Saturday, June 28, 2008

Asparagus on Mars

Mars probe Phoenix has analysed a sample of Mars soil and found the pH good enough to grow vegetables in:
“We have found what appear to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life whether past, present or future,” said Samuel Kounaves of Tufts University near Boston. “The sort of soil you have there is the type of soil you’d probably have in your back yard.”

The pH level of the sample was somewhere between 8 and 9, with 7 considered neutral. This would seem perfect for growing asparagus and other vegetables, such as green beans, that do not do well with acidity. This does not mean that dropping seeds now would produce a vegetable patch, given everything else about the planet’s environment, including, of course, the lack of water.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nine Years Not Wasted

CRAIG SIMCOX/Dominion Post

Valedictories are a chance for the more eloquent and observational of departing MPs to let rip and tear their soon-to-be-former colleagues another arsehole. That's if they have any guts. The suck-ups who are cruising for a tasty directorship or ambassadorial position, they'll puss out and deliver a bland meander through the portrait gallery instead.

It's the end of an era as Nandor clocks out of parliament in style (Full vid of speech here, highlights here). Only one other valedictory in memory comes close, Richard Prebble's when he left Act. While Prebs dressed down the House by telling a war story about an unrelated dead Prebble, Nandor did it his way.

I have a lot of time for Nandor, and it was interesting to see which MPs turned up to give him his last hurrah too. Hat tip to Parliament TV for approximating being there better than anticipated. Notice none of National's front row could be bothered attending. Simon "one more prison" Power not there. John "tasers set to stun" Key absent. In fairness, none of Labour's was there either, with the exception of Annette King who was speaking directly after Nandor and therefore moot point. No Rodney, no Heather. So thank you Kate Wilkinson, Pita Sharples, Darren Hughes and others for showing your respects. Benefit of the doubt to the MPs who were there by dint of whip only as well.

For Nandor Tanczos is worthy of respect. He broke the mould. So far out on New Zealand's long tail, he showed that representation went beyond the standard deviation. For an MP who never sat on the Treasury benches, Nandor accomplished more than most. And greater love hath no man, than to stand down for his party.

Nandor is a freak of nature. If someone had told you in 1987 that there would be an marijuana observant Rastafarian in parliament within a dozen years, you would have been able to bet good money against such outrageous odds. Yet, here we are, bidding farewell to this bloke who saw through to fruition the Seven Year Forgiveness law, the Prison Ombudman, the Waste Minimisation Bill (touch wood).

The freak factor is important. It's a sign of things to come. Our current crop of powermeisters cut their teeth on Vietnam protests, the women's movement, gay and Maori rights. Labour's ranks are consequentially full of unionists, wimmin, queers and racial minorities. Which is a bit of a bugger, because many of the issues that stirred up these fights have been won. The Employment Relations Act, Equal Opportunities, Civil Unions, treaty settlements. The future of activism, and therefore political success, lies with the freaks and geeks.

So this freak walks into the House for the last time, after some Nat spokesperson filled time with a warm congratulations for him. Several truths ensue.

Nandor speaks of a bunch of bastards and vultures. Great to witness the reaction by the MPs and the press gallery (all five of them) to those comments. The old man came out of parliament incredibly bitter in 1990. Nine years is long enough in that den of associations and betrayals. People walk in with the best of intentions and get ground up by the system. Alliances take the place of friendship, principles dissolved in pragmatism.

With all the complicated security arrangements that envelopes parliament nowadays, all the stickers, tags and wand waving, leaving it all behind must entail all the joy of escaping an asylum. So it is entirely reasonable but delightfully unexpected for Nandor to smash his watch up with a mallet, even if it did make the security staff flinch. No more tearing the day to shreds.

I was fortunate enough to be invited up to the Green's caucus room afterwards for drinkies. A picture of a barefoot Rod Donald sat above the drinks table, presiding over Sav Blanc, Pinot Noir, organic beer and a reasonable range of non-alcoholic beverages. Must say, they are a warm and welcoming bunch of people. Several chasms of difference were politely explored with malice toward none.

Dinner in Blair St was meant to be a politics-free event. After finding all my arguments returning to a political theme, I contented myself with listening to other people's stories and flirting with lesbians. We did our best Winston Peters impersonations, being the last table to leave as the waiting staff waited. Heh. Been there, done that. The night continued on into the wee hours. A big thanks for a great night.

