Thursday, January 30, 2014

Black Flag, White Flag

John Key has seized the flag debate from apolitical limbo and made a run once again into Labour's unguarded territory.

He's taking a gamble on it, taking fire from the more conservative elements of National's wide church, such as the RSA curmudgeons. But their numbers are small, and where else can they go? Even Winston Peters has been making positive noises about the subject.

Key has stolen the march on Labour with one of Helen Clark's old electioneering prongs of National Identity. Just like last week's Super Teacher announcement, it's as if National has sifted through Labour's policy remits and nicked what they could live with. The Nats are pre-emptively neutralising all of Labour's potential in-roads. The body politic have their hearts and minds fed with the illusion of incremental progress.

If you didn't know, I'm all in favour of a real NZ flag, as opposed to one hastily patched together by British seamen. For that matter, I reckon every household should have its own flag. United Tribes indeed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Found it, pinched it, spent it

Dim Post joins the Press Gallery in a Greek Chorus of asking Cunliffe how he's going to fund his new child policy. I hope this just for the sake of theatre, because I'm pretty sure the money is coming from the new progressive tax on incomes over $150,000 Labour wants to introduce, or a new capital gains tax. Both will contain enough loopholes to keep accountants salivating in anticipation.

Between Labour and National policies, you'd have imagined that the 1980s and 1990s never happened, and we've slid back into the 1970s through some wormhole. Goodbye Tomorrow's Schools, hello Incentivised Super Teachers. Goodbye clean low-churn tax system, hello horribly complicated bribe scheme. I hope the ageing IRD mainframe doesn't have a meltdown.


Back in the late 1990's, National MP Roger Sowry was the Associate Minister for Health who launched NZ's first National Drug Policy. The document was partly a response to NGO pressure groups, from drug counsellors through to NORML NZ, hassling for a more mature policy framework to deal with NZ's love of drugs than just the blunt tools of the Misuse of Drugs Act and the liquor laws.

This comprehensive document was reviewed in the 2000's, when Jim Anderton put his spin on it. John Key's government has finally got around to reviewing the National Drug Policy, presumably under the guidance of Associate Minister for Health Todd McClay.

A discussion document has been released seeking feedback on the latest incarnation of the National Drug Policy. This paper is notable for two things. Firstly, it doesn't once mention cannabis. There's no mention at all of the global legalisation trends.

Secondly, there is a not so subtle swing away from addressing direct drug harms:
Traditionally, the NDP mostly focused on minimising harm to the users of alcohol and drugs, by controlling drug supply, dissuading use and providing users with access to treatment.
However, families, communities and society are also impacted by these substances and the children of drug users are at greater risk of growing up to become drug users themselves.  Breaking this intergenerational cycle requires a whole-of-system response, including an emphasis on how whānau, communities and settings such as schools can be supported to minimise drug-related harm.
You see what they did there? Adult drug use is now all about the kids.

The Greens' Jan Logie points to a similar hollowing out of intents with protection orders by National as well:
This government has shifted the focus from domestic violence to vulnerable children despite domestic violence being one of the most significant risks for children in NZ.

Domestic Violence was not mentioned once in the white paper, despite a large number of submissions raising this issue. There is nothing in the legislation to progress our response to Domestic Violence. In fact it may well move resources away from domestic violence.
It looks a hell of a lot like sweeping problems under carpets. And if Colin Craig becomes Minister for Families and brings back the belt, the return to the 1950's pavlova paradise will be complete.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

State Schools and Free Lunches

The NZ Herald's latest meta-campaign is drawing attention to the high cost of 'voluntary' school fees in Auckland. It's far from the most expensive state school in NZ. Thanks to the National government, that honour belongs to one of NZ's newest state schools, Wanganui Collegiate:
The former private school is asking $10,900 a year for day students and $21,850 for boarders, about 10% more than it charged last year.

The privileged are always first in line for a free lunch at National's buffet. Meanwhile, the Greens have just announced free lunches and a range of welfare measures aimed at the poorest schools.

Cake for the wealthy or bread for the needy. Your choice, NZ.

