Monday, May 28, 2007

Franks supports government spying

Stephen Franks whole-heartedly supports Solid Energy's spy ring. "Any group of people who espouse lawbreaking should expect to be infiltrated." So, Stephen, you would whole-heartedly support government infiltration of NORML, n'est ce pas? Pray tell, what incentive is there to change laws if no-one breaks them?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fanta and mtDNA

A common preservative in Fanta and Pepsi Max may cause damage to DNA:

"Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance...

Now, an expert in ageing at Sheffield University, who has been working on sodium benzoate since publishing a research paper in 1999, has decided to speak out about another danger. Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the "power station" of cells known as the mitochondria."

Spying for the public good

There is something inherently appalling in the news that an SOE hired a company to infiltrate a political group. Sure Solid Energy doesn't exactly call it that. In their words, all they did was protect themselves against risk. Although the Bill of Rights protects citizens against undue interference directly by the state, there is no law against the state delegating this repugnant task out to third parties.

It is semantic shit like this that got me horrified in Dr Bob's class back at Vic. We studied the Cave Creek mess from the 90's, the one where some DOC tree-huggers on a team building exercise built a death sled and got away with manslaughter. No-one was to blame then, either. Such is the nature of bureaucratic chains of command. The left hand is not culpable for what the right hand does, while the brain pleads the plausible deniability card of ignorance.

There's a distinct whiff of Sidney Holland sulphur in the mild protests launched by DPF and Hungry Brownlee. Brownlee's release is opposition for the sake of it:

“Those protestors have already cost taxpayers millions of dollars over spurious claims concerning supposedly endangered snails, and those costs are escalating by the day as more snails are discovered.

“But Solid Energy should be careful how it responds.

“Why can’t they tell taxpayers whether or not they are spending money for people to infiltrate the protest group?

“We need an explanation, not simply for Solid Energy to say it is unconcerned about the claims.

“They are accountable to taxpayers and need to explain.”

This 'please explain' press release is just a going through the motions thing. Solid Energy aren't wrong, they should just be more careful. ie. don't get caught next time. So, this is the same National Party who got mildly annoyed about the Mohammed cartoons and slightly peeved about the DPS expelling a press gallery journalist.

Methinks this is also the same National Party who would have no qualms at crushing unions, breaking strikes and tasering people protesting at rugby games. Beneath the thin veneer of a carey-sharey John Key gloss, lies the cold blue steel heart of corporate expediency acting on behalf of the shareholders. It's getting harder to tell the pigs from the humans.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Prison rampage over, for now

Headlining the Saturday bulletin, an objective summary from 3 News:
"A five and a half hour rampage by prisoners in Wellington's Rimutaka prison has been brought under control. Fifteen inmates from its youth unit have spent much of the day on the prison's roof after causing thousands of dollars worth of damage during a cell riot."
A rugby team spent a fine Saturday afternoon on a roof before coming down for dinner. A skylight was broken, costing about the average price of a prison shrubbery. The cost of damages does not include the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it will cost to get triplicate reports detailing how it wasn't that department's fault, before concluding that systemic failures were to blame.

Mike Moro reports:
"This is the third incident involving prisoners escaping from their cells at Rimutaka prison in the past two months. The last involved 14 inmates who smashed windows in their cells and then climbed onto the roof, where they remained for two hours."
What's so fascinating about Rimutaka's roof? Is it a nice view from there? What, no helicopters to snatch them to freedom like in the movies?
"Police hostage negotiators eventually talked the inmates down about 4:30 this afternoon. It's not thought that anyone sustained serious injuries. [Corrections spokesdude then says,] 'We are thoroughly checking every person involved, all the prisoners and staff to make sure their are no injuries.' "
So, Mike. There is no evidence of anyone being hurt at all during this rampage, seriously or not. Credit to TVNZ for being slightly less drama-queenish.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Boyracers accused of not being nice

It could well have been a podcast from a rest home sunroom conversation. However, it happened to be Tuesday's Panel on boyracers. Dick Griffin qualified himself being a curmudgeon on the subject. Dick would like the term 'boyracer' dropped for something more objective like 'Hoons on Wheels'. He could always take a page from Ron Mark's book and call them 'Vehicular Terrorists'. Of course, the Silver Fox was a bit of a hoon in his day. Oh, but the cars these days are much more powerful. Liz Bowen-Clewley wanted to sympthasise with the boyracers, but the ones on the TV weren't very nice. "Grubby and defiant." In other words, teenagers. Well, there's a surprise.

