Friday, October 31, 2008

Suffrage and suffering

"Once is happenstance. Twice coincidence. Third time is hostile action."

It should be Obama by a landslide, but there's the very real possibility that rigged electronic voting and other forms of disenfranchising could still land the Loose Moose in the White House. Gordon Campbell's worried, and he's mentioning the half of it.

OK, so what do you want to hack, Diebold or Sequoia? How about taking people who have lost their homes off the roll? How about preventing people without photo ID from voting? Hurrah for the Dept of Homeland Security's plan for Real ID, not. Tim Robbins made an impassioned plea on Real Time with Bill Maher last week to not take this vote for granted. Vote. If you're told you can't vote and you know you're registered, vote anyway. Vote with a "provisional ballot."

Over here in NZ, our voting process is much more honest. It's transparent, like a used KFC napkin.

Boomer bashing

(Click to embiggen)

From the excellent Grant Buist

Outside the parallelogram

  • After the attempted assault on the PM yesterday, police have taken the Riccarton Mall food court floor in for questioning. Charges of being part of an organised gangway are expected to be laid later today.
  • Following a tip-off from an anonymous source, Mike Williams and a team from the Labour Parliamentary Research Unit have flown to an obscure hospital outside Rome to investigate a lead. Leaked details suggest that a baby swap occurred many years ago and the person known as "John Key" is actually the Anti-Christ.
  • Popular street mime Mr Lichen has been contacted by the Electoral Commission after a complaint that his act used words or graphics that constituted an electoral advertisement. Mr Lichen has defended himself, stating that his work is not an attack on Helen Clark and Winston Peters, but a silent re-enactment of the final scene in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.
  • The National Party has unveiled their Tough on Crime policy. In addition to DNA testing all arrestees, Guthrie cards of all New Zealand-born citizens will be added to the DNA database as well. Police spokespeople responded positively to the move, saying that if people have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Eco-tourism paradox

"What we once thought we had
We didn't
And what we have now
Will never be
That way again." - Nick Cave

Parts of the world are disappearing, and Fromer's has compiled them in 500 Places To See Before They Disappear. This Stuff article doesn't mention any particular NZ items on the endangered list, but Oz has 21 listings.

Cane toads can take a bit of the blame for the demise of the Daintree Rainforest and Kakadu National Park. There's the poor Tazzie Devils dying out because of some weird facial sex cancer, while Tasmanian islands get Loraxed by logging and mining.

But ecotourism is taking its toll on places such as the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island. Whole boatloads of concerned middle-class Greenies go out to see the Reef every day of the year. They drop shit overboard, they leak diesel exhaust all over it, hassle the local wildlife and generally act contrary to what one would expect for concerned preservationalists. On Fraser Island, 4WDs run up and down the beaches, ripping the dunes up and eroding it worse than any horse could cause.

So be a good Greenie, and don't go there if you really care. Unless you can develop some form of cure for facial sex cancer or a neutron bomb for cane toads, just stay away. Your presence there is not helpful.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Porsche trims $20bn off hedges

Porsche have made a deft move against the "locusts" of Mayfair. Porsche is set to grab up to US$20 billion off hedge funds after secretly buying up a majority of VW stock. The losses may drive some hedge fund companies into bankruptcy.

From the commentary:
"Porsche was secretly raising its stake through derivatives and options to a smidgen under 75 per cent... More than 30 per cent of the VW holding is in the form of options, or commitments to buy the shares at a later date for a particular price. As a result, Porsche is the only major holder able to satisfy the hedgies' need to close their positions. Porsche stands to make more out of a few weeks of speculating on markets than it could in years of selling cars."
Evidentially, it all seems above board and perfectly legal, although the German regulator is investigating to see if there was any evidence of insider trading. And who wants to fight on the side of a hedge fund right now? They're pond scum. If it's all legit, the move will give a nice little profit to all those German pension funds who started buying into the car company earlier in the year.

The hedgies aren't safe, and Boards of Directors all around the world are realising that they're employees just like everyone below them. Here in NZ, the recent Contact Energy AGM was our own version of out-playing the players. Welcome to a new form of economic warfare. Anarcho-capitalist shareholders.

Garbage in, garbage out

I've done the Nats, I did the Greens. Time for Labour:

Labour misleading the public, again

While Labour may have gotten away with their orange propaganda, they flew the wrong side of devious according to the Advertising Standards Authority. The Two Johns attack ad has been deemed misleading.

$150k to pimp Kissinger as Yoda

Maureen Dowd plots a brilliant, and hopefully prescient, script on Sarah Palin going AWOL:

"Does McCain know the maverick’s maverick has gone all mavericky on him?"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vote for your imaginary president now

Got an irresistible urge to vote and can't wait til November 8? Head on over to the President of New Zealand website and VOTE NOW on who you would choose as New Zealand's first president. The vote closes on October 31st, one week from now.

