Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Great Escape

Right, I'm off for a long weekend.  Blogging at Every Tiny Straw will be intermittent to non-existent, depending mostly on (a) how motivated I feel and (b) how dumb various politicians are.  I'll be back on Wednesday.
Thanks to all my visitors this month, I've never had so many, nor have I written so many posts or received so many comments.

UPDATE - I'm extending my absence until Monday next week.  By way of explanation, I'm of the view that clarity begins at home*, and as I am still unwell and unable to think clearly, I'm staying at home and away from blogging until I have recovered.  Back on form and online on Monday, I hope.

*A post crediting this phrase and explaining further is now required.

The Chills - Kaleidescope World, 1986

School Is No Good For You

Behind all the fuss around teacher ratios that is  burning more and more of National's political capital (which is, ultimately, a one seat majority in parliament), is the proposed changes to special schools.
Today, CCS Disability Action came out in favour of the proposal to have fewer special schools.  And I thought to myself that CCS Disability Action's spokesperson, David Matthews, should consider being careful what he wishes for.  His press release says:
Currently, there are a number of Residential Special Schools where a small number of students with special needs can attend for up to two years. While these schools provide significant support, they also take students away from their families, homes, and communities and are expensive to run.
Many of the students at special schools are dysfunctional or from a disadvantaged background, rather than disabled.  The intensive intervention provided by a special school attempts to address this, and is quite different to the wrap-around community care model proposed by the Minister.  The difference is that special schools address acute issues, whereas wrap-around care manages chronic issues.  It is apparent she has a particularly poor grasp of her portfolio.

Able Tasmans - Somebody Ate My Planet, 1992

Do You Love Me Now?

Once again Puddleglum has come up with a thoughtful, well researched and referenced post.  This time it's on the topical issue of teenage pregnancy, contraception and benefits.  All tied together with the usual eloquence and understated style that typifies Puddleglum's writing.
Please go and read it.
Here is the link.

The Breeders - Last Splash, 1993

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Fire, Water, Burn

 Someone had a fire up the valley from Nelson.  The smoke came down the valley, spread out across the city and the bay.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Bloodhound Gang - One Fierce Beer Coaster, 1996



Here Come The Cars

The proposal to require drivers on restricted licences to display an R-plate doesn't bother me much.  In essence, it is an extension of the learner L-plate requirement.
It has occurred to me to ask, without knowing the answer, if the solution we have is not backwards, and the opposite would work much better.  Rather than requiring learner and restricted drivers to display information on their licence status for all to see, the privilege of having a full licence could be displayed would transfer scrutiny on to cars without plates.  I'm thinking something electronic might be required to prevent plates being borrowed.  Just a thought.


David Kilgour - Here Come The Cars, 1991

Something's Gotta Give

Education is a touchstone issue, because it is another of the fundamentals of our society.
Unlike democracy, which I've blogged about a lot of late c/o Mr Banks, education looms large in our lives.  We vote, on average, once every eighteen months, and that's if we vote in local body elections. If not, it's once every three years, and again that's if we can be bothered.  Voting takes a couple of minutes.  Compare it to education, where most people were legally required to spend ten years of their lives, six hours a day, being educated.  Education is something we are all intimately acquainted with, and we all value.
The government mess with it at their peril.  And mess with it they have.  You can just sense the media's glee.
Nanaia Mahuta had a go in Question 8 this afternoon:

8. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: What is the estimated reduction in teaching positions at intermediate and middle schools in each of the next 4 years as a result of the new teacher to student funding ratios in Budget 2012?Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education) : Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. The Government funds full-time teacher equivalents, not positions—that is a matter for each board. What we have always said is that about 90 percent of schools will have a net loss or gain of up to one full-time teacher equivalent. 
The 90% meme is interesting, partially because I have children at school, so this affects them directly, and partially because I'm a statistics nerd and know a little about distribution curves.  Mrs Parata repeated the 90% meme for the Herald.
[Education Minister Hekia Parata] said 90 per cent of schools would gain or have a net loss of less than one FTTE as a result of the combined effect of the ratio changes and projected roll growth.
This "gain or loss of less than one FTTE" is bullshit.  What I want to know is:
  • what percentage of schools will gain at least part of an FTTE?  And, completely separately,
  • what percentage of schools will lose at least part of an FTTE?
For the purposes of clarity, "at least part" means 0.1 FTTE or more.

I don't care that 90% of schools are somewhere between +1 and -1 teachers, because that is meaningless.  I want to know how many schools have >0 FTTE's lost.  This is, after all, my children's education that is affected.  It's not some abstract formula, and that's irrespective of how the Minister sees it.


Beastie Boys - Root Down [EP], 1995

Monday, 28 May 2012

Tool and Die

Sentencing for the Urewera Four was covered quite well by Robert Winter.  Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara have been sentenced to prison terms, sentencing for Urs Signer and Emily Bailey has been delayed.
There's something about firearms, and Mr Winter's post, that has me pondering the rights and wrongs of the situation.  I think it is this - if the Urewera Four had held licences for the firearms they possessed, the charges would have failed.  Utterly failed.
And then there is this:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
That's the famous Second Amendment to the Constitution of the USA, or as an ex-pat colleague of mine referred to it, tongue-in-cheek, the right to arm bears.
Setting out where I stand, which may reveal some hypocrisy - I own several firearms, including some of types that the media refer to as "high-powered" and "semi-automatic".  I also believe in the need for strong regulation of firearm ownership and its strict enforcement.  The lax approach taken to gun control in the USA is a festering  embarrassment and an ongoing and terrible waste of life
So, is it OK to do what the Urewera Four did?  Mr Winter asks the same question:
I ask my confreres this. Do we condone armed insurrection (or the armed play-acting thereof) by anyone in NZ?

He provides the binary answers you would expect - yes, and no.  I wonder if it is a more subtle issue than that. Could it be possible that a mature government would allow for the possibility of armed insurrection, as per the Second Amendment, and then take all reasonable steps to ensure the need for armed insurrection never arose through the implementation of fair and decent policy?


Consolidated - Play More Music, 1992

Vienna (part two)

A footnote to my post last Friday about the relevance (or lack thereof) of the budget.  Stuff ran a poll, it's still going, and there was a post over at The Standard on it.
The question was "Will you come out better off from this budget?" and the options were "Yes", "No" and "No, but it will be good for the economy."
Matthew Whitehead, who runs the Le Matte Juste* blog, described the first and last choices as:
...the “yes” and the “I hate myself” options...
which is a very good summary.


Incidentally, less than 5% of the respondents thought they would be better off, last time I checked.  Even given the inherently unscientific basis of the poll, that's a pretty resounding thumbs down for the budget.


*Le Matte Juste and Every Tiny Straw share a birthday.  I wish there were more regular posts at LMJ as Matthew Whitehead has a unique and interesting insight into New Zealand politics.

Millenium

I do tend to observe milestones, however miniscule they may be.  The first I observed was my hundredth post, which was published in the middle of last month.  At the moment I'm well ahead of the "one per day" target that I set myself when I started Every Tiny Straw.

This time I'm celebrating 1000 visits.  Which, in blog terms, is nothing, I have no doubt that many blogs get that many visits per post, in one afternoon.  I've tried to keep my link-whoring at other blogs down, and there are ways I could reformat this blog to increase my hits, but I don't see the need, the current format is fine by me.

For me 1,000 views is just an opportunity to say thanks to the people that read, comment on and follow my blog.

