Thursday, September 30, 2010

Today is Thursday

# Europe according to stereotype. Above map is how the Yanks see Europe. French, German and other perspectives here.

# BoingBoing points to some good lessons. Applicable not only to programming, but also to critical thinking in general. eg:
• Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.

• The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.
# Bernard Hickey has recanted his neo-liberalism. I agree with some but not most of what Bernard's on about. I think it's good to keep an open mind on things. What is made abundantly clear is his genuine frustration at the way the game has been rigged. We agree on that much. I'll get around to blogging up a response some time later on.

# Open Labour is calling on votes in its first ever openly sourced policy platform. Vote for a range of policies, at this stage mainly focussed on opening up the state mechanism to the people. Registration required but otherwise plain sailing from there on.

# The Law Commission has released its discussion document on the Official Information Act Review. There are some major overlaps with the Open Labour aim of opening up official information by default. Am still wading through the 300+ page document. NRT is way ahead of me.

# And finally, here's the latest copy of NORML News available online. Includes a good overview of Operation Lime so far.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The Search and Surveillance Bill is still gestating in select committee, with a report due at the end of next month. There are some encouraging signs. The Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has given the OK:
My previous submission raised concerns over a lack of adequate safeguards in some parts of the Bill, particularly around searches, the use of surveillance device warrants and productions orders.

The changes that have been made in the revised Bill make the balance between privacy and law enforcement interests more acceptable and I have no further substantial issues to raise.

The New Zealand Law Society has also given the amended bill the thumbs up, with a few reservations lingering about regulatory powers and tracking devices. Another submission, this time from Tech Liberty, suggests how the former might be solved:
Split the Search & Surveillance Bill into two, with one for enforcement agencies and the other for regulatory agencies.

Yes. But the geeks hone in on the real remaining threat as I see it:
Computer Searching

The bill contains a number of provisions around the searching of computer systems. The submissions and comments in response discuss issues around:
o The wide-ranging scope of data held on personal computers
o How to define what is to be searched
o What “plain view” means on a computer
o The issue of “trawling” through computers

When authorities seize a computer, they not only seize what is relevant to their enquiries. They take someone's life. Their photos, passwords, access to banking and bills, as well as any alleged offence. If someone seized my laptop, I'd be stuffed. My tenuous grip on personal finance and daily life would crumble. That's not a collateral damage I'm prepared to take on, thanks.

I'd be much happier with cloning a computer for searches, as opposed to outright theft. But even then, that has its risks. You need only witness the cloning of cellphone information at Customs under the guise of Operation Lime with existing search laws to see what menaces might come out of this fishing trip for control freaks with a grudge:
The wife of Switched on Gardener chain owner Michael Quinlan was detained by Customs at Auckland airport while officers downloaded the data from her phone for police trying to link her to an alleged cannabis operation.

The incident has sparked concerns police are circumventing warrants by using Customs' sweeping powers to detain, search and take information from international travellers. 

So it's not surprising that there's a protest by the people in Wellington on Saturday October 9th to highlight what is at stake with the reform of Search and Surveillance powers. I might see you there.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Grapes of Goff

Labour's search for elegant policy platforms continues in vain. Not content with upsetting the consensus on the Reserve Bank Act and monetary policy, the Labour opposition now seek to upset the clean and level consensus on GST. After ruminating on the idea for most of the year, Goff has declared that Labour will remove GST off fresh fruit and vegetables.

Let's examine some of the qualities of awfulness about the idea. Firstly, if one were trying to mesh a policy with Labour's "for the many not the few" slogan, I'm not sure making grapes tax exempt while retaining tax on raisins makes much sense. "The few" can afford grapes in their fruit basket, with or without tax, and "the many" can't.

Then there's the disproportionate complexity of such an idea for very little gain. The lawyers are having a field day over at Dim Post's if you want to see some of the looming loopholes. If you're going to end a 25 year cross party agreement on a straight-forward consumption tax, this is not the way to go about it.

Goff says the scheme would cost $250 million a year of foregone revenue. How they're going to fill that hole isn't made clear. But costs will echo beyond a lighter Treasury. Labour should talk to some businesses to discover how much effort is going into the GST rise and personal tax cuts right now. This is a doddle compared with the initial and ongoing costs of the GST exemption. The policy is a makework scheme for accountants and lawyers. And, once one exemption is allowed, lobbyists will seek to widen the tax loophole as well.

As long as Labour continues to release expensive esoteric solutions to non-existent problems, the Nats have nothing to fear.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

God save the Queen, because the plebs won't

The Independent uses the UK's Freedom of Information Act to expose Buckingham Palace's idea of lateral thinking:

The Queen asked ministers for a poverty handout to help heat her palaces but was rebuffed because they feared it would be a public relations disaster, documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to "adverse publicity" for the Queen and the Government. 
Putting in the boot with the other foot, Gordon Campbell looks at the hopeful demise of the Commonwealth Games. Stephen Franks might pine for renaming them the Empire Games. The Empire's dead, Stephen. Even the Brits are seriously considering going Republic, making QEII the last Queen of England. That would  guarantee her the plinth.