The nominees, who YOU CHOOSE the order of preference of are:

James Belich
Jim Bolger
Claudia Orange
Kiri Te Kanawa
Wilson Whineray

Profiles of the candidates are available here. Get to it, people!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pope admits he is Catholic

Land Transport Minister admits bike helmets may put people off cycling.

Balancing the books

Unbelievable. A headline in today's DomPost says that the Wellington City Council is looking at ways of shaving around $50 million from their spending. This is fair enough, what with Dunedin City Council facing lending shortages, it is prudent to look at where pennies can be pinched.

The aim is to cut between 3 per cent and 5 per cent a year from council's operating expenditure. Saving $3.5 million a year over the next decade will save the council $52 million after compound interest is calculated.

Kerry Prendergast sez, "But it is not a fiddle around the edges. Staff have been told to go back and look at everything, and just because you think it is a sacred cow, it isn't."
Ms Prendergast said she "was determined to keep rates increases to the level of inflation" but did not want to see the indoor sports centre or upgrade of council flats affected. "They would both contribute to the health and wellbeing of Wellingtonians, so I would put those as a higher priority than the others."
I can understand the reluctance to cut back on the council flat upgrade, seeing as WCC funding is part of the deal to secure even greater central government funding for the project too. However, the Cobham Park project fits into the $50 million ballpark comfortably. Don't think of the park project as a sacred cow. It is a white elephant that is threatening the local environment. It needs to be put down.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ms Bob Roberts

If you haven't watched Sarah Palin's debut on Saturday Night Live yet, have a look.

Opening sketch:

Closing sketch:

Most of the actors avoid eye contact with her completely. The last time I saw friction like this was in Bob Roberts, when Tim Robbins' candidate appears in a SNL-type show called Cutting Edge.

The Independent concludes, "Though her performance will no doubt increase her skyrocketing celebrity, a cynic might venture that it has come to something when a person seeking to become vice-president of the most powerful nation on earth celebrates being an object of derision."

Good Old Days

The journos are underwhelmed. Tracy Watkins bemoans the sterile campaign, while Colin Espiner pines for some fear and loathing to go with the chicken and asparagus pie. Fair go.

Preparing to go 'on the road' in 1987

Back in the old days, people used to throw eggs and rotten fruit at politicians. These days, you'd get charged with terrorism for doing stunts like that.

In the old days, a bit of No. 8 wire and a bright idea was all one needed to get out the vote. These days, the Tao D'election requires authorisation statements, financial agents, and an argument of lawyers (or is it a tempest of lawyers?) in reserve.

In the old days, a politician who refused a soapbox was soon out of a job. These days, a posse of Hollywoods pick and choose their audiences and ignore others. And, as Russell Brown observes, such a policy provides a better show when they don't show up at all.

In the old days, when all MPs were electorate MPs, their were no bullshit scripts. They sold their side of the story in the local language, not squeezed through the PR digestive system and focus group gropes.

Meh to contemporary elections.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

White collar crime wave

The NYT has a story on how the War on Terror has taken the heat off white collar criminals:
So depleted are the ranks of the F.B.I.’s white-collar investigators that executives in the private sector say they have had difficulty attracting the bureau’s attention in cases involving possible frauds of millions of dollars.

Here in NZ, the Labour-led government is committed to abolishing the SFO and merging its duties in a new FBI equivalent, the Organised Crime Bureau. At a time when criminal malfeasance in finance companies is becoming evident and the financial climate ripening for scammers and fraudsters, abolishing a specialised white collar crime unit is just about the stupidest thing to do.

Maximum Density

Friday, October 17, 2008


Nicked from the marvellous Lyndon Hood at Scoop

The civil service is long overdue for a back, crack and sack. The last time anyone had them by the short and curlies was with Trevor Mallard's gang, which was bugger all razor and mainly hair extensions. Just remember Nats, it's meant to be a shave, not a castration. Slip and you'll get the sack.

Two haiku

John and Bill unfold
Their origami game plan
Flying pig ascends

Helen Clark morose
The dots above are joining
Oh no! It's a net!


Ripped straight from Hard News:

Grant McDougall has cooked up the following meditation on "if New Zealand political parties were rock bands" ...

NATIONAL would be THE ROLLING STONES - absolutely unbeatable in their '60s and '70s heyday and blessed with an amazing frontman. They're still wildly popular of course, but they seem content to recycle their greatest hits and haven't came up with anything fresh or inspiring for yonks. As for the frontman, well, these days he seems more interested in finance than what's happening on the street. Think Big is their Dirty Works.

LABOUR would be U2 - superficially exciting, but basically merely bland and efficient. Plus their leader has an annoying tendency to come across as a pompous know-it-all. Also wildly popular, but despised by their detractors.

THE GREENS would be THE FALL - they've been around for ages, but have never been huge and never will be. Everyone knows what they do has loads more merit than everyone else, but it's all a bit too weird for most people. They're a cult act and will always have their followers, but will never gain widespread appeal.