Robbie Williams - I've Been Expecting You, 1998

Sick, Sick, Sick

Yeah, I'm struck down by a cold.  I can't talk, which will make quite a few people happy, but I can still blog.
I'm trying to write a post on the Tullock Spike, an object of wonder for the over-educated and under-experienced, and I came across this comment on a random website:

Obviously everything was fine back in the good old days of free enterprise.
You can blame those god damn liberals for interfering with the auto industry, and cramming all those onerous safety features into cars. Sure, countless lives and limbs were saved—BUT AT WHAT COST TO BUSINESSES PROFITS AND INDEPENDENCE?!!
Don't worry, once Republicans get back into power all that bothersome government oversight will be properly underfunded once again!

Author credit - garywalmsley56, comment reference http://io9.com/5913687/these-vintage-photos-of-early-car-wrecks-will-make-you-grateful-for-crumple-zones?comment=50102505#comments

It's the last sentence that rings true, if the phrase "once Republicans get back into power" is  changed to "with National back in power" it's quite applicable to New Zealand.  The underfunding of the various branches of the state is a hallmark of the short-sighted and profit-driven right.
Lip service to mine safety brought us Pike River.  Lip service to teaching brought us cuts throughout the education sector, and especially at the special schools and at intermediate school level.  Lip service to a hand up brought us cuts to training allowances for people, mostly women, on the DPB, and to night classes.  Lip service to democratic principles brought us John Banks as the leader of the ACT Party.

Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris, 2007

Champagne and Misery

I'm not sure if it is the unrelenting willingness of some people to do the wrong thing and crap all over not only other people, but sometimes even their own family, or the avoidance of personal responsibility by hiding behind insolvency law, but something about the case of Janita Wright and her niece, Veronica Kloeten revolts me.
As a brief summary, Wright dismissed Kloeten from her employment when she found Kloeten was pregnant.  The courts awarded Kloeten a sum as damage, however Wright's company went insolvent and the damages are not payable as Kloeten is not a secured creditor.
There's a saying about being able to tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.  Janita Wright has been unable to keep her links to Rod Petricevic suppressed.

The Clean - Unknown Country, 1996

Where Do You Go?

Bill English reckons the unemployed and under-employed should move to Christchurch, because there will be plenty of work opportunities.  When the idea was put to people on the street, by TVNZ staff, the response was pretty unequivocal, and it was unfavourable.
In addition to being away from the support of family, friends and community, there's the housing crisis.  National believe the market will solve the problem, so they don't need to intervene.
And then there's the problem of retraining.  Most of the unemployed are not skilled in the trades needed for the rebuild, so they need to be retrained.
If I were unskilled and unemployed, I'd be reluctant to move away from my support networks and into a disaster zone with no certainty of having somewhere to live, on the hope I could retrain to get a job.  There's just too much uncertainty.  Surely Dr English is smart enough to work this out.

Hunters and Collectors - Cut, 1992

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Twist and Shout

Bloody earthquakes :-(

The Beatles - Please, Please Me, 1963

Vienna

The budget wasn't much chop for anyone.  Zero is a fairly good description, it means nothing to me.  Plenty to criticise and nothing to compliment, except for faint praise.
It brings to mind the concept that if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got.  Which is a long way of calling it insipid.

Ultravox - Vienna, 1980

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Get It Together

Russel Norman excelled in parliament again, today.  In Question 6 he had the Minister of Finance all but admitting that the Roads of National Significance were politically driven and would be built irrespective of the economic justification, or absence of one.
Here's the critical bit of the exchange:

Dr Russel Norman: So is the Minister saying that these roads of national significance projects—$14 billion worth of spending—are being supported by the Government because they made political decisions in Opposition that these were good ideas, long before the business cases were ever completed and before Treasury’s better business cases for capital proposal guidelines were used to assess them, so they are political roads of national significance, whether they make any economic sense at all?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can tell the member that we were not willing to let the traffic in Auckland park up until the middle of 2010 while we figured out a new set of business case guidelines. So the member is correct. The decisions about those projects were made before July 2010. We believe that they are sound projects. But I would suggest to the member that it would be helpful if he would apply the same rigour of analysis that he applies to roads, to rail projects, which on the face of it do not look to meet too many—if any—economic criteria.

Starting with the suggestion that traffic would have had to have parked up.  Traffic volumes have been static, or dropping.
The belief that the projects are sound defies the analysis; most of the projects will cost more than the benefits they deliver.  This is faith-based government.


Beastie Boys - Ill Communication, 1993

The Difference

David Shearer asked Shane Jones, in person, to explain his actions with regard to allegations of improper behaviour.  David Shearer stood Shane Jones down pending the outcomes of an investigation.
John Key had his staff ask John Banks for an assurance he did not break the law, when allegations of improper behaviour came to light.  John Banks has refused to stand John Banks down and has challenged others to instigate an investigation.
That's a fairly clear demonstration of who has higher standards of accountability.

The Wallflowers - Bringing Down The Horse, 1996

Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Roading New Zealand, a consortium of roading contractors is calling for radical change, their words, for the way roading work is divided up and managed.
Here's the written version from Radio NZ
And here's the audio clip, also from Radio NZ
What they are proposing is the bundling together of contracts across several councils, and longer contract terms.  Cost savings of 20% are offered as a carrot.

I understand why contractors would want to have the business from several adjacent councils.  They can reduce the office staffing requirements, and get their staff in the field to cover wider areas.
The thing is that councils can already get together and procure the services of a contractor.  In some areas, such as Southland, and Bay of Plenty, they already do.
In other areas they choose not to.  There are a whole lot of reasons why.  These could be to support local employment and business; having a contractor for your district pretty much forces the contractor to have a depot in the district, and for the majority of the staff to live in the district, and this has spin-off benefits for plant hire, light industry and commercial business in the district.  Or it could be because the relationship between the contractor and council is closer, which increases accountability.
Contractors are at best ambivalent about the communities they work in and will play lip service, when required.  Accountability is generally perceived as detracting from the bottom line (profit), so is best minimized.

I understand why contractors would want to have longer term contracts.  Tendering for contracts is costly, and there's no guarantee of success.  And long term contracts look good on financial reports; they are the next best thing to money in the bank.
The thing is that councils can already determine the length of maintenance contracts.  There are plenty of good reasons for contracts being the length they are, and they vary around the country.  They include changes to work methods and materials, the need to keep the contractor motivated and the idea that the longer the contract, the less chance their is of any viable competitors surviving in the area until the contract is renewed.  In reality what happens when a roading maintenance contract changes hands, the field staff transfer from one employer to another and do the same job with different stickers on the side of their trucks; it's the managers that change.

The big picture is Roading New Zealand wants central government to be even more proscriptive with local government, to benefit roading contractors and by reducing the input of the people who are paying for the service.  There is no way I can support this.

Many of the big roading contractors are foreign owned, and the profits go to overseas (mostly Australian) shareholders.  As many are privately owned, there are only a few sources of information on the profitability of this kind of work on the internet.  From what I can see, they make some profit, but not a huge amount.

So, where could the cost savings come from?  I can find three areas, reductions in service (through fewer staff in the field), reduction in staffing costs (through attacking working conditions) and reduction in input costs.  How could this go wrong?  Where do I start?
Input costs are pretty effectively screwed down, there's not much room to move on costs of aggregate.  Steel prices are determined by the world market and there's not much room to negotiate them.  The price of oil, which powers almost all the plant, and is a key component of sealing coats (as bitumen) is predicted to rise.  So the 20% won't come from there.
Reducing staffing costs by attacking working conditions is foolish.  Skilled road workers are in demand in places like Australia, which is a couple of hours away by plane and popular with about 1,000 people every week.  Attacking working conditions will only exacerbate the diaspora, reducing the pool of available talent. So no cost savings there, either
Which leaves us with reductions in service.  Clever contractors will achieve this by implementing solutions that defer the full costs beyond the end of their contract.  Like a household appliance that breaks down a month after the warranty expires.  And we will, collectively, end up with another maintenance backlog.  On the other hand, dumb contractors will just do stuff badly, or not at all and, like the present government, try to muddle through.
In short, the 20% isn't there.  It's an illusion that's only there to get Roading New Zealand what they want, at the expense of the rest of the country.

