev makes his presence known. He aims and fires both barrels into the motorcycle. The rider sensibly runs off, leaving his pride and joy on the driveway.

The old man calls up Peter H____, a mate in the refuse disposal business. The next morning, a small cube of metal is dumped outside the gang headquarters. End of story.

Midnight on the Border of Science and Religion

Verb: To Be God (tr, inf)

I am God
You (s) are God
He, She, It is God
We are God
You (pl) are God
They are God
I fondly remember the day I lost my Christianity. It was February 29th 1984. Not three years ago, I had won the Divinity exam. I got to choose my prize. It was an Usborne Book of Science. Perhaps the seeds were sown then. Maybe it was just a matter of time before faith was shown to be an answer without a reason. Why are we here? God. Why do bad things happen? God. Is there life after death? Yes. An eternity of talking to God and watering pot plants.

Then there was the whole God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit thing. While the Three-in-One idea was a nice line, I had discovered that the idea was stolen off the Greek Hecateae. A closer inspection of God the Father revealed some serious flaws. All fathers are men (this was the '80s when this still held true). All men have penises. Therefore, God must have a penis. Where was God's penis? Did God get laid? Was God circumcised? Who was God's doctor? etc. Such is the level of early-pubescent philosophy. Crude but valid.

The old man presented me with a Bible when I was 12. Jesus' words were in red type, and they were the most interesting things in the whole damned book. I could dig Jesus. Let's just, y'know, get along. Jesus was a hippy, the first popular Slacker Jew. The Old Testament thundered with blood, gore, senselessness and way too many begats. The New Testament started OK but ended with what I many years later discovered was a big plate of shrooms.

The Holy Spirit was the most mysterious and therefore most interesting part of the Trinity. This force seemed so ethereal and pervasive, it rendered God the Father and God the Son altogether irrelevant. Whichever way I sliced it though, the scale was all wrong. The concept of the Judeo-Christian God was just too small. Too finite. If the Holy Spirit existed, it wasn't limited by whether someone coveted thy neighbour's ass. Wrong name.

So the search for the Holy Spirit has been replaced with a search for the This. Not that I'll ever discover what This is. I'll be content to sample some of the qualities of This. For statistical purposes, I call the pursuit Jedi. Others call it Bright. Whatever. Same thing, different name.

Intellectual masturbation aside, the whole God argument has more practical considerations. Up until Sept 11, I had considered China and America to be the most likely flashpoint, probably over Taiwan. But standing in an Airlie Beach pub in 2001 watching two dozen TVs showing the same thing at different angles, with two dozen nationalities weeping or shivering around me, the probabilities changed. And I was scared.

No wonder there are people sheltering under whatever illusory protection they can find. Only now are the Better the Devil You Know political incumbencies are starting to fall. The NZ housing market is still pumping. And the lure of a deterministic outcome through religion or bad science is seductive.

Consider the myth that underscores economic theory: ceteris paribus. Let us pretend all other things are held constant despite all evidence to the contrary. Like dividing infinities in calculus, the method is dodgy. Yet it is swallowed with the same presumptive ignorance that the Jesus freaks are accused of. Consider String Theory, which isn't strictly speaking a theory at all. A theory must be falsifiable. Science, at its heart, is the art of the falsifiable. While string theory is art, it may not be science. Even so, I can't help for wishing for it to be true.

Which is exactly the line being spun by the governmental quacks, albeit in more prosaic areas. The Anti-Science brigade isn't limited to the Yanks. The UK Telegraph has a good piece on how the Brit wonks bend science reports to fit the policy. There are sure signs that the same thing is happening here. Prof David Fergusson's longitudinal study has recently shown how evidence sharply contrasts with policy aims and public perception. And I believe it. I have anecdotal proof.

But at the end of the day, you can't ignore Bertrand Russell's warning in The Scientific Outlook back in 1933. The same pitfalls of religion blight the path of science, leading to an evolutionary cul-de-sac. I doubt, therefore I think. Or, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell from another time, there will never be a way to prove that the whole of existence didn't come into being five minutes previously. The possibility will always exist.

Monday, November 13, 2006

ShitMagnet Stadium

As far as I'm concerned, Rugby is a crock of shit since it went professional. The All Blacks haven't played a decent game since Graham Mourie retired and Sid Going went. However, I am not one to begrudge Orkland its First Church of Rugby. Wellington got Te Papa, so it is only fair that Orkland gets thrown a bone too.