Superintendent Dave Cliff explained that the old charges of reckless driving, careless use of a motor vehicle, etc. weren't working as the threshold of proving an "objective level of danger" was too difficult to bring to court. Now, certain behaviours have been deemed illegal. Merely an unnecessary exhibition of speed or acceleration is verboten. Danger is irrelevant. This is legislative creep in action. Bit by bit, laws are moving away from reasons and becoming independent bubbles of unpopular behaviour. It cannot last.

SI Cliff asks why we have high-powered vehicles capable of reaching speeds of 200 kph when the speed limit is 100? The simple answer is this; to outrun tsunami and volcanic eruptions. If it's OK for Wellington City Council to spend $100,000 for a tsunami warning system, it's good enough for car owners to be able to take advantage of this warning. Besides, the real reason is unlikely to make it to select committee. It involves high speed on the Desert Road north of Waiouru and a girlfriend keen on giving head. It's called fun.

In fairness to Dave, he did say some sensible things. The monkey see, monkey do thing for example. He admits that the boyracer thing is insignificant compared to where most of the meat comes from. Boyracers are loud and suitable for news zombies to consume and feel morally outraged about. Burnouts look good on the telly, as opposed to incisive interviews of the newsmakers.

It's funny, cause at work Michael the Storyteller was saying what it was like in his day. Back in the 60's, everyone with half a brain stayed off the roads between 6:30 and 8:30. That's when all the drunks poured out of the pubs and drove home. If they wanted to risk it, let them wrap themselves around a power pole. Darwin at work.

An email arrived at The Panel saying, give us something to do then! Smug teacher Liz scoffed at this comment. This listener had hit it on the head. Provincial NZ is a goddamned boring place for teenagers. Think of all the places that boyracers thrive. Christchurch. Palmy. Utterly devoid of teenage amusements. In my day, the choices of social interaction were youth group, Blue Light discos, hanging out at the Spacies parlour, or drinking.

Not much has changed. Teens make their own fun, and as far as the boyracer thing goes, it's fairly tame stuff. Yeah, some will die occasionally. That will always happen, irregardless of the trivial pursuit. Perhaps it is something that Western Civilisation could learn from the old cultures. The animist old cultures had ritualistic tests that children had to pass in order to claim adulthood. Is NCEA and learning to drive the best things we can think of to test the wits and wisdom of yoof?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jude Dobson going full time?

New Zealand and the United States stand alone in allowing Big Pharma to advertise directly to consumers. That may change, with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis and Procter & Gamble proposing to launch... Pharma TV.

One could speculate what such a channel might provide in the way of primetime viewing here:

Good Morning Prozac
Ritalin Street
Dancing With the Stars on Viagra
Downsize Me, Xenical!
Boston Pharmaceutical

Buying the election

Among the many chunks of meaty goodness in the latest Agenda program, Michael Cullen was detailing what the unallocated budget funding was for. Remember before last election, when Dr Cullen hid the interest-free student loan bunny in unallocated spending? Remember it was only an OIA request that brought the Treasury costing estimates to light just before E-Day? If you're looking for how to buy an election, unallocated spending is where you'll find it.

Deborah Hill-Cone was hassling the FM about the $2 billion black hole of unallocated money in last week's budget. Dr Cullen filled in that hole, pointing out that about one billion is to pay for the business tax cuts. Around three-quarters of a billion is for increased health spending. Assuming a 2 million personal taxpayer base, that is an increase in health spending of $375 per worker in one year (Remember, by definition government spending cannot cause inflation). That's about a quarter of the premium on a private health scheme.