All the very best, Nandor, to you and yours. Respect.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Great Boo's Up

Great Boo, the god of opportunistic voters, stalks the corridors of power tonight. Great Boo knows that it is better to be feared than loved, and is not concerned with John Key's polling. There's a full moon and Great Boo has been summoned by the three witches, casting about in this wretched and turbulent winter of despair for an answer, to ensure the reign of their Queen.

"Sorry I'm late," says Great Boo. "Winston had dibs. So, what's your problem?"

The three witches are wailing and gnashing their teeth, flecks of spittle landing in their Chardonnay glasses.

"Alas!" says crone 1, "The kingdom is falling about her majesty's ears! She casts about for news of cheer, but sees only darkness and broiling seas!"

Crone 2 enjoins, "We've done as you commanded, Great Boo, scaring people with the spectres of the Exclusive Brethren and global warming. We bought the Rusty Rail relic, and we even allowed our chief druid, Michael Cullen, to sacrifice some of our hallowed spending programme on tithe cuts. But still the people are unhappy."

Great Boo furrows his brow, saying, "Well, how about all that hysteria around raising the drinking age to 20. Can you get any pull there?"

"Good thinking, Great Boo," says the third crone. "We've been getting some negative media on the brutal murder of a liquor employee in Manurewa. If we cut back the number of liquor licences, there will be less chance of liquor store employees getting murdered!"

"Of course," says crone 1. "Poor people are useless at handling their alcohol, not like those intelligent caring middle class people at Drinking Liberally events."

"It is true," crone 2 concedes. "Poor people are inarticulate when drunk. The only way to express themselves is through violence. This could be seen as a safety measure. Care for a glass, Great Boo?"

The god of opportunistic voters is restless and bored. He shakes his head. Wine would sit uncomfortably on his previous whiskeys. And besides, Bridget Jones had killed whatever appeal Chardonnay had once held. He hears ice cubes clinking in Peter Dunne's office.

"I've got another call. Is there anything else?" says Great Boo. But the witches are huddled over the cauldron. Third crone is chanting, "Eye of Muldoon, ear of Kate Sheppard..." With that, Great Boo is away to another office, another summons.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Origami Car

BMW has unveiled the Gina Light Visionary Model, a car that changes shape. Waterproof and temperature-resistant 'hybrid' fabric cloaks a carbon fibre and metal mesh.

"The headlights, for example, are hidden until switched on, when the fabric at the front of the car prises apart on either side of the signature double-kidney grille to reveal the double lamps. Indicator and tail-lights simply shine through the translucent fabric cover. If the engine needs to be accessed, the bonnet can be unzipped down the middle to create a half-metre-wide gap. Some body changes are automatic. For improved aerodynamics at higher speeds, the Gina roadster will generate extra downforce by deploying a rear spoiler."

The end is nigh for panelbeaters.

Terrorist Fist Jab Crisis

It's certainly been a week for learning new phrases. First there was Donkey Punch. This morning, it's Terrorist Fist Jab. Or is it the Hizbollah hand jab, fist bump of hope, or closed-fisted high-five? Whatever. Perhaps the neo-cons could use their time more constructively by telling soldiers not to do the thumbs up in Iraq:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It Never Rains

Must say, this is the nicest start to winter I can remember. Bugger all wind, stuff all rain. Still life with Brooklyn windmill. People are wearing sunglasses in June. If this is global warming, bring it on. Wellington's got an almost alpine crispness, an air more like Taupo than old windy Welly. Which is more than can be said for Whakapapa skifield (with a scant 20 cm of snow, and opening in three days).

Which is just as well. Seems there's more than enough to keep ourselves worried about without worrying about the bleeding weather as well (or is there?). The world economy is quickly turning to shit, what with speculation that oil will stretch to US$250 a barrel soon. It's peak oil, but not as we know it. The US economy is teetering on the edge of recession. "It's unambiguously ugly," as one economist quoted in the NY Times called it. From the article:
"Professional and business services — which include lawyers, accountants, architects and management consultants — led the way down in May, shedding 39,000 jobs, according to the report. Construction declined by 34,000.