Nor am I at all concerned with a waterfront setting. The stadium needs to be near a transport hub and the Britomart Train Station could do with some action (nice station, shame about the trains, the schedule, the other stations...). The CBD has so many sore thumbs, it's like auditions for Hammerhand Idol. One more won't be noticed. And it could be good. I'm not expecting anything so ambitious as China's Wonder. It's not as if there's just a bunch of shanties to knock down, but an altogether more complex beast; our own Resource Management Act.

That's the law that makes building anything bigger than a birdhouse a legal case. Under the RMA, Norm Kirk would have needed a lawyer to build his house in Kaiapoi. It'll be interesting to see how the government wrangles NZ's largest building site ever, when Joe Blow has to beg leave to build a sleepout in his backyard. Who knows? Perhaps the government will declare Bledisloe Wharf a Special Economic Zone.

It was entirely sensible of the Orkland City Councillors to propose the Carlaw Park thing. With the local bodies next year, last thing they need is a stadium shitmagnet in their faces. This way, they have plausible deniability. Let Hubbard carry the can.

Bummer for the Eden Park Trust, who must be feeling justifiably shattered. Welcome to the evil world of politics. There is little they can do to dig themselves out of the yawning debt they accumulated buying the World Cup baby. Perhaps they'll do what the Maori Tenths Trust did with Athletic Park and turn Eden Park into a retirement village.

But I have misgivings. Firstly, and this is pointed out into the virtual flyby, this thing is being built on NZ's busiest port. One way to swing this is to allow the Ports of Orkland and Tauranga to merge, thereby allowing freight to be transferred to Winston Peters' electorate. It's not as if Orklanders can tell whether their plasma screens arrive by boat there or in the Bay of Plenty. For the port company, it's a zero-summer at worst. It might also help Maersk make up its mind on what it's doing.

Secondly, the price is not right. Let's be honest and say $1 billion, then cap it.

Thirdly, there's the inevitable sponsorship thing. In light of the rush of blood to the head that produced an ambush marketing bill, chances are the stadium is going to have some serious naming rights fights. Will the stadium become NZ's largest billboard or what?

Fourthly, the cost of living in Orkland is going to go ballistic. There is a reason only Fletcher Building was big enough for the job. NZ's biggest public works, from go to woe in six years and we've barely seen the cocktail napkin sketches. You think getting builders is pricey now, just you wait til every monkey who can hold a hammer gets down to the wharves. Then there's accommodation. All those canary cage apartments may have some use yet. Commuting will, as always, continue to get worse.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

You got rorted

For the many who cannot or will not buy the NBR, Gareth Morgan has kindly re-posted his vicious fisking of the $60 billion savings, retirement and insurance industry.

In Part One, GM outlines how the asymmetric information war is lorded over the novice investor by the MNCs and shows the Securities Act provides about as much consumer protection as a G-string in a gang rape. Part Two introduces the Zombie Fund, where reserves provide latent cash cows for the wunch of bankers.

If Labour want a vision thing that will assist in the uptake of Kiwisaver, a spring clean of the finance industry would benefit the middle classes whom they so desperately need to impress.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Don/Key OD

Oh for fuck's sake, John Key. Just get on and do it. You voted for Death with Dignity. Stop tilting at windmills and put us all out of our misery. Your glorious leader has had ammunition to throw at a crisis-addled Labour government. Yet, like an Abbo on a uranium mine, hasn't had the slightest clue what to do with it.

There is little sign the Nat front bench has learnt anything from last year, when Judith Collins went at DBP with a chainsaw when a scalpel was required. Old school chum Simon Power hasn't discovered a way to open his mouth without putting a foot in it. I mean, come on. You want to pour MORE money into the abysmal Corrections Department? Isn't $80k per EFTP (Equivalent Full Time Prisoner) enough?? Upping the policy initiatives and cutting taxes are oxymoronic. Your GST is out of whack.

Dear John, what National really needs is leadership. With a bit of coaxing and encouragement, you really do have a team to train in time for the big game in 2008. But to get it it to go flat tack to glory, it needs passion. And John, I don't think you have a soul. At least, I have seen no evidence of it. I understand that you're pretty whizzy with numbers, and love money the way only a childhood without it can give. We should all be stockbrokers.