Yes, Dr Cullen is right; the health ticket is getting pricier all the time. When the old man got his hip replaced in 1981, it was bleeding edge technology. The procedure was so novel it made the headlines. There was even a picture of Trev holding up his old hip bone next to his most trusted friend, a German short-haired pointer called Kaiser, who was looking wistfully at the bone. Nowadays, hip replacements are soundbite units of measurement for health sector productivity. Every New Zealander has the right to have their hips replaced on the government purse.

Thing is, $750 million into health will buy votes and little else. One could arguably do more for the health sector by throwing even half that much into R&D. Hell, even a tenth would be an improvement on what was offered to R&D in the budget.

So, why the fixation on R&D? Well, if you want to make money, look for where the lawyers are. There they are, feasting on patent and intellectual copyrights. NZ's path to riches, or at least mediocrity, lies in thinking up shit no-one else has and clamping a monopoly on the idea for a few years. It is the only feasible way for NZ to catch up in the OECD league and stop our housing being snapped up by Yanks.

NZ used to be the flipside of fickle weather countries such as Ireland (William Hamilton), Scotland (Logie Baird, inventor of the electric babysitter) and the Scandinavians (dynamite, anyone?). We've had William "Bill" Hamilton, inventor of the jet boat, Joseph Nathan, founder of Glaxo of Bunnythorpe, and the creator of the first carbon fibre motorbike, John Britten.

There are some lights on the horizon. Anyone who has followed David Haywood's blog knows that somewhere, somehow, some Kiwis are exploring wave tech. Which, considering we are surrounded by waves, seems a good path of enquiry. Work on superconductors continues apace. But the government could do much more to encourage new ideas. To give you a random fr'instance, research into the medicinal qualities of marijuana honey still lags. Now that would give you a bit more bang for your health dollar.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pay now, pay later

The consensus at work is that Labour have lost their vote. There is only so many times you can read about the annual Oz personal tax cuts or pass the WFF billboards announcing hand-outs to families on $120,000 a year before one gets resentful. Even if Cullen finally prises open the government purse next year for a lolly scramble, it is way to late mate.

With a wall of interest-bearing debts to clear, there are no chances of any of us taking even a $20 a week pay cut on the never-never of retirement. We will retire when we die. Tauheinotts has a long list of questions about the scheme in this thread at DPF's. There are so many catches, we'd all be much happier with the money not the bag. On the slim chance that any of us would use KiwiSaver for buying the first home, those vague hopes are dashed when the fine print reveals:
"you will not be able to take out your accumulated tax credits to buy your first home. The only way you can get your tax credits out before age 65 is if you fall seriously ill and have to stop working."
KiwiSaver is middle class welfare at its finest. But for the lower classes, who still bear the residual unconsciousness of the Great Depression, there is just no way that KiwiSaver is a goer. Due to compulsory employer contributions, future wage rounds will be tinted and dampened. Great for curbing inflation, not so great to keep up with the CPI or those elusive first homes. Speaking of which, a leader's budget would have at least allowed the capitalisation of WFF for first homes.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Those British judges are soooo smart

There's a round of cheers going around about how wonderful the Privy Council is, thanks to the whole David Bain thing. Well, I hope judges like this one aren't on it. This big-wig is hearing evidence on a charge of inciting terrorism via the Internet:
Judge Peter Openshaw broke into the questioning of a witness about a Web forum used by alleged Islamist radicals. "The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a Web site is," he told a London court during the trial of three men charged under anti-terrorism laws.
Just because they're British, doesn't mean they're any wiser than us. (Hat tip /.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The politics of walking

I should really get around to having EFTPOS II towed away. While the engine runs fine, the electrics are naff and the only thing holding the rust together is the paint job. If I lived anywhere else, I'd miss the wheels. But not here.

Between the Green Belt, the old Maori tracks, the ziggy-zaggy paths marked by white wooden rails and/or white painted steps, who needs a car? Walking requires no WOF, rego, petrol, insurance, parking fines, speeding tickets, panel-beating. No helmet. No licence plate. Wellington is beautiful. Houses in various states of existence clinging to the hills. Unexpected vistas, unreachable when driving. Walking through the town is like passing through the pages of a pop-up book. Probably a Grimm story. At least, that's the vibe on the street.