Right about now, I'd recommend the UK royal family contact Simon Cowell about starring in a new reality show. It's a bit of spare change that would go to supplement the 38 million or so taxpayer quid a year handed over to the palatial household. Reality TV is the closest they'll get to royalties right now. I understand that Elton John gets a million quid for playing at birthdays. What kind of rent would Prince William get?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The outlaw Paula Bennett

Increasingly, it seems that Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett considers herself above the law. There was her leaking of beneficiary details which has led to a complaint being made to the Privacy Commissioner.  Shroff concluded that the complaint against Paula Bennett had "sufficient substance" and referred it to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings.

No Right Turn has shown the contempt with which the minister treats Official Information Act requests:
Paula Bennett does not appear on the table because she refused to cooperate with the project, offering various excuses before ultimately claiming that compiling the data would not be in the public interest. Her refusal is now the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsman.

John Drinnan now reports that Bennett successfully wrangled an extension to the time limit on BSA complaints:
More obscure than the sex complaints - but in many ways more intriguing - was the BSA decision from an obscure interlocutory hearing that bent the deadline for a complaint by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

Drinnan goes on to note a motive for this unique relaxation of the rules:

But a parliamentary source said that the Bennett complaint had support elsewhere in Cabinet - and there was more at stake than one story on 3 News. National believed that the complaint had a good chance of being upheld and reflected concern about TV using what was regarded as flimsy source material from social media sites such as Facebook.

TV3 look like appealing and fair enough. Join the queue. Just because the Nats are stacking their mates in various tribunals, it doesn't mean they can break the rules because the minister is a slack bastard. And good luck trying to suppress social media. News is three quarters corroborated gossip anyway.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This town needs an enema

Absolutely Positively Wellington is dead. Stuff Wellywood. Here's our next anthem:

That one's on the house.

The prohibitive cost of prohibition

In case you don't like your history in black & white, HBO has produced a new series based on prohibition-era Atlantic City featuring the always excellent Steve Buscemi.

HT to Inquiring Mind, who mentions that the series will appear on Sky TV from next month. If Sopranos and The Wire can't get the drug prohibitionists to see sense, maybe this one might help.

Gerry-proofing the vote

All the interest (and swarm of party leaders' visits to come) for the Mana by-election has thrown up some remarkable contours of the coming vote. Unlike general elections, which are becoming less about the people and more about the presidential glamour surrounding the party leaders, by elections are all about the people.

Sean Plunket has wasted no time after being taken off the NatRad leash, colouring in his meanings of the local place names to us f/palangis in the Dom Post and a little ripper of a story at The Nation. Much detail is made of the wide disparities in livings standards within the electorate, straddling the gutter black to the gentry further up north, sitting in their no alarms and no surprises retirement villas.

There's some fuss made about the Labour selection process as well, which saw PR paratrooper Kris Faafoi pitted against local heroine Josie Pagani. David Farrar has rubbed salt into the broth. But it's the same as it ever was in the Labour Party. Just ask Chris Trotter about this old vote:
There was Ernie Hemmingson, Secretary for the Hotel Workers' Union. Not a very bright person to say the least of it. He was sitting down with a deck of 54 votes; card votes. I told the audience that in any other meeting of card players, he would be thrown out for having too many in the pack. Anderton moved that the Unions' vote be restricted and I seconded him. But of course the card vote manifested itself and the motion was lost.

Fair go to Goff though. Faafoi might seem an empty vessel, but he'll be a centre-left one. I fear Josie Pagani, who seems a good sort, would be too hard left for the parliamentary mix. The Labour caucus is still brimming with hard lefties, part Clark legacy, part fusion with Chairman Jim's Progressive Party. Labour needs to rebalance, and if that means the Mana LEC gets vote spammed, that's how it is.

But back to the people. Yeah, there are contrasts within the electorate. You've got to wonder how our electorate boundaries are worked out. There's communities of interest mixed with a representative slice of the spectrum. I think our election wonks do a pretty good job, all things considered.

NZ's electorates are a lot more balanced that the gerrymanderama in the USA. But that might not be for much longer. MoJo reports that some maths geeks have worked out the equation showing whether a district is gerrymandered or not; G = gP/A.

