Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Fortress Around Your Heart

"Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers and beams of yellow light" - G. Summers
I've been putting it off for months; yesterday I finally walked around the cordon around the CBD.  It was a beautiful day.
I spent most of the walk looking, the sights were awesome, but not in a good way.
I also did a lot of not walking.  I spent a lot of time clinging to the wire mesh fence, hanging off it, and crying.
There are still people out there taking photographs.  I don't need to; I will never ever forget how the city looked.  Bikes still padlocked to bike stands.  Office chairs in the middle of the street, once covered in snow, once confined to an office, waiting for someone to sit on them.  Grass growing through untravelled pavement.  Graffiti confirming a building is clear of occupants.  Pigeons and stray cats crossing the barricades at will, while we humans respect the authority the fences bring; we are a species that recognises boundaries.  Two bored soldiers in camoflage and hi-visibility jackets, guarding a gate.  A ruined city; crumbling towers; beams of yellow light.  The appearance is secondary, the feelings evoked are the memory.  This is where it happened.
What I find most difficult is remembering what is gone, what used to be there.

mars 2 earth: heard it all before and didn't believe it then

mars 2 earth: heard it all before and didn't believe it then

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

The Maori Party suggest they may walk away from their agreement with National.
John Key is "extremely confident" they won't.
John Key is correct.  Marty Mars agrees.
There are very good reasons why the Maori Party should walk away (and 75% of the respondents to the unscientific Stuff poll agree the should), however the Maori Party leadership have thrown caution and their principles to the wind, so they will toe the National Party line.  And reap the consequences at the next election, as they did in 2011.

I Don't Want You Anyway

Scoop report that the appointment of an observer to CCC is to be challenged.  A good call.  Local government should be local, and a government-appointed observer goes against this principle.
Then there's the problem that it is unprecedented, and may not be legal.  Does this government really believe it can do whatever it wants?
And surely between the mayor, the councillors and the senior staff at CCC there is someone who knew that appointing an observer was simply wrong.


I've already expressed my opinion that the councillors and mayor at CCC:

  • are inept, and
  • should either get their act together, or resign.

Now Tony Marryatt has shown himself entirely unsuitable to be CEO of a major organisation like CCC.
I understood his position when he said he would keep his pay rise.  It was, after all, council's (dumb) decision to give it to him.  If he'd stuck to his guns I'd have understood.
I also understood his position when he said he would give it back   OK, it was a weaker position than his original "no, it's mine and I'm keeping it", but I can still respect someone who can admit they got it wrong.
And then he went and made it conditional.  "I'll give it back if the councillors work together".  Rubbish.  Mr Marryatt, that's an unmeasurable standard, and an unreasonable condition that has nothing to do with whether a pay rise is justified or not.
Either you accept the pay rise, because it is acceptable in the circumstances (and IMO it's not, but your call) or you decline it because it is not acceptable.  It's that simple.  It's binary, for goodness sake.
Such poor judgement demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the founding principles of being a CEO at a council.  The honourable thing to do is to seek a career in the private sector.

What Is, And What Should Never Be

What was sold

and what was bought

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


"...they're coming for us all, they're walking down our footpaths and they're walking down our halls..."
I'm wondering why POA is being run "as a business", rather than "in a business-like manner".  Subtle difference, I know, but perhaps those differences are the underlying cause of the present dispute.
This is a subject I'd like to develop further, so this may be part one of a series of posts.  No links, sorry, at this stage its an unprompted thought, for further development.

On A High

Richard Branson nails it.  Not much else to say, except perhaps the only good idea Don Brash had in his short stint as leader of ACT was this one, and he was slaughtered for it.
The unscientific poll associated with the article shows seven out of eight participants agree with Branson.  Unscientific it may well be, but I'm confident it's showing "strong support"


Nightmares for Bob Parker, in any case.
The shift in strategy from denying the pay rise awarded to Tony Marryatt was an issue to labelling it a PR issue has failed.  Miserably.
The POA-inspired "go nuclear" strategy is pretty dodgy, too.
The Press reports on the latest in the saga, and once again the comments are scathing.  The headline repeats the spin of Mr Parker, in that it only refers to the PR aspect, whereas the more complete quote in the article says:
Parker repeated yesterday's admission, saying the chief executive's 14.4 per cent salary increase was "politically inept and it was a PR disaster''
The clear relationship between cause and effect is ignored.  To spell it out, if council had not been "politically inept", there would have been no "PR disaster".  And, incidentally, no need for a $80,000 review of communications strategies.  Who will be the first journo to stop swallowing the "PR disaster" excuse and ask about the excuses for political ineptness?