You have tried, I'll give you that. You have certainly been blooded a few times by Michael Cullen in the wit pit. I'll tell you what. Get a good one over on Cullen, and I mean a GOOD one, and the leadership's yours.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kiwis with Brazilians

Ever been in a restaurant and got the wrong meal? It was probably me. That lady at Il Casino in 1992 who ordered the pheasant and got venison? I'm sorry. I only heard your vowels. I know you had to wait half an hour for your plucked tucker when everyone else on your table was ready for dessert. If it's any consolation, Remiro Bresolin filled that long wait with loud expletives every time I Manuelled past him to the kitchen. Remiro said FUCK the way most people use the space key. eg. "What theFUCKare youFUCKINGdoing?" On arriving in the kitchen, the chef would threaten to break my legs. This one had a reputation for throwing knives at waitresses. Always speak kindly to people who use knives for a living and be prepared to duck.

But by the end of the night, while we were waiting for Winston Peters to leave, we'd sit round drinking Perrier Jouet 1979 and trade stories. Later on, Remiro would be shouting rounds of vodkas at Ecstacy Plus (sadly now the slummy Sports Cafe). I would swap gossip with the hookers and courtesans who had shut up shop for the night, although one or two were open all hours. Then a feed at The Diner and a few games of pinball (a better judge of reasonable force you are unlikely to find) before off home to bed at The House of the White Virgins in Adelaide Road.

It was with a heavy heart that I read earlier this year of Remiro's terminal lung cancer. A toast to Il Cavaliere! Forever Northern Italian, Kiwi by choice. More colourful by far than the scores of suits and black skirts who display their powerful anonymity the way a priest wears the frock and dog collar. Walking by the gutted remains of the pink finger in Tory Street is a bittersweet shiver of change. Such is the nature of nature. The vanilla people have won this round.

Before the '70s, NZ was stuck in a terrible rut of corned beef and boiled cabbage. No wonder we were a miserable people. Then Des Britten and Hudson & Halls burst onto the scene, demonstrating sophisticated dishes such as French Onion Soup with croutons. Thank Dagg for Alison Holst. It would take another ten years before our wines started to catch up. Talk about bad memories of Montana Muller Thurgau.

Although I was too late to enjoy the coke-snorting waitering days before the '87 stockmarket crash, my 12 year stint in hospitality gave me the extraordinary pleasure of working with NZ's finest chefs. If there is one quality that these epicurean artists share, some Kiwiality if you will, it is one of fusion. Italian. Brit. German. Dutch. Indian. Thai. Korean. Chinese. Samoan. Maori. Mexican. French. Indonesian. Russian. Jewish. Yanks, even if their contribution is the Peach Melba and trans-fat Trojan Horses. The NZ food artists take it all in and blend it til it's good and new. It started with Kumara and Orange Soup. I lost track after bok choy, tamarind and the Monteith's Wild Food Challenge (link not available coz DB have stupidly killed it).

I have been going quietly apeshit for the last two months over Fly My Pretties. If there was ever a couple of albums that every expat Kiwi should have it is Live at Bats and Return of Fly My Pretties. It is music to get seriously homesick by. I've had it looping on my ipod but buggered if I can stick a genre to it. It's a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Roots album doesn't do it justice. It is what it is. Unquantifiable. I had a similar giggle of delight after witnessing Recloose during the Radio NZ gig at Bodega earlier this year. Magic.

However, I have no problem labelling Barney Weir's latest fling as definitively fusion. And I'm gagging for it. However, I'll have to wait for the gig at Indigo (aka San Francisco Bathhouse) on 7 December. Aye, it's good to have money again.

I'm off to the NORML conference in Pakipaki this weekend. Have a good weekend and don't forget to be different.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Things to Heav'n & Earth

The three most interesting things in the universe are light, water and love. We are only starting to grasp an inkling of these miracles. Another step in the right direction is the long-anticipated movie, The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky. Wired has a good spiel on what to expect. BoingBoing highlights the deep space scenes that are entirely GE(Graphic Enhancement)-Free. What beauty.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Site for Sore Eyes

Finally, there's a news service out there not owned by foreigners, which keeps an eye on the things that really matter:

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Three Readings in One Day

If today proves nothing else, it is that MMP is no impediment to Unbridled Power.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Charity fuck

One of the hardest things I'm finding about becoming an active member of the Labour Party is working out where to fit in. The council structure doesn't have a Gonzo division. Joining the Maori or Pacific sectors would be a stretch. I might apply once the Maori test becomes available. There's the Union corner (nope), the Womens' wing (nup), the Rainbow channel. I'm prepared to support Labour and even vote for them. However, I will not suck cock for Labour. Although I'm a recent uni dropout, I'm too old for Young Labour. The grey hairs disbar me and I've always been crap at hackysack.

