Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gerry, do we have any thorium?

Wired looks at the green nuke of thorium. Low radiation hazard, plentiful and a natural breeder for reactors, it was ignored during the Cold War because its waste couldn't be weaponised into warheads. Tech start-ups and national researchers in India and China are seriously looking into it.

What does NZ's nuke policy have to say about thorium?

JibJab on 2009



HT Andrew Sullivan

Incidentally, my Person of the Decade Award goes to Jade Goody.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ayn Rand and the fundy funders

One of the great victories for civil society will be when all the black boxes have been turned to glass. The black boxes of government to the people, the black boxes of corporations to the investors, and the black boxes of the NGOs who lobby the former and spin for the latter.

Take, for example, the climate change deniers. From Information is Beautiful:




I'm surprised to see so many physicists in the petition. What with the second law of thermodynamics and chaos theory and everything, anthropogenic climate change should be a no brainer. Maybe the numbers were polluted by the aerospace mob, which would be like asking a blacksmith to sign a steel subsidy petition. The maths geeks sure ain't having a bar of it.

But the large chunk of signatories are the engineers and general science mobs. Systems control freaks, in other words. New Scientist's Five Laws of Human Nature corroborates this with the Salem hypothesis, which shows a correlation between engineering students and creationism. I wonder if you could include architects in that list?

MoJo looks into who is paying this small but extraordinarily vocal climate denier audience, finding that many NGOs around the world have been polluted by the usual suspects:
Founded in 1981 and named after Ayn Rand's free-market amorality tale, Atlas Shrugged, the Atlas Foundation has spent more than $20 million seeding some 200 libertarian think tanks across the globe as part of its Atlas Network. Much of its money has come from Phillip Morris; foundations tied to the Koch family, oil magnates who are leading funders of denier groups; and the Earhart Foundation, which was created from the profits of the now-defunct White Star Oil Company. Since 1998, ExxonMobil and its foundations have given Atlas nearly $1 million. Between 2002 and 2008, the last year for which tax records are available, Atlas' budget more than tripled, nearly hitting $7 million, with the largest single portion going to grants for "think tanks in different regions of the world."
But wait! There's even a NZ connection:
In 2007, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which has received money from Exxon, granted $135,000 to four skeptic think tanks in Canada and New Zealand, followed by $182,000 to foreign groups in 2008, according to tax filings (it didn't say which groups received the money).
On a whim, I had a look where the money might have ran. Exxon Secrets sez that NZ's Owen McShane and Queensland's Bob Carter have shown support for the Heartland Institute. There's more on Bob at Hot Topic. Good looks at the Meridian Project Hayes windfarm before it was killed. Bob Carter had been pulled across the ditch as an expert witness against climate change.

There's also this from The Listener:
In November, three members of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition – Bryan Leyland, Owen McShane and Vincent Gray – spoke at UN climate talks in Denpasar in support of a US-based conservative group, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).
Oh yeah, MoJo mentions CFACT too. I bet there's a whole Jimmy Carter farm of shell games where the slick can spread.

Desmogblog has a go at it and throws up Muriel Newman's cult:

New Zealand Centre for Political Research
No funding records from ExxonMobil, Scaife, or Koch.

That explains a lot. In the market of ideas, the libertarian right have sold out. Their opinions on climate change count for naught. Anything with a whiff of Rand is hereby tainted. They've shat on their Ayn brand.

I only hope some sunlight could penetrate the funding of not only the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition and the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, but those MSM mouthpiece go-to guys Garth McVicar and Bob McCroskie. I reckon the truth is spookier than the Exclusive Brethren.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reasonable force



From YouTube:
Two thieves on a motor-scooter flew by and snatched a womans purse on a street in Wenzhou, China. Surveillance video shows a man riding a bicycle. As he was passing by the front of a hotel near where the thievery happened, he stopped, calmly got off his bicycle, picked it up, and then threw it at them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Jesus gonna fuck you up

The righteous and the restless has been set off over at DPF's on the ODT editorial on intolerance. This has all been brought to a head due to some liberal church's advertising which compelled some loons to act as god's tools of destruction. And what tools. What utter presumption or insanity.

While we're waiting for religious fundamentalism to turn up in the DSM VI as a mental disorder (a pinch of schizo, a dash of messiah complex, and a large cup of delusion), there's always the Dude for advice:



I'm not some fancy city philosopher, but I am the ninth most popular search on Google Images for fundamental doubt. But you don't have to take my word as gospel. The Dude is onto something here. Or try Tom Robbins in Skinny Legs and All for some summer reading. He successfully argues that organised religion bears false witness to the divine, therefore religion is blasphemous.

Checkmate, game, set and match point.

This thing is bigger than all of us.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bored games


Click to embiggerate. Caution, 1 megabyte file size. Children, ask your parents first.

Bored with your Xmas presents already? Throwing punches at the relatives after days of petty mind games and old grudges? Why not keep you and the kids occupied with this game of Propertopoly! Although it looks like the traditional (and copyrighted) Monopoly board game, this completely different game has been inflation and reality adjusted to provide hours, if not years, of entertainment and education.

Like Monopoly, the aim of the game is to be the only one to own all the available property. Unlike Monopoly, Propertopoly! players may play Banker, Speculator or Sucker. Before the game starts, the Banker hands out $200 to each Sucker as starting kitty and $200,000 to each Speculator. Each time a player passes Go, the Banker pays them $200. The Speculators also start the game owning the top two thirds of the property, from the Mt Eden Dog Kennel to Paraetai Drive.

If a player lands on a square owned by another player, they must pay rent or housing costs to the owner, depending on what the player has built a house or apartment block there. All the transport and utilities have been privatised to multinationals, and there is no such thing as Free Parking. Speculators cannot be sent to jail and they can ignore all taxation penalties in the Chance cards as well as the PAYE square, where instead of paying $200 they get to roll again.