They've also designed their own vision of Texas electoral districts:

I don't think things would work quite that simple in NZ, but I'd be interested if anyone gave it a crack.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Nom and the Censors

Jeez, I thought NORML News had it rough, with the Police and Customs attempting to restrict or ban the NZ political quarterly. The Economist has more cutting problems:
China is more proscriptive. Distributors destroy copies or remove articles that contain contentious political content, and maps of Taiwan are usually blacked out...

Go Dog Go

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Can't get this out my head right now. Maybe posting it will help.

The Great Entertainer

Paul Henry might be a preening, vain, self-important dwarf who might have fallen on something sharp as a baby resulting in a partial lobotomy. His head may look like it has been dipped in something carcinogenic. But the man has timing.

And fucksakes MSM, grow up.

Ministerial responsibility

"The prime minister is responsible for the general conduct of his ministers."

Shit gets real in the House today. Speaker Lockwood Smith adjudicates over the finely worded question and supplementaries from Phil Goff to John Key:
Does he standby his statement “All I can say is that in the 22 months that Mr Hide has been a Minister in my Government he’s shown very good judgement and he has my full support”?
The fun starts here. HT Bomber.
And after John Key blamed MMP for the Garrett mess, all I can add is:
Keep a sense of proportion, prime minister.

Woop Woop

Alarm bells have been ringing in Act's ears for a week now, and still no-one has moved to switch off the alarm. The mountain of public disapproval with the Garrett mess still looms with mortal proximity to the party. Chucking the decepticon from the plane has only marginally lightened the load. They've yet to replace the poisoned pilot with a more able-bodied one.

No mistake, Rodney Hide is now politically toxic. The board, the caucus might have known some of Garrett's background. But it was Rodney's call. Garrett was his man:

Hide's one chance at pulling the nose up came last Friday, and he choked it. He conceded as much on The Nation the next day, saying that he led the party at the pleasure of the board and would stand aside if the party said so. So, who's next to captain this bipolar fixed wing aircraft?

The Deborah Coddington/ Paul Holmes nudge nudge wink wink game on Q&A was enlightening. Heather Roy should come out of this smelling of roses, the wronged co-pilot.

If Act were willing to follow Roy's ploy and aim for more than 5 percent of next year's vote, she would be a better leader to accomplish this. She would certainly stop scaring off the girl power bloc. However, a five percent target was optimistic at the time of her Black Swan dive at the conference. Right now, Act would be lucky to scrape one percent of the vote, not enough lift to avoid the mountain.

Richard Long has outlined the John Boscawen option. This would involve Boscawen sitting in the cockpit and taking over Epsom from Hide at next year's election. Unlike David Shearer in Mt Albert and Kris Faafoi in Mana, Boscawen knows the lie of the land in Epsom. For the comfortable people of Epsom, an accountant is close to sainthood. It would help remove the fishy smell left by his predecessor. Boscawen could fly through the mountain in the Epsom wormhole. It might just work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Muppets in blue

Casting the NZ VRWC blogosphere for the Muppet show:

Kermit: David Farrar. Popular "show must go on" frontman.
Miss Piggy: Cactus Kate. Unusual feminist.
Fozzie Bear: Whale Oil. Misunderstood comedian.
Gonzo: Clint Heine. Dubious cunning stunts.
Camilla: Busted Blonde. Broody clucking loyalty.
Sam the Eagle: Stephen Franks. So sensible!
Swedish Chef: Monkeys with Typewriters. Pleasant gibberish with cutlery.
Beaker & Honeydew: Crampton and Hogan at Offsetting Behaviour.
Lew Zealand: New Zeal. For Americans who don't know any better.
Scooter: Keeping Stock. Repeater with occasionally original insights.
Statler & Waldorf: Roger Douglas and Michael Bassett.
Muppet Newsman: No Minister. Absurdities a go-go.
Dr Teeth: MacDoctor. Gospel influences.
Floyd: Bernard Hickey. Economic bard singing about hard rain.
Zoot: John Ansell. Nice tunes, shame about the lyrics.
Janice: Lindsay Mitchell or Homepaddock.
Rowlf: Big News, banging out the blues.
And Animal? I'm tempted to say Rodney Hide. But he neither blogs nor has any sense of rhythm.

UPDATE: On second thoughts, Not PC can easily pass for a Randimal. At least they recognise beauty when they see it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Supersize My Fiefdom

Voting in the Wellington City local body elections seems a doddle looking as the last few weeks of Supercity Idol grind on. The reality show of the Auckland Slopotropolis has long outstayed its season. At long last the series finale is in sight though. In just over two weeks, we'll finally find out who gets to be Big Brother.

I'm not sure whether Aucklanders vote for mayor under STV or FPP. I'd be surprised if most Aucklanders know either, even if they've received a ballot. The turnout for this mammoth vote will be very very interesting. If I was eligible (i.e. owned a tax write-off shithole rental and therefore a remote control vote), I'd pick Simon Prast as Number 1 and Len Brown as Number 2. I'd rather cough blood than vote for John Banks as mayor.