After my charity work up at Fraser House tomorrow night, I expect to have some serious beers with Geoff da Maori about this Charity thing. Charities Commission chief executive Trevor Garrett said "We are going to have some organisations which are set up predominantly to advocate for social change . . . Once we get information that (an organisation) is not considered to be charitable we will start looking at steps toward deregistration." If I have to choose between my two masters, Labour will lose to NORML.

If political parties think they have it tough scrounging for money, spare a thought for a volunteer society like NORML. It is a very non-profit organisation. Paid staff: none. Budget: bugger all. GST refunds play a serious role in what it does. If that goes, well... NZ would be the poorer for it. Combined with Internal Affairs' interpretation of a community, it is clear that political dissent is being crushed.

Not that the Gee Whizz private sector is coming to the party. Regardless of what market share of their target demographic is derived from people too stoned to cook, fast food franchises refuse to pony up with NORML sponsorship. There's little chance our supermarket cartels would allow our advertising. (If an ad agency is reading and wants to prove me wrong, please feel free to contact me. Pro bono work only.)

In a desperately competitive business environment, no-one wants to risk any possible side effects being blazed by a bored and shallow media crew waiting to link their product to file footage of silhouetted people rolling bad joints. A good example of this occured last year, when I tried to set up an SMS number for NORML donations.

No-one wanted to touch us. Not that that was explicitly stated. No, the terms and conditions were changed as our application sunk in. I can't name names or what happened as I don't have sufficient legal nous to avoid the 21 tonnes of shit I would be hit with by doing so. Suffice it to say that text fundraising was not an option.

I've smoked with corporate managers, lawyers, musicians, architects, restauranteurs, stand-up comedians, journalists. I have smoked with public servants on the steps of Parliament. But you won't see these people at J Day or actively campaigning for marijuana law reform. The people are scared. They have so much to lose. So NORML lives on the smell of an oily rag. We do it because others can't.

We are electric monks, believing in things while everyone else is preoccupied. We educate, as well as hassle for truth, justice and a budding economy. There is no reason for NORML to suffer the proposed sledgehammer just so Labour can crack the Exclusive Brethrens' nuts.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

World Leader Pretend

"I sit at my table and wage war on myself..."

This isn't what I was expecting. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but this isn't it. As a child, I never considered what I wanted to be when I grew up. The day at hand was dramatic enough without thinking about what tomorrow might bring. Who needs soap operas and reality shows when all one has to do for one's fill of conflict and drama is remember? And whoever thought inventing people would be so difficult? Fiction is hard. Fucking hard. Especially when reality proves hard to beat for sheer sublime improbability.

I've never been without fulltime work this long before. Four years excluding a three month stint at uni, which at least is a user-pays type unemployment option. Four loooong years, where every day is Forever Tuesday Morning. Krimsonlake's eloquent post on long term unemployment resonated. However, I suffer no guilt from my predicament. Maybe it's a chick thing, maybe it's a Catholic thing. For whatever reason, there it is. No, what really wears me out is the indescribable dread of unwantedness. I have been turned down for a wide variety of positions. Not even shortlisted for Nightfill at Te Ware Whare.

Before I could re-enrol at WINZ after I dropped out of uni, I had to attend one of those "Umemployment is Bad" lectures they hold in their offices. A quick census of my group was ninety percent male. We were informed that a heap of Case Managers had disappeared (quit or moved to other branches) and the backlog of freshly disgarded human capital would take a while to clear. I got my dole appointment four weeks later. I was promptly signed on to a course called Workstart, on pain of no rent money.

Thankfully, our facilitator ignored vast tracts of the Workstart Workbook and therefore gained kudos for not patronising the fuck out of everyone. If WINZ want to reduce the incidence of clients going apeshit, they could start by removing the activity to fill in Dream Circle. Even so, all through the meetings I couldn't erase the image of poodles jumping through hoops. All this talk of CV layout, correct use of buzzwords, appropriate body language. How to deal with the pimps in the employment agencies, how to write a suitably bland cover letter, how to sell your skill set to a prospective employer. I tell you what it smelled like. It smelled American.