To assemble the Lotto pile, cut out 4 million cards and mark one of them the First Division prize. Mark another 16 cards as Division Two, 200 cards as Division Three, and so on. Shuffle the cards well and place in the square marked on the board.

Estimated game length can vary between 8 months and thirty years, depending on how long the Suckers can hold out before bankruptcy or suicide. For shorter games, the Banker and Speculator should openly conspire against the Suckers.

Propertopoly! is an excellent learning tool for young children, demonstrating the futility of trying to own a house. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Xmas stocking



# The Twin Peaks 12 Days of Christmas song:



# Beer bottle Christmas Trees big and small:



 # Karate monkeys kick the snot out of their master:


# Internet vices:

# A trip through the known universe from Tibet and back:



#A very Murray Xmas to all our readers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Failing upwards

MANA
MANE
MACE
FACE

George Monbiot sheets home the blame from Copenhagen:
The British and US governments have blamed the Chinese government for the failure of the talks. It's true that the Chinese worked hard to mess them up, but Obama also put Beijing in an impossible position. He demanded concessions while offering nothing. He must have known the importance of not losing face in Chinese politics: his unilateral diplomacy amounted to a demand for self-abasement. My guess is that this was a calculated manoeuvre guaranteed to produce instransigence, whereupon China could be blamed for the outcome the US wanted.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sun sets on Copenhagen



I've been angsting over a well-written, comprehensive posting on why the Copenhagen summit was doomed from the start, and so are all of us. I was poised to drop in some nice images like a Keeling graph, or a wry summary of just how much air and water this planet has to play with.

However, New Scientist has just save me a whole lot of bother by listing Five Laws of Human Nature.

1. Parkinson's Law. eg. The US and China's pissing competition.
2. Student Syndrome. eg. Until it's a catastrophe, we don't have to do anything.
3. Pareto Principle. eg. The wealthy North will always dominate the poor masses of the South.
4. Salem hypothesis. eg. We're rich because God made us rich, therefore we're going to tell everyone else how to live.
5. Maes-Garreau Law. eg. Hey, what's the worst that can happen?

Stuff it, here's the facts:






Let's hope the octopii do a better job than the humans did. Look at this Einstein go:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Song and dance

Awesome busker mashup, Killing in the Name of Frosty. Just the right amount of festive anarchy. HT Offsetting Behaviour:



I hate The Sound of Music as much as the next blogger, but this flash-mobbing in a Belgian railway station contained the right amount of headfucking. HT Poneke:

Access all areas

Thom Yorke crashes the Copenhagen conference to see what is happening, since the NGOs have all been kicked out:



From Grist.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Young and stupid

I'm really enjoying the social experiment being run by Cactus Kate over her catching the 17 year old daughter of some acquaintances doing ketamine in a Hong Kong lav. The overwhelming majority of advice in the comments is basically "dob the bitch in for her own good," thereby reinforcing the notion that NZ is a nation of narks.

Never mind that each respondent went through their own initiation to sex, drugs and rock n roll. Few if any would have wanted their parents informed of their personal experimentations; their fumbles, their foibles, their indiscretions, their mistakes. The serious fuck ups; pregnancy or arrest, sure, the parents should be informed. But by the teen caught in the middle of it, not some Big Sister grapevine. For the rest, it is all part of the lessons in owning one's shit.

For the record, ketamine is a fairly shitty drug. It's not as if it's bad per se, it's just that it's boring and a little bit desperate. It's the drug you have when you can't find anything else. It's like Withnail drinking lighter fluid:



Secondly, I assume that CK has some code on indiscretions. I bet a 17 year old Cactus caught in flagrante delicto wouldn't have appreciated her parents getting the gory on it. Nor would I imagine that she would like her Tiger Woods trophy wives to get wind of her infidelity intercourses through coarse sources.
So the issue is now of course - do I tell the parents?

Again, not so much a moral objection to drugs but the kid is 17. Kids shouldn't be doing drugs. As I said to her she should wait until she is older so she can afford to buy better drugs.

Upside - none really other than if she dies of a drug overdose it would be rather bad
Downside - when she is finally caught the little shit will no doubt rat me out to her parents for having previously busted her with it and consider my silence consent to her behaviour.

My advice to Cactus from my humble experiences goes thusly:

No, do not tell the parents. You are not a fairy godmother, you are a lawyer. If anything, advise the client gratis but do not appeal to the familial judges immediately. As many parents know, their kids should not be drinking, screwing or getting stoned at 17. Yet they do, or at least might. If the parents haven't instilled some scruples or survival skills in their kids, that's on their head.

I'm not familiar with the details on Hong Kong's drug policy, and I can't be arsed researching it, so I'm going to make a gross assumption. Namely that the whole Asian continent has a fucked up view on drugs, preferring life and death sentences a la Shapelle Corby.

Here's hoping the emo in question is smarter or luckier than the average Australian, and keeps ahead of the undercover cops in one of the 'notorious nightclubs' of Hong Kong. Hey, if worse comes to worst, the parents might be able to baksheesh an exile for her if she gets done.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

4:20 News


# Sloshspot calculates the estimated tax revenue from 10 US states if marijuana was legalised. It concludes that instead of blowing over $14 billion ($446 every second) on prohibition, state coffers could reap at least three quarters of a billion dollars instead.

# The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that drug money helped keep the financial world afloat during the liquidity crisis. HT Bernard Hickey @Ratesblog.


# The US Department of Homeland Security intercepted a shipment of 23,000 Waterpipes of Mass Stoning heading through the port of Los Angeles. They were listed in the cargo manifest as Christmas decorations. Bongs and other drug utensils are banned from import or export from the US.

# The Cannabis Cafe in Portland, Oregon has become the first coffee shop to open in the US. Meantime in Denver, Colorado, the first US marijuana restaurant has opened:
Ganja Gourmet plans to offer lasagna, gourmet pizza, jambalaya, paella, chocolate mousse and flavored cheesecakes, among other gourmet dishes.