As for the Vorlon Council vote, a few names are recognisable amongst the many many candidates. But by and large, it's just a long gray list. Literally at times,  especially Howick through to South Auckland, with a sea of empty boxes.

Then there's the local board vote to select. No-one knows what role the local boards will play. Not even the candidates. My guess is they'll be less powerful than the popularly elected eunuchs in the DHBs. For some very unfortunate Aucklanders, the Westies and North Shorties, there's yet another vote on licensing trusts.

Auckland. It'll drive you to drink.

Pre-Announcement Announcement

Sometime in the next two weeks, I will announce something.

Hey, if Chairman Jim Anderton and the Daily Show can do it, so can I.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

3 STV's and an FPP - 2010 edition

It's that time of the trimester for local body elections and the ballot papers have arrived. Let's get this over and done with. Fortunately, there's less dart-throwing required than last time, largely thanks to this handy little website.

Working from the back of the ballot to the front, first up is Wellington Regional Council. FPP, tick five choices from a field of 12. After a quick look through the Turf Digest, I reckon I'll take a process of elimination on this vote, combined with the form of the existing council. My experiences with the WRC over the last three years have not been positive. The weed control officer was polite but not entirely helpful, whilst bus fares have doubled in three years.

Clearly, the Council must be sent a message. Someone's for the chop. Sally Baber can go, for talking of expanding water supplies without mentioning the leaky public pipes right now, where up to fifty percent of water loss occurs on the way to the ratepayers. Judith Aitken can also go. Cruising on a reputation. Paul Bruce avoids the axe by a whisker, leaving Chris Laidlaw out in the cold.

Fran Wilde and Paul Bruce now need three new faces in there. Two chicks got knocked out of incumbency, and the only other choice a Dianne Buchan, a consultant. That nearly got her kicked off the island. Saved by helping start the Newtown Festival. She's in.

Another consultant, Labour's Daran Pointer, is not so lucky. The B Ark Golgafrinchan quota is now full. He's out. I'm also very wary of local candidates running on large party tickets, especially the way Labour is barricaded right now. However, if I'm going to give Charles Finny a crack, some yin is required. Congratulations to Chris Lipscombe for providing enough information to make an informed guess.

My WRC vote: Paul Bruce, Dianne Buchan, Charles Finny, Chris Lipscombe and Fran Wilde.

Next up, the CCDHB race. Rank seven in order, like a favoured septella (Think of it as the offspring of a trifecta and a quinella). My experiences of the health services and those of my circle over the last three years has been uniformly positive. Therefore, I really don't care enough look for alternative candidates and I'm going to just rank the incumbents in the order presented on the ballot. The Electoral Office saw me coming, and the candidates are helpfully listed in random order. So:

1. Donald Urquhart-Hay, 2. Virginia Hope, 3. Margaret Faulkner, 4. Judith Aitken, 5. Helene Ritchie, 6. Peter Roberts, 7. 7.... Where's Ruth Gotlieb? OK, I'm going to have to pick one. Where did I put my darts... 7. is... Russell Franklin.

OK, only two votes to go, Wellington's Westie Ward and mayor. Both are STV ballots. Now there's a funny lesson I learned from Scoop earlier this year about STV votes. Rank your choices, yeah. But if you DON'T want a candidate to be elected, don't rank them. AT ALL:


Obviously, it is important to make sure the candidates you choose are the ones you prefer – in the order that you prefer them.

Do not put a number next to a candidate who you do not want to vote for, even if it is the lowest vote, it is still a vote, and could be counted as such if all your other candidates reach their quota of votes.

You may think there is not a huge difference between ranking a candidate as your sixth preference or ranking them as your seventh preference, but in a system such as STV, and in an election with such a large amount of candidates, such differences can be hugely significant in terms of results.

Time to pull out my shit list from earlier in the year. No votes for Kerry Prendergast, John Morrison or Jo Coughlin. In Onslow Western, that makes Andy Foster an easy Number 1. Oh dear, with one down and two scratchings, that leaves a field of only four and two spaces to fill. Not picking any more risks Jack Ruben getting back in, so I'm holding my nose and:

Onslow Western Vote - 1. Andy Foster, 2. Ingrid Sage, 3. Sharon Blaikie.

Finally, the mayor. As mentioned earlier, Kerry is on the shit list. Apart from that, I'm tired of her face. I'm tired of every public space within a one block radius of a Rex Nicholls property being ripped up and made over at public expense. It may be an STV vote, but I'm only ranking one candidate. Celia Wade-Brown for mayor.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Zero tolerance

It's a bit hard to read, but you might be mistaken for reading the sign as "3 Strikes and you're in Act."

