Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sleb drought at Davos

Marina Hyde at the Guardian wonders why Bono isn't at Davos this year:
Easily the most glaring absence, though, is Bono, whose publicist explains he is "finishing an album" - and I suppose everyone has to pay the tax man. Actually, that's not strictly true. Bono only has to pay a few per cent tax, because he shifted U2's music publishing company to the Netherlands. He's spent the past few Davos gatherings badgering governments about progress on the UN's millennium development goals. Fun fact: the Tax Justice Network estimates that if tax was paid on the money the world's rich have protected in tax havens, it would raise $255bn - enough to finance the millennium development goals five times over.
And we wouldn't want to upset the Caymanites now, would we?

Slumdog Genius

Pakistani 18 year old Ali Moeen Nawazish has been accepted at Cambridge University after getting 21 A-levels (I beg to differ with the headline. He sat 23 and received 21).
He received A grades in physics, biology, human biology, mathematics, pure mathematics, further mathematics, computing, marine sciences, applied information and communication technology, thinking skills, Urdu language, Urdu literature, general paper (international), geography, applied geography, sociology, psychology, business studies, travel and tourism, and critical thinking. He also secured A grades in two AS-levels, general studies and English language, which equal one A-level.

He did however suffer the indignity of obtaining only a B in chemistry and a C in general further mathematics.

"I feel bad about those two," he said. "Then again, I was feeling a bit tired when I took them. I'd been up since 8am and I think I finished that maths exam at 1am the next morning."

That's one sparky Paki!

They're tekkin' our jerbs!

Nationalism and protectionism go hand in hand:

The Independent: "A decision to bring in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese contractors to work on a new £200 million plant at the giant Lindsey Oil Refinery at North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire, sparked protests in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and other parts of England in support of jobs for British workers."

The UK Times: "Now, prodded by America's mighty steel lobby, a key congressional committee has voted, 55-0, to attach a still more rigorous “Buy America” clause to President Obama's stimulus package. It bars federal funding of any public projects “unless all of the iron and steel used is produced in the United States”. The clause could be extended to asphalt, cement, heavy machinery, you name it. US dollars, the committee intones, must be used to create “American jobs in America, not Chinese jobs in China”."

From the BBC: Huge crowds have taken to the streets in France to protest over the handling of the economic crisis, causing disruption to rail and air services.

The engrossing Tim Groser on NatRad talking about the Davos summit.

Putin shoots down Dell founder's bilateral-curious offer of help: "We don't need help. We are not invalids. We don't have limited mental capacity."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Around the interweb

Have you seen this little beauty yet? Best sign yet that internet viral marketing has the fulcrum to destroy the old TV and advertising 30 second spot model.

Transform blog has a link set wondering how long before caffeine is classified as a Class B drug?
A google-news search finds 285 media hits ranging from Fox news (Lots ... and Lots of Coffee Linked to Hallucinations), and the Times of India (coffee can lead to hallucinations), to The Australian (Drink coffee, see dead people) and even Reuters with the ridiculous invent-a-quote headline 'Coffeeholics wake the dead'.
The evidence doesn't quite fulfill the moral panic. That space is reserved for the Reefer Madness Luddites who moved cannabis up to Class B again.

Graeme Edgeler does a deep think on the role of grand juries in the NZ court system, in light of the recent police killing of Halatau Naitoko. Must admit, it would fill a vacuum in the system. Perhaps the admin could be done by the Supreme Court. I mean, something's got to fill in the time and space within the new building on the corner of Bowen and Molesworth.

Nothing sums up Whangarei better than this story.