Fuck "International Best Practice". Fuck plastic smiles, the fake orgasms of marketing. It is well known that NZers undersell themselves on their CVs. It is part of the culture. Instead of adapting to this though, advisors insist on making us something we aren't. Little wonder there is a plethora of Amercian accents in the public service, the most check-boxed career path imaginable. Only they know the lingo.

I had some sympathy for Waynes Mapp's Employment Bill, in much the same way I supported the axing of youth rates. Anything to level the employment field and increase my chances of a job. Anything to cut the crap and an opportunity to give it a go. However, Mapp's Bill offered no trade-off. OK, the employers get free reign. In return we get... what? Will they cease and desist with their credit checks, the MBTI exams, the unwarranted invasion into personal space? No. Well fuck you, no deal.

Anyways, the Workstart facilitator is a good bird and I've been in contact with her far more than my newbie Case Manager. I walked in to see her last Friday for a chat when the office's best Work Broker walked in suffering from Ramadan. I asked him if he had heard back from the minimum wage service station attendant job I went for. "They liked you, but-." "Yeah, I get that a lot," I replied with a head occupied with a warratah being hammered into a ceiling panel.

"Hey, there's something you might like," he said with a spark in his eye as he dialled furiously on his mobile. "Do you drive?" Fortunately, Mr Menace had lent me his car for the weekend, and within half an hour I was sitting in front of Steve Irwin's twin about a motel manager's job. Today we shook hands on it. I got the job. The pay is shit, but I don't have a girlfriend so money isn't important. The hours are civilised and the job provides a sufficient amount of drama to keep me occupied (a former resident pulled a mere on a chick last week). Most importantly, my employer doesn't give a rodent's rectum what I write as long as I fulfil my function.

Understandably, I've had a few cones and wines to celebrate. Therefore, please forgive this entry if it is unusually tangental. Just thought you'd like to know I'm back to blogging. I miss it. It's too fun to ignore.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The end, again

Wha- hey. Another tipping point. The same as last year only different. This time, there is a good reason.
There was something that RB's excellent Great Blend gig did for me. Bumping unexpectedly into Matt Nippert, fresh from the Democratic Republic of the USA and all set to go full throttle back at the Listener. I got a Barry Soperish vibe. Fatalists make good journalists. I discovered how to pronounce Keith Ng (It's Ing, phonetically). I was always too embarassed to ask. I was blown away by the high resolution version of Starlords and hearing the hitcount of the hirtherto-unknown-to-moi SkyKiwi. The excellent danah boyd spoke with Tim Shadboltian fluency on the MySpace teenage phenomenon. Nice hat too.

The people I met who, under any other circumstances, I would never have had reason to talk with. Kitchens at parties was OK in the 80s. In the noughties the kitchen has moved outdoors. You'll find the best conversations are among smokers, freaks, geeks and queers.

And yes, for all those who heard the goss, I dropped out of uni. Nothing personal against the excellent lecturers, who deserve the payrise, even as the exodus of brains continues overseas. I always thought a university is where you learnt about the universe, not just Life, Law and Commerce. I attribute my postgrad demise to a mix of the "Knowledge Brings Fear" thing and my time of the month lasting over a month. Che, you are not alone.

I have also reached a tipping point where I have told so many people I have been "working on a book called Kiwianatopia" so often, I am obliged get stuck in and do it. The blog has to go. I can't type for shit anyway, doing all my best writing longhand. The computer is also an almighty distraction. AL Daily linked to an interesting piece pondering whether George Orwell would have ever written his goodstuff if he blogged about Colonial India. What blogging brings with immediacy, usually detracts from reflection. Little wonder Orwell locked himself away to write on a remote Scottish island with nothing but a large stock of tea and write 1984. Should I start this epic tale or one more game of Alpha Centauri? Enough. I'm going dark. If anything gets too much, I'll post it up at the old Blogspot addy.

So long, and cheers for the beers.

Welcome to NZ, King Loong

Like a beggar in a bazaar, NZ is overjoyed to be visited by Premier Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, perhaps the world's only democratically elected constitutional monarch. So awed by his country's wealth and glamour, we swallow our chewing gum and hope that some crumbs of trade are thrown into our lap as he goes by.