Ripped from Election 2008 footage here.

In hindsight, the coffins might more accurately represent ex-Act MPs over the 14 years the party has been in parliament. Ken Shirley, Derek Quigley, Trish Schnauer, Owen Jennings, Penny Webster, Donna Awatere-Huata, Gerry Eckhoff, Deborah Coddington, Richard Prebble, Stephen Franks, Muriel Newman, Kenneth Wang and now David Garrett. That's thirteen dead careers. But there's 14 coffins in the photo. There's still a dead man walking.

Pads, paws and claws

While we're waiting for Rodney Hide to arrive back in NZ, please enjoy this rat staring competition:

Riffing off this BB post. And now, ladeez and gennelmen, hereeee's Elvis!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fun Lovin' Criminologists

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology held a talk at Vic Uni's Hunter Chambers this afternoon. The moot was "Should drug offenders be punished?"

First up was Massey University's Dr Chris Wilkins at SHORE. His initial answer seemed to be yes, they should. I sat with increasing twitchiness and frustration as Wilkins presented basically every drug stereotype known to man as evidence in favour of the status quo. Drug users have low self esteem, come from dysfunctional families, are uneducated. He's obviously never been invited to a Wall St coke and hookers party.

Wilkins went on to list the benefits of prohibition including, amazingly, black markets. Next slide, the dangers of decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs.
I was waiting for a slide on the dangers of prohibition, but it never arrived. I had him up about the missing balance at question time, where he admitted to some drawbacks to prohibition.

I expected better of him, and over wine and cheese after the talk, I told him so. His own Drug Monitoring Surveys showed cannabis remains either easy or very easy to find. Even with prohibition, there's no supply control, let alone quality control. The truth emerged. No, drug offenders should not be punished sez Wilkins.

Next and best speaker was Ross Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation. Drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one. Drug offenders shouldn't be punished. Evidence was presented that showed that laws have absolutely NO EFFECT ON DRUG USE. Some bullshit stats from the Stellar Trust were scrutinised. Fair go. The Stellar Trust is to drug policy what the Sensible Sentencing Trust is to law and order policy. Effing gimps.

Ross Bell went on to describe the Portugal example, where 10 years after all drugs were decriminalised for use, Portugal has lower drug use, less imprisonment, more treatment, and fewer drug deaths than most of the EU. Better yet, Ecstacy dropped from four dollars something each to $3.50. $3.50!

Peter Dunne was the third man. Drug offenders should be punished. That was the government line. He talked on and on, but most of it was rubbish. The only interesting bit was him talking of his Vienna enlightenment attending the UN Drug Forum last year. An Iranian delegate told him that they stone drug users to death over there, but for some reason they never had any fewer drug users.

OK, audience participation time. Apart from the three white guys on the podium, and the esteemed matron who hosted the event, it was mainly a caucasian affair in the stalls. About 60 attendees, women outnumbering men two to one. The only obvious Maori in the room was the young cop attending, and he might have been Samoan for all I knew.

Not a single voice or query from the floor supported the status quo prohibition. Not the old academics, not the young ones who grew up on Ritalin and McDonalds. As the old conservatives are slowly finding out, we don't take kindly to blatant hypocrisies around these parts. Get wise or get out, that's my advice.

I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)

What else is in David Garrett's bookshelf? That's the chatter at the moment. Perhaps this photo of the Act bookshelves ripped from the Boscawen coup last month might help:

Click image to embiggerate

On the far right, between Rodney and the off camera David Garrett, you'll notice a selection of Ayn Rand including Atlas Shrugged. Train wreck, anyone?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The continuum continuums...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Are you an NZ Republican?

You are at Piha beach. You see Rachel Hunter and Prince Charles drowning. You can only save one of them. Who do you save?

I've been pondering an acid test for support of an NZ head of state for some time. This is the best I can come up with. Why would Prince Charles be drowning off Piha? I dunno. Maybe his Airbus 319 crashed on the way to a compost festival.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Unbridled power

It seems we have another neo-liberal experiment about to happen in Christchurch, joining Auckland as a guinea pig but with a larger knife. Dean Knight has bothered to read the legislation being crammed through parliament at near light speed, and he's not a happy chappy:
The Bill contains a massive Henry VIII's clause, allowing the Minister to re-write any legislation that is "reasonably necessary or expedient for the purpose of the Act". The power to direct the Governor-General to issue an Order-in-Council to "grant an exemption from, or modify, or extend any provision of any enactment" (including 22 specifically listed enactments - but thankfully not the Bill of Rights 1688, the Constitution Act 1986, the Electoral Act 1993, the Judicature Amendment Act 1972, or the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). That's incredible power!
This has set off the notoriously precise Graeme Edgeler, who has pulled out the big guns:
Section 6(3) states:
The recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.
I'm pretty sure the courts would tell them to stuff off anyway, but that's not really the point - they shouldn't be trying to do this anyway.