 

# Cannabis is being increased used by doctors to treat a range of disorders in children.

From the New York Times:
“It’s safer than aspirin,” Dr. Talleyrand said. He and other marijuana advocates maintain that it is also safer than methylphenidate (Ritalin), the stimulant prescription drug most often used to treat A.D.H.D. That drug has documented potential side effects including insomnia, depression, facial tics and stunted growth.
 The Daily Dish points to a report of hashish used to mitigate autism in one child:

 

# Back at the New York Times, there's a story about a Horticulture School with a difference:
At most colleges, marijuana is very much an extracurricular matter. But at Med Grow Cannabis College, marijuana is the curriculum: the history, the horticulture and the legal how-to’s of Michigan’s new medical marijuana program.

# Marketing by confusion. Over in the UK, the government is attempting a novel attempt at blocking a Freedom of Information request from drug reform group Transform:
Now The Economist has discovered a contender for the most inventive interpretation to date. After thinking about it for nearly two years and trying out various exemptions, the Home Office has refused to release a confidential assessment of its anti-drugs strategy requested by Transform, a pressure group. The reason is that next March the National Audit Office (NAO), a public-spending watchdog, is due to publish a report of its own on local efforts to combat drugs. The Home Office says that to have two reports about drugs out at the same time might confuse the public, and for this reason it is going to keep its report under wraps.

# The Czech Republic is to allow its citizens to grow up to 5 marijuana plants for personal use next year:
As of Jan. 1 ordinary Czechs can grow up to five marijuana plants or have several marijuana cigarettes in their pockets without fear of criminal prosecution.

# And finally, back in NZ, there's a little judicial activism appearing to counteract the rabid Judith Collins' war on drugs approach:
A West Coast man whose house was awash with nearly 4kg of cannabis had simply had "a good year" rather than being a drug dealer, a judge has ruled.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ulysses on form

Fuck Julius Caesar. Caesar was a cunt. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, now there's a dictator. He knew his limits. Sulla set out to reform the Republic, not destroy it. But it's Caesar we tend to mythologise, and for some fairly good reasons. Caesar was a destroyer with creative vision. He knew how to make the most of his assets.

Caesar's ability to mobilise his troops was legendary stuff. If there was a goat track through the mountains that gave him a tactical advantage, he'd march it. Of course, more ground could be covered with less discomfort on custom-built passages. Caesar's army built roads.

Steven Joyce has announced the start of a four-lane expressway from Wellington airport to Levin. Transmission Gully is also a goer, which will allow the Mana Coast to become a real feeder node to Wellington. But I'm more interested by the big picture:


As long-time readers will know, I dream of a Cook Strait bridge. Quite a lot of my runtime has been spent on that puzzle. One of the easier parts to work out is how to get an expressway to Cape Terawhiti, the point where any bridge will inevitably launch from. It follows the valley that branches off Porirua and looks a bit like this green line:

There's more to this thing than meets the eye.

White people caused by white bread


At the other end of this year, I had a go at the figment of racism based entirely on UV exposure levels. So I'm particularly pleased to find my intuition reinforced with facts such as why white people are white:
People who live in low latitudes, where they can live off grains, get plenty of sunlight. People who live in dim sunlight cannot grow grains, and so they get vitamin D from the meat and fish that they eat.

The exception? There is only one spot on the planet where grains will grow despite sub-arctic sunlight.

It is where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream wash ashore. The Baltic is the only place on earth where ocean currents keep it warm enough to grow grain despite dim sunlight.
This is crucial news for all the fascist racist BNP supporters and other European neo-Nazis. If anything mucks up that Gulf Stream, it'll be the end of the "white race". In order to preserve their identity, they must support the Climate Change debate or face extinction. Gaia has a great taste in irony.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Word of '09

Voting is now open for the Public Address Word of the Year 2009. For the record, my three choices were:

Sorry
Entitled
*Always blow on the pie*

The third choice avoids that whole brevity criteria, but it deserves a shot.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

End of the noughties

It's nearing the end of 2009, and the MSM are at it like Santa writing up lists. Time's Top Ten of Everything 2009 is out. Foreign Policy magazine has its inaugural Top 100 Global Thinkers too. Both are fairly Americanocentric, and FP's ranking seems a bit rank with Ben Bernanke, Dick Cheney and Pope Rottweiler scoring above their dues.

And it is nearly time to pull the sheet over this foul decade that was the start of the 21st century. The Guardian gets it about right with a compilation of the People Who Ruined the Decade. There's a few UK in-jokes there too, but the theme is dead right. The noughties have been a bit shit.

2000 AD kicked off with an anticlimax and went downhill from there. I witnessed the omens on the millennial New Year's Eve celebrations in Gisborne, hyped as the first landmass (give or take) that would see in the 21st century. We were part of an international media event.

Helen Clark's Labour party had just stormed into power. There was optimism in the air. The Gisborne Council had local and central government funding out the wazoo to celebrate the coming new improved era.

Along with the throngs that congregated in the township centre, I witnessed the underwhelming lack of fireworks along with thousands of other expectant revellers. One mediocre pop and that was it.

Dame Kiri was due to welcome in the dawn at the beach. There were hours to kill, so the pack of us headed round the town's bars, which saw fit to milk it and charge Auckland prices.

Later on, coming down at the beach just as dawn's left hand was lightening the eastern skies, we sat with thousands of others waiting for Kiri. The sun breached the horizon. No Kiri. The MC said that Kiri would be there soon. Half an hour later, with the sun a good two fingers above the seas, and still no Kiri. Bugger this, we said and off home we went.

Says it all really. In between then and now, I've helped carry two coffins, lived in two countries (three if you consider Auckland another country), and ended up in 2009 some 200 metres from where I was in 1999. Everything's the same but completely different.

Call me a pessimist, but there'll be a time when we'll all look back at the noughties and say, "Those were the good days."