Single Male Walking is different from other pedestrians. DPF reckons it is overkill to cross the street if a woman is approaching in the opposite direction. However, I've observed many women crossing the street to avoid me, at times walking recklessly into heavy traffic to do so. In rare displays of empathy, I've even crossed the road so they don't have to. Yes, it is overkill but I still do it.

For some reason I have yet to fathom, people seem to remember my face. That's a fairly good deterrent, if it ever got to the improbable stage where I reversed the habits of a lifetime and decided to attack a passer-by. If that's not enough, my sartorial eccentricities would be a giveaway. Wearing a possum fur hat can do that. It's not the eye contact. No chance of that. I don't go walking to pick up chicks anyway. I go walking to get from A to B.

Yet this fear on the streets persists. Is it some strange vibe that women walking alone think everyone's going to rape them? Don't flatter yourselves. Or, at the very least, learn self-defence and stop projecting your irrationalities onto harmless weirdos.

The Mother of All Wakas

Gordon Copeland has stormed off in a fit of pique to join Philip Field in the independent MP department. If you squint the right way, you could mistake the run-up to the 2008 election for the run-up to the 1996 one. History loops. Who will be next to join them? Half the NZ First caucus, like back in the late 90's?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gangs of New Zealand

There was this skit bouncing round my head coupla years ago; Queer Eye for the Homeless Guy. It involved a bunch of middle-management queers picking up Blanket Man and turning him into a responsible, suit-wearing office worker. The final image was of him standing by the water cooler discussing Shortland Street with some albino chick. It all flashed back listening to Ron Mark on Eye to Eye this morning. He wouldn't have got the joke. It is beyond his understanding.

Gangs do not exist primarily as criminal enterprises. They exist as families. Yes, the adoption rules are different yet they are there. They may provide for their way of life through extra-legal revenue streams, but that is the means not the ends. In the end, it is about belonging. Our old next door neighbour from Palmy days, Dr Ross, adopted two kids. The girl became a biker chick, lived the high life and was dead in a ditch after a motorcycle accident, never making 21. For a moment though, she belonged somewhere.

If Chester Burrows and Ron Mark could only absorb what the former Mongrel Mob Jesus freak and the Black Power spokesdude were saying. They know it's going all Tony Soprano on the gangs. Instead of offering an olive branch to them (the tattooed dude recalling Muldoon's dialogue), all the blue dudes could offer was their way or the highway. What kind of choice is that? They really expect these outlaws to mangle their mana, submit to the paternalistic ignorance of the know-alls? You would sooner see bin Laden submitting to Dubyah.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Master of killjoys

If you ever wanted to know Jim Anderton's price, it is $5.9 million. How $5.9 mill will make a dent in a multi-billion dollar industry which the cops spent $56 mill enforcing (just for cannabis alone, in 2000), I don't know. Especially when there are more pressing concerns, such as oral sex increasing your chances of throat cancer by 250 percent.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bloggers Boycotting Subway

Way to go JGH for thinking this up.

Deaf not dumb

While profoundly Deaf politicians are rare, NZ has had a few nearly-deaf role models. Heather Simpson is probably the most powerful Deaf person in the country. Former Act MP Gerry Eckhoff wore two aids, which is why I was so stunned when Act voted against the NZSL Bill.

Congratulations to Kim Robinson on standing for the Nelson - Marlborough DHB this year. I met Kim last year at Deaf Club after the NZ Sign Language Bill passed the Third Reading. My signing was, as still is, very rudimentary. For a Deaf dude, he understood me just fine. All the best.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Oh Far Cough

Jeezy-wheezy, isn't Rosemary Mcleod in a huff over the cannabis puff?

"Just half a joint of cannabis can trigger symptoms similar to schizophrenia in anyone, British psychiatrists warned last week."

And giving peanuts to anyone might trigger symptoms of death. When are you going to ban the peanuts? And if half a joint can send us all psycho, why isn't that reflected in NZ's mental stats? That's because you are wrong, dear Rosemary.