Little Lies

Granny reports that John Key is an expert on the relationship between the Labour Party and Ratana:

Prime Minister John Key claimed later the links between Labour and the church were "well and truly gone".
"In reality, from what I can see, Maori are no different from any other New Zealanders - they're going to vote for what they think can deliver the best outcomes for them."

Yeah?  Irish Bill has a good post at The Standard around framing, and how Labour is still losing the PR battle.  IB includes the first part of the quote above but not the second, and it's the second part that stood out for me as a reflection of what is wrong with the National Party.  So what's wrong with the statement?
Maori are different to other New Zealanders, in many ways.  These differences are fundamental to our society and to NZ as an independent nation.
The preamble to the statement is bizarre too.  "In reality, from what I can see..." is a contradiction - what we see is a perspective, and when it is something as vague as generalisations about a group as full of variety as Maori, whether an individual's perspective is reality or not is at best a matter for debate.  Given the obvious falsehood of the rest of the statement (before the hyphen), I am drawn to the conclusion that either:

  • Mr Key has a poor grip on reality, or
  • Mr Key is lying.

Neither option is suitable for a Prime Minister.
The poor grip on reality continues through the rest of the quote, and its a classic restatement of the objectivist meme that people vote in their own personal best interest.  Acknowledging that I am generalising, I strongly disagree with Mr Key's assertion.  One of the differences between Maori and "any other New Zealander" is a tendency to understand the concept of the common good and to value it relatively more highly than individual gain.  Another difference is to look at issues across a longer timeframe, which also tends to favour gains made by groups over those accruing to individuals.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

"We got fun and games"
Well, we will have fun and games this term of parliament.  I'd never vote for NZ First but I have always recognised that they make parliament an interesting place.  Last term, parliament was poorer for their absence.
This term Winston Peters will certainly liven the place up.  I had wondered what his first subject would be, turns out it is the residency application of a Mr Kim Dotcom.
Often I'm of the opinion that Labour need to get off their backsides and do something (and often I am disappointed), this time I plan to sit back with some popcorn and watch the show, and I reckon Mr Shearer et al should too.  Welcome to the jungle, Mr Key.

Sad Eyed Lady

Councillor Sue Wells of Christchurch City Council is calling for the Council to be sacked and replaced by commissioners, because it is dysfunctional.
Is the council dysfunctional?  I don't have sufficient evidence to make an informed comment and in this case I don't wish to speculate, so I'll run with "maybe".  It would hardly be a surprise, though.  Many councils have been very dysfunctional, the number that have been sacked and replaced by commissioners in the last 20 years can be counted on thumbs (if you have two thumbs).   CCC is in a situation unlike any other faced by any council in NZ in living memory, so dysfunction is almost to be expected.
Should council be sacked and replaced by commissioners?  In short, no.  Thankfully the Minister for Local Government, Nick Smith, agrees.  I'm fascinated by the suggestion from the mayor that councillors should "put the city first".  For starters, I'm sure they believe that's exactly what they are doing.  Second, it' a pretty meaningless phrase.  Third, if it's code for "shut up and agree with me", that's a poor message and the sign of someone out of their depth.
The comments on the Press article (in the first link) are full of suggestions that Sue Wells should live up to her values and resign.  Perhaps.  If things are really that bad, then I would prefer to see an out-of-cycle council election for all new councillors and a new mayor.  There are already commissioners in ECan, and little enough local democracy in Canterbury.
UPDATE - Puddleglum at The Political Scientist discusses the issues in depth and identifies a possible split in the council, with left and right factions uniting to oppose the mayor and CEO.  These are interesting times in Christchurch.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Bird of Prey

I never liked the Crafar farms.  They had a deserved reputation for poor farming practice and were repeatedly successfully prosecuted for polluting some quite special environments.
Is it just me, or is the sight of a corporate raider battling a foreign government over the right to feast on the corpse of the Crafar farms a little more than revolting?  If the answer is "Michael Fay or Shanghai Pengxin Corporation", surely someone is asking the wrong question.
The government has suggested that land prices are too high (as per my previous post).  Have they considered that this kind of thing plays some part?