Who are we to throw stones? As this Herald editorial points out, we are fresh from putting one of our own in the pillory of sedition. In our own oligarchic democracy, any outdoors public meetings must be authorised by Wellington City Council. Failure to do so risks a fine of up to $20,000 plus court costs, enough to bankrupt many in these debt-fuelled times. Justice is no longer free. Aside from the lawyers' bills and the ironically termed Legal Aid, applying to the higher courts is beyond the pricetag for those who do not know how to milk the system. Donna.

We treat smokers like lepers, only worse. Lepers do not pay leprosy tax.

While Singapore's path has been steered through poverty to the fabled knowledge economy, our good ship Endeavour has been wrapped in so much red tape and bubblewrap, it is indistinguishable from a Zorb. Our economy bobs on the tides of overseas currents, without direction or purpose. The God of Safety keeps us from all harm and hope.

I awoke from a terrible dream this morning. I was on a captainless ship and got washed overboard. I was thrashing about in the water, not knowing how long I could keep my head above the waves. Helen Clark saw what was happening and threw some money to me. Don Brash stood there berating me for falling off the boat in the first place. Rodney Hide dived in to save me but ended up getting caught in a rip. Jeanette Fitzsimons was looking at the exhaust stacks with disapproval, while Hone Harwira said that I'd be able to stay afloat longer if my lungs weren't buggered from smoking.

My friends turned up, saw what was happening and threw me a lifefloat. I got back on board and thanked my trusted friends profusely. The political leaders congratulated themselves on a job well done and went off to get their media units to issue a press release.

(Originally posted 21/6/06)

The Road to Sedition

The blogs are alive with support for Tim Selwyn, who is the first person in over seventy years to go to court charged with sedition tomorrow. The heavyweights, I/S and DPF, have weighed in with more eloquence and evidence than I could ever muster. This case bothers me on a number of other fronts as well.

We have had some really strange decisions from police prosecutors in recent times. Apart from the Selwyn vs Vorlons thing, there was the midwife criminal prosecution. It was the wrong tool for the job in the whole unfortunate saga and should never have gone to court in the first place. I'm sure there were another couple of examples of vexacious prosecution but buggered if I can remember them at the moment.

On the other side of the coin, there have been cases which had prima facie evidence but never got a look in. The Labour pledge card fiasco is a prime example. Even the Nats GST bungle should have been cleared up in court, rather than considering any once-off retrospective legislation. It's not as if they can take back 12.5 percent of their election propaganda, is it?

But the sedition charge bugs me in a more disconcerting way. Maybe it's the timing. It can be viewed as a testing of the waters by a post-9/11 government on what free speech means. This could very well be the Kiwi version of the Patriot Act. The Mohammed cartoons business showed how little regard the right to publish is thought of by our alleged leaders.

Consider for a moment the example of CommunityNet Aotearoa. On the surface, it seems a genuine attempt to promote a civil society. Its mission is to "help all New Zealand community organisations by providing access to relevant, quality information, raising the profile of the community sector , [and] encouraging information sharing between organisations" . It's not until you get to the bottom of the page that you see the major qualification: " The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua maintains www.community.net.nz as a community service."

This makes all the difference. An Advisory Group actually decides what "all New Zealand community organisations" means. "All" actually means "approved". NORML was barred from being included on the site. The following email says why:

----- Original Message -----
Cc: information@community.net.nz
Sent: Thursday, May 25, 2006 4:30 PM
Subject: Nomination of www.norml.org.nz for linking

Dear Colin (note, no-one in NORML knows who Colin is)

Thank you for your nomination of the National Organisation Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc. website. I apologise for the delay in responding.

The editorial strategy of CommunityNet Aotearoa is set by our community Advisory Group, who's members have been nominated by community organisations (see http://www.community.net.nz/About/Governance/ ). The Advisory Group has set the selection criteria for material and links and decided to exclude links to material advocating or encouraging illegal acts.

Members of the Advisory Group are supportive of some aspects of the NORML website and work - for example the information on legal rights and a harm minimisation approach; however several of the Forums on your website (for example: the Cannabis Growing Forum) are clearly set up to advocate and encourage the growing, possession and use of Marijuana, which is currently illegal.

We have therefore decided not to link to NORML at this stage. Should the contents of the site change, please do not hesitate to resubmit it.