Dick, Cunt and Arsehole of the Decade, George W Bush. DimPost got it almost right when he chose Radiohead's Idioteque as the song of the decade. Not enough paranoia though. My song of the decade is DJ Shadow's remix of The Gloaming.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Accidents by design

Architect Athfield spoke the other night on sustainable cities. Thanks to the Science Media Centre for putting up the audio. The bulk of his speech is in Part I & Part II covers a wide-ranging Q&A. There's some very good points, from the scattershot infrastructure which could do well from co-ordination, through to 'accidents by design'. The audio was bit hard to understand at times, with a few blurry punchlines, but it's still good value.

Our communities need to be more accident-friendly. In a secular civil society, you can't rely on the traditional accidental networks of just churches or other vanilla groups to broaden the real live non-internet, non-mobile phone social networks. It relies on the risk and reward of maximising coincidences.

But between event management costs, ever decreasing public spaces and hospitality outlets being harrangued and regulated out of business, throw in some Soccer Mum paranoid hysteria, armchair inertia specialists, and a fucktonne of NIMBYs, I'm not holding my breath on the change that is required to reconnect for real.

ACTA circuses coming to town

According to the new acta.net.nz site, the Ministry of Economic Development is holding a series of meetings next week, on Wednesday 16th December, to give an update on the ACTA treaty:
The invite reads:
"Last November 2008 at an intellectual property rights enforcement workshop organised by the Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand’s negotiating team involved in the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) gave a presentation about ACTA. The negotiating team would like to give you an update on recent developments with ACTA and discuss the key elements of the agreement being negotiated."

There is no mention at all about this meeting at the MED's website. Even though I sent a written submission to the MED on Section 92A earlier in the year, I am obviously to much of a clown to be invited to this circus. This is no wide-ranging public performance.

According to Michael Geist, New Zealand is holding one of the big Top Secret Copyright ACTA meetings on the week starting April 12th 2010. This round of "bargaining" will be an even more exclusive circus. Canada's being bribed with sweetheart infrastructure deals for signing onto ACTA. What's NZ price for the loss of sovereignty?

We're gonna need a bigger #blackout.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fear & Loathing with bananas

Strange but true. Every time I see bananas I get weird flashbacks. And I rarely eat the fruit any more. Knowledge brings fear. Boing Boing's recent trope on useless banana consumption tools has set me off again. I broke BB etiquette and self-linked to an old tale. Here's a visual reboot:

The backpacker banana crew.

Me and the local banana farmers at the Garradunga Pub on my last day.

The banana "trees". It's actually called a pseudostem. They are pretty resilient but they're not tree trunks. Practically hollow, they're more like a giant stick of dodgy bamboo. Little wonder cyclones can throw them about like straws.

The packing shed. Bunches of bananas covered in plastic protector bags have been cut down off the top of the pseudostem as per the earlier post. In here, the "hands" of bananas are whisked off the stem with a butcher's knife and put on the carousel, where they're sprayed with water. They're then arranged into cases and weighed, before being stacked on a pallet and wrapped for transit.

A hard earned siesta.

There are many things to beware of when farming bananas. Leptospirosis, taipan snakes, spiders, crocodiles. This was not one of those occasions. A trio of baby possums were living in this bunch. As opposed to the NZ variety, the Oz variety of possum are an endangered species and look somewhat different from our own feral pests.

Note how green the bananas are. For presentation reasons, they're picked that way so they can ripen on their journey south to market (All these bananas were for domestic consumption in Melbourne and Sydney).



The last possum escapes.

Friday night cheap meals down the pub.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cure for slow news days

To give the devil its due, I must admit that Google Reader's Recommendations is an excellent little feature. Some sort of screwy algorithm does some sort of thingamagig with my RSS feed selection flavours, bouncing up some beautiful bits of random junk from the ether.

Thanks to this, it spun out the Daily WTF story that tickled my fancy enough to pass it onto Bernard Hickey at interest.co.nz. Bang. Instant zeitgeist. Bernard's right about the uncertain veracity. I didn't bother looking for corroboration. I didn't even know if Æxecor was for real, let alone the story. I hoped it was true and that seemed good enough.

Same goes for this clip from YouTube, delivered via Google Recommendations:



*THIS IS NOT FAKE* LOOK AT THIS CLICK ON THIS LINK http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRBo15xjobk (ORIGINAL FOOTAGE) JUST RELEASED REMARKABLE FOOTAGE OF SHUTTLE MISSION STS-126,NOVEMBER 20TH 2008. 6 DAYS INTO MISSION AND 2 UFOS EMERGE FROM EARTH AND HAVE A GOOD LOOK AT THE SPACE SHUTTLE WHILST IT IS
Like the 28,000 tonnes of coal story, it would be intriguing if it was true. Who knows.

Definitely for real is this CCTV footage of a meteor strike in South Africa. I had somehow overlooked George Monbiot's column in the Guardian regarding Canada's awful oil sands, but GR had it down. Then there's GR pointing to Now THIS is a LAN Party via Gizmodo Australia, Fifth Gear doing a loop the loop like an old Hot Wheels kit, and Good's nice infographic on US causes of death by age, gender and ethnicity.

Other bits of gossip included Eric Prince, head of fundamentalist mercenary group Blackwater has been a CIA spook up until, like, two months ago. Jesus fucking wept. Or how about The Dude explaining how the Iron Man movie had no script, and was nutted out on a day to day basis.

Well done Goodger & co. I'm hooked.