ACT would be CULTURE CLUB - their schtick was huge in the '80s, but completely irrelevant and badly-dated now. Who the hell listens to Culture Club these days? No one, that's who.

NZ FIRST would be BB KING - hugely popular and influential in his day, but basically a cabaret act now that should just retire.

THE MAORI PARTY would be PRIMAL SCREAM - half the members are utter loose cannons, the rest are plodding journeymen. They also always talk total crap in interviews and seem wired up on any number of drugs.

UNITED FUTURE would be COLDPLAY - dreadful, bland, hated and sensible. The frontman is a smug twit that really ought to be smacked hard on the head with a cast-iron frying pan.

JIM ANDERTON would be JULIAN COPE - was moderately important in the same scene as U2 in the early '80s and had an unexpected career revival in the late '80s, early '90s, but obscure and irrelevant ever since; generally regarded as a nut-bar by most and an endearing eccentric by his equally-loopy band of followers.

Leave it to the bright sparks

At a time when local governments should be examining their budgets and living more within their (and ratepayers') means, Wellington City Council is ploughing on with the idiotic Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre.

Back in the early '90s, the Wellington Winter Show building on the corner of John and Wallace Sts in Mt Cook was a regular haunt for me. Back then it was painted bright yellow, like Rodney's jacket, and pimpled with big red half balls. Yea verily, it was ugly. You couldn't help to notice it. I used to play indoor volleyball there, and even worked as security guard for a Midnight Oil concert held there once.

These days, it's an anonymous gunmetal grey building. The boils have been lanced, and the building is host to a much more popular pursuit. The New Zealand School of Dance lives there, altogether a much more constructive use to house human movement.

So when I look at the clusterfuck at Cobham Park, it's not just the bad numbers that refuse to add up, or the logistics of traffic movement and storage, or the expontential pricetag. Let's all save a lot of mucking about and get straight down to the endgame.

Forget the 12-court >$62 million barn. Move the MetService there, just across the road from NIWA. We need to bring these two closer together and get some sparks flying.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guarantees extended

Further to the $150 billion taxpayer guarantee of bank and finance company funds at the Labour party campaign launch, the government today announced that the guarantee would also be extended to restaurant reservations.

"In order to maintain confidence and stability to the hospitality sector, the Labour-led government has seen fit to guarantee all formal dining sectors," said Helen Clark.

The scheme will be funded by a restaurant levy on all tables of five or over, while smaller tables will be covered for free.

"There has been a sharp rise in non-attendance of patrons, as the hard economic times have taken their toll on peoples' wallets," said Tony Staphylococcus, manager of Gia's Halloumi Tavern. "We get people saying they'll be 33 to 35 punters. Only 20 might turn up, and half of them just order garlic bread.It's getting harder and harder to stay profitable."

Helen Clark said the new protections would add a contingent liability of $30 billion more than the proposed deposit guarantee scheme. Helen Clark went on to say that she thought that this was "good value."

"There are limits, due to the need for fiscal restraint," said Clark. "For example, children's birthday parties at McDonalds will be covered but casual and drive-thru patronage will not. Inter-restaurant bookings, when workers from one operation dine at another's, are excluded also.

"Detailed costings, which I have available on this cocktail napkin here, have shown that the scheme is timely, workable and cost-effective."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blaxploitation Phantom

Now Rob Guest has passed on and Michael Crawford has retired, is it not time for someone else except a non-threatening middle-class white male for the role of Phantom of the Opera? I want to see Samuel L Jackson take it on. Since Tem Morrison's RotoVegas mansion is on the block, maybe he might be keen for a half moko mask gig and some pop opera.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

80 years of bears

The NY Times has an interactive graphic comparing the last 80 years of bear markets. Note the faint orange line of the Great Depression Bear run and compare it with the conspicuous red line of today.

The Solon Code

It's good to see Bill Ralston accepting things aren't all peachy keen in the financial world. It's almost reassuring to to read about the poor state of the property market, the talk of rising inflation. Oh, if only it were that simple. If one really wanted to see the truly awesome scope of what's at stake, have a read of this piece in the Independent about the derivatives WMD:
Not for nothing did US billionaire Warren Buffett call them the real 'weapons of mass destruction.' The market is worth more than $516 trillion, (£303 trillion), roughly 10 times the value of the entire world's output.
It's enough to make you wistful for a slight dip in house prices. At least that's fixable in the long run. At the very bottom of the cycle, you whack on a capital gains tax and say bye bye to property speculation. But if one of those derivatives should accidentally fall, they'll be no bloody bottles and no bloody wall. This tsunami could turn into a plague, a dystopia, or an asteroid.

Encouraged by my humble suggestion to the Federal Reserve on how to manage the bailout/rescue being followed, and as there's a mood for new ideas in the air, might I propose a very old idea. I don't think you're going to like it. For starters, this idea has one very large flaw. It's impossible. The idea is this: cancel all debts. Cut all losses and reset the meter.