I have often wondered what it would take for me to swear off a political party forever. It would be a very rare circumstance. Plenty of things would stop me voting for a party. I wouldn't support a party that intended to reintroduce the death penalty, for example, but swearing off a party forever is quite drastic.

It is a terrible and permanent thing to swear off a party, to eliminate a choice forever more. I've only cursed one party with that distinction; not Alliance (unworthy) nor Labour, but Act.

What began as misgivings in the mid 1990's turned to confusion when Owen Jennings ran for the Taranaki-King Country by-election. Apathy spanned the Donna years, replaced with vague hope when Richard Prebble stood down and it was either Rodney or Stephen Franks. Not long after Dancing with the Stars, that hope reverted back to apathy. Then, another glimmer of hope when Roger Douglas rejoined the anarchy. And then John Boscawen and David Garrett happened along, and then there was Lindsay Mitchell's mana abuse, and the bad fish n chip brigade stunt. And then the front fell off. Forever.

I can understand a bit why National are slamming through bits and pieces of dogma under urgency. They've got their 2008 election bribes to slam into place; the MMP referendum, DNA testing for all arrestees, three strikes. But it seems as if they're getting a bit too keen on the rush of power.

Ever since the introduction of select committees in the 1980's, I have kept an eye on the ever-increasing propensity for Order in Council motions. And this is the biggest bastard of them all. Order in Council powers to do anything short of declaring war on Antarctica. This is the executive picking winners like a horse race, and it's on the taxpayers' card.

Poor bloody Christchurch. They won't feel a thing. They won't even see it coming.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Universal free education at last

Way back in 2006 I suggested an alternative form of education:
Not so long ago, DPF posted about a fun way to learn calculus. Unfortunately, such things just don't work. The blood flows to all the wrong places. However, the principle is sound. A worthwhile teacher can spellbind an audience like any other performer. These teachers exist in NZ. For many of them, their skills are monopolised by the elite schools in the nice suburbs.

I wonder how much it would cost to get a film crew to record a year's worth of lessons from these excellent teachers? Sure, you'd pay the teachers a good salary, especially if you didn't want them to prostitute themselves to advertisers like sportspeople and former comedians do. Now, once you've taped the periods, you'll need to burn, print and distribute them to all eligible students. I can't be arsed checking for statistics so I'll make a bold generalisation. Let's say half of NZ's population gets sent lessons. At about $3 from burn to letterbox, that's $6 million to passively educate half of NZ. A percursor to this is already available in Oz, the Interactive Maths Series for Year 7-10 students. Even at $50 a year, it's cheaper than those voluntary annual school fees some of you will be coughing up for shortly.

Someone much smarter and more motivated than me has now done it. The Khan Academy currently features over 1800 YouTube videos covering a vast range of educational tutorials. Kim Hill talked to the founder Sal Khan this morning. Nice one, Sal!

Friday, September 10, 2010

National Lampoon's Spies Like Us

I'd feel more foolish about announcing Farrar's "engagement" if it weren't for the unfortunate story involving NZ's armed forces and Stephen Wilce. TV3's 60 Minutes program uncovered what the NZ Defence Forces were unwilling to do, namely perform an elementary background check on a man handed a $350,000 a year salary and top security clearance.

John Key has said that it wasn't the role of the SIS to fact-check the details. That was presumably the job of employment consultants Momentum, who selected Wilce. Former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley happens to sit on the Board of Directors for that company, so it's looking pretty eggy for the Nats whatever face they try to put on it. Not that Labour can make much hay out of the fiasco. Wilce was hired under their watch, along with the now-disgraced Mary Anne Thompson, the Immigration head who pretended to have a PhD.

Unlike Thompson, who seemed quite competent in her job up until trying to bend the rules for her family, Wilce seems to have been an incompetent and habitual fantasist for a very long time. At least Thompson worked towards a PhD at one stage. There are no mitigating circumstances for Wilce's pathological lying.

And there's no excuse for the Defence Services either. A complaint in 2008, presumably after Wilce claimed credit for inventing the Polaris missile, led to an overseas junket for Wilce, according to Patrick Gower. Talk about rewarding failure.

The last decade has been a reign of error for the Defence Forces. Whether it's LAV over-supply, unseaworthy navy vessels, double dipping military attaches or un-sellable Skyhawks, the only thing that seems to work properly is the front line grunts.

There needs to be a sea change in Defence culture, but there's little sign of it happening. The SIS will continue to maintain files on traditional targets such as Green MP Keith Locke and cannabis reformers such as NORML. We're obviously much more of a threat to national security than fabricating morons in highly paid and sensitive military positions.