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: Demographia's Annual Obeisance to the Developer

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: Demographia's Annual Obeisance to the Developer

All Wrong

Demographia have released the findings on housing affordability.  It's got some good points and some bad points.  Robert Winter has spotted some of the bad points here.  I concur.
One of the report's authors was on Radio NZ this afternoon, unwittingly revealing the flaws in his logic.  Here's the theory, according to Demographia, and our government (from National Radio):
·         Rules on landuse need to be relaxed to bring house prices down,
·         Councils are to blame, because they are not freeing up land on the fringes of cities
·         A house is unaffordable if it costs more than three times the annual average household's income
·         "All councils are quite conscious that land prices are what have driven house prices to an unaffordable level" Phil Heatley
So, it's land prices that are the problem.  If we pay for a house and land package, on the edge of town in a new subdivision, let's say we get it for $400,000.  Sounds nice, right?  Let's say it's split $150,000 for the section and $250,000 for the house.  With an aveage household income of $60,000, that gets the affordability into the right order.
But the land's the problem, according to the hypothesis put forward by National and Demographia.  So let's say the land is free.  Hard to believe, but I'll run with it.  The cost of the house alone is still more than four times the household income, and still in the unaffordable bracket.
But the whole idea of free land, that's ridiculous, let's just say it's "cheaper".  As it is, land on the edges of town is marginal for farming.  Farmers can make some money off it, but when they can make more by subdividing and selling, that's what they do.  If the land were to become cheaper, farmers would be less inclined to sell because they can make more money off the land by farming it.  Making the land cheaper will do the opposite of what Demographia want, and what they say should happen.
And almost the only way to make the land "free" is for the taxpayer to buy it and gift it to developers.  Is that the kind of market intervention that Demographia believe in?  I doubt it.  I'd ask the same of National, but I suspect they do support this kind of market intervention, in their heart of hearts.
Another way would be for the government to seize the land from the owners without redress or compensation.  It could be done, but it would also be the downfall of the government.
So it's actually the cost of the house that is the main contributor to the problem.  National have helped contribute to this by destroying the apprenticeship system in the 1990s, growing the wage gap with Australia to encourage migration of skilled tradesmen and adding regulation, more of which is due on 1 March this year.
Demographia make a concerted effort to discredit themselves.  They note that they do not normalise across dwelling types, so it's not an apples-with-apples comparison.  The equality of affordability in New York vs. Wellington is an apartment vs. a detached house.  Uh-huh.
They try to link "restrictive landuse planning practices" with low affordability, with a dinky graph.  Funny thing is it shows a definite trend with "restrictive landuse planning practices" and "liveableness", which is reported in an entirely separate report.  It's obviously slipped their minds that the cities that have less restrictions on landuse are the ones that have a reputation for poor living environments.
Finally, their report references the 2025 Taskforce Report.  Hang on – didn't that get panned by just about everyone, including the government who commissioned it?  Hardly a reliable source.
So, what did I like about this whole embarrassment of a report?  Well I heartily agree with Mr Pavletich when he says:
"The government has been...callous in ignoring the plight of [Christchurch] people..."
There was some discussion about the optimal size of local authorities on Radio NZ, which identified the Auckland Council as risky to its large size creating an unwieldy bureaucracy.  I agree, Labour took the local out of some local government in 1989, and National are making it worse.
But neither of those good points comes close to the steaming pile that is Demographia's report, or the poor journalism that failed to identify the most basic of flaws in the aforementioned steaming pile.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Keep the Customer Satisfied

It's the same old story from the Labour party, more inconsistency, ambivalence and surrender.
Darien Fenton and Phil Twyford have stood up for MUNZ. But that against a backdrop of "we accept that NZ's ports needrationalisation, which will involve job losses". The subject is fair working conditions, talk of sector rationalisation is both off topic and, framed the way it is, defeatist.
The theory that its OK because Labour are working hard behind the scenes just doesn't wash. Sure, working behind the scenes can count as supporting MUNZ, and it can be very effective. But people have lost faith in Labour, part of restoring that faith involves being seen to support workers. Next time someone asks Labour what their position on the POA dispute is, they need to include this sentiment in their reply - "we are working hard behind the scenes to come up with a fair and workable solution".
Otherwise my suspicion that David Shearer is the Invisible Man will continue to grow stronger.