Chris Trotter continues to blow strange new notes out of his old trombone. Social democracy more than just pragmatic Marxism, eh. We must all pull together. It's from each according to their talents, but not as we know it...
Of course, what Steve might actually be suggesting is that the middle and upper classes should bear the entire weight of the crisis on their own shoulders. If so, I would like to hear him explain why these Kiwis (who are also, presumably, innocent of any role in the creation of the global recession) should be the ones to make all of the sacrifices. Apart from utterly impoverishing these groups (and thereby transforming them into members of the working class) what purpose would be served by such an inherently unjust policy?
Haven't heard the story of John "Aladdin" Thane yet? Jon Stewart at the Daily Show sums it up in Stim City:

And BoingBoing points to this stunning portfolio of London from the air. You can almost see the Brit City from Judge Dredd, any day expecting to see motorways built on the roof of the city.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back in the Red

Two decades after its launch, Red Dwarf is returning to the TV with a two part special, Back to Earth:
Written and directed by Red Dwarf co-creator Doug Naylor, the new show reunites the line-up, including Coronation Street's Craig Charles.
After the success of Doctor Who's resurrection, who knows what else the BBC might bring back? The Tomorrow People? Blakes 7? Noel Edmonds' House Party?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Small Victory

I'm getting more and more respect for Ministry of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett all the time. Aside from breaking up a girl fight, there's the story of the gang connection beat-up. To explain why, let me tell a story. It's true and there's a few parallels.

This is the story of Jane, a teenage girl who had a hard time dealing with her parents' divorce. Last year, she ran away from home and was living on the streets of Wellington. She fell into the company of strangers, took a lot of drugs and paid for them with the only thing of value she thought she had. She shoplifted. She slept rough.

Certain sibling circumstances increased the stress on Jane's mother, who went through a nervous breakdown. Even then, she did what she could. She managed to convince Jane to come home with her one time. Jane invited a whole lot of her street mates around and they ripped off the house.

Social services couldn't help. Jane was eventually arrested for shoplifting and was due to appear before the courts. Distraught and unable to cope with her daughter's rejection, Jane's Mum asked a couple of friends, Madame Guru and Mr Future, to take Jane in and try to remove the feral self-destruction that had taken Jane over. The courts duly released Jane into the Guru/Future household.

I cautioned against such a move. "She'll rip you guys off," I warned. "She has to work it out of her system herself," I counselled. Nevertheless, they took Jane in. It was hard on them. It was hard on their family. There were rough patches. I didn't hear from Madame Guru and Mr Future for months on end as their lives were so full on.

But Jane didn't rip them off. After a few months, Jane settled down again and went back to school. She moved back in with her mother. There's a picture in the Guru/Future lounge of their family, painted by Jane. For Christmas, Jane's Mum gave a Kirk's voucher as thanks for their help. Unaided by state intervention, unpaid by WINZ, the Families Commission or any other esoteric quango, it was just ordinary folks being good people with what they had.

So hands off Halaholo, you tabloid vulture. While there's life, there's hope.

"Sorry, Lady"

As the NZ Herald says, "It started with a bag snatching and ended with an innocent teenage father dead." That's what you could call escalation.

You'd expect the AOS to get it right. If they can't use their monopoly on violence properly, what would arming every cop look like? It might look a bit like the States, home of all those reality cop shows and where one percent of the population is behind bars. Do you really want more Suicide By Cop volunteers here?

Look how we've come from the idea of it being better to let ten guilty men walk free than see one innocent man condemned. I hope the police lay off on pushing for more weaponry for a while. And the dead man's Mum should really meet her son's killer, but buggered if that should reach primetime viewing.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tariffication War continues

Bush's last act of revenge against the French escalates the protectionism stakes. From the Times:
Last Thursday, Washington tripled an already punitive duty on the pungent cheese to punish Europe for maintaining a 12-year-old ban on US hormone-fed beef... The Americans slapped punitive duties on an array of other EU food imports, including fruit, chocolate and chewing gum, but none was subject to the 300 per cent reserved for Roquefort.
Let's face it. Doha is a dead parrot.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Higgs Boson discovered amongst Cheney correspondence

President Obama's new Goatse on Government policy has already led to the discovery of one of the most elusive particles in the universe. In the short time Obama aides have been allowing search engines to search government websites, the Higgs Boson was spotted in one of the former vice president's reports.

"I found it in a .pdf file amongst a study of peace-keeping responses from the Pentagon," said Vim-Jif Harpic of Saigon. "In between the case studies on Active Denial Systems mounted on black helicopters and the laser canon on the moon was this strange blot. When I went to print it out, there was this strange yipping sound from the printer and a flash of bright light. Man, it was beautiful and it smelled like strawberries."