Manufacturing lost 26,000 jobs. Retail payrolls shrank by 27,000 and transportation and warehousing by 10,500. Finance and insurance lost 3,700 jobs, amid continuing worries that more red ink lies in wait for banks."

The fun times are over. Now, everybody hurts. In NZ, the real estate agents are getting very worried, with Kapiti agents having a realty check and disturbing talk of editorial menaces.

In the UK, the Commons has voted to effectively suspend habeas corpus to terror suspects for up to 42 days. The Guardian has a story about a bloke who suffered a mere six days of psychological torture. Frak knows what 42 days can do to someone, though I suppose it's better than seven gunshots to the head.

Not that we're that much better off in NZ. Former dental nurse and current Minister of Justice and Police, Annette King, is seeing the last rites performed on centuries-old precedent with the fait accompli Criminal Procedure Bill. Ta to Graeme Edgeler for cutting this thing to pieces because, frankly, I don't have the time. Not Guilty Yet? No worries. Tired of stupid laws coming to bite you on the arse (eg. Making meth for supply a Class A offence)? Eliminate the High Court backlog by foisting it onto the District Court, that bastion of judicial efficiency? Fuckin' A. Must admit, I'm schizo on the Depositions thing though.

I have entirely given up on Labour being able to write any legible law. I'm even having my doubts on whether the Geoffrey Palmer in the Law Commission is the same Geoffrey Palmer who wrote the elegant Bill of Rights, which fits nicely on two sides of an A4.

It's amusing to see Labour apologists disavowing Michael Bassett, in light of his book on the Lange government (Fact-backed vitriol at its finest. Can't wait to read it). I do not use the term apologists lightly. For if Bill Rowling was a shiver looking for a spine to crawl up, Lange was a punchline looking for an applause.

Harsh? Consider this. Even Lange's most famous quip, the uranium on your breath comment, was someone else's idea, as Gerald Hensley pointed out in his memoirs. Lange never had an original thought. Once Joe Walding died, Margaret Pope was the only one Lange trusted.

Pope is no Yoko Ono though, more Groucho Marx's third wife but without the youth (While women have three ages (maiden, mother, crone), men are always boys, eh). Pope reminded Lange of his idealistic youth, the days when actions were not so irrevocably linked to consequences. As a madame once told me, "You can tell a man three things and he will always believe you; that he is intelligent, that he is handsome, and that he makes love well." Works like a charm.

From what I've heard from the Bassett reviews so far, he is calling it as it was. For example, the old man used to go on about the PM's tendency to drive himself home after a hard day at the office. The Billy Bunter enthusiasm that Lange had for imagining himself a rally driver did not mix well with Lange the drunk. "There's a reason for government limos," Trev would say. "18 hour days, a couple of drinkies, a stack of paperwork to read when you get home. Don't drive. Your mind's not with it."

So it's good to see transTasman spitting Brian Rudman's Bitter Whine back in his face:
"We could have sworn in earlier times the pair were close enough for Bassett to pass on to Rudman material for some of his finer journalistic exploits..."
If current reaction is anything to go by, Working with David is set to become the Bloody Mary episode of NZ non-fiction. And bloody hell, who would have thought that the abortion debate was going to be an election issue? On the record, I reckon we should formalise in law what already happens; abortion on demand.

But how about this weather we're having? There's that power crisis thing, isn't there? What level of crisis are we at, or is this the pre-crisis crisis? Is it anything like a pre-earthquake crisis, in that something could go horribly wrong at any moment and we'll all die crisis? The best that has come out of this whole saga so far is Rawdon Christie throwing a coulda-woulda-shoulda tongue-twister at former Lange minister and Electricity Chairman David Caygill on Agenda. It should be viewable here, not that the sodding thing loads on Firefox.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bad Onions

While NZ lawmakers are getting biometric happy with the new Immigration Bill, the Dutch certainly know how to take the piss out of US style customs. This is an actual Burger King tray liner from Amsterdam, where only the best vegetables get through. Note the Veggie Porn on the floor. Hat Tip BoingBoing.

Reasons to be Cheerful 4.1

Johnny Depp narrates a documentary on the life and times of Hunter S Thompson. The tomatoes look promising.

A kid's movie featuring the Exclusive Brethren, Son of Rambow.

A toll booth operator who takes on the memories of Holocaust survivors in The Memory Thief.