All Day and All of the Night

Congratulations to David Farrar on his engagement. There's more to life than blog after all.

UPDATE: False alarm. Fucking cunts playing silly buggers.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Unorthodox traditions

Excellent long form journalism by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair, looking at the teetering pile of crockery known as Greece. HT from the Greek Chorus of Felix Salmon, The Economist, Tyler Cowen, Andrew Sullivan, Dim Post, Quote Unquote and Bernard Hickey.

The ferry trip to the dark heart of Orthodoxy, where allegedly ascetic priests have used guilt to leverage land deals in order to renovate their holy sites, reminds me of 1990's Russia. Huge sums were spent there retrieving religious idols and doing up the orthodox spires while the masses starved. Quote Unquote shows how little has changed, linking to a story on how to buy lightbulbs in Russia.

Arts & Letters Daily links to two parts of Robert Fisk's inquiry into honour killings. The third part, looking at Egypt's murders dressed as suicides, shows it is not just a barbarism practised by Muslims. Even the Coptic Christians in Egypt are not above a bit of incest and slaughter.

And lest NZ gets too smug about our enlightened way of life, Hone Harawira points to our own skewed justice system, where jail sentences for Pineapple Lump theft are meted out, whilst multi-million dollar inbred transactions by South Canterbury Finance doesn't so much as get a slap on the wrist. HT Simon Pound.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Subatomic telethons

Not a week after the Christchurch Quake, NZ is scrambling its Special Entertainment Services. The NZSO is holding a free concert in Christchurch to help salve the residents' raw souls. Fund-raisers are sprouting up everywhere. Tonight in Wellington alone, Young Labour are holding a fundraising quiz. Up the road and round the bend, Bodega is holding a charity DJ set.

A number of businesses have contributed to relief efforts as well. The cynic in me sez there's a fine line between charity and marketing, but perhaps the shell-shocked inhabitants of Canterbury don't care where aid comes from right now. Unless it is from the US or UN, apparently:
New Zealand had turned down offers of support from the US military, based in Hawaii, and the UN he said. This was met with surprise, [Civil Defence head David Hamilton] said.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Satellite of love

If NZ has learned any lesson over the weekend, it is that the story of the Three Little Pigs is arse-backwards. Brick houses might keep the wolf from the door, but they are completely shagged in earthquakes. A House of Sticks would bend sufficiently to accommodate the vicious birth of new land, but a House of Straw would absorb even more shock.

In spite of early media reports of looting after the Christchurch Quake, there are no wolves in NZ. To date, reports of "looting" amount to two separate incidents of sole opportunists, and maybe a house burglary, which is par for the course in Christchurch anyway. Hell, it is probably the plot of this week's Outrageous Fortune episode. It's not beyond the skills of the kiwi Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Falani and Eric.

On the contrary, NZ pulled together to help where they could. Twitter was spewing out news like a telegraph wire. Photos, status reports, severity indications, flood notifications. NatRad had Kim Hill giving advice on how to poo in plastic bags.

The impact of it all was apparent on Q&A. It was landmark television, along the lines of the Walker-Muldoon interview or Campbell's Corngate interview with Helen Clark. It was utterly devoid of PR spin and media office platitudes alike. It was a show made in NZ.

Therese Arseneau was visibly upset, raw with stress and fairly bruised. She had been at the Reconstituting the Constitution conference in Wellington the two days prior to Saturday morning's earthquake, and still managed to fly up to Auckland for Q&A while her family remained down south with the aftershocks. Paul Holmes and Bob Harvey rightly got an earful from her over the Bollard interview later on and fair go. Today of all days, she was not going to listen to their complete bullshit.

Tim Watkin best summed up Bob Parker's commentary over at Pundit. And yes, Parker (not Harvey) deserves all the credit for getting out there and daring the sky to fall on his head.

New Zealand, like Australia, is home to the black swan. What works in the northern sphere might seem ludicrous down under, and vice versa. It might take guns and Jesus to make USAers be nice to one another, but down this way, all we need is each other. She'll be right.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A fraction too much friction

The first week of spring has not been kind to the Christians of Christchurch. The saintly Hubbard has Crafared, and today the tectonic plates served up Canterbury for a dog's breakfast. The gods will not save them, but John Key and Bill English might. Why not consider changing the name to the indigenous Ōtautahi? Less blasphemous, eh.

Good night and good luck.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Not One of Us

I'm buggered. Shattered. My head hurts. It's taking me a stiff joint and a cheap cask of red wine to put my mind in the recovery position enough to speak of attending the Reconstituting the Constitution Conference at Parliament earlier today. Even for a political junkie such as me, the RCC was damn close to a terminal overdose of political enquiry. And there's still one more day to go, which I'm having serious doubts over.