Physicists later identified the presence of the Higgs boson by studying the ink sprayed onto the walls by the quantum accident. Scientists at CERN are reported to be "slightly annoyed but mainly overjoyed" at the discovery. "We've been beaten to the punch while the Large Hadron Collider has been out of action. But proof of the presence of Higgs bosons cements our greater understanding of the cosmos," said Professor Hubert Escoffier at CERN.

A spokesperson for President Obama said that the president was glad that "some good has come out of the last eight years."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Auckland 2nd again

From the NZ Herald:

Fast wireless internet is now available in Auckland.

Auckland became the first city in the country yesterday to offer the service, which allows users, for a small charge, to connect to the internet in certain areas in and around the CBD.

Good on Cr. Bhatnagar prodding the plot along to get WiFi in Auckland's CBD, but they're certainly not the first in the country. Haven't they heard of CafeNet?

BHO presents...

Congratulations to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. And thank you American voters, who have demonstrated that you can learn from your mistakes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Balls to 2009

Okay, nth time lucky. Hopefully I'll finish this bastard Balls to 2009 post this time. Truth be told, I've been hacking and slashing at this essay most of January. The early drafts ended up deleted with extreme prejudice. I'd end up too drunk, too stoned, or passed out whilst stuck on a hell tangent about the failed revolutions of 1848. Later versions were stored away in the Edit Posts folder, sitting there like a mother-in-law whenever a new thought came up. Everything was too huge, too big. I wouldn't say above my pay grade. That's not the point. Street cleaners are above my pay grade.

If you're not depressed with the world economy after reading the double whammy in the New York Times by Michael Lewis and Michael Einhorn, The End of the Financial World As We Know It and How to Repair a Broken Financial World, well good on you. The recommendations in the latter article are all worthwhile, but unable to contain the damage. Of course you reform the Securities Commission. Of course to take the piss out the ratings agencies. And why are Credit Default Swaps still legal? Then again, Bernie Madoff is still out on bail even after getting caught trying to send jewellery to relatives. Money can grease the palm of Lady Justice in a way that an innocent on Death Row can't.

Some people are going to come out of this very very rich. Just as Fay Richwhite and other currency speculators made fortunes out of NZ's currency as the Kiwi floated back in 1985, imagine the vultures circling the US bailout cash. What would you do for a slice of US$1 trillion and more? The distressed asset posse are already licking their chops.

For the rest of us, the damage is done. That unquantifiable element of trust has disappeared. Naked nation-state self-interest is in vogue. Britain was an early adopter when it used anti-terrorism laws to preferentially remove its assets from Iceland's bankruptcy. While the steel tariffs are being raised in India, China and Vietnam, steel lobbies in the US are hassling to ensure that whatever Obama's infrastructure plans include steel as an ingredient. The EU is tinkering with tariffs as part of their bailout for their economic woes. Meantime, Fonterra is hoarding non-subsidised milk powder as demand shrivels.

Consider the fate of recycling programmes around the country. Commodity prices are collapsing in general, but recycling in particular is hard hit. Wellington City Council is considering stopping the collection of glass, as it's no longer economical. The global price of plastics has halved in recent months:
The price of recycled cans has fallen from £200 a tonne to £20 a tonne. Paper and card has fallen from £60 a tonne to just £10 a tonne, while certain plastics have halved to around £50 a tonne.
Raw aluminium has also lost over half its value in the last five months. Rio Tinto is selling its share of an aluminium refinery and China.Who is buying it up? Why, the Chinese of course. If you're going to spend your domestic recovery plan on infrastructure, it makes sense to outsource the hard yakka to the cheapest site, whilst keeping most of the yuan in the family. It will interesting to see if the Rio Tinto de-leveraging plan has put any squeeze on Bill English's electorate. What's the price of Tiwai Point?