4:20 News - Countdown to Election 2020 Edition

President Obama recently admitted in an interview that cannabis was no more harmful than alcohol, indicating that he won't be bringing the federal hammer down on the state experiments with legal cannabis sales in Colorado and Washington any time soon. Many miles south of his border, Uruguay has become the first country to legalise cannabis growing and sales.

Meanwhile in NZ, the War on Drugs is alive and well. Our lawmakers continue to remain wilfully ignorant of the high cost of cannabis prohibition, while claiming the moral high ground. Take aspiring Act party leader John Boscawen, for example (HT Lindsay Mitchell):
"We had Don Brash come out and promote the liberalisation of marijuana and while that may have had the support of five per cent of the population..."
According to the Ministry of Health, twice as many NZers use cannabis daily than who voted for the Act party last election (50,800 compared with 23,889). The same source says that 14 percent of the population use cannabis at least once a year. Boscawen knows as much about cannabis prohibition as Katrina Shanks knows about the internet.

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party's misguided missile, Fred MacDonald, has turned up at Ratana and was savaged by Shane Jones. He's not the most subtle activist, but Fred was on message. Labour's most prolific wanker can only throw a tissue of insults in riposte.

Mac may have broken protocol, but I'm sure he would have had a parlay/korero to explain his actions with the locals later on.

Last election, the ALCP received 11,738 votes, around half the Act party's haul. But can the ALCP get MSM airtime along with the other political minnows? Like hell. ALCP aren't welcome at the TV minor leaders' debates. The MSM can lavish attention on spanners like Colin Craig or Dotcom, but Cannabis Law Reform is the butt of every joke.

Off the record, I have personally yet to meet a journalist who doesn't like to get loaded and have a good time. But put them in a TV studio and on the record, they vomit the tabloid puritanism of prohibition. The mainstream hypocrisy came to a head at Waitangi some years ago when a Close Up crew exploited the hospitality of cannabis law reform activists for a slot they ended up calling Reefer Madness.

I hold high hopes that this media perversity will wane as the baby boomers are replaced by Generation Xers. Conservative or liberal, few Xers share their forebears' pavlova conditioning. The transition has already begun and should be complete by 2020, when the last Muldoon groupie leaves Parliament.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Publish and Be Damned

There doesn't seem to be any sign in NZSL for bloggers. I suggest two fists with middle fingers extended, pointing downwards and jabbing as if typing, followed by a swift slap with the right hand (mimicking an old manual carriage return).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Noises Off!

The NZ Left are secretly in love with Robert Muldoon. Vocal proponents of the NZ Left spit tacks against Rogernomics in a way that they don't rally against Muldoon. This is because they are in love with Muldoon's autocratic conservative interventionist style, noting that he only made a few bad gambles. Muldoon's means justify their ends.

Pablo's critique of the NZ Left keeps throwing up core problems involved with this love affair, even as he pines for its return to power. Take the Left blogs, for example. Red Alert, The Daily Blog and The Standard love playing censor to the free thoughts of their commenters. This isn't about weeding out trollers or spammers, but silencing divergent voices.

Pablo wasn't even allowed to comment on Chris Trotter's reply to Pablo's post. He had to republish it on his own site. Giovanni Tiso's comment was also refused permission for publication. Here it is:
"I must vehemently protest you drawing Gramsci into this. Firstly, the sentence you quote means the exact opposite of how you're presenting it. ‘Sono pessimista per l’intelligenza, ottimista per la volontà’ comes from one of the prison letters. As he explains it, it means that he has taken to be utterly pessimistic and bleak in his analysis of any given situation, in order to muster the strongest possible will to change it. And by change Gramsci always meant radical change. He hated reformists. To suggest otherwise is deeply offensive to his memory, seeing as his refusal to compromise and soften his stance is what led directly to his imprisonment and ultimately to his death.

There is very little doubt in my mind – as there could be in anyone who had read his work – that Gramsci would have nothing but contempt for the contemporary New Zealand political class. To suggest otherwise is frankly bizarre."