De facto decriminalisation of cannabis in NZ

I missed this article by Mike Sabin at Voxy last week, where the anti-drugs campaigner bemoans a scheme that all but decriminalises cannabis possession:
"Unfortunately, while the Police will be making the most of this new legislation, at the same time they are effectively waiving a white flag to the customers whose demand supports drug dealers, with a trial of a new policy of warnings for minor offences being widened across Auckland and likely to go nation-wide" said Mr. Sabin. Following a three month pilot on the North Shore in Auckland, Police have announced that they have extended the trial for six months across wider Auckland and will see Police under new 'formal guidelines' issuing warnings at their discretion for offences with maximum penalties of 2 years imprisonment or less, including shoplifting, possession of knives, common assault and possession of cannabis.
Even more telling is the support for this scheme coming from Auckland mayors Len Brown and John Banks:
Super Mayoralty candidates Len Brown and John Banks have signalled their support for the scheme but according to Mr. Sabin "they seem to be missing obvious points regarding their call to maintain a 'zero-tolerance' mantra, in that an endless stream of warnings to offenders, none of which attract any real accountability is hardly likely to deliver any sort of deterrence. To the contrary in fact I believe it sends clear signals that Police see pursuing these sort of minor offences as 'pointless', something already stated by frontline officers to some media" claimed Mr. Sabin.
Working on the principle that anything that annoys Mike Sabin is a good idea, I am impressed that cannabis decriminalisation has occurred under a National government, not a Labour one.

Friday, December 04, 2009

No thunder, no fire, no rain

Boing Boing points to Henry Rollins' article in Vanity Fair looking at Bhopal 25 years after the lethal Union Carbide leak which killed, and is still killing and maiming, thousands of neighbouring households.

Wikipedia notes that the death toll is approximately 20,000 so far, with another 100,000 to 200,000 people permanently debilitated. The average payout to affected families so far has been around $20,000. No-one has been prosecuted for the tragedy.

If you ever need an example of what a world with complete trust in corporate responsibility and minimal government regulation and enforcement looks like, this is it.

Art for art's sake


Thistle Hall is holding a $100 art sale today between 6 and 8pm today. There's an album of what's on sale here, including this nice Paua Mandelbrot necklace. HT Wellingtonista.


This it what happens when you zap a block of acrylic with a particle accelerator. Here's the Telegraph with a gallery of Frozen Lightning.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wall St meets Main St

A commodity broker gets an unexpected comeuppance when an errant programming error lands him with a real, honest to god commodity; 28,000 tonnes of coal:


For once, Brad was speechless. He had absolutely no idea who that man was and he could hardly understand a word he said. Plus, there was that gargantuan vessel that was slowly moving towards the building. “Uhh,” he stuttered, “wait. Are you delivering… coal? To… uhh, us?”

“Well, yeah! Twenty-eight thousand tons of the good ol’ black gold!” The workman sarcastically furrowed his brow adding, “I mean, we did get the right address, har har. This is Æxecor? And this is Pier 53? And you are Brad, the fella who ordered it, right?”

It was that moment that Brad’s palm almost immediately made contact with his forehead. He realized that something must have really gone awry: instead of virtually trading 28,000 tons of coal, Brad had somehow ended up with 28,000 tons of real coal.
It turns out that Brad found it more difficult to sell actual coal than the virtual variety. Welcome to Main St, Brad.

A life less pleasant


Eric Watson and Russell Crowe duke it out

Bruce Sheppard has poked a stick at the hornet's nest of passive aggressive vigilantism facing ex Bridgecorp director Rod Petrolhead Petricevic. Seems that the hospitality environment is becoming less hospitable for this suit.

Bruce warns on trying to pick a fight with Eric Watson though, citing one alpha-maleness showdown with Russell Crowe which featured the Crowemeister coming off second best. So be warned of possible violence. Send in the women to accidentally spill their drinks on him in bars and clubs instead.

Wellingtonista Awards

It's voting season at the 4th Annual Wellingtonista Awards. Head on over to Wellingtonista and vote for the best bits of Wellington. Winners will be announced at the awards ceremony at Mighty Mighty on December 17th.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pirates, porridge, death and taxes

It has been a good week for porridge recipes. Earlier in the week, Don Brash unveiled his porridge of the future, which is based on a predictable twenty year old recipe he copied off Roger. Porridge judges John Key and Bill English commented that this recipe was too politically hot for the body politic. Cactus Kate had to present an even spicier dish just to make the 2025 Taskforce's 48 declarations seem insipid in comparison.

There are a few points of interest in the 2025 report that might bear closer inspection, moments of lucidity if you will. But the unrelenting zeal of means and ends has been so mangled with benny bashing, 90s Russian Roulette sell-offs, added pork flavouring and a sprig of gerrymandering, it makes it all too easy to dismiss as the bizarre and disjointed ravings of rich old white men hankering for devilled kidneys.

WTF = Russian Roulette sell-offs? Well, that whole sell-off of SOEs for the hell of it, offload all the furniture and hope this thing floats with nothing left in it. Selling TVNZ right now would get nothing more than chump change. Shutting down the long con of the Cullen fund right now and paying down debt at the worst possible part of the cycle is also counter-productive.

Pork flavouring, you say? What has Zespri's monopoly on kiwifruit marketing got to do with enriching the masses? Didn't Turners and Growers, well known associates of certain Taskforce 2025 compilers, merge with former apple and pear monopoly Enza not so long ago? That isn't a productivity strategy, that's special pleading.

The gerrymandering is obvious for what wasn't considered by the taskforce as pivotal to NZ's future. There's the stunning omission of any form of land and capital tax. They lost the argument right there. In the face of the finance company implosions, there's no sign of corporate regulation. Even Alan Greenspan admits that that argument is lost.

And quite how you hack off some 15 billion dollars of government spending in three years without setting off an internal economic shock, I don't know.

So, dismiss that bad bowl of porridge from the Goldilocks menu. While we're waiting for the Tax Working Group to put the finishing touches on its porridge, Gareth Morgan has put out an appealing, tax neutral recipe sketched on the back of a napkin. This one looks much more appetising.

First, let's exile all the B Ark Golgafrinchans. Introduce a Minimum Guaranteed Income of ten grand a year and screw the other paperwork. Kill the overhead non-jobs right there. Introduce a tax free threshold of $40,000 per annum for every man, woman and child. Slap the equivalent of a 25 percent flat tax on everything. Including the family home, LESS the average indexed home price.