Consider the efforts to create some genuine international financial standards, which are bogged down in petty self-interest. The lack of trust that exists between entities will not be going away any time soon. There's the very real prospect of really big failures that are being papered over with some really creative accounting, so there's a certain fear in dropping the numerical obfuscation.

Meantime, the Greek Chorus of the MSM is facing challenging times of their own. TV media will be facing sharply declining advertising revenue. The plight of the Tribune and New York Times shows the print media have issues too. The Brits have their own way of doing things, as the purchase of London's Evening Standard by Russian billionaire and former KGB man Alexander Lebedev. There have been talks on the QT regarding a merger of Channel Four and Channel 5. The merger will presumably be called Channel 4.5.

Media arms in NZ have similar existential crises. The NZ Herald and Listener are looking for new owners. I reckon the Herald will eventually find a buyer, but the Listener will be on the endangered list. How long before the DomPost becomes the DomPress? And will cost-cutting at TVNZ mean that the replacement for Agenda will be hosted by Jason Gunn?

You'll see a continuation of mergers and consolidations going on, whether it's commodities, services or press freedom. Strangely enough, this will acerbate the situation, as jobs are lost and even more debt is loaded on balance sheets to pay for it all. The current plight of Bank of America, who are asking for a bailout to help pay for their acquisition of Merill Lynch, is a timely example.

All about are signs that everyone's just looking after their own back yard and damn the rest. Governments around the world will have their hands full with keeping their citizens occupied. If it takes a tariff or non-trade barrier to keep the domestics employed, so be it. No leader wants ten or more percent of their populations unemployed. No good can come of that. Whether it's crime, welfare or civil unrest, no-one wants revolting idleness.

There will be unemployment. The US is losing half a million jobs a month, and even with the stimulus packages there's no sign of this slowing down. The services sector is getting thumped. Construction, retail, real estate agents, property management, advertising, all are going to get burned. Kiwi Income Property Trust and Westfield, watch out. The malls are going to get mauled. The IT market is facing decimation. Dell is closing manufacturing in Ireland, as the real estate market is providing more destruction to the economy than anything since the IRA disarmed.

Seven percent unemployment is now being touted around. Call me a pessimist, but I reckon we'll hit ten in 2009. The knock-on effects from overseas will knock us here too. Not just in obvious ones such as dairy, tourism and baby strollers. Just as NZ exported its unemployment in the good times, a lot of those prodigal expatriates will be returning to the nest as their adopted countries export their unemployment. Being poor in NZ is better than being poor in almost any other country. More social welfare than China, better healthcare than the US, and less dangerous fauna than Australia.

In summary, the financial crisis will become an economic one, if it hasn't already. According to Intrade, a site similar to iPredict, the chances the US slipping into Depression in 2009 is now 54 percent (Hat Tip Marginal Revolution). All the above is to try and get it all to sink in. We are really in the shit.

To coin a phrase, what can one do with 200,000 unemployed NZers? While Roger Douglas is right, that jobs are not the only thing to look at, KiwiPolitico's criticism of ignoring the human element is valid. While Roger's economic argument holds true, there's the political reality that double digit unemployment brings. 200,000 or more bored, broke and belligerent beneficiaries brings trouble.

This is one of the sticking points I have with NZX's ideas to boost the economy. Changing tax structures on capital investment is all very good in theory. But what if that capital investment is used to upgrade technology like Air NZ's new automated check-in? Essentially taxpayers could be subsidising companies to make people, or at least positions, redundant.

This is the crux of the problem; how to achieve greater productivity AND more jobs. Grow the cake, as Rodney and Roger are wont to say. The two concepts aren't mutually exclusive, after all. The lazy answer is tariffs, but that's a cop out. The big problem of tariffs is not introducing them, but how to get rid of them when the reason they were introduced no longer applies.

You need a better answer, so it's good to see Key has tasked NZX's Mark Weldon to front the Employment Summit. The editor of NZ Management magazine (that's the publication that doesn't consider Colin James too boring) has popped up on Pundit to sing Weldon's praises, while Cactus Kate pops the bubble on a certain underperforming CEO.

