Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Insulting Language

This election is going to get very dirty. Taunts of 'panty slut boy' and 'rick prick' have been making the rounds for some time. Perhaps it's time to look abroad for some new insults for MPs to throw at each other. Cracked has a list of the 9 Most Devastating Insults from around the world.

Particular favourites:

"Suck butter from my ass" - Spain
"You're as ugly as a salad" - Bulgaria
"Let the rats ejaculate on you" - Armenia
"Piss into a transformer" - Finland
"I dream about farting on you" - Bosnia

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Obvious Murderer

Finally, a murder trial which the cops can't cock up. OK, there was Sila too...

A stroke of genius

I've long had a fascination about the interaction between the left and right brain. Epilepsy, for example, can be mitigated by cutting the link between the two brains. What happens when a neuroscientist has a stroke and lives to tell the tale? Cue one of the most interesting presentations I've ever seen. The New York Times covers Dr Taylor's new-found celebrity in her experience with nirvana.

Parliament loses power, rest of NZ fine

The lights went out at the Beehive today. No-one has yet claimed responsibility, least of all any ministers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Semi automatic for the people

While the jury is out on whether tasers are to be issued to frontline cops, it looks like Glock pistols are being phased out by the "preferred weapon", Bushmaster semi automatic rifles. At present, these are restricted to the Armed Offender Squad. Not for long, and Global Peace & Justice are the opposite of impressed.

Fair call too. You can make a lot of mistakes with a Bushmaster. Gotta love the cop justification for militarisation:
Acting Assistant Commissioner Gavin Jones [said the Bushmaster] had superior accuracy, and deploying the weapon more often would maximise the safety of both police and the public.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

No more bets please

In one fell swoop, Michael Cullen has dashed his fiscal prude reputation. He's gone all Dr Everett Scott from Rocky Horror's Floor Show. Beneath that straight exterior lay a fiscal cross-dresser all along. No borrowing to fund tax cuts? Nah, strip that off. No impact on inflation? Off goes that shawl.

Thursday I thought differently. I watched the budget on the telly in Bowen House with several minor household gods (Jeez, even shared a lift with Jeanette Fitzsimons. Meant to say something useful and courteous to her. Only thing I could think of was "I'm amazed I got you to use the F bomb on the telly." But better to be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt, eh. I maintained my right to silence).

At the time, it seemed the best budget that Cullen could have given. Tax cuts, check. Compliance thresholds eased, check. Extra spending to help prevent the left wing from calling it a cheese-eating surrender monkey budget, check. But the more I sleep on it, the more I read, the more I understand Bernard Hickey's anger towards this budget.

Bottom circle is Cullen's major concession, a cash deficit of 3.5 percent of GDP. As Hickey points out, Cullen has blown his major argument against borrowing for tax cuts. Top circle is the OBEGAL balance. Notice that god-awful drop in surplus. 2011 is tighter than anything the Nats had to deal with under the Asian Tiger Crisis of the late '90s. As DPF quite rightly calls it, Cullen has spent everything. Which, heading toward an uncertain economic period, seems too damned thin. There is no margin of error.

Fact is, Cullen admits that some cuts in future government spending will be required, but he won't be the poor bastard to determine where it will come from. The Labour government in general, and Michael Cullen in particular, is never good at cutting government spending. What is the growth in Health spending these days? What, upwards of 40 times GDP growth? Labour specialises in finding devious new taxes, not cutting them.

Which brings us tangentially to the tax cut thing. $10.6 billion over three years. Sounds nice, until you realise that these are funded from cuts in government SAVINGS, not spending. One of the points of tax cuts is too swap government expenditure with household spending and (hopefully) saving. That way the CPI comes out relatively unperturbed. However, as The Standard helpfully lists, government spending continues apace.

Rodney Hide riffed on how the budget included $100 for chocolate bikkies at the Tauranga RSA, such was the micromanaged scale of the spending. Roger Douglas lamented how his budgets had real reasons behind them, not just the self-justifying brand rationale of National Identity, Economic Transformation and Young & Old. Yes, it was the Budget of All Mothers, but only if Macsyna King was your Mum. Instead of P and pokies, Cullen blew it on tax cuts and trains.