In one fell swoop, Gareth Morgan has done what seventy-odd thousand taxpayer dollars on the 2025 Taskforce took months to accomplish. Something realistic, novel and lateral-minded at bugger all public expense.

The 2025 Taskforce can blab all it likes about property rights, but they never talk about the price of property freedom. Taxes. The opportunity cost of holding onto vacant land here right now is sweet FA. As far as I understand matters, vacant land and buildings is actually a tax write-off.

That's not right, especially when housing affordability it at the usurious levels they are at present. I'm not talking interest rates here, but the glutinous appetite of the NZ small investor in haggling each other up into absolutely stupid prices on property. Wars have been fought for less.

The Romans, the British and the Maori have this in common; a use it or lose it principle to property rightsholding. A land tax makes landholders think twice about holding onto under-utilised land when others go wanting. A land tax is certainly much more politically palatable than the other alternative; legalising squatting.

I'm not kidding. Every time I walk past the old Molesworth Tavern, I'm reminded how absolutely mental our property rights are in this country.

View Larger Map

Yeah, it's Thailand government land technically, and probably beyond NZ law to do much about. But awful fucking eyesores like this, right down to For Lease signs elsewhere on empty shop fronts, makes me grit my teeth. Call it a broken windows policy for tenancy, but something has to be done to leverage the landed gentry to yield to more productive usage.

Gareth Morgan has made a better porridge base for the Tax Working Group than Brash's mob. Clean, bold flavours without the bitter after taste that permeates Brash's corned beef palette. I have high hopes that the Tax Working Group will find a porridge recipe that will taste just right for the voters.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sending rainbows

In the not too distant future, data might be stored in rainbows. In some ways, it already is. Turn a CD over and there's a rainbow, disproving generations of science teachers. The angle of incidence does not just equal the angle of reflection, but is more accurately the sum of all possible pathways.

Instead of trapping this rainbow on a plastic coated slice of silicon, try a glass convex mirror with some gold trimming. According to New Scientist, it can be done:


According to Gizmodo, this is a good thing for optical computing. I bet there'd be a lot less redundancy and error correction with rainbows. Data crystals and laser nets can't be too far away.

Luckily, I happen to have a laser pointer, convex lens and a mirror handy. So, I just had a go at replicating it. Unfortunately, I have no gold, it is a red pointer not a white light one, and it's a convex lens held up to a mirror, not all-in-one. But it did trap the red light somewhat.

If one can split white light right, then this could be big. Think of a heliograph that can transmit Megabytes more than Morse Code.

Dubai or not Dubai

While Abu Dhabi ponders bailing out its prodigal neighbour Dubai, a constitutional crisis for Dubai's leader is quite possible if a debt default does occur.

Dubai law throws debtors in prison. Dubai law also states that it is "illegal to produce a derogatory image of the ruler or to deface his picture." As Head of State, the buck for the possible debt default stops with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. If an $80 billion debt doesn't get you into debtors' prison, what does? But isn't the leader beyond reproach?

Abu Dhabi has Dubai over a barrel. But even a sovereign wealth fund such as theirs will still feel the pain of bailing out what is essentially junk assets. What price will Abu Dhabi extract from Dubai? Emirates Airlines is just a start.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rising tides

The BBC has a slideshow showcasing some of the ideas Rotterdam is considering to adapt to flooding. There's everything from Hundertwasser rooftops to floating houses. I'm particularly impressed with the lateral thinking involved in "water plazas," which act as playgrounds when fine and emergency flood tanks during deluges.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Linkorama

# MoJo looks at the growing water problem in the California New Mexico region:
The Central Valley, the thin, fertile band running down the middle of California, has long boasted the world's richest agricultural economy, reliably producing more than a quarter of the nation's fruits, nuts, and vegetables. But it's done so in defiance of ecological reality. The 70-year-old irrigation system that has pumped water into the otherwise arid valley is proving increasingly vulnerable to shifting weather patterns. It now appears that waterwise, 20th century California was an anomaly, a relatively wet period in the midst of a historical cycle of severe drought.
# The Mandelbrot bulb has appeared everywhere from New Scientist to Boing Boing. Beautiful complexity and depth:



# The Nine Nations of China, described by The Atlantic.

# A Dummies Guide to The Authoritarians. Covers all the bases, from God to Milgram.

# The Large Hadron Collider has finally powered up and successfully completed a low-impact collision. Familiarise yourself once again with what it is all about with Wired's guide to sub-atomic elements, presented as a reality show cast list.

# Wired also has a good guide on choosing a #$&%ing strong password.

# 2010 looks like a make or break budget for National. Ratesblog looks at Bill English foreshadowing the spending cuts putting an end to Labour's reckless last five years. Guess which minister managed to get a 2220 percent raise in spending for his portfolio under Helen.

# The Big Squeeze? Ratesblog also looks at the latest Household Economic Survey, which shows that median rents increased 9.5 percent over last year, even as average mortgage payments dropped. Squeezing pennies or frontloading the almost inevitable end of the LAQCula scam, who knows?

# And finally, one more gem from Wired. Petrol fumes may fan road rage.

Up shit creek

It's a shame to see that the mighty Manawatu River, the old man who carved the Manawatu Gorge, is among the most polluted rivers in the Western world. Frogblog is rightly doing their nut on the matter, making me give pause to the free range cows comments I made earlier in the year.
Under a system measuring oxygen changes in water, the Manawatu has by far the highest reading, almost twice as much as the next worst. The Manawatu measured 107. Anything over eight is considered indicative of an unhealthy river ecosystem. A measurement of 0–4 is considered healthy.

