Thursday, November 30, 2006

Four dimensional labour theory

Thankfully, I was too young to be materially affected by the Price and Wage Freezes instigated by Muldoon. The old man was self-employed and a lawyer to boot, so the only real difference was the random presents. In a weird twist on the unbirthday motif, Trev would give us shit out of the blue. In spite of not showing the slightest interest in smacking people, Dad gave me a pair of worn boxing gloves one day. Couple of years' ago, I discovered the why of it. It seems one of his clients, a burglar if I remember correctly, had a barter/contra arrangement with him.

Back then, there was no money. The tyrant Muldoon had outlawed reality. Not freezing it per se, merely postponing the consequences. Result? Catastrophic inflation and a mad run on the dollar. A timequake, which the Fourth Labour Government have been taking the heat for ever since. It was a shame that Helen Clark glossed over that time as an aberration at Labour's Ninetieth Anniversary gig at the Beehive earlier this year. Convenient. I'm waiting for someone in Labour to stop apologising. If you have to, defend it, but stop saying sorry. Those times are not these times. The same measures are not required, which shouldn't stop us learning from that path anyway.

What have we learned? Well, nothing it would seem. We're bouncing between Keynesianism and Friedmanism. Never mind that the ceteris paribus of Bretton Woods that clinched Keynes is long gone, and the world economy is in the hands of currency speculators and funds conglomerates. Ignore the fact that Reserve Banks have lost their grip on the money supply thanks to private lending institutions setting their own arbitrary and profitable finance options. Any wood in a shipwreck.

Which leads me circuitously to the storm in a teacup that is the annual parliamentarian payrise. It is not important how much they will earn. It will never be enough. Honestly, I wouldn't wish being an MP on my worst enemy. What is important, is that the increases are on the generous side of the inflation rate. That is very interesting. What if, instead of shuddering along with the various individual and collective employment contracts, wage and salaries were indexed with the CPI?

Of course the CPI would have to be a much more elegant beast than it currently is. Women's shoes, for example, are grossly under-represented in the CPI computations. I am constantly amazed at how much money women spend on shoes. Go Blumsky. There would also have to be a localised adapter, which I like to call the Consumer Services Index (CSI). This would take into account localised factors. CSI: Eketahuna would be lower than CSI: Auckland, if for no other reason than getting the kids to footie and getting a sparky to install the spa costs more.

Doing so would shift the burden of inflation from the central bank to the private sector, who would have a vested interest in suppressing inflation. Unions would have to show evidence of productivity gain in order to strike above inflation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Park

A minor fracas has broken out between RWB (Right Wing Bloggers) over John Key's first speech as Nat leader to a soft audience of friendlies at North Harbour stadium. DPF reckons it's goodstuff, while David Slack remains cynical. Both are right, of course.

It is a good speech, as far as overtures go. John Key loves everybody. He offers an olive branch to the Maori Party and the Greens, the two parties that will matter when it comes to coalition forming in 2008. Multiculturalism is great. While not hugging and kissing the gay vote, he at least acknowledges them with a nod. He empathises with the welfare crowd, stating how John Key was once one of them. The role of education in changing his plight is also mentioned. He dips his toe in geopolitical realities, demonstrating he has a better understanding of context than, say, George W Bush did when running for president in 2000.

But it does have a ring of Generic Maiden Speech #17 about it. 'Aspirational' is clearly the buzzword of the week. One subject clearly comes to mind for its absence from the speech. Health, that minefield of irreducible complexity, is neatly avoided. It is entirely reasonable to look at this speech and think it a smorgasbord of platitudes.

Perhaps we should make speech-writing illegal, and leave the pollies to choose their own words.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Haka Redux

I've got one big finger pointed at the Brit press and the Welsh right now. Isn't it a bit rich for a Brit to call the All Blacks' haka performance "pompous"? Britain, the home of pasty-faced morris dancing hoity-toity slack-jawed stiff-lipped whinging twats. God Save the Queen is a terrible dirge which keeps me wondering what stops ERII from slashing her wrists every time she hears it.