A radical solution would involve looking at how road maintenance is procured and how much of a role the private sector should play when its involvement results in profits going overseas and the creation of the illusion of competition requires all sorts of wasted effort and duplication.

A really radical solution would involve looking at how transport fits into the society we have at present, and how it will fit into the society we will find ourselves in in twenty or fifty years time.

What Roading New Zealand proposes is minor tweaks, for self-serving reasons.

Radiohead - The Bends, 1995

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Save What You Can

In the past I've has some less than complimentary things to say about Bob Parker.  Today though I have something nice to say.  Briefly:
David Carter suggested that councils look at following the government's unpopular policy of selling assets (and gosh, didn't that work out well for Labor in Queensland?).
Bob Parker said "No".  I like this bit the best:

"I don't think it's the Government's place to tell us what we should and shouldn't own as a community," [Bob Parker] said."If we need to resolve or solve some sort of pressing financial issue, that's something we will do, but we don't need the Government to tell us how to do it and when we should do it."
The Triffids - Calenture, 1987

Catching the Butterfly

In a comment on a post about Christchurch, Puddleglum from The Political Scientist reflected on the use of technology and its impacts on society:

I suspect, in fact, that one of the main effects of widespread communication technologies will be a deepening of local (‘non-virtual’) experience and connectivity. (I should add that ‘deeper’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’, here.)Here’s an example of what I mean: when we, even now, have a videoconference my sense is that the main ‘action’ actually happens prior to, and after, the ‘interconnected’, globalised ‘hook-up’. That is, each isolated group gets together and frames (beforehand) and interprets (after the event) the process that they are (or have just been) involved with. The videolink is – as Erving Goffman put it – the ‘front stage’. The real action will remain at the ‘back stage’. I think that’s something that many futurists fail to realise. People ‘use’ technologies in more ways than what the technologists anticipated. (For example, far from using cellphones for ‘communication’, I text, now, often to avoid more elaborate forms of social interaction – and I don’t think I’m the only one!)People aren’t silly. Facebook is a performance venue, principally, it is not a means of ‘keeping in touch’ (well, it is – but it’s ‘keeping in touch’ through an attenuated ‘performance’. I’m amazed how ‘low cost’ it is, for example, to ‘show concern’ via texting. Concern used to be so much more costly!).The ‘real action’ is when – in real time – we talk to each other about, or reflect upon in private, what we said/posted/read/chatted about on facebook. The main consequence won’t stem from what happens withinthe virtual. It’s how these new technologies will affect those zones of ‘real action’ that will generate the most important consequences for the future … I think.Anyway, just idle thoughts – based on my assumption that humans will remain humans, no matter what the (external) technologies.

The points about the use of technology as a substitute for more meaningful and costly (in terms of effort and emotional input) interaction, and how the main decisions and interactions occur separately to or in spite of technology struck a chord with me.

In the bigger picture, the implications for left wing politics in New Zealand are stark.  There is an active left wing component to the blogosphere.  In comparison to the right wing, though, the left is fractured and comparatively anonymous, with honourable exceptions such as (and not limited to) Chris Trotter, Robert Guyton, Robert Winter, Lynn Prentice and Scott Yorke.

The left has a range of strengths that the right lack, including a strong claim to the moral high ground and representation of a broader spectrum of the community, and some mighty thinkers blog from a left-wing perspective.  But a lot of it is done anonymously.

Of course I have no issue with anonymity, I'm extremely secretive about my identity.  In the real world I openly support left wing ideals and causes, but I have not linked that advocacy with my blog or comments I've made elsewhere.

Two things occurred to me, based on Puddleglum's comment.  First, the left needs to organise.  It's meant to be a strength of the left; working together and being organised.  We appear not to be.  And second, the proof that the left has cast off the stigma associated with openly supporting left-wing causes will include people like me being comfortable blogging without a pseudonym.  I suspect that time is many years away.

The Verve - Urban Hymns, 1997

Donde Esta La Pollo?


Russel Norman seems to think he knows where the chicken is.  He's down the other end of the debating chamber.
Dr Norman's little outburst in parliament (between Questions 4 and 6, not in the individual questions but available by scrolling through to where Question 5 should have been) brought a smile to my face.  On reflection, calling someone chicken is the territory of primary school children, rather than the leader of the third largest party in Parliament.  However, it has garnered attention, and the message is not that a politician acted childishly, that's hardly news, it's that the PM was challenged for not having the courage to answer a question in parliament.  The loss of a question in Parliament is well worth the effort.

There was something much more significant in Parliament today, in Question 6, where Russel Norman exposed Bill English's shortcomings on some quite fundamental principles.  His answer to this supplementary question
Does the Minister accept that if some of the shares from the asset sale programme end up in overseas ownership, the dividends paid to those owners will add to New Zealand’s current account deficit?
astounded even the Speaker, and to avoid misleading Parliament he was forced into referring questioners to the Department of Statistics.  And it's budget week.

Where I work (in the real world), anyone who tried crap like that would be hidden from clients and put under the supervision of someone who knows what they are doing.  Or encouraged to find employment with one of our competitors.

Update - here's a video of Dr Norman in parliament.  And here's another of the Headless Chickens.

Headless Chickens – Body Blow, 1993

Monday, 21 May 2012

Santa's In Town

Hooray, a small surplus in 2014/15 is predicted, by Regular John.  The evolution of the framing around surplus is note-worthy.  A few years ago we were predicted to see an aggressive recovery.  Now our expectations, like all sorts of other stuuf, have been subject to austerity measures, and we can hope for a small surplus in a few years.  I suppose it is going to be delivered by santa, or the easter bunny, too.
I'd have more respect for the senior members of the National cabinet if they were to admit that they have no idea what they are doing and don't genuinely believe a word they are saying about the surplus.  That would, at least, indicate a willingness to learn.  The idea that they might believe there will be a surplus in 2014/15 due to their actions (as opposed to by coincidence) is just too outlandish to be credible.

Mary - Christmas on the Rocks, 2001

Let's Go To Australia

Sure, there have been songs about this since at least 1981, but under National we are at record levels.  Even using net figures, almost 1% of the population of New Zealand is leaving for Australia every year.  And as ridiculous as 1% of the population heading off every year sounds, I estimate that for groups like educated professionals and skilled tradespeople, the rate is closer to 3 or 4%.
So much for the promise National made in 2008.