I grew up alongside the Manawatu. I have toured Palmy's sewerage plants as a kid, never realising quite how much ended up tipping into the river. The Mangaone stream has long been recognised as befouled, but as a kid never realised just why it was that way. I assumed the water was bad in the same way as the water beneath Ketitahi Springs in the Tongariro National Park was fouled.

It turns out the Mangaone is not naturally bad, but merely part of the run-off from Palmy's oozing crap. 75,600 kilometres cubic metres of crap a day is allowed to be discharged into the Manawatu River. That's just under one square metre of crap per Palmy person per day. And Feilding somehow manages to have a hugely disproportionate leeway, which is permitted to throw in about double that per head of shit into the river further upstream.
WHAT IS POLLUTING THE RIVER?
* Farm runoff from fertilisers, and animal waste such as cow dung and urine, leach into the river.
* Treated sewage discharged by councils
* Treated industrial effluent including wastewater from Fonterra, New Zealand Pharmaceuticals, Tui Brewery
* Sediment washing into the river from overgrazed farms or eroding countryside alters the natural habitat for native bugs or fish
I'd like to know how the scientists tell the difference between human and animal byproducts. There's a lot of nitrogen in human piss too. Fonterra have Longburn, the Pharm boys are probably Bunnythorpe with Tui down the road at Mangatanoka.

It would be interesting for someone to do a graphic of the Manawatu's toxin levels taken from the source up in the Tararuas down to the Tasman Sea at Foxton. That would put some blame where it was due.

Poor bloody Foxton Beachers. No digging for toheroas next year. Whitebaiting mustn't be so much fun either. As for Palmy, I think old man Manawatu will have the last laugh as the gorge funnels the wind over the stagnant banks and wafts it over the city. Nothing worse than Old Man BO.

Horses for causes

Another Onion classic:


First Openly Gay Racehorse To Compete Sunday

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tonedeaf Rhapsody

My singing voice has been compared to Mark Knopfler doing a duet with a tomcat thrown in a gorse patch. While I'm waiting for Tom Waits Singstar to be released, here's The Muppets singing Bohemian Rhapsody:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Getting tougherer on crime

Gareth McMullah, head of lobby group the Rational Sentencing Institute, called for courts to adopt a new policy of medical disfigurement for violent criminals at the March for Freedom rally today.

"Rapists should be castrated, aggravated burglars should have their hands cut off and murderers have their legs amputated," said Mr McMullah in a speech to an audience of around 3,000 people holding placards and waving small children above their heads.

The policy follows similar statements from the RSI earlier in the year, which included the right to assault children and a return to capital punishment for violent offenders. However, this is the first time the RSI has publicly supported dismemberment as an alternative to prison sentencing.

Mr McMullah also mentioned that RSI researchers are putting the finishing touches on their minor crime platform.

"Recent studies at Leviticus University in Alabama have shown that breaking a tagger's fingers is a much cheaper and more effective deterrent to future criminal behaviour compared to fines or community work," said McMullah enthusiastically.

A spokesperson for Police and Corrections Minister Judith Collins has said the minister, emboldened by the passage of her car crushing legislation, is open to other new and old ideas for cruel and unusual punishment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Easy pass


Auckland University wins this wet bus ticket for their behaviour trying to smooth over Witi Ihimaera's plagiarism. It's not easy being a writer. Just ask Alan Duff. Ihimaera is doing his best to make things right, but there's no excuse for the alleged bastion of novel thought holding a member of faculty to a lower standard of truth than an undergraduate.

Goff loses chess game to analogue computer


Opposition Leader Phil Goff was humiliated today after being beaten by the Reserve Bank's Monetary National Income Analogue Computer, the MONIAC.

The Labour leader had declared the end of the consensus of an independent Reserve Bank earlier in the week. The Reserve Bank MONIAC, through its curator Dr Arnold Quasibollard, accepted Goff's challenge to a game of monetary chess.

Dr Quasibollard primed the water and pump driven computer to the current monetary layout and left Goff to defend his ideas against it. Unwilling to turn the game his way by tightening the government spending spigot, or sacrifice his tax rooks, Goff conceded the game within minutes.

Goff later went on media interviews explaining his loss, saying that gravity had played a substantial handicap to his strategy. He sees this as evidence that it is "clearly time to dismiss the consensus on gravity". Goff said that his party intends to release its new theory of gravity sometime in the next eighteen months, and will campaign on it at the next election.

As seen on TV


Operation Cobra launches a round of drug raids in the Wellington region. Stuff's Emily Watt goes advertorial-aggressive as the valiant embedded journalist for the drug warriors.
It could be any office meeting. Morning sunshine streams through the window, staff are sitting around the table flicking through reports and nursing mugs of instant coffee, a manager uses a laser pointer as he talks through slides. 

But instead of suits, staff are festooned with weapons and gear – canisters at their chests, pistols at their hips, sledgehammers at their backs, their large semi-automatic weapons laid on tables.
It could be Fallujah.
The armed offenders squad is briefing for Operation Cobra in Wellington. Six teams of police are about to search 60 properties in seven days. Fifty-five people will be arrested, and $100,000 worth of drugs and $200,000 in bank accounts will be seized. The squad is involved in a handful of the most dangerous or potentially volatile searches.
It could be GI Joe. No, it's just Paraparaumu and the cops on a drug bust, with a branch of AOS for insurance.