Perhaps all this Brit vitriol is a bit over the top. It seems the Herald might have had to dig deep to such a negative vibe. The Telegraph's sports blogger, Mick Cleary, doesn't even mention the incident, although he does draw attention to Wales being dubbed the village idiots of world rugby. James Corrigan at the Independent:
Alas, this game will not be remembered so much for Sitiveni Sivivatu's hat-trick or Jerry Collins' campaign of terror, or simply as the 80 minutes in which the All Blacks delivered proof that they are, indeed, world champions in waiting. No, this will forever be the day New Zealand performed the haka in the dressing room.

Why? Because the Welsh Rugby Union insisted that their anthem came after the haka and not, as the norm, before, something that Graham Henry and his All Blacks found disrespectful. Cue a stalemate that took even the Welsh team by surprise. A petty irrelevance to the game some said, although not Collins. Not only did the brilliant blindside think that the Wales players had been distracted, but that the "private" haka the All Blacks enacted for their own benefit had the right effect. "Did it fire us up?" said Collins with a sinister grin. "Take a look at the scoreboard, mate."

The All Blacks did the right thing performing the haka in the dressing rooms. I'll do my best to explain why, in terms that even a Yank could understand.

The haka does not go in between national anthems. National anthems are not replies to a challenge, unless one counts the wave of phlegm thrown at the All Blacks by the Welsh anthem's guttural utterances. No, if the WRU wants to play silly buggers, and neither the Welsh team nor the stadium audience do a thing about it, the All Blacks had little choice but to perform on the closest thing to home territory; the changing rooms. The challenge was broadened in its intent by doing so. It was extended to everyone in the stadium, the WRU, the opposition.

Do not fuck with the haka.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

You're nobody til everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard

"And, lastly, thanks to my old friend and colleague, Trevor de Cleene, with whom I debated the concepts at length but to whom I still have not dared to show the text."
-Roger Douglas, Unfinished Business

It's April 1988, and the old man is giving me a lift into town, where I'm at Vic Uni and failing Legal Systems badly. He has a lot on his mind, and he vents. There has been another Lange Douglas spat and Dad truly doesn't know how much longer it can go on. By year's end, it's all over. After sending Roger a letter of commiseration, I receive an invite to the Backbone Club, which I decline.

Now it's 1998 and, as El Presidente of Prebble's Rebels, I arrange a members' talk with one of the smartest men it has been my honour to know, Dr Roderick Deane. I had fluffed the date, and the good Doctor had rescheduled to fit my aural hallucinatory Filofax. Now that's honour. He went on to tell the tale of how, as Head Honcho of the Public Service, Roger Douglas betrayed him over a union pay negotiation with Ken Douglas. It was a salient point, and a good reason why gentlemen should never go into politics.

Kiwis love a bastard for leader. The most vivid characters in living memory: Norm Kirk (Fair Bastard), Rob Muldoon (Hard Bastard), David Lange (Funny Bastard). To be a leader, one must be prepared to be a bastard. Don Brash was not that man. Don Key, on the other hand, has the potential to be a real bastard.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Think goNZo

After a Labour party meeting earlier this year, I paused outside to roll a ciggie. I got talking with an engaging Old One from the Silent Generation. She sounded like she had been a Labour member from Mickey Savage's time on. The lady had outlived Norm Kirk's Camelot, Rogernomics' Quantum Leap, and will still be signed on long after Helen Clark's Office is over.

She said, "Whatever happened to the really important things? I look at the Kelburn Viaduct or the Karori Tunnel, or the Mt Victoria Tunnel. All their commission dates are a lifetime ago. What public works are being done today, to leave something as good as our forebears gave us?"