There, that wasn't so bad now, was it? It wasn't offensive or worthy of censure, surely? How many other valid but improper thoughts have been thrown down the memory tube for the greater good of the collective?

Divergent voices are not welcome with the true NZ Left. They have no need for outside influences. They already know everything. There is no dialogue in their dialectic.

And still they wonder why the voting public won't trust them. The old man always said that the Labour Party are experts of rationalising defeat, because they've had so much practice at it. Some things never change. They just die out.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Taxing Times with Sticky Housing

David Cunliffe has re-announced old news about Labour dropping two tax policies that never took off. Labour has now officially dropped the income tax free threshold, and the proposed GST exception for fresh fruit and vegetables.

It's unfortunate that no-one could manage to sell the tax-free threshold in Labour. The policy would have largely benefitted Labour's alleged core constituents, as well as gone some way to repealing Bill English's paperboy tax, and more closely alligning with Oz's tax-free income threshold. Labour has moved away from a central part of any Guaranteed Minimum Income policy, throwing all its eggs into the unions' Working Living Wage campaign.

The fruit and vege GST loophole was never a winner, and should have never been approved by the Labour Council. All the policy did was confuse the audience, and show up Labour's brains trust to be fiscally illiterate. It was so poorly designed, it made Working for Families look relatively elegant.

More substantive tax policies are hinted at being foreshadowed in Cunliffe's State of the Nation speech next week. The progressive tax hike for high income earners is still in the mix. As is a capital gains tax on housing, excluding the "family home". Some changes at Working for Families are hinted at. It wouldn't be a Labour party that didn't whip the working classes with more sin taxes on booze and smokes too. No-one in Labour understands the term Tax Churn.

There's a simpler solution to tax reform which is now available to Labour which previously wasn't, due to severe internal consistency flaws. It doesn't require mucking about with entirely new tax regimes and all the grifting and upheaval that requires (Just look at the grief caused by the LVR restrictions). It would take some heat out of the housing bubble, while removing some incentive for short term investment property flippers.

Make all (residential and commercial) property sales subject to GST.

Monday, January 20, 2014


The silly season has laid out the plans of this year's political minnows. Colin Craig has come out of the closet as a smack dealer. Dotcom screwed the pooch showing he couldn't organise a party at Vector Arena. For all the serious contenders yet to show their hand, here's three free policy platforms that I reckon would go down well with the body politic right now.

1) Make it a criminal act for any New Zealander NOT to punch George W. Bush in the face, if introduced to him.

2) Rename NZ dollars bucks. Ten bucks, Twenty bucks. Dollars is so last century.

3) Legalise squatting. These house prices are ridiculous.

And now, here's Pablo at KiwiPolitico wondering what the FUCK has happened to the NZ Left.

Wahine Meanies, Maori Modernity

It has been interesting watching the clash between Maori tikanga and modern etiquette over the silly season. Late last year, the Speaker sought to alleviate sexism on Parliament Grounds by no longer forbidding women from sitting in the front row of the wharenui. Outrage and umbrage followed.

Skirmishes such as this are happening all around the place, such as the law-breaking women drivers of Saudi Arabia. Traditional mores and ways of conservatism are blown by the winds of change. What will remain and what will evolve?

The illusion of progress informs us that culture disgards the archaic when something better comes along. Take the wharenui, for example. Not long after colonisation began, Maori stopped lashing their walls together and began using nails. After the missionaries passed through, stained glass windows let the light indoors. Later on, corrogated iron replaced the raupo roof. Paints provided a wider palette that the traditional range of pigments.

Some things are more tikanga than others, eh. I'm not convinced by the justifications of protecting women from taniwhas and bad atua for hui seating arrangements. My theory is that it's a face-saving gesture to the old male kaumatua. Men go deaf more readily than women, and the old geezers sit in the front seats to better grasp what's going on. The sharper eared whaine can hear just fine from further back.

Mind you, if we're talking about ditching archaic mumbo-jumbo from Parliament, the Speaker could fire Black Rod and the pseudo-Beefeaters that open Parliament.