Thanks mainly to Jan Molenaar, the exception has now become the rule. Just like American reality TV show COPS from the 90s, the police have now fully embraced the para-military lifestyle.
The briefing is meticulous. Detectives have spent three months gathering intelligence on the suspects. They know the layout of the homes, likely occupants, what drugs they are expecting to find, and they have detailed plans and backup plans for entry.
This is grist to the mill for those Search and Surveillance powers currently being reviewed by parliament. Clearly, the cops do not have access to very much information at the moment, eh.
Two hours later, two large black vans with a squad of masked, armed, anonymous officers clinging to the running boards storm through a quiet middle-class suburb. Mothers walking their kids to school gawp at the unfamiliar sight, small children wait patiently at a temporary roadblock, wondering if their bus will come and if their teachers will believe the reason they were late.
Two black vans with masked men armed to the teeth speeding through suburban Mum 'n Dadland. Roadblocks not too dissimilar to the Ruatoki raids of yesteryear. Why not order the NZ Navy off the coast to provide bombardment support, just to be sure?
Detectives wait at a safe distance while the AOS swoops on the house and batter their way through the front door.
Boy, this is just like CSI.  They aren't cowards, they're just cautious. There might be Weapons of Mass Destruction in there.
They find the occupant naked at the sink, apparently trying to flush objects down the drain. A powerful air rifle, similar to that used to kill undercover officer Don Wilkinson in Auckland in September 2008, is lying on the couch in the lounge, and amateur do-it-yourself surveillance has recorded their approach and any other sound outside.
While I wouldn't put my chances on a game of scissors paper rock with Clayton Weatherston, I'm pretty sure ninja beats naked man in the game of citizen armour drone. Hey, isn't John Key keen on buying some drones for NZ?

And a "powerful air rifle" is also no match for a Bushmaster. Don Wilkinson died because his attacker was lucky. Take enough pot shots, eventually you might hit something vital. A glorified BB gun does not justify David Gray-at-Aramoana strength equipment.
In the lounge, the plasma TV cycles through photos – a smiling baby oscillates with blurry-looking partygoers, fast cars, and young blonde women flashing their breasts. The life of an alleged drug dealer in a slideshow.
Outrageous Fortune DVD set not pictured.
Million-dollar homes in suburbia are a relatively rare target for the AOS. Everything else about this drugs bust is routine. It goes like clockwork.
True, you don't see the AOS in Paritai Drive very often, except maybe at parties. I'm sure there's space for a gun room at Mark Hotchin's new pad. Ah, but who needs a gun to rob people these days?
Once armed police have secured the site, detectives come to search the property. It is painstaking work. Every room from the laundry to the garage is meticulously scoured. Every drawer examined, every paper and magazine opened. Every pocket of every item of clothing is shaken out.

A specialist firearms dog is brought in to sniff out weapons. The wheelie bin of rubbish is tipped and searched. It is not a glamour job.
Once the unnecessary AOS teams go home, with much less fanfare than their arrival, the police clean the house, pick up the laundry and confiscate everything inside.
Officers find the drug fantasy, a methamphetamine pipe, and more than $10,000 in cash. A man is arrested and charged.
$10,000. And how much did the raid cost? Once the inevitable court and possible imprisonment costs are added, is it all worth it?
The same morning in a different part of town, another team has found a sophisticated marijuana-growing setup. The garage in the waterfront property looks like a blokes' paradise, with boats, tools, wetsuits and fishing rods. Buried in the back is a room with 15 healthy plants nurtured by UV lights, a watering system, a carbon filter to extract the smell, and a camera so the grower could keep an eye on his crop on his TV from upstairs. The plants' street value is difficult to estimate – probably about $15,000. In a setup like this, money grows on trees.
Kiwi bloke (likes his outdoors, no guns mentioned), gets done for 15 plants, with a laughably estimated value of $15,000. Average haul of a hydro is 2 ounces of head. $700 per plant retail, once everyone down the line has taken their bite as well, it's not much in it for the grower. I'd call 15 plants personal use.
Police say there is a notable difference between search warrants for different drugs. Morphine dealers are often users trying to fund a habit, whereas cannabis or methamphetamine are often run by organised gangs who have higher security and involve higher risk.
Dudes, morphine is in a class of its own. Seeing as how Tasmania makes shitloads of the stuff legally, why not fund some decent rehab and be done with it? Do you wonder why Christchurch is full of skagheads? Because they're too isolated down there to get anything else. Why do you think Christchurch went nuts on BZP? There's some good money to be made in a Christchurch scam.
The death of Don Wilkinson no doubt still weighs on some minds, but it does not deter the officers.
In the past five years, Wellington police have kicked in 300 doors and arrested 400 people in seven such operations. Some of those arrested during Operation Cobra were caught in earlier operations. Others were on parole and were recalled to prison as a result of the sting. Thirteen of the arrested were known gang members. In the latest raids, police have seized four homes and frozen $200,000 in bank accounts under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which allows them to seize ill-gotten gains till the accused are either convicted or freed. These powers will strengthen under new laws in December.
Yep, this is the start of a long campaign by Judith Collins to crack down on drugs. That, or she's hoping to crash the courts and prison systems. Little wonder Simon Power, the Law Commission and the police are looking at ways to cut corners all around the place.
Operation head Detective Inspector Darrin Thomson says the results are terrific. "We have caused significant disruption amongst those people involved in the drug trade and I am sure this operation sends a clear message."
Yes. It sends the message that the MSM has completely lost its objectivity and become part-time PR people for the Police Association. It sends the message that the police have given up chasing burglars and instead gone into the selective burglary business too. It sends the message that police are nothing better than a bunch of raping thieving cowards. Just the people who they were supposed to protect the community from.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

That takes the bikoi

There's a saying in Wellington; if you don't like the weather, wait half an hour. Earlier in the day, when the sun was still shining and before the overcast skies came over, I was enjoying getting lost in Tane's labyrinth:


In between dodging joggers and watching the ferries to-ing and fro-ing, I noticed a dazzling sight where the caketin concourse usually stands. Of course, it was the bikers protesting the enormous jumps in registration costs under Nick Smith's ACC plan.

Instead of rattling their dags outside of parliament and being accused of being a bunch of faggots, the protest organisers wisely had all the motorcycles park up at the stadium and have the protesters march down to parliament on foot from there. Good move. The NZ Herald has some images.

While most marches occur through the old Civic Square - Lambton Quay route, this new concourse idea has great potential. One day in the future, the stadium could act as a public forum with the option of marching on parliament. That'll put the willies up the lawmakers.