I really didn't have an answer to give her. Moa Point seemed not quite right and the Bypass, for all its engineering, seemed too small. I knew what she meant, and extending a motorway 300 metres wasn't it. There was nothing new. No link road from Karori to Owhiro Bay, not even a Johnsonville route fit for anyone but Sunday Drivers and hoons. Transmission Gully was still not happening then (Is it now?). No extension of rail into the heart of the city.

On a bigger scale, there was no Main Trunk Line to gloat about. No bridge between the Heartland and the Mainland. Auckland still had no rail to the North Shore, or even a bridge more worthy than the 1950's clusterfuck it uses now. While the Kaikoura Roulette is finally getting fixed, we still haven't got a decent drive linking Wellington to the Wairarapa after we turned down the Yanks' tunnel offer back around WWII. The Rimutakas are a beaut to tramp on, but a cunt to drive over. Same same with Arthur's Pass, without the tramping.

So the only answer I could give this Old One was, "We pay our way." And that's us all over. It is writ big with Michael Cullen's new GAAP and Cullen Fund. We will pay and pay and pay. We will have student debt, personal debt, hire purchases, mortgages, car finance. We pay for insurance just in case any of the things we are paying for Get Cartered. Plus GST.

Little wonder then that Labour's student loan interest write-off was a vote-winner. In one fell swoop a Gordian knot is cut. The Old Ones oblige, because they know what's happening. Gen X and Y and probably Z are getting screwed. We will be picking up the tab for the Baby Boomers for a while yet.

The Boomers have had it sweet. Raised by parents who knew the value of a dollar, becoming self-made people before the laws got too complicated, or university graduates when education was still free. There is no class war in NZ. It is generational. One day, the Boomers will pay.

And this is how. Y'know that Cullen Fund, that one that all the PAYE-earners are paying for on top of the seven percent for current Super? The Super Fund throws cash into such things of negligible public good for NZ as $19 million dollars in Verizon or $44 million in Macquarie Infrastructure Group, which is "the world’s largest listed infrastructure fund, with assets in Australia, the UK, Germany and Portugal."

Instead, we should put our money where our mouth is, along with the rest of us. Just like Muldoon did in 1975, it's only a matter of time before someone cracks that piggy bank. Better now, for the right reasons. Just make sure that you gamble and win.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Shot in the Dark

Inspired by Jeremy Greenbrook's outrage at the shooting of a machete-wielding moron at a gun shop, I present you with another Tale of Trev:

It's 1981 or thereabouts. The old man is defending a guy who did a hit and run on a mob member in Palmy. It's night, and Dad is down at the Masonic with his mates and a few beers. My brother, Randy Gonzales, is home alone. A mob guy comes up to the house in Chaytor Street, slowly driving his Harley Davidson up and down the driveway. After he's made his point, he gets bored and leaves. When Dad gets home, Randy tells him what happened.

The next night, Dad stays in. He sits up late at night in the lightless lounge in his singlet and Y-fronts waiting with a shotgun straddling his lap. Sure enough, the motorcyclist returns. Just as the mobster turns his bike to head back to the house, Trev makes his presence known. He aims and fires both barrels into the motorcycle. The rider sensibly runs off, leaving his pride and joy on the driveway.

The old man calls up Peter H____, a mate in the refuse disposal business. The next morning, a small cube of metal is dumped outside the gang headquarters. End of story.

Midnight on the Border of Science and Religion

Verb: To Be God (tr, inf)

I am God
You (s) are God
He, She, It is God
We are God
You (pl) are God
They are God
I fondly remember the day I lost my Christianity. It was February 29th 1984. Not three years ago, I had won the Divinity exam. I got to choose my prize. It was an Usborne Book of Science. Perhaps the seeds were sown then. Maybe it was just a matter of time before faith was shown to be an answer without a reason. Why are we here? God. Why do bad things happen? God. Is there life after death? Yes. An eternity of talking to God and watering pot plants.