Bill Maher teams up with Borat director Larry Williams for Religulous.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Samoans are overtaxed

Well, that was a tasty little episode of Media7. A brave Tim Pankhurst fronted to a visibly agitated Oscar Kightley and bolshie Barbara Dreaver to justify the front page spread based on a 'research paper' barely transcribed off a cocktail napkin. Everyone had a fair point to make.

The DomPost editor had a point on the right to publish. I gather he was choosing his words to match his sentiments. I'd like to think that he was implying that the threshold between data and information that broadsheets deliver is changing. This could be justified in part as a reaction to the competition with other media sources for instant information. It would go some way into Pankhurst's decision to publish part of the Tuhoi tapping, for example. In the interweb, the truth will out. To compete, the broadsheets must clutch for exclusive material wherever they can.

As it went, the story was rebuffed with great vigour, the research paper shown to be more mistyped, under-baked and beer-stained than an undergraduate essay. Little wonder the author failed to appear on the show. Quick! Recant before they crucify you!

But Barbara Dreaver and Oscar Kightley argued with justification that the damage is done. After all, there are sufficient politically-correct ways to be racist without resorting to overt bashing as well. ie. smoking, obesity, youth crime, drug abuse, academic achievement, unemployment. Thank Dagg for Bro Town, eh.

The Samoans, dear readers, are overtaxed.

Up in Auckland, you won't find many honkies doing the hard slog in the hotel Housekeeping departments. It's the Island women doing the unglamorous sheet-changing. Likewise, the Mum and Dad office cleaners who sweep up after the suits at dusk.

I once knew a girl who lived in Cannons Creek. JM's Mum was Scottish, the Dad an Islander. In her late teens, JM was the only full time worker in the large family. After the taxman had snatched their pound of PAYE from her hotel wages, the majority of her pay went into the family fund, leaving her a pitiful allowance for her labours. This, not WINZ, was the Samoan welfare system at work.

Sure, there are a myriad of entitlements that this family would get now. Sure, there's oodles of toll-free numbers and websites to get the message out. Sure, there's nary a form for every contingency, just as long as the correct documentation and approval has been processed. But between the church and the family, why trust some grey servant from the outside? The most effective welfare is to let the Samoans breadwinners keep more of their own money in the first place.

On a similar vein of immigrant bashing, Gordon Campbell has an excellent introduction to the Immigration Bill before parliament. If you gave three albino gorillas some crayons and a copy of the 1987 Act, they wouldn't come up with a more artless and shitty law.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

In the name of the father

Couple of years back, an old political buddy of my father's asked me, "What do you think of Trevor?" I replied, truthful to a fault, that I loved him and I hated him. It is with this violent ambivalence in mind that I find myself doing what what I don't want to do. However, after watching my brother getting crucified on Sunday, there's little choice.

It's October 2001, and it's my last night in Australia. Dad's been dead six months and I'm sitting on the roof of a Fortitude Valley backpackers having dinner with a Dutch goddess. The breeze brushes her hair as she says, "The world is mad."

A month later, I'm sitting on a shrink's couch in Ponsonby. It doesn't take too many sessions at $140 an hour to realise that I would get better value with a hooker, for all the good it does me. I'll just have to work it out for myself.

So I have some sympathy for the plight of Nicola MacDonald. However, it is clear that my brother is not the most balanced monkey on the jungle gym either. The aphorism about fools and money swings both ways here.

But the part I take offence at, is the way my brother was portrayed in the editing of the article. Like myself, my brother is deaf. The intent stare that John Hudson so gratuitously used footage of is a side-effect of lip-reading. It's weird and intense but not lethal. I do it too, as you can see in this Backbenchers' episode (I'm the green man in the audience).

Oh, how I yearn for straight-forward anxiety and depression! Add deafness, post-traumatic stress, passive-aggression, a messiah complex and Asperger's, and you've got enough baggage to get your own get your own entry in the DSM.

Being the child of a prominent politician, especially one who shone so colourfully as Trevor bloody de Cleene, is hell. The old man cast a shadow that neither me nor my brother may ever escape from. I see it reflected in Judith Tizard. I know similar things that Mark Gosche's, Jim Anderton's and Sue Bradford's children knew. It's enough to make you start your own religion.