Best regards
Bill Dashfield

Project Manager, CommunityNet Aotearoa
Local Government and Community Operations Team
Department of Internal Affairs
DDI: (04) 495 7285 Mobile: 021 140 5422
Try CommunityNet Aotearoa - http://www.community.net.nz - NZ's online resource for community and voluntary organisations

OK, got that? Now imagine that the internet existed before the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed. Any site peacefully promoting an illegal act such as homosexuality would have also have been banned.
Either all ideas are OK, or none of them are. Give 'em hell, Tim.

(Originally posted 5/6/06)

Another toothpick

The policy wonks are looking at putting toothpick instructions on booze. By this, I refer to Douglas Adams' dude in SLATFATF who lived outside the asylum after getting pushed over the edge by reading some toothpick instructions.

As we know from Kate Sheppard and the Women's Christian Temperance Movement a hundred years ago, alcohol is bad. In contemporary technocratic language strategies, "We have a product that if used in some ways it has very real harms for both individuals and communities." Of course, the best way to solve this is to do what they did to tobacco, banning advertising and putting warning labels everywhere. Oh yeah, that'll stop the harm. "But wait," say the wonks. "This is no silver bullet. It is only part of a comprehensive strategy to address the inadequecies of the current paradigm. I'll show you the Powerpoint presentation." I've spent enough time dancing to recognise a loop when I hear one.

Earlier in the month, I'd waltzed along to the National Drug Policy forum to review their Five Year Plan. There was a good turnout of around 40 people. There were representatives from the Ministry of Health, Corrections, Youth, and other government bodies I lost track of. The Pharmacy Guild were there, almost filling up the back row. The NZ Drug Foundation had a rep and Mark Peck from the Smokefree Coalition was there. A wide variety of NGOs and public servants were at the public meeting. No-one was there as an individual.

Not a single member of the public was there. Not even Blanket Man bothered, even though morning tea was provided. Dagg knows how lively the meeting would have been if some NORML and Green Cross people hadn't turned up. As it was, we filled the many silences with our suggestions and observations while half the room took notes. There were a few other sensible people there, notably the guy from the DHB who had more relevant and practical knowledge than a hundred PUBL or MGMT courses. Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that everyone who attended meant well. The road to public policy is paved with good intentions.

Of course, it is pointless to send a submission on the Five Year Plan. While Chairman Jim has the final word on drug policy, nothing will change. Even though in his heart of hearts, he knows that prohibition doesn't work, he is too proud to admit he has been wrong all these years. This mediocre King Lear will have to go, Captain Sensible with him, before any admission of reality will be accepted.

This warning label trend is part of escaping the reality of the situation while still looking like you're doing something. It also means you can disavow responsibility for reality. "Hey, we warned you!" It's the same script that says, "You had the opportunity to consult, even if we did set the rules of engagement, the jargon and the terms of reference."

Compare, for example, three levels of warning labels for the same inflatable swim-ring:

The blunt Oz warning: "Flotation toy - Warning: Use only under competent supervision."

The moderate Brit warning: "Warning! Only to be used in water in which the child is within its depth and under supervision."

The 'don't sue us' American warning: "Caution: This is not a life saving device. Do not leave child unattended while in use. Never allow diving into this product. Never leave in or near the water when not in use. Only use in water. Follow these rules to avoid drowning, paralysis or other serious injury."

Guess which country Robert Strange McNamara came from?

(Originally posted 31/5/06)

Quality over quantity

I'm reasonably certain that the 99 MP Bill thing will get sunk. In spite of the public majority who supported a referendum on the issue several years ago, it's just too threatening for the system to consider hacking off one sixth of its bodyfat. It would also be an admission that while MMP is an improvement on FPP, the system is still pretty out of whack.

The Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1986 got it wrong. STV should have been the recommendation, proportionality balanced with effective government. Instead they chose MMP, the German model that would prevent fanatic extremists from gaining power. Yet here we are, still stuck with Winston P and Chairman Jim. Instead of an evolution to STV in local body and national elections, the MMP anomoly has contributed to a mesmerizingly complicated governance plan. People are faced with up to three different electoral systems. Tick this, number that, pick a colour. Only a technocrat's logic could justify this as making it simpler for the governed.

By the Royal Commission's own terms of reference, MMP has not improved constituent representation. Going from 99 electorates in 1993 to 69 in 2005 has not seen a corresponding improvement in representation of anything other than party machinery. MMP has not stalled the decline in political party membership. Voter turnout last year confirmed this abyss between the party theory and the participatory reality. People haven't cared this little since 1919, the last time turnout hit 80 percent. Oops, I tell a lie. 2002 was worse with only 77 perecent legitimacy.