Vivid Militia - Class of '81, 1981

The Pen and The Sword

As if we had not seen enough of the ugly side of ACT.  Then along come Louis Crimp.
Measured as always, we get a solid commentary from Robert Winter.
Given the outrageousness of Mr Crimp's views, I think the general response from left-leaning and liberal blogs was very restrained.  Underdone, in my opinion.  Remember what Pastor Niemoller said.
Mr Crimp's views are reprehensible and not merely misguided, but simply wrong.  Worse, they are diametrically opposed to those on which ACT was founded, specifically the recognition of property rights.  The history of New Zealand is filled with examples of the failure of the Crown to recognise the rights of tangata whenua, including and not limited to gross violations of property rights.
Today's follow up outburst from Mr Crimp, on TV3 and quoted in the Herald, is a thinly-veiled threat of violence:
"I think when I get back to Invercargill I'll see the police and get a gun so if anyone tries to do nasty things to me I'll shoot them, in self-defence of course."
It appears Mr Crimp is not aware that no one goes to "...see the police and get a gun...." because the police do not give out or sell firearms.  They do give out licences to own firearms, and I'm hoping that this is what was being referred to, as the literal interpretation of the statement is nonsense.  The threat of violence should be sufficient for the police to decline any application for a licence, and to consider revoking any current licence.

Attila the Stockbroker - Live at the Rivoli, 1993

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Imperator Fish: New Wiggles Line-up Announced

Go and read what Scott has posted at Imperator Fish.  Scott is a genius.
Imperator Fish: New Wiggles Line-up Announced

A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours

Robert Guyton posted on the turmoil in Greece (based on a blog post by Paul Krugman) and in the comments section Shane Pleasance posted a link to the Reserve Bank's plans for dealing with failures of banks in New Zealand.  Thanks Robert and Shane, very thought-provoking.
I read the Reserve Bank document last night and, as I was so tired, didn't absorb much of the content.  What I noted was the language used.  Shane had used the colloquialism"haircut" to describe what would be required of the banks.  It's used widely enough, so it's appropriate on blogs.  But it's all through the Reserve Bank's plan, too.
Is it only me that thinks it is unprofessional for an organisation as important as the Reserve Bank to describe the method it plans to use to manage bank defaults as a haircut?
It's not even an accurate description of the outcome.  We've all had a haircut at some stage of out lives, they don't hurt (usually) and most times we come out looking better than we went in.  A more accurate analogy would be "amputation" or "euthanasia".  But I'd prefer the Reserve Bank completely avoided informal language when describing something so serious; just say "in some circumstances we will let banks fail."

The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987

Never A Thought

Another attack on the education system made the news this evening.  This one is flying under the radar.
The government plans to discontinue residential schools.  There are, as I understand it, four left at the moment, and next year there will be none.  The rationale is that it is cheaper* to provide "wrap around care" in the community.
Discussing this with someone directly involved in the front line services a few weeks back I came to understand the folly of the idea to close these schools.
Essentially, the schools provide an environment where their pupil's lives can often be turned around relatively rapidly, reducing or eliminating the need for long-term or a lifetime of government support.  Whereas the "wrap-around care" proposal nurses the children through to the point that they can go on a benefit.
In other words, while the residential care system has higher costs up front, over the lifetime of the pupil the costs are lower, and then there's the added benefit, intangible though they are, of a better life for the pupils.

*cheap, the word that fits so well with another word that is appropriate for this government's approach to everything, the word nasty.  National, bringing you cheap and nasty policy since 2008.

King Loser - Sonic Super Free Hi-Fi, 1994

Who Knew

Well, I knew.  And I told you so.  Chris Trotter knew too.  Ages ago.
Mark Ford is the earthquake tsar.  This is bad news because Mark Ford is very effective.  He gets things done, and will do what the government wants done.

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Laughing Now

Once again I'm driven to profanity, f**k this government is stupid.
Today, education, and National's plan to destroy it in the name of an ideology that revolves around dollars.
Others have waxed more lyrically than I can, Cr Guyton expresses his disgust here, so I won't go for a front-on attack.  Rather, I'll ask, has anyone else spotted the inconsistency?
Here on National's website is the announcement today from Hekia Parata.  In this announcement she says:
A post-graduate qualification will be introduced as a minimum for all trainee teachers, and schools leadership will be improved through the introduction of a new pre-principalship qualification.
Part of National's rationale is to improve the quality of teaching.  So this sounds like a good step.

But hang on a second, wasn't there an announcement that affects tertiary study, just a few days ago?  Steven Joyce said something about student allowances.  Here it is, reported by Stuff.
- Allowances for any study over four years cancelled.
My partner did a DipTeach/B.Ed.  It took four years.  Requiring a post-graduate qualification would require a student loan.  Teaching is not a profession that people choose if they are motivated mostly by money, and adding an extra financial burden, as National have just done, is ludicrous.  Now I'm past the swearing stage, I'm laughing.  In contempt.

The Gordons - The Gordons, 1981

Line Up

We've had them for a couple a months now and I've resisted the temptation to talk about them.  The new Give Way rules, that is.  But I think two months is enough for me to form an opinion, and here it is.  I don't like them.
As an undergraduate in the 1990s I was taught the theory behind the old give way rules.  It seemed sound, but there's nothing like field data to prove a theory or otherwise.
Blenheim Road is now atrocious.  It used to be bad.  The queues of people waiting to turn right now extend to block the centre lanes, because they are required to give way to all straight-through traffic and all left-turning traffic.  The capacity of the road has, effectively, been halved.
Elsewhere I've noted people changing their routes to jump queues.  I'll avoid a complex description of the network arrangement, suffice to say that people are choosing a longer route through what were previously quiet residential streets, in order to get the right-of-way turn into a merging queue.  If I lived on one of those streets I'd be a little miffed.  And the extra distance needs a little bit more fuel.
I have an enormous amount of sympathy for truck drivers.  The ones I've seen stuck at traffic lights with no right turn phase, waiting for a gap big enough for their truck, seem to be boiling over with frustration.  I expect they have adapted fairly quickly and now take routes that minimise their chance of being held up.
The justification for the changes was pretty poor.  Firstly, everywhere else in the world uses our current rules.  And secondly, it will stop tourists dying on our roads.  There are some benefits, then.
But there are costs.  I've observed that the rules have changed congestion patterns and, in my opinion, have made traffic flow less smoothly.  Over the next two to ten years, traffic engineers will work this out and reconfigure the network control to address the problems, because they can, and should.  And this will come at a cost.  Investigations, monitoring, data analysis, identifying the scope and nature of the problem, developing solutions, picking the preferred one, evaluating the impacts elsewhere, consultation, design, consenting and then finally building the thing.  It all takes time and money.
The Regulatory Impact Statement estimates the total cost across the country for the changes to the roading network to be $1million.  I think that is orders of magnitude too low.

Elastica - Elastica, 1995

Pouring Petrol On A Burning Man

I'm becoming becoming sick and tired of blogging about Regular John, John Banks and Kim Dotcom.  But with  parliament not sitting this week, it's still news.
There's been nothing to change my opinion, yet, and I've come to the conclusion that I should call for a pox on all their houses.  For the following reasons:

  • John Banks is perhaps the most obvious of the three.  His claims of lapses of memory, his evasiveness and obfuscation, his blatant attempts to subvert the spirit of the law and his lack of self-awareness about how immoral his actions are have been picked up by even the dullest of commenters.  John Banks is a joke.
  • Regular John has failed in his duty to properly investigate allegations of improper behaviour by one of his Ministers.  And not just any old improper behaviour, if Banks had been outed for using the services of prostitutes or taking illegal drugs I'd not have cared too much, beyond scoffing at his hypocrisy.  But his indiscretions have struck at the heart of the foundations of our society, and by failing to take a cautious approach, Mr Key has failed every single one of us.
  • Kim Dotcom's behaviour is quite outrageous.  He is, at one level, attempting to bring down a democratically elected government.  Now I won't pretend I like our present government; I hold a strong dislike for them.  And I won't pretend that I believe that there are never good grounds to try to bring down a democratically elected government, there are a range of good grounds.  Kim Dotcom is operating at the edge of one of those good grounds.  The principle of supporting democracy requires me to examine whether an attack on a democratically elected government is also an attack on democracy.  In this case, and I look forward to seeing how it develops*, I believe Kim Dotcom's actions could weaken our democracy.  I do not hold to the truism that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

*We have most certainly not heard the last of Kim Dotcom and John Banks.  Over the next few days, weeks and maybe months, more and more will leak out.  Mr Banks is the burning man, as mickeysavage pointed out (great photo mickey), Mr Dotcom is pouring the petrol.  The fire will consume Mr Banks and unless it is extinguished, it will also consume this government.  Before its time, but not before time.