Then there was the whole God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit thing. While the Three-in-One idea was a nice line, I had discovered that the idea was stolen off the Greek Hecateae. A closer inspection of God the Father revealed some serious flaws. All fathers are men (this was the '80s when this still held true). All men have penises. Therefore, God must have a penis. Where was God's penis? Did God get laid? Was God circumcised? Who was God's doctor? etc. Such is the level of early-pubescent philosophy. Crude but valid.

The old man presented me with a Bible when I was 12. Jesus' words were in red type, and they were the most interesting things in the whole damned book. I could dig Jesus. Let's just, y'know, get along. Jesus was a hippy, the first popular Slacker Jew. The Old Testament thundered with blood, gore, senselessness and way too many begats. The New Testament started OK but ended with what I many years later discovered was a big plate of shrooms.

The Holy Spirit was the most mysterious and therefore most interesting part of the Trinity. This force seemed so ethereal and pervasive, it rendered God the Father and God the Son altogether irrelevant. Whichever way I sliced it though, the scale was all wrong. The concept of the Judeo-Christian God was just too small. Too finite. If the Holy Spirit existed, it wasn't limited by whether someone coveted thy neighbour's ass. Wrong name.

So the search for the Holy Spirit has been replaced with a search for the This. Not that I'll ever discover what This is. I'll be content to sample some of the qualities of This. For statistical purposes, I call the pursuit Jedi. Others call it Bright. Whatever. Same thing, different name.

Intellectual masturbation aside, the whole God argument has more practical considerations. Up until Sept 11, I had considered China and America to be the most likely flashpoint, probably over Taiwan. But standing in an Airlie Beach pub in 2001 watching two dozen TVs showing the same thing at different angles, with two dozen nationalities weeping or shivering around me, the probabilities changed. And I was scared.

No wonder there are people sheltering under whatever illusory protection they can find. Only now are the Better the Devil You Know political incumbencies are starting to fall. The NZ housing market is still pumping. And the lure of a deterministic outcome through religion or bad science is seductive.

Consider the myth that underscores economic theory: ceteris paribus. Let us pretend all other things are held constant despite all evidence to the contrary. Like dividing infinities in calculus, the method is dodgy. Yet it is swallowed with the same presumptive ignorance that the Jesus freaks are accused of. Consider String Theory, which isn't strictly speaking a theory at all. A theory must be falsifiable. Science, at its heart, is the art of the falsifiable. While string theory is art, it may not be science. Even so, I can't help for wishing for it to be true.

Which is exactly the line being spun by the governmental quacks, albeit in more prosaic areas. The Anti-Science brigade isn't limited to the Yanks. The UK Telegraph has a good piece on how the Brit wonks bend science reports to fit the policy. There are sure signs that the same thing is happening here. Prof David Fergusson's longitudinal study has recently shown how evidence sharply contrasts with policy aims and public perception. And I believe it. I have anecdotal proof.

But at the end of the day, you can't ignore Bertrand Russell's warning in The Scientific Outlook back in 1933. The same pitfalls of religion blight the path of science, leading to an evolutionary cul-de-sac. I doubt, therefore I think. Or, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell from another time, there will never be a way to prove that the whole of existence didn't come into being five minutes previously. The possibility will always exist.

Monday, November 13, 2006

ShitMagnet Stadium

As far as I'm concerned, Rugby is a crock of shit since it went professional. The All Blacks haven't played a decent game since Graham Mourie retired and Sid Going went. However, I am not one to begrudge Orkland its First Church of Rugby. Wellington got Te Papa, so it is only fair that Orkland gets thrown a bone too.

Nor am I at all concerned with a waterfront setting. The stadium needs to be near a transport hub and the Britomart Train Station could do with some action (nice station, shame about the trains, the schedule, the other stations...). The CBD has so many sore thumbs, it's like auditions for Hammerhand Idol. One more won't be noticed. And it could be good. I'm not expecting anything so ambitious as China's Wonder. It's not as if there's just a bunch of shanties to knock down, but an altogether more complex beast; our own Resource Management Act.