The Commission's second aim of representing NZ as a whole is arguable. There are indisputably more women in parliament than under FPP. But perhaps more women were going to be in parliament anyway because of changing public attitudes irregardless of MMP. 16 of the 39 women MPs are electorate representatives. But why stop at gender balance? If MPs truly reflect NZ, half the country must be unionists and teachers, while the other half are lawyers, accountants, doctors and farmers. Where are the 24 MPs who defend Kiwis who smoke tobacco, or the 15 MPs who admit smoking pot in the last year? Where are the six MPs who represent the unemployed? If the median age of NZers is 35 years, why is the median age of MPs closer to 70? If MMP provides a reflection of NZ, it is through a very narrow prism.

Effective government has suffered because of this illusion of representativeness. Helen Clark is facing this dilemma right now. Sure, the central committees sliced and diced the party list to get the appropriate gender and ethnicity balance. Unfortunately, it has come at the expense of selecting the best people fit to hold ministerial warrants. It is a triumph of form over function. We have a 120 member parliament yet there's still not enough talent to spread around the executive.

And what an executive. As DPF points out in his draft submission, cabinet has expanded to record size. This phenomenon is entirely due to having a larger parliament. It is no coincidence that there are 25 to 26 ministers in Labour's caucus of 50. Super-sized executives first appeared after Labour's landslide victory in 1972, when the party held 55 out of 87 seats. Cabinet comprised 20 members of caucus, just shy of today's record setter. Back then, a simple majority wasn't needed. Twenty ministers was considered a sufficient scrum to push caucus along. Muldoon didn't need a large executive to keep his caucus under control, as he bullied his way to a majority. 1984 came along and Lange's 56 person caucus saw a return to 20 ministers. In 1987, cabinet expanded to 23 out of a caucus of 57.

A decade later, MMP made huge executives the norm rather than the exception. Faced with mainly minority governments, it is political suicide not to have an executive majority in caucus. Without a simple majority, a backbencher backlash becomes an all too real possibility. If the Royal Commission's suggestion of increasing the size of parliament to 140 MPs went ahead, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to witness an executive of 35-40. Conversely, lowering the number of MPs to 100 would cause a corresponding drop in the size of cabinet.

One way to stop this all happening would be to cap the size of the executive. DPF reckons 20 is a good number and I could live with that. Personally, I think that at any one time there are no more than 9 useful ministries. The rest are there to fill up the ranks, hence the Ministry of Silly Walks proliferation over the last 20 years.
Would dropping the number of MPs to 100 effectively kill MMP? It depends whether you prefer a quicker or slower death I suppose. As DPF's calculations demonstrate, overhangs will become more likely over time anyway. What started out as a 65:55 split between electorate and list positions in '96 could, by 2026, evolve to a 90:30 split without any help from Barbara Stewart's Bill whatsoever. And hey, we've got an overhang this term so we might as well get used to them.

The most significant harm caused by reducing the size of the House would be in the select committees, the one place where democracy and consensus can flourish outside the party mantras. With twenty-nine MPs currently locked up in the executive, that leaves a maximum pool of 91 MPs to spread between 18 select committees. It's fair to say that they're spread very thinly as it is. Dropping to 100 MPs would leave around 80 MPs to sit in on the public feedback and discuss legislation before the ideologies get wheeled out in the debating chamber. If you amalgamated a couple of these commitees, you might retain something resembling the existing balance.

So, in summary, I both support and oppose the 100 MPs Bill. In order to get the best of both options, I propose the following:

Completely separate the electorate and party vote. Candidates may stand as electorate or List MP, not both. STV both formats.

Stick 100 electorate MPs in the Legislature of the House of Representatives with a primary focus on delivering the best policy possible through the select committee process.

Stick 30 - 40 List MPs in an Upper House executive, thus providing the ideological check and balance required by the anachronistic party system, while limiting its power to wreck considered and reasonable legislation proposed by the Lower House. Remove the 5 percent threshold completely.

No more overhangs. More mana for electorate MPs, who are currently subsumed by the pseudo-democratic Party Vote. Most importantly, it provides for the more consensual approach to legislative action that the public have been screaming out for in the referenda of 1992 and 1999.

(Originally posted 30/5/06)