Whatcha Say

My daughter tried to explain her NCEA results a day or three ago. They were incomprehensible, partially because she didn't know what they meant, so it was a little tricky for her. Now, I'm not that concerned because I know she's bright enough (several course prizes at the end of the year and all that), but if she doesn't understand, that's pointing to room for improvement.
Perhaps I'm a bad parent for not paying enough attention to what she's doing at school, which may be something to do with my opinion that doing well at school is not the be all and end all.
I also need to remember to be grateful that I work in a profession that requires a tertiary qualification, which tend to be very binary in that you have one or you don't, as well as aptitude. It's other employers I have sympathy for.

Only Human

Is it just me, or is the lack of an outcry from various right-leaning commentators about this just a little concerning? If the department themselves had made the mistake the usual suspects would have been all over it as an example of something that should have been contracted out to private enterprise. Because private enterprise is always better. I disagree.
Today I'm in a charitable mood. I think the people running the course made an honest, yet stupid and avoidable, mistake. Could the same mistake have been made if the course was not run by private enterprise? Yes. Should there be more contracting out in the prison service? Based on this example alone, emphatically no.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A New Season

Finally a Labour MP has said something about Ports of Auckland.  The summer break must be over.
Darien Fenton has posted this on Red Alert (yay, RA is being used a bit more).  I hope it's a start, rather than the end of Labour's involvement.  Labour still haven't got the idea of getting the message out in a good form, the blog post abounds with ambivalence and is written like they expect to come out on the losing side.  I can't wait until 2015 to see the "we are standing up for what is right" attitude from Labour.
On a related note, Chris Trotter wrote a blinder on the POA dispute.  Somewhat at odds with his "Labour needs to distance itself from the unions" meme from a few weeks ago; it's an inconsistency I can tolerate.

Captain Nemo

Sea Shepherd are down in Antarctica, again, doing what the governments of New Zealand and Australia should be doing, though they are using different means.  The silence is even more deafening this year.
Chris Carter's passionate opposition to whaling might be his real legacy, though his reputation for inappropriate spending and his disgraceful downfall may be better remembered (and also better forgotten).

How Many More Times

And while I'm on a Led Zeppelin theme, when will people stop referring to the reorganised local government in Auckland as super, as in "...supercity."?  Been there, done that, there's nothing super about it.  In some areas the new council are more functional, in others less so.
Seriously, councils do not make their territory super, people do (or don't, more often than not).
The whole meme is so two years ago and out of date and it was always just marketing b*llsh*t, any journalist who uses it is off my reading list.
Is there anyone who truly believed Rodney Hide got it right (back in 2010) who hasn't changed their mind?

Nobody's Fault But Mine

Gareth Morgan Investments has been purchased by Kiwibank.
In some ways it's good to see KiwiBank growing, but my main reason for the post is to link to Led Zeppelin's video on youtube (about 2min 30s).
The phrase "a monkey on my back" is used by Mr Morgan to describe one of his motives for selling GMI and features in the song too, though the context is quite different; originally it referred to a drug addiction.  Rather than open myself up to suggestions of pedantry, I'll run the hypothesis that the meaning has been broadened to refer to a burden, instead of an addiction. Even though UrbanDictionary is not fully supportive.

Monday, 16 January 2012

It's a mistake

Things that shouldn't have happened are one of my themes, and there have been quite a few recently.  I'll look at some of the less serious ones in this post (and hopefully avoid any obvious politicking).
First, the Costa Concordia.  I can't for the life of me imagine how this could have happened.  People have been navigating the waters around Italy for thousands of years, it seems unlikely the rocks just sprung up all of a sudden, and even really big ships can be sailed to avoid known rocks.  It's difficult to think of a good explanation of how this was "just an accident".
Incidentally, the Costa Concordia is almost three times the length and about 25 times the displacement of the NZ Navy's frigates.  Huge.
Second, the swap your HOP debacle, which is on the Herald website but mysteriously absent from the HOP card website.  It looks like bad marketing, and bad planning, though the always good Auckland Transport blog provides a thoughtful explanation.  Auckland Transport can explain that the cost is only in the order of hundreds of thousands of (public) dollars, but it looks a lot like polishing a turd.  Even if it is only hundreds of thousands out of a budget in the hundred million mark.
Third, the subject of dollar comparisons is interesting.  A few days ago it was reported that there had been $22 million of benefit fraud in 2010/11.  Today it was reported that five people associated with SCF are being prosecuted for a fraud that is an order of magnitude larger (and a judge will decide on their innocence or guilt - I have not formed an opinion on the matter).  Does anyone believe the government's next crack-down being on corporate fraudsters, rather than benefit fraud?  I could offer odds.