I was accidentally invited to attend as a delegate, volunteering as a keen understudy when the intended invitee couldn't make it. I knew the territory well enough. I've been going to Parliament since I was 12. But it is a hostile and estranged place for outsiders these days, mainly due to the post-9/11 security death grip.

The young ones will never know it, but there was once a magical time when anyone could walk up the steps of Parliament and enter through the revolving doors. Like a genuine citizen. The watchmen were always there, but the only time there was a queue for watching the House in action was when the gallery was full.

These days, foreign dignitaries and plebs alike are all squeezed through the security sphincter. No matter that you might have just popped out for ten minutes for a smoke between sessions, a reboot of sorts, it's back through the door that goes ping.

It goes ping because I'm wearing my suit, an honour that is usually bestowed on weddings and funerals only. It's an old school hand tailored suit with braces. The honour I am bestowing on parliament is forcing me to be spread-eagled every goddamned time I return from a cigarette. If I go tomorrow, it'll be in my uniform, not theirs.

Mind you, if you're a beltway leprechaun with the correct badge of power, none of this applies. You can enter through any of the Members' Entrances. The Koru Club of power. These things are noted with belligerence. It is hard to swallow the fiction that the people are supreme in a democracy that treats its visiting citizens like terrorists.

So. Reconstituting the Constitution. David Farrar was there, as always. He's blogged it up very nicely. I'll throw in my notes too.

Session 1: Lessons from abroad

Professor Robert Hazell from London mentioned the Blair years of constitutional reform. Devolving powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, giving them the hassle of regulation without the kitty of taxation. It reminds me of the Local Government Act here. The House of Lords defeated Labour votes every 1 in 3, good odds.

The UK's Human Rights Act is inferior to NZ's Bill of Rights Act. Their Freedom of Information Act is second to NZ's Official Information Act. Although the UK's FOIA is restrictive and complex compared to NZ's, it still beats Canada's, Ireland's and Australia's versions hands down.

Dagg bless NZ's Cabinet Manual.

Professor Heinz Klug from Wisconsin looked at South Africa's constitutional reboot after Apartheid. Interesting mistake regarding SA joining the WTO too early, a third world population facing first world intellectual property charges when it comes to AIDS treatment. Weird facts likes the White minority veto on state spending up until 1999. The use of cartoons to explain the working draft of the constitution to the illiterate masses. The lessons of Constructive Ambiguity, which sounds a hell of a lot like the Treaty of Waitangi.

Speaking of which, Tim Selwyn should eat his blog for saying the Treaty of Waitangi will not be centre stage at the conference. Annette Sykes was there, and she wasn't the only one going on about it. You cannot discuss constitutional reform without mentioning the ToW. But anyway...

Session 2: The Republican question

A rather one-sided debate featuring Michael Cullen and Dean Knight, chaired by Sir James Bolger. Cullen's speech notes got leaked all over Sunday, and he pretty much abandoned them to admit defeat to the inevitable once QEII carks it. Agreement was reached that NZ would probably prefer the staus quo ceremonial head of state and not one with any executive function. That's what's the PM is for.

If ceremonial is the choice, why a popular election for it? What's wrong with a super-majority of parliament? It's an improvement on the current system, whereby the PM of the day chooses the Governor-General. Alas, it'll never happen under the Back-to-Brit Nats.

Session 3: The Need for a written constitution; strengthening the Bill of Rights and the place of the Treaty of Waitangi

Justice John McGrath chaired this segment. Mai Chen spoke ten to the dozen, fast forwarding through her paper on the pros and cons of a supreme law. Money quote from a guy called Richard Shaw who noted  that "the advent of the internet has not demonstrably rejuvenated people's engagement with politics, but that New Zealanders' relative disengagement with formal politics is being reproduced online."

Doctors Andrew and Petra Butler looked at expanding the Bill of Rights, including social, economic and property rights, but I think they're on a hiding to nothing on that one. Mai Chen mentioned the risks of Pandora's Box.

The highlight of the day was Judge Joe Williams, who came out with this gem (paraphrased); a New Zealand exceptionalism based on diversity and tolerance. He spoke from his notes hand-written in an exercise book. His subject was the Treaty of Waitangi, but it looked bigger than that from where I was sitting. I would happily vote this guy head of state.

Mai Chen tied it all together, noting the cleavages between minorities and majorities. I may not be Asian, gay or Maori, but I understood what she meant.

Session 4: Electoral Law, including Maori seats, MMP, fixed term and campaign finance

I had stopped taking notes at this stage. I was hoping for a stroke or aneurysm. Simon Power spoke sensibly, Charles Chauvel needs to use less Powerpoint. MMP isn't going anywhere. Neither are the Maori seats or four year terms. Logic and popular opinion seldom coincide.