From this excellent Reserve Bank report

Above is just one example of how impossible cancelling all debts would be. Forget Third World debt. That's nothing. Have a look at that graph. The price the USA would have to pay for forgiveness of its current account alone, is one that the USA is not prepared to pay. You'd need some New World Order or something, and the USA would never submit to a supranational body it couldn't control. Which leads to another obvious reason that this is impossible. Getting all world leaders to agree to a solution is inconceivable. The Security Council can't even agree on anything, let alone the wider international community. Neither of the US presidential candidates have a clue what's happening. Have a look at Bill Maher interviewing former Comptroller General David Walker this weekend.

In NZ, Labour's announcement at the campaign opening of guaranteeing deposits was misguided. That's not a policy, it's a band aid. Leaving the bigger questions until a December economic statement, conveniently after the election, does nothing to inspire confidence. For those with a long enough memory, it might bring to mind the ill-fated December 17 flat tax package that Roger Douglas floated. Enhanced rail services between Palmy and Wellington might provide commuting bureaucrats with more options, but it won't fix the economy.

John Key isn't promising much better on this point. Quango hunts and red tape rationalisation only go so far. There's much talk of change but the How question is left unanswered. Vernon Small picked up this point with Bill English on Agenda, asking from where the mythical extra $2 billion worth of tax cuts that didn't quite make it were going to be purloined.

But I digress. Away from the international debt of nation states, how about all that private lending? We would certainly end up with a lot of pissed off Belgian dentists and Japanese housewives on our hands. But if world peace, security and co-operation can be bought at the price of a generation of Belgians putting up with bad teeth, is that so bad? Of course it is. This leads to another impossibility, the fact that foreknowledge of any such policy would cause the mother of all runs. You'd have every other man and his dog maxing out mortgages and credit cards like there was literally no tomorrow.

If the idea is impossible on so many fronts, why bother raising it? Firstly, there's the principle of precedent. It has been done before, and people survived. The Romans flirted with the idea, but only at a basely selfish level (I'm looking at you, Dolabella!). OK, neither are quite on the same scale as the current mess, but the Gordian knot remains the same. Significant constitutional reform went hand in glove with the economic one, so it's part of a package deal.

Secondly, to coin an Isaac Asimov saying, to ignore the plight of this financial situation is to say it's only their end of the boat leaking. If a butterfly's wings beating in an Amazonian rainforest affects a hurricane in Kansas, then the possible effects of the financial crisis will be indiscriminate in who it touches. Buddhist monks in the Himalayan foothills will notice it, even if it is an increase in their membership.

Thirdly, the recent meeting of G7 central bankers shows an unprecedented level of co-operation. The crisis has focused the concentration of a large number of great and powerful minds. Maybe there is hope of leadership after all. Lastly, I raise the matter to bring some perspective. If the craziest idea in the world is already out there, maybe some less crazy ideas get mentioned too. Maybe there's a less-hazardous way out of this abyss aside from jumping.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The power of the shower

A team led by neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis has developed the formula for the perfect shower. The formula has seven variables: water pressure, environmental conditions, privacy factor, time length of shower, temperature of shower in degrees Celsius, fixture type and spray pattern.
“Creating the optimum shower is no easy feat, but a worthwhile endeavour. It offers psychological benefits; by varying the temperature of the water and the power of the jets, relaxation or stimulation can be aided. Endorphins are then released in the brain to make our mood more positive and feel energized. Also, because our skin contains a thousand nerve endings per square inch, creating the perfect shower to stand under is crucial in creating intense and extremely pleasurable physical sensations. As an added bonus, showers generate negative ions that also have an uplifting effect on mood, so help to further reduce stress, wash away frustrations and dissolve muscle tension.”
Exact details haven't been released yet, but there's a good likelihood that 6 litres per minute water pressure could lead to psychological impairment and unwarranted levels of stress. Who knows, maybe low pressure showers might even be a form of child abuse!

Happy Birthday, Dude

It's been ten years since the world was introduced to The Big Lebowski. The psychic shockwave abides to this day. There have been books (eg. I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski), bowling leagues, and even its own convention, complete with Donnie, Dude and Jesus impersonators. The politics of neo-cons and Walter Sobchak have been compared, and there's even talk of a sequel:
“That’s just like a sick thought, isn’t it?” laughed Philip Seymour Hoffman recently, commenting on Turturro’s dream of making a sequel that revolves around his child-molesting, bowling ball-licking Jesus Quintana.
So raise a White Russian to the dude who really ties us all together. Happy birthday, Duderino.