If You Can't Beat Them

Excellent interview with Manu Caddie of Tairawhiti on National Radio this morning.  I only caught the last few minutes of the interview, but it was captivating.  So here is a link to the interview.
And here is a link to his website/blog.  I've not had the time to read the whole lot, but what I have heard and seen is encouraging, and a refreshing change from the staleness that pervades national politics.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Take the Power Back

I'd not intended to say much about the POA dispute, especially given the commentary going on elsewhere in the blogosphere.
Credit to Robert Winter for his prompt and considered posts, and to The Standard for their late but vehement and voluminous contributions.
For too long the right have dictated the narrative and got their own way.  Someone from the left needs to stand up for the unions and workers on this issue.  The obvious candidate is David Shearer and the Labour Party.  However I don't have high expectations and the deafening silence indicates either Mr Shearer thinks his holiday is more important than the principles his party was founded on, or he just doesn't know what to say.
Which leaves the Greens.  I can excuse them for not acting to date (they are probably sitting around thinking "where the hell are Labour on this one???"), but by the end of the week they need to have taken a strong and clear position - what the POA Management team are doing is out and out wrong.
A new board needs to be appointed, with their first task being getting a new CEO and SMT.

Stormy Weather

NIWA really need to stop doing their seasonal forecasts.
Late least year they predicted a warm dry summer.  So far this summer has been gloomy at best for the North Island, terribly wet for the top of the South Island and very dry in the deep south.
NIWA have had the good grace to admit they got it wrong.  Although in reading the original prediction they were so generic, I'm not sure they could possibly have got it wrong.  However, in making their mea culpa they added that the difference between getting it right and wrong is down to "subtle changes" in weather patterns.
So what's the problem?  Well, the concept of credibility is important to NIWA.  They are without exception intelligent and highly trained people, with lots of knowledge and skill, so their credibility is deserved.  When they get it wrong in such a public manner they detract from the other good work they do around climate change.
Also, the seasonal forecasts are on the boundary between weather and climate, and issuing these seasonal forecasts blurs that boundary.  On important issues such as climate change, where any opportunity to discredit scientists is leaped upon, a cautious approach is necessary.  The seasonal forecasts need to be put on hold.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Wild Wild West

The Labour Party have decided to take no further action on the Waitakere electorate result, conceding that Paula Bennett won the seat. 
I think that Labour need to take the battle to National this term, but in this specific instance I think Labour have made the correct decision, though I am not sure whether this is through good judgement, or by accident.
Waitakere is now a very marginal seat, as are Christchurch Central and Auckland Central.  Once the results of the 2011 General Election are declared official, the National MPs in these seats become both powerful, in terms of what they can demand from the National-lead government, and at the same time vulnerable.  To avoid the latter they need to be above reproach.  A by-election in any of these electorates would be fascinating.
Waitakere is perhaps the most interesting of the three.  It is held by little more than a handful of votes, by a senior minister who has shown questionable judgement in the past - she is a polarising figure.  Anything event that arises and casts doubt upon her suitability to remain as an MP could trigger a by-election, a by-election that National could never hope to win. 
What ever happened to the privacy breach complaint, I wonder?  I must have missed it being resolved, and the resolution must have happened very quietly.

it's oh so quiet

Red Alert used to be worth reading.  Since the election it has been as dull as dishwater.  I suspect this is due to a combination of:

  • the Labour MPs that made it to parliament being unsure of how and whether to use Red Alert in the post-election environment, and
  • Christmas.

Red Alert could be an excellent tool for discussion between Labour MPs and the public, if it were used properly.  If it doesn't improve in the next fortnight I may be forced to email Mr Mallard and suggest it is renamed Dead Alert until they get their act together.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

This is the end

Well, it's the end of my time solely as a commenter on blogs.  It's the beginning of my time as the author of a blog.
This first post will undoubtedly look juvenile, in reflection, however I'm new to this game and the first post is about me finding out how blogger works.
So, welcome to my blog.  I apologise for the lack of content, at the moment, and I have to head out so I won't be adding to it until at least later tonight.  Please come back in the next day or two and check whether I have done enough to provoke a comment from you.