Better Late Than Never

The second time I quit the Act party in disgust was over the party's unquestioning support for the Second Iraq War in 2003. So it is some small comfort to read then-Act MP Deborah Coddington's second thoughts while visiting Vietnam.

And now, here's America's smartest idiot on Vietnam, Robert Strange McNamara.

Friday, January 17, 2014

How Much Reality Can You Take?

The global brains trust formerly known as the Reality Club has asked 176 great wonks to answer the following question: What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?

There appear to be two main prongs to the 174 responses; the limits of maths and problems with misanthropism.

Firstly, there is quite a lot of hate out there for hammering everything into a bell shaped curve. Nassim Taleb crucifies standard deviation, which removes all the natural harsh spikes of chaos and rounds them down to meaningless but elegant shapes.

Gregory Benford applies much the same scalpel to the idea that maths can describe nature. There's way too much chaos in the system. And every system is dependent on intial conditions, feedback loops and whorls. There's rounding errors again.

Dean Ornish presents a practical example of this wedge issue, mooting that large randomised controlled trials are not a gold standard without bias. Observing changes outcomes. I call it Lab Rat Psychosis, and it explains everything from some anxiety disorders through to the non push-polling that passing for opinion polls these days. An opinion freely expressed is better quality than one squeezed out, but they don't graph so easily.

Bart Kosko looks at statistical independence and the probability of white noise. Beyond Markov chains, there lies a future dependent on past (initial?) conditions as shapers of the present.

Then there's other theme, the human misuse of the Anthropic Principle.

Andrei Linde takes a chainsaw to universal uniformity, noting that the cosmological constant may only be constant to our part of the universe, at this particular time. If the multiverse is a 10500 sided dice, our reality is merely a finite probability.

Amanda Gefter takes on the taxonomy of universe and snorts derisively. She does this by way of describing black hole inside/outside flow, before throwing entangled cats either side of the event horizon. Nasty.

Nina Jablonski looks at the myth of Race, which appears to be a Christian Slaver construct to justify their inhumanity to man. See also The Oatmeal on Christopher Columbus.

Julia Clarke, paleontologist, gets annoyed with people conflating birds with flying. Here in NZ, we are pretty attuned to concepts like flightless birds. Black Swans are a native species here too.

Martin Rees channels Richard Feynman, taking an axe to the supremacy of human intellect (e.g. statistics). He appears to be preparing the public for the fact that there may be no simple answers to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, and that it may be onions all the way down.

Two critiques of misanthropy stand out. In light of Karl du Fresne's vivid story of his late brother-in-law, this extract regarding mental illness as a holistic condition including environment, not as solely a brain disease, bears mentioning:
The central form of psychosis, schizophrenia, is the psychiatric brain disease par excellence. But schizophrenia interacts with the outside world, in particular, the social world. Decades of research has given us robust evidence that the risk of developing schizophrenia goes up with experience of childhood adversity, like abuse and bullying. Immigrants are at about twice the risk, as are their children. And the risk of illness increases in a near-linear fashion with the population of your city and varies with the social features of neighborhoods. Stable, socially coherent neighborhoods have a lower incidence than neighborhoods that are more transient and less cohesive. We don’t yet understand what it is about these social phenomena that interacts with schizophrenia, but there is good reason to think they are genuinely social.

Secondly, Helen Fisher calls for the abandonment of Addiction. Love IS a drug, according to the rules of addiction, sez Fisher.

There's other rallies against forcing reality into narratives, how cause and effect may not always exist and how humans turn harmless orcas into killers through behaviour modification. Good contrary brain food all round.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Little Fish Finger and the Dotcom Proxy

Whale Oil and his spy network have attempted to piss on Kim Dotcom's parade by leaking the newly-launched Internet Party's strategy plans. If the evidence presented on his blog is correct, three things become immediately apparent.

1) There's good money in puppetry these days. The Malcolm MacLaren of NZ Politics, Matthew Hooton, has refused the role as Act's lead singer, preferring his current lucrative and relatively anonymous run in the dark arts of ventriloquism. Martyn Bradbury's imminent candidacy for the Internet Party in Auckland Central must have jumped him up the ranks of New Zealand's Highest Earning Socialists with his $8000 a month contract. He might be in the Top 100 now. I really should wax my muppet up.