They're all nuts in here anyway

While the peanuts have survived in Karori school, even though the risk of death from "nut oil that could be spread on to communal surfaces" remains, spare a thought for the Welsh kids of Ceredigion Council. The council has banned Marmite from school breakfast clubs due to a high level of salt.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Free 312s

If your hearing aid takes size 312 batteries, head on over to the Wellington Hearing Association shop and grab some free ones. There's at least 6 4-packs left up for grabs, when I went there today. Seems a cock-up in ACC requisitions saw a little bonus for random deaf people.

Today's social panic headline

What the flying buggery Jesus does marijuana have to do with this story? Has someone made a laptop out of hemp? No, not even close. The story seems to be about "criminal business" occurring over unsecured wireless networks. One TradeMe account is hacked in order to sell stolen property. Such a story is only news to people whose password is "password."

Show me the connection to marijuana, TVNZ. Was the journalist high when they did the story? Is Wendy blowing smoke? WTF?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A very cunning stunt

Finally, after much slavering anticipation from the media hounds, the Nats have unveiled their tax policy. In a snappy two and a half page document with a two page "what's in it for me" index, Bill English has presented an eminently sellable bunny.

No extra borrowing, and the price tag is transparent enough. Anyone arguing over these esoteric costs are on a hiding to nothing. Even I/S sees sense in eliminating the KiwiSaver employer tax credit. The 2 percent minimum entry to KiwiSaver is correcting a serious blunder that Cullen should have fixed right from the get go. The R&D credit has been cashed up, but that's got me thinking about what's going to appear in the Tertiary Education policy. I've got a hunch that university research will get a boost.

The thresholds and tax levels are gradually adjusted over 3 years. Whilst I/S contends that the big winners from this will be the top income bracket, it's only a 2 cent retreat from the 39 cent rate that Cullen introduced, and can be dismissed as a long overdue fiscal drag adjustment. Everybody gets something, and it's noticeably more than what Labour have managed to return.

But wait! There's more! Instead of fiddling with Working for Families and asking for trouble, the Nats have turned the tables with the Independent Earner rebate. Starting at $24,000 (37 hours at minimum wage per week) and abating above $44,000, a significant chunk of voters got an extra little tax cut. The only criteria is that the recipient is not on any form of government welfare.

It's a policy that looks like it's aimed at all those responsible non-breeding taxpayers, as well as those Kiwis overseas who might want another reason to return to these shores. And it does that. But it's not just for singles and no-kids couples. It's for everyone. The policy is cleverly aimed at weaning families off welfare and back onto a simpler and cleaner tax code.
From 1 April 2009 the rebate will be $10 per week. From 1 April 2010 it will increase to $15 per week.
What happens in 2011 and 2012 with this rebate is left unsaid. It's fair to say that the incentive to continue on Working for Families will decline. In the long term, it will be scrapped not because the Nats want to, but because the dwindling recipients of state largesse make it unfeasible to continue. The policy will inevitably die through a lack of popular support, or be replaced with a more effective delivery vehicle.

But more curiouser still, and the most salient point I've found, is this little note in the KiwiSaver policy just before the "what's in it for me" charts :
National remains committed to continuing the New Zealand Superannuation Fund in its current form and with the current rules that determine annual contribution rates.

National firmly believes that security, stability, and predictability are vital in the area of retirement incomes. Bipartisan support and long-term commitments to the Superannuation Fund will ensure this.

Despite the recently announced losses from the fund, National believes it will make returns over the longer term that are adequate to fulfil its objectives.

In the longer term, National’s plan for the economy aims to generate the sort of investment opportunities that may enable more of the fund to be invested here in New Zealand.
Very bloody interesting.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Brother, can you spare a paradigm?

While the second law of thermodynamics is having its way with the world economy, there are up sides. Take Bill Ralston, for example. The credit crisis is media hysteria, Chicken Little material. Nothing wrong with an occasional deficit or ten. We'll get through it. Elsewhere, there are cries that tax cuts are not the thing to be doing, at least, not at the moment. The counterfactual implication is obvious. Raise taxes. Socialise Labour's loses. Mike Moore has pandered to the premise that it's not all that bad. It's not the end of capitalism. There will be no Depression in New Zealand.

The sky is not falling, but we are caught between famine and flood. It is not the end of capitalism, but a New Deal is coming. Colin Espiner calls austerity the New Black. He's in good company on the Stuff blogs, with the dark thoughts of the excellent Bruce Sheppard and the increasingly broody Bernard Hickey.

There's a fine line to had, I must admit. Prudence declares that you minimise use of the words 'bank' and 'run' in the same sentence, lest one causes a self-fulfilling prophesy to come on down. Yet shutting up and saying nothing, in the face such dangerous fluctuations in information (in this case, money), is akin to complicity in destruction. There will be destruction. McCain was right, insofar as this is the end of the beginning.

The US$700 billion bailout (or is it a US$820 billion rescue?) was just a small step. Never mind that the scale and urgency of the situation requires that most of the work is being doled out to private companies, outsourced at a rate that may be less than the usual one percent commission rate. Never mind that this multi-billion dollar niche is hopelessly compromised with conflicts of interest in the hopelessly incestuous business world.