That's the law that makes building anything bigger than a birdhouse a legal case. Under the RMA, Norm Kirk would have needed a lawyer to build his house in Kaiapoi. It'll be interesting to see how the government wrangles NZ's largest building site ever, when Joe Blow has to beg leave to build a sleepout in his backyard. Who knows? Perhaps the government will declare Bledisloe Wharf a Special Economic Zone.

It was entirely sensible of the Orkland City Councillors to propose the Carlaw Park thing. With the local bodies next year, last thing they need is a stadium shitmagnet in their faces. This way, they have plausible deniability. Let Hubbard carry the can.

Bummer for the Eden Park Trust, who must be feeling justifiably shattered. Welcome to the evil world of politics. There is little they can do to dig themselves out of the yawning debt they accumulated buying the World Cup baby. Perhaps they'll do what the Maori Tenths Trust did with Athletic Park and turn Eden Park into a retirement village.

But I have misgivings. Firstly, and this is pointed out into the virtual flyby, this thing is being built on NZ's busiest port. One way to swing this is to allow the Ports of Orkland and Tauranga to merge, thereby allowing freight to be transferred to Winston Peters' electorate. It's not as if Orklanders can tell whether their plasma screens arrive by boat there or in the Bay of Plenty. For the port company, it's a zero-summer at worst. It might also help Maersk make up its mind on what it's doing.

Secondly, the price is not right. Let's be honest and say $1 billion, then cap it.

Thirdly, there's the inevitable sponsorship thing. In light of the rush of blood to the head that produced an ambush marketing bill, chances are the stadium is going to have some serious naming rights fights. Will the stadium become NZ's largest billboard or what?

Fourthly, the cost of living in Orkland is going to go ballistic. There is a reason only Fletcher Building was big enough for the job. NZ's biggest public works, from go to woe in six years and we've barely seen the cocktail napkin sketches. You think getting builders is pricey now, just you wait til every monkey who can hold a hammer gets down to the wharves. Then there's accommodation. All those canary cage apartments may have some use yet. Commuting will, as always, continue to get worse.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

You got rorted

For the many who cannot or will not buy the NBR, Gareth Morgan has kindly re-posted his vicious fisking of the $60 billion savings, retirement and insurance industry.

In Part One, GM outlines how the asymmetric information war is lorded over the novice investor by the MNCs and shows the Securities Act provides about as much consumer protection as a G-string in a gang rape. Part Two introduces the Zombie Fund, where reserves provide latent cash cows for the wunch of bankers.

If Labour want a vision thing that will assist in the uptake of Kiwisaver, a spring clean of the finance industry would benefit the middle classes whom they so desperately need to impress.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Don/Key OD

Oh for fuck's sake, John Key. Just get on and do it. You voted for Death with Dignity. Stop tilting at windmills and put us all out of our misery. Your glorious leader has had ammunition to throw at a crisis-addled Labour government. Yet, like an Abbo on a uranium mine, hasn't had the slightest clue what to do with it.

There is little sign the Nat front bench has learnt anything from last year, when Judith Collins went at DBP with a chainsaw when a scalpel was required. Old school chum Simon Power hasn't discovered a way to open his mouth without putting a foot in it. I mean, come on. You want to pour MORE money into the abysmal Corrections Department? Isn't $80k per EFTP (Equivalent Full Time Prisoner) enough?? Upping the policy initiatives and cutting taxes are oxymoronic. Your GST is out of whack.

Dear John, what National really needs is leadership. With a bit of coaxing and encouragement, you really do have a team to train in time for the big game in 2008. But to get it it to go flat tack to glory, it needs passion. And John, I don't think you have a soul. At least, I have seen no evidence of it. I understand that you're pretty whizzy with numbers, and love money the way only a childhood without it can give. We should all be stockbrokers.