The growth forecast for 2010-11 seems unduly optimistic at 3.5 percent, what with staring down the barrel of stagflation and recession and all. But Labour want to make life as difficult as possible for the Nats. It has worked, albeit temporarily. What choice did the Nats have but to vote with Labour for the tax cuts under urgency? None whatsoever. Snookered indeed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Smart Green

Wired slaughters a few environmental sacred cows in showing how to adapt to climate change. Ten Green heresies, summarised by yours truly:

1. Live in cities. Heh, introduce zoning for employment! If it's good enough for the kiddies...

2. Air Conditioning OK. While the corporate towers overseas may take heart that it takes less energy to cool than to heat, tell that to NZ home dwellers in winter. Brrrr!

3. Conventional farming better than organic. Lower yields with organic foods tend to produce more wastage.

4. Euthanise old trees and farm the forests. Rotting or burning trees offload all that CO2 they were storing. Not to mention all those trees that fall into dam lakes, transformed by anaerobic forces into methane. Hydro causes swamp gas! Think of it as the marginal utility of trees.

5. Follow China's example. If you can't get a world war to wipe the slate clean like Japan and Germany got, the next best thing is to be a primitive tech country, avoiding all the interim steps of industrialisation and going straight to the new tech. First there was Made in Japan. Then there was Made in Hong Kong. Made in China in morphing.

6. GE is here to stay. Ideally, what we should be looking for is genetically engineering a plant that eats carbon, methane and water vapour, whilst shitting hydrocarbons. I volunteer to suck up excess nitrous oxide.

7. Carbon trading does not work. Carbon credits compared with sub-prime mortgages. Ouch. Keep it simple; a fossil fuel tax.

8. Let's Go Nuclear. Auckland's power demands make this inevitable. Don't give me that tosh about nuclear free NZ either. What the hell is radiotherapy? Hands up all those in favour of a nuclear reactor in Remuera?

9. Hybrids vs. Mk I Ford Zephyr. Zephyr wins.

10. Don't fight Cyclone Marsha, it's bigger than both of us. Climate change, whether anthropogenic or not, is upon us. Get ready to adapt.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Caught between hope and misery

Colin James has a couple of excellent pieces. Firstly, a speech outlining the challenges that lie ahead. There is a war coming. To balance this gloom, James' graduation address raises a glass to the excellent amateur.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Recommended viewing for Libertarianz supporters

A while ago, I told Nandor how Atlas Shrugged was an impossible dream based on a world with perfect information and no children. Contrast this with reality, where most profit is in the arbitage of variable information levels. Ayn Rand's worst nightmare, Bioshock, is being made into a movie. Play the game, watch the movie, get over it.

Up in Smoke

Instead of sowing salt into the ground or setting fire to oil wells, Labour seem quite content to buy train sets and melt the smelter.

Looking a cash cow in the mouth

According to the maths of Dutch TV show Reporter, the Dutch government rakes in 400 million Euros tax a year from cannabis coffee shops. That's around $800 million Kiwi, just enough to cover the current cost of Cullen's train set EVERY YEAR. If one takes into account the 15 percent of New Zealanders who regularly partake, as well as the tourist magnet potential, there's every chance we could match or even beat Netherland's tax take.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Railroad to Nowhere

Just had a listen to Michael Cullen trying to explain the railways purchase on bFM. Omfg, if this is Cullen's idea of impulse buying, Dagg help us... Helen Clark has already admitted that the railways are not designed to make money. Cullen pretty much admits he paid too much for the semi-rolling stock. But what followed was much worse.

There was no strategy in the purchase. Cullen admits that there are no plans for any of it right now, thereby negating much of the need for the premium price tag. Apart from 'we're going to buy a truckload of new hardware', there's not the slightest clue of any long-term goal. Yeah, there's more metro commuter services, better freight planned, but nothing beyond what Toll was already trying to provide. There's no big picture.

Here's an alternative reality. It's the '90s and Fay Richwhite et al are asset-stripping the railways as perhaps the only way to get a return on their investment. Although the Nats should have slipped the equivalent of Telecom's Kiwi Share into the deal, I suppose they were urgently trying to hock off whatever they could to help pay for Labour's little BNZ debt secret.