Yes, there will be enough lawsuits and class actions to keep Boston Legal with scripts until next century. Many, like Tom DeLay, will get away with it. With a half a billion dollar salary over eight years, the former head of Lehman Brothers could afford God as his attorney. The venerable Henry Waxman did what damage he could, asking the suit, "Is that fair?" The pause elicited was worth around $100,000 alone.

Like Eichmann in Jerusalem, it will all be too little, too late. The damage is done. International markets, that bastion of pure and unadulterated flow of information, has got AIDS. All around the world, lenders are crossing their legs to avoid infection. Prospective business partners might be pure as driven snow, but the level of distrust is too high. The lenders have been chastened.

While New Zealand's banking structures are much more sound compared with the Northern Hemisphere's, we will suffer nonetheless. Whether it is through deposit insurance or tightened lending criteria or a possible downgrade of credit rating after the PREFU, transactions are going to incur higher costs. The actions business took for granted will require more effort. The river crossed in summer climes is a dangerously swollen river in these turbulent times.

New Zealand is wont to get carried away. We never really recovered from the '87 crash. Drama queens that we were, our stock market remained in a hissy fit while most markets bounced back. As Brian Easton said in that bFM interview above, NZ has taken plenty of historical precedent in hard times for shrieking for the government to fix it, fix it, fix it!

The popular mandate will become evident with landslide wins for Obama in the US and in NZ with a landslide for Key. Unshackled from long-time political hedging by careers in law and business respectively, there lies enough potential in both to present a New Deal to the public. Implicit in this, is that these administrations will be open to ideas. Out of such destruction, something new will hopefully sprout.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Massive police response to food fight

A barbecue at Canterbury University turns into a food fight involving 300 participants. Nine cop cars race to the scene to disperse the crowd. No arrests made, no serious damage to the campus. However, many residents expressed anger at getting no dinner.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The other Biden Palin debate

This just in. SNL covers the VP debate. Comedy gold.

Drugs, guns and casting couch diplomacy

I say, DJ, do you have any Apocalypso tunes?

While Katherine Rich might have described Simon Power as a fellow liberal Nat in her valedictory, there was bugger all sign of it on this morning's Agenda. Phil Goff and Simon sat there as Beadle One and Beadle Two. It was most acutely summed up when Bernard Hickey, clearly preoccupied with more pressing economic worries, threw in a possible re-examination of drug prohibition. The twins vigorously shook their heads. The idea was unthinkable.

Two industries thrive in hard economic times; religion and drugs. That's why the fundies and conservatives hate drug dealers so much. It eats into their target market; the desperate, the gullible, the mental, or those who just need some escape from their miserable reality. Well, there's going to be a lot more miserable people in the near future, and most of 'em aren't going to head to Jesus.

On Eye to Eye, you had Ron Mark declaring that's there aren't enough tools to police drug prohibition effectively. Thirty years of search without warrant powers aren't enough. If we just wipe out the gangs, the problem will go away. Bullshit. The market abhors a vacuum and something else will take their places. Any law than could sufficiently proscribe the Triads or Yakuza as gangs is a very open-ended law.

Good on Hone Harawira for calling it for how it is. You lock up the petty thieves and you give the big thieves a knighthood. When Ron Mark tried to draw attention to the Winebox inquiry that started NZ First off in the first place, all he managed to portray was how Winston has come full circle, a snake eating its tail.


This week's Real Time with Bill Maher was a doozy. Sarah Palin gets roasted in the intro. During the debate, she didn't blink but she did wink. A lot. We may well be witnessing the attempted collective seduction of the American voters by Sarah Palin. Perhaps casting couch diplomacy in Alaskan earmarks works the treat as an international negotiating technique too. Debbie Does the UN, or Hookers for Jesus or something...

Next up, Bill Maher gets Bob Woodward to lift the veil on how the Iraq surge actually works. Essentially, it's pre-emptive Black Ops which takes out anything that looks vaguely threatening.

The panel consisted of Garry Shandling, Alec Baldwin and CNN's chief international correspondent, Christine Amanpour. Part one of the panel continued the Palin bashing, with Amanpour trying to give some small credit to the major US parties for finally fielding women in leadership roles. Years after Margaret Thatcher and Benizir Bhutto, the land of the free is finally catching up to those uncivilised foreigners.

Part Two features Amanpour's opinion on US Foreign Affairs. Essentially, it is Obama policy. Engagement, soft power. There is mention of the God's Warriors documentaries that helped lead her to this conclusion, which I'll have a look at later on. Christian Warriors here, Islam Warriors here, a bit of Jewish Warriors here and at CNN's site here.