2) The IT crowd and unions don't mix well. Innovation and adaptivity are not terms unions are familiar with. Failing Dotcom coming to the party armed with some Vorsprung Durch Technique and the history of German business union relations, I see strained alliances ahead for Bradbury. It's the old Left problem of "the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy".

3) First Len Brown's laundry, now another opposition party exposed in a war of attrition and asymmetric transparency. The public now knows more about the workings of the Internet Party on its day of launch than they know about the National Party. It's going to be a very dirty election.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Balls to 2014; Expect the Un-

Time is an illusion. 2014 doubly so. We're still looking at the arse end of '13 with relief, not realising that it is sewn to the mouth of 2014 like a human centipede.

The Snowden NSA revelations keep tumbling out, rumbling along like refluxing burgers. Google continues to cripple the functionality of Blogger, possibly harbingering the curse of fatal death that Reader succumbed to last year. Not to be out-Gollumed by the ad-ring, Facebook continues to have privacy issues with its users' raw and private data.

It has all left this author a bit stunned and disoriented, and it's not all down to the cattle prodding to the fresh pastures of Google Plus. I fully grok where Morozov is coming from with his lusty schtick against the Silicon Valley Genii, with their flowchart philosophies, Ayn Rand fetishes, and legions of tax lawyer monkeys that lay waste to the public purse.

In some attempt to regain control of my shit from the ad pimps and idea grinches, I have resorted to drafting recent posts in txt files offline. More research intensive stuff is pencilled in notebooks, and all the really important stuff is memorised. Changing up by changing down, but it's hardly gonzo.

This still leaves the problem of publishing platforms. If Google does kill Blogger in 2014, I will not be moving to Google Plus. No matter how much they prod, I will not give one company sole access to my OS, browser, email client AND social networks. That's far too many eggs in one bastard.

If it all goes Pete Tong at blogpsot, I might try jumping to Ruminator if they will have me. Mainly because rebuilding a new platform from scratch does not appeal muchly. Lord Sutch's sweary New Year's rejoinder holds hope that I might find shelter there. Any port in a storm eh.

If any site would like to pay me to write for them, I would also appreciate that opportunity too. My email is on the website. CV available on request, but this blog is my real legacy.

Sorry, no more predictions for 2014. Halfway through reading Nassim Taleb's Antifragile. Predictions are for schmucks. This year is a good time to believe in six impossible things before 4:20.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Cannabis and Conservative Exceptionalism

Silly season continues in NZ, where all the jaded journos are on holiday and the MSM mastheads are manned by toddler news hounds. Little wonder that the headlines are full of uncritical reprints of police press releases. If I had a budget of $1.6 billion a year, I'd be spamming the press with happy clappy goon tunes too.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, recreational cannabis has been legalised. Local authorities report no signs of apocalypse, but it's still early days. The federal government has yet to stick its oar in.

Conservative exceptionalism is alive elsewhere, as always. The Vanilla Prince of the New York Times, David Brooks, penned a column where he distilled the white privilege down to its raw ingredients:
[M]ost of us developed higher pleasures.
Therein lies the snobbery. Sure, some may move on to other pursuits; private golf clubs, charity gigs and other pissing competitions between trust fund babies, for example. Whatever floats your boat.

But not everyone desires such aristocratic inanities. Brooks not only pulls the ladder up behind him, but then tries to beat everyone else below his lofty perch with it. Good on Brooks' old stoner buddy calling his bullshit.

NZ has its own parrots of privelege here as well. Rosemary Macleod is a reliable squawker, with her monotonous cry of "Tried it, didn't like it, don't make it legal."

A few politicians have admitted historical usage (eg. Goff, Dunne, Groser), giving them similar sanctimony to continue this civil war on drugs.

It just goes to show that wealth, power and privilege can be more harmful and addictive than any plant from the wrong side of the Magnolia family tree.

UPDATE: This just in from Matt Taibbi.