Paul Kelly - Hidden Things, 1992

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Indifference

The name Lance O'Sullivan has caught my attention on a number of occasions.  The Lance O'Sullivan in question is not the well-known jockey, he's a GP from Kaitaia.
I first came across him a couple of Sunday mornings back on Marae.  He had decided to actually do something about the parlous state that some of his patients find themselves in.  Along with a whole bunch of profanities in response to the squalor presented and our general indifference to it, I could not help but admire his courage and humanity, for stepping beyond the confines of his training and profession to see the wider picture and for speaking out.  The next time anyone suggests to me that there is no poverty in New Zealand I will refer them to this video.  I'll email a link, if I have to.

Dr O'Sullivan made another appearance a couple of days ago.  Children scavenging through cast offs and scraps for food; it happens here in New Zealand.  It appears that Dr O'Sullivan has caught the attention of the media, so I would not be surprised to see and hear a lot more from him in the future.  I also note that he will present a significant challenge to the orthodox narrative, run by both the major parties (National more than Labour).  In this sense he is quite a threat.  Look out for Dr O'Sullivan.

The suggestion that a rise in prescription costs, from $3 to $5, is OK because it's difficult to find a cup of coffee for $5 according to the CEO of the Pharmacy Guild, Karen Guild.  Which tells us more about her place in the world and her beliefs about people who require prescriptions filled than it tells us about the affordability of prescription medicine.
I have a coffee plunger that produces a good brew for around 50c a cup.  Having a porcelain cup that can be reused, making it myself and putting the grounds on the garden help keep the costs down.

Pearl Jam - Vs, 1993

Something Against You

Poor ole Johnny.  This morning the media had turned against him.
"...the media are in a more aggressive and more hostile towards us..."
"...the Herald's turned more tabloid, and, yeah, they won't like it if I say that, but that is absolutely statement of fact.  What they are doing is, and the Herald is very clear, they have decided to get their circulations from stopping falling, or at least maybe try and go up..."  
A few hours later he has changed tack, and his comments on the radio were not criticism at all.   Ummm, OK.

The media have given National an easy ride, so far.  In my opinion they have failed in their duty as journalists to ask the difficult questions and to investigate.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that there is insufficient money to be made by doing so.  Another is that the short to medium term interests of the owners of the MSM are well aligned with the actions of the government.

While the infamous cup of tea may have come at a price, the talk of urgency and reform that can be heard elsewhere in the radio interview linked to above shows that the price has been worthwhile, for now.  National formed the government, and have the ability to pass the legislation they want to.  Until the next election.  In any case the parties that pay the ultimate price for the cup of tea will be the minor parties that supported National for the last two terms; they face annihilation at the next election.  It will be some time before the National party itself is defunct, several decades.


The quote below, from the Herald, caught my eye:
And he reiterated his support for Mr Banks.
"I don't need to know all the ins and outs and I don't because all I need is a clear assurance he hasn't broken the law.
"The Local Electoral Act, which is the act that governed taking of donations for the mayoral campaign is a very liberal and loose act.''

I've said it before, this approach is most unsuitable for a Prime Minister.  Whether an Act is loose and liberal is not an excuse for poor behaviour.  People who dance around the edge of the law should be, at a minimum, targets for investigation and reproach, not Ministers of the Crown.  When the law is something as precious as electoral law, the standards required are at their highest.  A Prime Minister who values democratic tradition so little that he passes off questionable practices with "...[he assures me] he hasn't broken the law" has even poorer judgement than his Minister, and is unfit to be PM.


Pixies - Surfer Rosa, 1988

Monday, 14 May 2012

Bowalley Road: National Attacks Unions ... Again. How Will Labour Respond?

Chris Trotter on National's latest support for its constituency and his predictions that:
- Labour's response will be ineffectual, and
- the drain of skilled workers to Australia will carry on, unabated
Bowalley Road: National Attacks Unions ... Again. How Will Labour Respond?
It's worth a read.
If we carry on the way National are taking us, what will we end up with?  Very little indeed.

Missing, Presumed Drowned

I'd not seen the Minister for Tourism for a while.  Then he turned up on Breakfast this morning, first time in four years.
Even my extremely uninterested in politics partner got a fright - the question raised was "what's he doing talking about mountains and rivers when he doesn't know anything about them.  Mountain man?  LOL"
What this interview really reinforced for me was the use of language.  The concept of "stream of consciousness" was brought to us by writers such as James Joyce, in the 20th century.  Our current PM is a master of "stream of platitudes".
He regularly says things that seem, at face value, entirely sensible, to the point where they appear to be common sense.  At an individual level they are fine, though a little shallow.  The number of times he refers to "our great outdoors" is notable.
The problem is that once they are collected together, contradictions appear.
- On tourism - tourists need to be guided (like North Korea or China, perhaps?) but it's not possible.
- On fruit flies - we can't afford border security to keep them out or an eradication program, but the economic consequences would be devastating (so, what, rely on hope?)
- On religion - He attends church frequently but is agnostic.
Looking at the stream of platitudes in its entirety reveals regular "what the?" moments and inconsistencies.  The media have begun to point them out, but a field-day awaits for a sharp journo.
I suppose tourist accidents and fruit flies are good reasons to not talk about looming crises about confidence in ministers, and a budget that is looking to be as disastrous and destructive as the one we were served in 1991.

Straightjacket Fits - Melt, 1990

Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine


Compulsion, it's reared its head a couple of times in the last week or so.  The ethereal spectre of compulsory contraception and the much more imminent threat of compulsory vaccination, both targeted at beneficiaries.
I've already posted on contraception.  Vaccination is even more of a touch-stone issue for me.  Not because I've taken sides on the vaccination debate, indeed I have previously equivocated and intend to continue to do so.  My children have received some vaccinations and I've withheld permission for others.
Compulsory vaccination is outrageous.  Linking the eligibility for a benefit to having vaccinated children is moreso.  It is wrong for the state to say "society will not support you if you do not vaccinate your children", or for agents of the state to be required to implement and enforce such a policy.
Providing funding for vaccines and vaccination is fine by me.  Providing literature and advice around the benefits and risks involved is essential.  Compulsion is too far.
I'm not against the idea of compulsion, it has its place.  It has no place in personal affairs such as contraception and vaccination.

White Stripes - Elephant, 2003

Friday, 11 May 2012

Interlude

So, that's it for this week.
I will be back on Monday 14 April with more posts.  If anyone cares to comment in the interim I may* check in to approve your comment, over the weekend.
Have a good one.
Cheers
The Armchair Critic

The Church - The Blurred Crusade, 1982

*(estimated probability = 10%)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fight Test

Chris Trotter had this (or something quite like it) in the Press earlier on in the week.  It's taken me a while to think it through.

National are in all sorts of strife at the moment.  And Labour have sucked in Parliament in the last two weeks.  But this post isn't about either of those subjects.  It's meant to be more contemplative and not actually give an answer or draw a conclusion.