Part Three focused more on the credit crisis, with some good one-liners and astute observations. Unfortunately, Shandling and Baldwin got into a love-fest (Jeez guys, get a double ticket to a Hall of Mirrors and be done with it). Part Four continues on Iraq's cost and opportunity cost. There's also an Exit Strategy feature on Australia.

And then there's New Rules.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Modular Living

What would happen if Ponoko started printing out mass customisation houses? The New York Museum of Modern Art has an open air installation of five prefabricated housing designs, called MoMA Home Delivery.
  • System 3 features a laser cut building system with a service unit heart. This heart comprises the utilities; water, power. Further modules surround the heart as living space.
  • The Digitally Fabricated New Orleans House is a flat pack that can be reasonably assembled by two people. No nails or screws used, as structural integrity is maintained through interlocking parts.
  • The micro compact home maximises interior space with an ingenuity last seen in Bruce Willis' apartment in The Fifth Element.
  • Cellophane House made from off-the-shelf aluminium wrapped in a seamless transparent film. It has the ability to go 'off the grid" with photovoltaic cells.
The videos on this page are well worth watching. Hat Tip to Wired.
Get used to it:

Que Sarah, Sarah

Well, the VP debate has been and gone. Gosh darn it and shucks, Palin didn't suck. Most of her utterances were in whole sentences even. Unfortunately, that's as good as it got. Here are the top 150 words used by Palin, as run through Wordle:

Compare this with Biden:

Compare the use of monosyllables in the former with the political language in the latter. Folksy may sound comforting, but it's devoid of meaning. The talking points and buzzwords are there, yeah. But they are islets in a torrent of poorly scoring Scrabble moves. You've got to worry when 'also' is the most common word used.

She name dropped foreign sounding leaders passably, but mixed up her US generals.

This is General McClellan.

This is General McKiernan. Oh well, at least she got Petraeus right, not mixing him up with Patton.

Friday, October 03, 2008


I've been getting some stick from Blair and others over my love-hate relationship with Act. So, by way of partial explanation, let me provide a reference point. Be prepared. This is going to take the scenic route. The short answer is that I am a moderate libertarian, and I have the Facebook application to prove it. But that's boring and transparent as mud. 42. How I got here was a sum over histories. The personal, the cultural, the physical, and the blood.

Let's start with blood. Dad's idea of babysitting was dragging me round to his mates' places. I sat there reading 2000AD comics while the old man talked to Joe Walding.

Joe made his money in the catering business. He's right up there with Alison Holst and Nana for my reasons for going into hospitality. Joe was also the bloke who introduced New Zealand to China. Joe was also David Lange's brain.

One time, Joe Walding and Dad were overseas on Foreign Affairs business. They were toasting shots in front of a huge open fire. After the glasses were drained, they tossed them into the flames, crystal tinkling. This was charged up on their expenses receipts, justified on the grounds that they were doing their bit to ease the strain on our then-pegged NZ currency.

Then there was Gordon Brown. No, think of someone completely different from the British PM. This Gordon Brown was quite short and had a brown balding pate circled with crisp white hair. Before Yoda, there was Gordon Brown of Palmerston North. This remarkably humble mentor of Dad's lived on Linton Street, near the corner with College Street. In his day, Gordon Brown was the chief executive of the Consumers' Co-operative Society, or the Co-op as it was known. The raison d'etre of this group was to translate a British ideal of socialist business practices into New Zealand.

Egalitarianism lay at the foundation of the co-op, the commonweal serving people not as employees but owners. It brought capital to those without it, but sharing a will to improve themselves. It was human capitalism. The Consumers' Co-op only lasted a lifetime, from 1935 to 1986. But other co-ops survived or evolved. Fonterra, up until the melamine stain, has thrived. It turned to kidney stones only when unco-operative overseas suppliers of core goods entered the equation. Out of mind, out of sight. Gotta keep that oversight.

But many smaller co-operatives were bought out or went bust in the face of the transglobal conglomerate of capital. Huge beasts, Foodstuffosaurus and Progressive Enterprises Rex, killed the local wildlife of butchers and market gardeners. Big Box Shops popped up, franchising became the norm. This was all good from a retail price perspective. The Friedman argument says that this means that consumers will have more money to spend on other things.

But the off-tag price was high. Scales of economy, and therefore profitability, tilted ever upwards towards the incumbents. New ideas suffered the insufferably constipated command chain of intra-company communication. Increasingly, decisions and processes were based offshore, NZ relegated to a profit-bearing backwater. As the co-ops tumbled, their power base within the Labour party fell too. Employees' proxies, the unions, took over, changing the Left's political arguments forever. But worse, much worse; freedom diminished.

Trev used to lecture me on the definition of freedom. "You're never truly free until two conditions are met. First, you're your own boss. Second, you don't owe anyone any money." For example, Bob Jones is free. He can tell people to piss off if he wants to.