Anyways, what happened was that rail services deteriorated to a point where the market shifted to roads. What should have happened at this point, was that railways should have died. Instead of subsidies and bailouts, which have kept this thing limping along for the last decade, rail should have been put out of everyone's misery years ago. Then, once it was dead, the government could have bought whatever remained for a pittance. Such a government would have seen the impending death of rail some time ago and drawn up a saner plan to make a Main Trunk Line and subsidiaries than what Vogel left on our doorstep.

It would, for example, have shunned the existing narrow gauge track, ripping it up and smelting it into government limos or something. Narrow gauge was only used to get through the alpine climes of the central plateau and other marginal constituencies.

If one were building a North Island Main Trunk from scratch, it would run from Wellington through to Wairarapa, up north-east to Napier (so Cullen can use his SuperGold card on it). From Napier, it could cut through to Rotorua, Hamilton and up to Auckland. The line would comprise of standard gauge, so NZ could buy stock cheaply off the US and Britain and, well, just about anywhere outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Then, a wildly-popular government could unveil a high-speed transit service, getting punters from Wellington to Auckland in, say, 3 hours. Now that would get a shit load of travellers off the roads. The bigger freight containers that could fit on trains would bring increased efficiencies to the transport sector too.

It happened somewhere, but not here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One Track Mind

Well, hell. Labour's gone and bought the railways. Here's me thinking my mates have gone overboard for the sprogs with the Thomas the Tank Engine franchise (collect all thirty books!). Trainspotter Michael Cullen has bought the mother of all antique train sets. Not that this weighs greatly on the chattering classes, who will no doubt distract their toddlers with coos at the TV along the lines of, "Ohhh, look! Now you own a bit of that tank engine! No, that's not Thomas, that's... umm... Pig Iron."

Pig Iron cost a hefty margin above market value. Call it the election year premium. Cullen assures the public that there was a reason for buying the trains off Toll but has yet to tell anyone what it is. After four years of owning the tracks with little sign of improvement, the public reaction on running a clapped-out fleet of obsolete stock will change like a Christmas puppy in July once the bills start rolling in.

On the 7th August 1908, then-prime minister Joseph Ward took a bunch of MPs of the inaugural trip on the Main Trunk Line. I wouldn't be surprised to see history repeat itself this year. What a photo op. Only two-third of a billion dollars of someone else's money to win an election. Worth a go, eh.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Te Aho a Maui

One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one about the Cook Strait Bridge. In light of today's opening of the world's longest sea bridge, it is a topic worth revisiting (Hat Tip to ET for phoning that one home).

The new bridge, linking Shanghai and Ningbo, was a public private partnership totalling 11.8bn yuan (about 2.2 billion kiwi). That's just over half the alleged cost for the attempt to clean up Auckland's clusterfucked arteries. And what's with the tunnels, Auckland? This country has a hell of a lot more experience with bridges than tunnels (Berryman bridge excempted).

It may seem politically palatable at first to suggest tunnels as the answer to everything. Out of sight (eventually), out of mind. But tunnels also mean out of pocket. Drilling a tunnel under Auckland's CBD and harbour is one hell of an expensive undertaking to build as well as maintain. Britomart Station will look like a doddle. Besides, travelling in tunnels under water is too chthonic for the average kiwi. You can't put clip-ons on a tunnel, neither.

Nup, it's got to be a bridge from the Heartland to the Mainland. I even had a name for it way back; Maui's fishing line. That was before I discovered that the bridge from Civic Square to Frank Kitts Park is already called that. Ah well, just as well I had a back-up; the Number 8 Highway. John Key has unveiled his Number 8 highway, unrolling fibre to the home. A Cook Strait Bridge becomes incrementally less improbable.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Backpacking on the graves of our ancestors

As a supporter of NZ becoming a republic, it is heartening to see that the Kingitanga seek to raise the issue of constitutional reform with iwi. Any future written constitution will have to be supported by Maori. If the last 150-odd years has taught us anything, it is that. It will be especially interesting to hear what korero goes on with Tuhoe. Depending on what their angle is, I could quite happily support some kind of cantonised NZ.