"As people my age know, cannabis is much stronger today than it was in ours."

That's because you are old and we are young. We can handle the jandal, while the more delicate can stick to St John's Wort. We don't have to smoke huge reefers to get us where we want to go. A spot here, a toke there. Less is better, and NZ grows more varieties of cannabis than there are wineries.

"Is violence the only real danger they face in family life? What if both parents were exercising a legal right to be stoned every day of the week?"

Oh no, won't somebody think of the children?? I know many responsible parents who sit down for a smoke once the young ones are tucked away, in much the same as many others might pour a G&T. The big difference is, smoke too much dope and you fall asleep. Drink too much off the top shelf and you might take a swing at the kids. I've seen many more moody and mean drunks than angry hippies.

But Rosemary Mcleod cannot be that ignorant or hypocritical. I think she's afraid of the Gnarly Marley for other reasons. Just as her generation never trusted anyone over 40, now she's hit that bump, she trusts no-one under 40. We can't handle the reality, she reckons.

It's been a busy few weeks, getting a few things done for J Day. I was interviewed for a Salient story on the cannabis movement at Fidel's on Friday night. Saturday was J Day in Central Park, featuring Met Turei speaking about her Medpot Bill, as well as some bands and DJs: 5:16, Narcosia, Tough Love, Xhale, Espionage and Psychedelic Jellyfish.

What an interesting bunch of people. I caught up with a medpot user who was once defended by the old man in court. Three Mongrel Mob members had picked a fight on him and lost. These three big fellas sat in the front row of court, while the skinny short defendant sat in the dock. The old man had the judge in tears of laughter, dismissed all charges. This dude has got me interested in picking up Aikido.

There was the Brit who lives in the town where the CCTVs tell you off. He's seriously considering emigrating here for good. Caught up with a Palmy family who presented a filled-in medpot petition from the NORML News she had passed around. Due to a small clusterfuck of venue change (our bad), they had gone to the wrong festival and lit up a fat one. No-one seemed to mind. The whanau finally made it up the hill to the real venue. The missus she was in retrospective horror for the rest of the afternoon. No harm done, and what a story to tell when she got home!

Who dares presume to know better than these people in pain? A wise man once told me, "the absence of pain can, in itself, be a form of pleasure." So stick your moral panic where it hurts, Ms Mcleod.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Unleash the hamsters of indecision

I had a good chuckle over Colin James' Stout Centre speech on Ruth Richardson. After giving Ruth so many back-handed compliments I thought even Sue Bradford might complain, he ended by giving her a pat on the back. One point struck a nerve though:
"She confounded one TINA ("there is no alternative"), the undoubted need to deregulate and rely more on the market, with another, that there is only one true set of policies, which is demonstrably untrue. She applied a lawyer's logic to abstract economic rules and then advocated them with the intensity of a courtroom lawyer who allows no doubt about his or her case. She knew best. Actually, the electorate knows best."
This is ever so slightly an unfair criticism. What Mr James is describing is the plain and unvarnished dark art of politics. This is how politics works, the exertion of various powers to get what you want. Applying a lawyer's logic when pushing through legislation largely intact is a good start.

It is for this reason that Chris Trotter pulled the plug on Sue Bradford's Bill. Get out now. You sold it all wrong, lost the initiative. Whatever's left of the Bill after passing through the digestive tract of the select committee is bad law. It's as if the Section 59 Bill snapped a mast and the only way to win now is to get the team to walk on water and carry the thing across the line. It is for this reason that the prolific number of policy u-turns and drifting Order Paper is such a bad look for Labour. There are Tribbles in the halls of power.

It was also interesting to see Sidney Holland glossed over as a small-c conservative slash small-l liberal. The Waterfront strike and everything Holland did around it, from jigging for an early election through to evoking emergency powers, isn't a thought that sits easily next to "equilibrium". In many ways, the Holyoake years were a New Zealand reflection of the Eisenhower years in the States. Steady growth, conformity, boring as fuck. Just what the General Electorate is looking for in John Key.