The government has a thin majority.  It seems unlikely they will be in the position to form another government after the next election.  Which leaves us with the strong possibility of a Labour lead government.

As things sit presently, that would give us David Shearer as PM.

There are persistent bubbling rumours of others holding leadership ambitions.  As you would expect, I mean who wants to be Deputy PM?  That would be like heading for the Olympics with the idea that silver is really quite a nice metal.

Here's the bit where I damn Mr Shearer with faint praise.  He's not done a bad job.  And he needs time to prove himself.

Part of the reason for choosing Mr Shearer was to match the regular john image that the incumbent PM nurtured.  Except that image is all in the past now, the tea tapes have inspired the media to change the narrative around the PM.

Labour's caucus and media/strategy team have failed their leader and party, for the last three and one half years.  Did they choose the wrong guy?  Not with Phil Goff, they just got their strategy wrong.  With David Shearer?  Time will tell, give him another year.

I can't help but feel that a lot of the reasons for choosing Mr Shearer are no longer relevant.  He doesn't seem like a politician, but I want the PM of my country (whichever party they are from) to seem like a politician.  And David Cunliffe seems like a politician.  What about the deputy leader, Grant Robertson?  At the moment his ambition has out-stripped his capability.  Once it catches up, I will re-evaluate.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002

Redemption Song



Tomorrow, being the eleventh day of May, is an important anniversary.  Here is what the Prime Minister said:
His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. [He] was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.
Who was he talking about?


Bob Marley and The Wailers - Uprising, 1980

Come Together

This post is for the first person to ever grace my blog with a comment, mickeysavage of waitakerenews.

One of the first blog sites to capture my attention was The Standard. I think I commented there for the first time in the winter of 2009.  Trolls have come and gone, the regulars have too.  Chances are, you will have read The Standard much more and much early than you came across Every Tiny Straw.  It's kind of the home for left-leaning political junkies.

I've gone off The Standard over the last few months.  Not to say I don't visit at all, but I don't hang around and comment so much.  I think it's one of the other commenters there, one Pete George.  I won't provide any links, because he's difficult to miss if you visit The Standard.  He is pervasive.  And frustrating.  But he tends to stick within the rules and is very good at not getting banned.  Despite calls by several of the regulars to have him banned.

Blogging itself is a fascinating new aspect of our social interaction, as a species.  I was reminded of this at the end of  long thread of comments on Cr Guyton's blog this afternoon:

Shunda barunda said...
I'm sure you are much nicer in person than you are on the internet.
It is not efficient to be 'nice' on the internet, cut to the chase, provoke, respond, thrash it out.
I do most of my thinking on these discussions away from the computer, you can't judge a character by the blog thing, it is not an accurate enough (which is why facebook causes insecure people so much grief).
Yes, I am nicer in person, the blog comment stuff is more of an evolved personality.
MAY 10, 2012 1:49 PM

Very good, Mr Barunda.  Despite my belligerence, I have taken on board the good advice that I could find amongst your comments and will endeavour to behave better in the future.

Back to the case of Pete George.  I've considered joining the chorus of calls for him to be banned.  The place is just not as much fun with him around.  Yet I've resisted, thus far.  And I wasn't sure why.  This is what I came up with:
- The Standard is not my blog,
- Pete George stays within the house rules,
- I can vote with my mouse

A couple of days mickeysavage put up a DNFTT notice, but couldn't help himself and reasonably promptly fed the troll.  Pete George has the knack of needling the commenters at The Standard; I begrudgingly admire how he picks his path and traces his steps back through every day, apparently oblivious to his shortcomings and in the face of open hostility.

Personally, I believe that Pete George is too canny to earn a permanent ban.  The only way to get rid of him is for him to lose interest, through an strictly observed DNFTT notice.  This will require one of the supposed hallmark characteristics of the left - solidarity.  We are not there, yet.

The Beatles - Abbey Road, 1969

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

I'll Be Your Lover


Isn't Colin Craig a gem?  His comments about promiscuity were bound to cause controversy.  I expect they were quite deliberate, and I have no doubt that there is an audience for his views.  At work today, where political discussion is exceedingly rare, they were hot conversation.  I have anecdata to support my contention that Mr Craig's views are not shared by the twenty-somethings, of both genders.  Viewed with contempt would be a much more accurate description.
I'd like to meet this seventy-year-old who has only ever had one partner.  Anyone who is 70 today had their twenties coincide with the 1960s.  What were the 1960s famous for?  Not abstinence, purity and the values espoused by Mr Craig.  I have no doubt there are plenty of 70-year olds who have only ever had one partner, but from the people of that generation I know, I think there are many more who have had plenty of partners.
What crossed my mind was the issue of the subsidy.  This seventy-year-old used in Mr Craig's appeal to our sensibilities almost certainly wanted or needed contraception at some stage in their life, and if it had been free I expect they would have availed themselves of it.
Unless......they were gay.  Then they would only need barrier contraceptives, to reduce transmissions of STIs.  There will be a subsidy from the homosexual population to the heterosexual population when National's proposal comes into force.  So why isn't Mr Craig standing up for the LBGT community?

Meanwhile, poor old Mr Key steps up to defend NZ women.  "There's no proof", he says.  Which is not quite as valiant as "no, they aren't sluts".  And there is evidence.  So it seems Mr Key merely doesn't understand the issue, or doesn't have the courage or capability to explain the conflating of issues that Mr Craig has done.  Here's how it works:
- Promiscuity relates to the number of people an individual has sex with.  Both men and women can be and are promiscuous.
- Contraception is the prevention of pregnancy.
- The only link is sex, otherwise they are quite independent.
Since Mr Craig has seen fit to present a hypothetical situation, I will do the same.  In terms of reducing the impact of women (because the burden of raising children falls more towards women) and children requiring government support.  A woman who has had five children to the same man is requires more support than another woman who has had two children to two different men. But in Mr Craig's world, it is the woman with fewer children who is the villain.  Keep in mind also that the woman with two children will be able to return to work more quickly.
It's pretty clear that Mr Craig is trying out his dog-whistling skills, and has relied on dogma instead of common sense.

Paul Kelly - Words and Music, 1998

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

I'm Free Now

Common sense prevails; the Urewera Four will not be retried.
Meanwhile, down on the farm there were a bunch of drunken idiots dressed in camo, letting off shotguns.  Another conspiracy to commit terrorist acts?

Morphine - Cure For Pain, 1993

Shitlist

I don't have a list of right-wing blogs I trundle around every day.  I won't read Farrar's blog, or Slater's, and won't link to them or follow links to there blogs.  Because I don't care what they think.  Or what they say.  I think going to their blogs is kind of like a tourist coming to New Zealand on the basis of (what remains of) our clean green image, but only visiting landfills and wastewater treatment plants (which are, and take my word for it, the same the world over).
Am I being deliberately and wilfully ignorant?  And am I missing something?  Anything?