But Trev was caught on the horns of a dilemma. On one horn, he reckoned that people could do whatever they liked, as long as they paid for the consequences of their actions. Trev supported the Homosexual Law Reform Bill not because he was gay, but because it brought legitimate freedom to an undeservedly persecuted minority. Before the reform, gays were treated a bit like how illicit drug users are treated now.

The other horn of the dilemma was Lee Kwan Yew and Singapore. The old man greatly admired Singapore's transformation from a tin shed to modern economy. This path of enlightened dictatorship provided a relativist example of how the common good was served at the the cost of individual liberty.

I used to have robust debates with Trev over this tradeoff. Unlike many of the traditional right-wing blogosphere, I see little connection between economic freedom and individual freedom. Just because Australia can dig up iron ore or uranium and ship it to China or the US at great profit, it doesn't follow that these nations should value individual liberty any higher than Nigeria or Sierra Leone. Diamonds did not bring individual freedom to South Africa. The citizens of Jedda and Dubai are not free.

Brian Nicolle informed me some time ago that when Trev drew up Act's first law and order policy back in the 90s, it was a "Hang 'em High" affair. This was no surprise, given the dinnerside conversations that used to fly around. One time, a judge and the old man solved the Treaty of Waitangi problem. Buy the Trentham racecourse, rig up a whole lot of nooses, and hang the bloody lot of them. So I really shouldn't be surprised with Act's current law and order policy. It's tame compared with what Trev had in mind. But that was him and this is me. That was then and this is now. I am my father's son. I am my own man.

Crime is irrevocably tied up with other other social issues. Employment levels is a main one. I'm no unionist, but I truly believe that no one goes to work every day in order to fulfil their job poorly. There's a sense of satisfaction and pride in a job well done, not only just the paycheck at the end of it. However, with low-skilled employment, there's a negligible barrier between turning up for work and doing the job well.

This is another benefit of the co-op structure. In such a scheme, even the lowest paid has an incentive to do well. Lacking that incentive and focus, underemployment as well as unemployment can lead to extra-curricular delinquency.

So the answer to rising crime is not locking more people up for longer. There will never be enough prisons. Just you watch when the recession really bites and unemployment goes up. As the cost of living rises, the squeeze on the impoverished low income earners will see an upswing in unlawful sustenance. As the frustration with the inability to pay the bills grows, so too will domestic violence.

Both main parties know the truth of this. Labour's and National's long term goals has always been aimed at maximum employment. Where the two main parties differed was how to achieve it. Labour thinks you can invent jobs, makework to prevent idleness. National knows that only productive work is ultimately sustainable.

To complicate this full employment picture further, technology and centralisation has had a crucial role to play. Just as call centres have made customer service desks obsolete, economies in the media business have seen sub-editing centralised, local papers culled. In the not too distant future, I can see a lot of retail jobs being superceded by RFID tags or electronic ordering systems. The nature of work is changing. In a world where unskilled labour is vastly oversupplied, it makes the digital divide look manageable in comparison.

So a simplistic solution of "three strikes out" or "zero tolerance" will make little impact when things get rough. Such a policy is a dead end, whichever party is touting it. While I used to favour the economic liberalism of Act, I cannot abide the short-sighted social conservatism of the party's law and order stance any longer. I'm out for the count.

Right-sizing the expectations

Just back from having lunch with DPF and Whale Oil about the Blogmobile trip.

On the way there, I got lost and ended up accidentally walking past the touring vehicle in question. I was expecting something bigger for $174,000. As it sits, the Winnebago is slightly smaller than my old man's old campervan. Mr Whippy, as it was called, was arguably New Zealand's first campervan with an overhead sleeper. A Bedford truck base with a custom slab of portable accommodation on top, the vehicle doubled as a portable electorate office and advertising vehicle during campaigns.

No time for a look-in, I'm white rabbiting to the cafe late as it is. Finally meet the prolific Whale Oil. Schedules are outlined, reality is consulted. There's been a lot of interest in the Blogmobile, and fair go. There's a lot of potential there. A few provisional gigs sorted out. I'm hoping to get up to Palmy sometime to cover what could be a very interesting race between Iain Lees-Galloway and Malcolm Plimmer.

We head on back for a look inside the blogmobile, and where the $174,000 went becomes more obvious. This is a Wanderluster's wet dream. DPF presses a button and the beast breathes out, expanding by about half a metre. While you still couldn't fit a full leaders debate inside, there's enough room for a few head-to-heads, if the egos are left outside with the gumboots.

Except the feisty Aro Valley Meet the Candidates meeting, there's sweet FA wildcards in these increasingly presidential-style elections. Away from the the confines and controls of the TV formula medicine, give me the soapbox over the idiot box any day. Away from the filtered and moderated input for the TVNZ YouTube debates, give me the stump speeches that sways an audience, not preaches to the converted.

I'm hoping the blogmobile becomes a fixture of future election circuits, sort of a neo-BLERTA of journalism. Even now, the squeaky dog toys of war are getting prepared.