You have tried, I'll give you that. You have certainly been blooded a few times by Michael Cullen in the wit pit. I'll tell you what. Get a good one over on Cullen, and I mean a GOOD one, and the leadership's yours.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kiwis with Brazilians

Ever been in a restaurant and got the wrong meal? It was probably me. That lady at Il Casino in 1992 who ordered the pheasant and got venison? I'm sorry. I only heard your vowels. I know you had to wait half an hour for your plucked tucker when everyone else on your table was ready for dessert. If it's any consolation, Remiro Bresolin filled that long wait with loud expletives every time I Manuelled past him to the kitchen. Remiro said FUCK the way most people use the space key. eg. "What theFUCKare youFUCKINGdoing?" On arriving in the kitchen, the chef would threaten to break my legs. This one had a reputation for throwing knives at waitresses. Always speak kindly to people who use knives for a living and be prepared to duck.

But by the end of the night, while we were waiting for Winston Peters to leave, we'd sit round drinking Perrier Jouet 1979 and trade stories. Later on, Remiro would be shouting rounds of vodkas at Ecstacy Plus (sadly now the slummy Sports Cafe). I would swap gossip with the hookers and courtesans who had shut up shop for the night, although one or two were open all hours. Then a feed at The Diner and a few games of pinball (a better judge of reasonable force you are unlikely to find) before off home to bed at The House of the White Virgins in Adelaide Road.

It was with a heavy heart that I read earlier this year of Remiro's terminal lung cancer. A toast to Il Cavaliere! Forever Northern Italian, Kiwi by choice. More colourful by far than the scores of suits and black skirts who display their powerful anonymity the way a priest wears the frock and dog collar. Walking by the gutted remains of the pink finger in Tory Street is a bittersweet shiver of change. Such is the nature of nature. The vanilla people have won this round.

Before the '70s, NZ was stuck in a terrible rut of corned beef and boiled cabbage. No wonder we were a miserable people. Then Des Britten and Hudson & Halls burst onto the scene, demonstrating sophisticated dishes such as French Onion Soup with croutons. Thank Dagg for Alison Holst. It would take another ten years before our wines started to catch up. Talk about bad memories of Montana Muller Thurgau.

Although I was too late to enjoy the coke-snorting waitering days before the '87 stockmarket crash, my 12 year stint in hospitality gave me the extraordinary pleasure of working with NZ's finest chefs. If there is one quality that these epicurean artists share, some Kiwiality if you will, it is one of fusion. Italian. Brit. German. Dutch. Indian. Thai. Korean. Chinese. Samoan. Maori. Mexican. French. Indonesian. Russian. Jewish. Yanks, even if their contribution is the Peach Melba and trans-fat Trojan Horses. The NZ food artists take it all in and blend it til it's good and new. It started with Kumara and Orange Soup. I lost track after bok choy, tamarind and the Monteith's Wild Food Challenge (link not available coz DB have stupidly killed it).

I have been going quietly apeshit for the last two months over Fly My Pretties. If there was ever a couple of albums that every expat Kiwi should have it is Live at Bats and Return of Fly My Pretties. It is music to get seriously homesick by. I've had it looping on my ipod but buggered if I can stick a genre to it. It's a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Roots album doesn't do it justice. It is what it is. Unquantifiable. I had a similar giggle of delight after witnessing Recloose during the Radio NZ gig at Bodega earlier this year. Magic.

However, I have no problem labelling Barney Weir's latest fling as definitively fusion. And I'm gagging for it. However, I'll have to wait for the gig at Indigo (aka San Francisco Bathhouse) on 7 December. Aye, it's good to have money again.

I'm off to the NORML conference in Pakipaki this weekend. Have a good weekend and don't forget to be different.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Things to Heav'n & Earth

The three most interesting things in the universe are light, water and love. We are only starting to grasp an inkling of these miracles. Another step in the right direction is the long-anticipated movie, The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky. Wired has a good spiel on what to expect. BoingBoing highlights the deep space scenes that are entirely GE(Graphic Enhancement)-Free. What beauty.