L7 - Bricks Are Heavy, 1992

Had A Dad


Queen of Thorns is frothing over the announcements today on the subject of contraception for beneficiaries.  I'm frothing too.  Truth is I'm angry, very angry.  Too angry to read what other bloggers have to say on the matter; even bloggers I tend to agree with.
On one hand I am compelled to admire the audacity, and the tactical smarts behind the design and timing.  Let's face it, the last attempt National made (saving us from mass alien landings – ummm??) was pretty poor.  If you don't think about it, this seems like it could be a good idea.  A little bit of thought shows it up for the [ugh, words fail me] that this is.  In terms of relieving pressure over the John Banks thing, it's a godsend.
 So what's wrong with "offering free contraception"?  And when you frame it that way, there's not much wrong with it.  So, from last to first:
It's only the fuddy-duddy religious sorts that are against contraception, right?  I don't really hang out with the "anti-contraception" sorts, being a self-identifying hopelessly liberal.  And as a result of that hopelessly liberal tag, I'm all for contraception.  Except when you want to have children, then contraception is kind of counter-productive.  Contraception = tick.
Free contraception.  Having established that I support contraception, we then proceed to the issue of access.  One of the reasons people fail to use contraception is barriers to access.  One of those barriers is cost.  Make it free, there goes that barrier.  Free = tick.
There is a kicker.  Some barriers are necessary.  Because many forms of contraception have medical related issues and long term impacts, it is essential that the users are aware of the issues and impacts.  There are a range of organisations providing this kind of information.  It's a very special service that requires skilled and sensitive people.
So that gets us to the "offering" bit.
It's not the role of Work and Income to offer contraception.  Their role is to ensure people receive all the support they are entitled to; no less and no more.  There's a thin line between being informative and being coercive, and in terms of the balance of power in the relationship between a beneficiary and their case manager [shudders], it's all with the case manager.  I'm not knocking Work and Income, generally their staff are conscientious and caring.  As the party with the bulk of the power, they are beholden to not abuse that power and step over the line to coercion, for example.
As I noted above, there are some excellent services providing advice on sexual health and contraception.  The provision of free contraception fits well with their mandate.
The policy proposed by National is very targeted.  It's for women, specifically women on the benefit and their late-teen-aged daughters.  This adds a layer of bureaucracy, now a decision must be made when offering free contraception – is the person either a woman, and on a benefit, or the daughter of a woman on the benefit.  Actually, that's a question, are the daughters of fathers on the benefit part of the target demographic?  But the big question is this – why target a disadvantaged group (please, argue with me that women and the poor are not disadvantaged – anyone) when we could just fund free contraception for whoever wanted it?  No ties to income source or targeting by gender.  What's the justification?
As it is, it looks like eugenics, and the State interfering in what is considered to be one of the most private aspects of an individual's life.  And more bureaucracy.  And as proposed, it's a half-measure.
So here's how I see it.  In an equal society a child is a child is a child.  It doesn't matter who their parents are (gay/bi/straight, together/apart, rich/poor, beneficiary/billionaire), whether they were conceived by accident.  This proposal to punish vulnerable children, via their parents and for the perceived sins of their parents, is the vilest of gutter politics.  The mask of sensibility used to present it is utterly cynical.

Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking, 1988

Monday, 7 May 2012

Hanging By Strands

On one hand we have the new on our scene foreign billionaire who is wanted by the US authorities and already has a conviction for insider trading.
On the other hand, two government ministers, both leaders of their parties, both long-standing public figures, both reputed to be upstanding.
Who's winning?  Kim Dotcom, hands down.
For a political junkie like me, it's fascinating watching.  Mr Dotcom appears to be playing with Messrs Key and Banks.  It's a slow form of torture, leading them inexorably to their fate.  Kind of like the death machine in Kafka's In The Penal Colony.  Which is kind of apt for a government that most closely resembles the authorities in Kafka's works.

Verlaines - Over the Moon, 1997

The Denial Twist

It surprises me that anyone bothers to read David Farrar*.  So often he's either out and out wrong, or pandering to a popular meme.  The main exception is when he is doing both things at the same time.  Like on Friday, when we got this piece of tripe, under the title R.I.P ACT, 1993 - 2012.
It starts with this:
Trauma surgeons at Wellington Political Hospital announced today that the ACT Party was judged clinically dead after succumbing to a grievous assault from Kim Dotcom.
Yes, that emphasis is mine.  So let's start with it.  Kim Dotcom did not kill ACT.  What he did was donate money to someone who later became leader of the ACT party.  While I am left-leaning, I do believe in personal responsibility.  Just like ACT, and National, claim to.  Kim Dotcom is not responsible for the joke that is ACT.
In terms of destroying ACT, I'd look to the following to take some responsibility:
- Rodney Hide, for culturing a reputation as a perk-buster, then being busted abusing his perks.
- David Garrett, for culturing a reputation as being tough on law and order, and getting busted for obtaining a passport in the name of a dead child.  And lying about his convictions to a Court.
- Don Brash, for orchestrating a badly-done coup, and for promising to get 15% of the vote at the election then actually getting, well, shall we say a job at Treasury awaits?
- And finally John Banks for the teapot saga and a pathological inability to keep his paperwork tidy.
But, in case you missed it, Kim Dotcom is not responsible of "a grievous assault".  If anything, he's only guilty of trying to help out a friend.
So why assign the blame to Kim Dotcom?  I reckon it's that standard technique of shining the spotlight of criticism and responsibility away from the real culprits and onto someone else.  That's all.

The bigger picture question relates to whether ACT is dead, or not.  In a strict sense, yes, it is dead.  As dead as a dodo.  With a wider understanding, no, it is not, never will be in my lifetime.
In the strict sense it seems extraordinarily unlikely that ACT will win any further seats in parliament under the ACT brand. Its name is so tainted by scandal, so widely held in contempt, so lacking in credibility, that it needs to be consigned to the history books.
In the wider sense, ACTs backers are determined, well connected and firmly convinced of the righteousness of their beliefs.  They may vote for National for the next few elections, but I am sure all things being equal they will reorganise and form a new party to the right of National.  Some time in the 2020s.
And won't that be a welcome addition to the political spectrum.  Honestly, I believe there is a place for a liberal party in parliament, and equally as honestly, I will never vote for them. Another collective based on the ideals of individualism; it's their weakness and I look forward to watching their wheels fall off.  Again.

White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan, 2005

Regular John

Gotta ask, and it's a bit tongue in cheek: Having been forced to abandon his ordinary guy image, through his support for the twin vices of gambling (the industrialised sort at SkyCity) and prostitution, is Mr Key taking on a "regular John" (in the American sense) persona?

Queens of the Stone Age - Queens of the Stone Age, 1998

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Sure Shot

Deeply saddened this morning to hear of the death of Adam Yauch, aka MCA from the Beastie Boys, from cancer at the age of 47.

The Beastie Boys were a group that defied convention.  Ill Communication was the first of their albums I ever purchased and its one of those albums I never really got.  Still don't.  Some brilliant music on it though, including this contribution from MCA.
I Want To Say a Little Something That's Long OverdueThe Disrespect To Women Has Got To Be ThroughTo All The Mothers And Sisters And the Wives And FriendsI Want To Offer My Love And Respect To The End
R.I.P MCA 1964 - 2012

Beastie Boys - Ill Communication, 1994

Thursday, 3 May 2012

High


Cloud over Christchurch, yesterday.

The Cure - Wish, 1992


Confusion

This hotel discount thing...

The problem is not that Mr Banks received a discount at a hotel.  There is good evidence to suggest he did receive a substantial discount.

The problem is also not that Mr Banks receive a discount because he knows some very rich people.  Or very rich people who are of interest to the US authorities.

What the problem is, is that the discount should have been identified on the register of pecuniary interests.  Everything else is a distraction.

There's a common theme here - Mr Banks sure seems to have trouble understanding the responsibilities that come hand in hand with the privileges of power.  And with his paperwork.

Sebadoh - Bakesale, 1992

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

So Says I

Scott Yorke, over at Imperator Fish, is always worth reading and usually amusing.

An unusually serious post this evening (go and read it), with a brilliant finish:
From a political perspective it doesn't matter any more whether John Banks faces criminal charges. The damage to his career is terminal, and his credibility is ruined. He has behaved shamefully, and the arguments made on his behalf that what he has done is okay so long as it's not actually illegal are frankly disgraceful. The expectations we hold of our MPs go beyond not breaking the law.
That's it, exactly.

The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow, 2003

All Apologies

Is it just me, or is a spate of forgiveness breaking out across the country.  Just today we had:
a woman forgiving an amphetamine-addled carjacker, and
an iwi forgiving a misguided sea captain.
The "lock'em up and throw away the key" brigade will be frothing at their mouths.

Nirvana - In Utero, 1993

Where Did You Sleep Last Night

In other news:

Gerry Brownlee and Stephen Joyce moved today to quash suggestions that National is not doing anything to address the housing shortage in Christchurch.

"The government has recognised the urgent need for accommodation for the poor, and people displaced by the recent earthquakes.  To meet this need the government is constructing four new facilities between the city centre and Wigram, at Barrington Street, Lincoln Road, Wrights Road and Curletts Road.  Two of these are new facilities, the others are extensions to existing accommodation.
All are built to the latest standards, meet the most rigorous earthquake engineering requirements and are conveniently close to transport.
While they will not all be complete for several months, some, such as the one at Barrington Street, are ready for use immediately."

Below there is a photograph of the government's new accommodation for the poor and displaced, at Barrington Street, taken this evening.


Nirvana (trad. arr.) - Unplugged, 1993

Bigmouth Strikes Again

ACT president Chris Simmons drops his party's leader and only MP in it by saying, unequivocally, he had discussed the "split the $50k into two" approach to the Dotcom donation with John Banks.
Later he calls back and attempts to take it all back.  Mr Banks never said such a thing, nor was it even discussed.
The selective amnesia is spreading.

That battered and torn thing on the floor, that's what remains of the ACT party's credibility.  That's the argument that's so powerful, it's not necessary to talk about it

The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead, 1986

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I'll Never Know

Keith Ng has an excellent post on the merits of John Banks' position with regard to his declarations regarding election donations.  But don't take my word for it, go and read it.
So, on the finer points:
This is not about the strengths and weaknesses of electoral law.  John Banks was required to sign a declaration regarding his election finances when he contested the Auckland mayoralty in late 2010.  This is about whether he should have signed off his declaration or not.  The questions are:
- did John Banks make a false declaration? And if he did, what mitigating circumstances exist, or
- did John Banks take all reasonable steps to avoid making a false declaration?
Anonymous donations are a side issue.
Kim Dotcom is a salacious side issue.
Mr Banks apparent mental frailty* is possibly a mitigating factor, but also a side issue.

To the letter of the law, and giving Mr Banks the fullest possible benefit of the doubt, it may be that Mr Banks is in the clear.  But in terms of public opinion, this reeks to high heaven.
The ethical issue of taking all reasonable steps is an interesting one, too.

A brief diversion.  On the radio this morning Mr Prebble defended his successor vigorously.  He used the meaningless "they did it too" argument and used the example of Winston Peters in 2008 as a precedent.  But that's not a good precedent, because that was about donations to political parties.  This is about signing documents improperly.
The best example of "they did it too" in this case is David Parker.  In 2006 he resigned all his ministerial portfolios after it was alleged he filed a return to the Companies Office that was incorrect.  The document that caused Mr Parker to stand down affected a few individuals, whereas the document that Mr Banks signed affects all the citizens of Auckland.  And transparency around democracy is more important than technicalities of company law.
Mr Banks's actions are of much greater significance than those of Mr Parker.  Mr Parker had the good grace to resign his portfolios at the merest whiff of improperness.
And that's the real precedent.
Footnote - Mr Parker was found to have not acted improperly.  It is possible that the same could happen to Mr Banks.

Back to the issue of ethics - what should we have expected of John Banks?  What would be reasonable?
Democracy is priceless, it protects us from tyranny and it is not unreasonable to expect our leaders to meet and exceed high ethical standards both when running for office, and in their actions while they are in office.  It is reasonable to expect high standards.
A donation could be considered to be anonymous when the donor took reasonable steps to conceal their identity.  This would show:
- a conscious desire from the donor to retain their privacy, and
- the existence of firm beliefs held by an individual and action to support those beliefs, and
- understanding that there would be no real or apparent influence on the beneficiary of the donation.
Where a donor is does not meet one of these criteria, their right to anonymity lapses.  The critical point is the last one.  Local government democracy is meant to be open and democratic, and demonstrably free from cronyism.  To protect the public from corruption, it is essential that the citizens can see who is influencing their elected representatives (except for ECan, but that's a different story) and the burden of proof lies with the donors and their beneficiaries (the candidates for public office) to show that they are acting properly.  It is reasonable to interpret the law in the favour of the less powerful, and it is reasonable to place the onus on people in positions of power to prove they are worthy of office.
The donations from Sky City and Kim Dotcom (or his company) could have been declared.  It was possible for Mr Banks to do a quick reconciliation, a few phonecalls would have done it.  His argument is, essentially, that through his own laziness, wilful ignorance and obfuscation, he has met the letter of the law.  It is reasonable to expect our local representatives to be diligent, informed and forthcoming.
On the question of ethics Mr Banks has failed miserably.  I hope the Police refer the matter on, and that the Court takes a very dim view of Mr Banks's attitude towards the most fundamental of our institutions.

I will not even raise the issue of Mr Key's handling of the ethical aspects of the problem, beyond saying his understanding of ethics is appalling and well beneath the standard we should demand of a Prime Minister.

What would I like to see.  Well, I'd like to see Mr Banks hold on for dear life to his ministerial warrants and seat in Parliament.  And I'd like to see Mr Key defend him in the style that Ms Clark defended Mr Peters, back in 2008.

*Mr Banks's mental state is questionable.  As I am completely without training or experience in the field, I am not in a position to make a judgement or offer an opinion.  The behaviour of Mr Banks over the last week has been bizarre, and may be good grounds for Mr Key to relieve him of his warrants without reference to the false declaration issue.

Tim Finn - Feeding the Gods, 2001

The Happening

As a distraction from the fiasco that is the ACT party and John Banks, National have decided to address as their most important priority, ummm, something that has never happened.  In this case it's a boat load, or several boat loads of people* turning up and expecting to be allowed to live here.
Can't have that now, so we need some urgent legislation to deal with it, in case it stops not happening and starts happening instead.
But what about all the other stuff that hasn't happened yet that we need protection from.  Just on the topic of invasions, we have the subject that keeps me awake at night.  I'm not worried about people that are sufficiently industrious to get a ship that can sail to NZ, provision it for a voyage and actually get it here from south-east Asia without breaking down or getting damaged by storms and without being detected by:
- other ships, or
- private yachts, or
- other countries en-route, or
- our navy, or
- our airforce, or
- airliners and private planes passing overhead, or
- radio operators and coast-watchers
No, I'm worried about an invasion from outer-space.  Who knows when a UFO will land in Hagley Park, or Lambton Quay, or at the Britomart, with its occupants demanding residency and form to apply for an unemployment benefit.  What do the government propose to do about the aliens?
If this kind of legislation is the most pressing matter before the government, I reckon they may as well cancel the rest of their legislative program for the rest of the term and have a two year holiday until the next election.

*Technically boatloads of people have turned up here on the expectation they would be allowed to live here.  But that was back in the 19th century, <sarc> so it's totally irrelevant, and those people were white, so it doesn't count anyway </sarc>.

Pixies - Bossanova, 1990