CK has a point, in that the NZX could do well to get its own house in order with greater transparency of its charges and sterner enforcement of its business. However, with the NZ Institute's David Skilling up-skilling to Singapore, there needs to be someone outside the political circus talking about these things. Between him and Lloyd Morrison, they've been banging on about the growth engine thing since before the election. So, in the absence of any other voices doing a better job of it, fair go. That's not to say there aren't other ideas. Bruce Sheppard, for example, is also giving it a good bash.

The stakes are high. As I said at the beginning, 1848 has been on my mind a bit. Not so much the socialist fervour, but in the global restlessness of it. The EU, the US, Russia and China are facing civil unrest, unless they can get their people working again. Around the world, police will play a pivotal role in how this plays out.

Here in NZ, it could be anything that might spark it off; unemployment, the police spy ring, the Tuhoe terrorist court appearances, even the Great ISP Copyright Cut-off starting in March that brings things to a head. Beware the marches of March. Or July. Appropriate responses to public pressure valves will be closely scrutinised. Greece and Australia have shown a glimpse of what can happen when the cops get it wrong.

And now, seeing how I've probably depressed the crap out of you, I'd better tag on a Hollywood ending. 2009 will also see the demise of boy racers. As the job market shrinks, car credit dries up and car maintenance costs pile up, boy racers will get their thrills vicariously by going to stock car derbies and off-road rallies. Rest easy, Mayor Bob!

Intoxication is recession-proof. Whilst many restaurants and pubs will shut up shop, there'll be start-ups in homebrew beer, spirits, and (even more) marijuana growing. While the market for organic produce takes a hit, bulk food barns will become more popular. Childhood obesity will no longer be a problem.

And since I can't think of anything else positive to say, I'll leave you with a funny condom ad:

Friday, January 02, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful 5

"The meek will inherit the earth, but only after the rich and powerful have finished with it. By then, it won't be worth having." - Marty Feldman

In order to procrastinate on the Balls to 2009 post a bit longer, and be distracted by happier thoughts, here's the annual round-up of escapism into film. Sure, there's snappier sights saying much the same thing. Wired,, The Times, and Kate Roger at TV3 have some decent picks.

What's the time, Dr Manhattan? Will Watchmen open on my birthday, or will Fox and Warner still be throwing lawyers at each other? While a movie can never do justice to the source material, it looks like it will be closer to Alan Moore's ideas than the movie versions of From Hell or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ever were. Watchmen has gone through all known levels of development hell. I remember the early 90s when Terry Gilliam and Robert De Niro were being associated with a Watchmen movie. Just get on with it!

Anything by Darren Aronofsky is good. Yes, even The Fountain. Give me inaccessible stories involving Spanish conquistadores and interstellar travel over Indiana Jones and the Nuked Fridge any day. The Wrestler is a must see. Even professional wrestler Mick Foley digs the story. It's not art unless someone suffers, and Mickey Rourke does suffering well. Easy the Marv.

There's agony a plenty in Revolutionary Road, featuring Di Caprio and Winslet in this Anti-Titanic of a plotline. Sam Mendes gives suburbia another well deserved bash in the ego. Christopher Hitchens and Roger Ebert sum up this cul de sac of desperation best. Must get the book. It'll go nicely alongside The Corrections.

An actualised revolutionary, Che Guevara, gets the Soderbergh treatment. All six hours of it. I came away from The Motorcycle Diaries with the impression that Che was nothing more than a charlatan who would promise anything to get what he wanted. For a double feature, I'd rather watch Rodriguez and Tarantino's Grindhouse movies again. Zoe Bell rocks, Che doesn't.

Nor am I holding my breath for Benjamin Button. No disrespect to David Fincher. Like Soderbergh, brilliant director. It's just the subject matter that's the problem. In Button's case, the unexplainable conceit of a man born old and growing young. There's fantasy and then there's impossibility. In this case, the second law of thermodynamics.

You may as well invent a character who wasn't affected by the law of gravity, but floated about wherever he felt. At least Dr Manhattan is conceivable. His beginning is explained. A fully grown, fully aged adult man is inconceivable. Roger Ebert is right, it's just wrong.

Another way a character could escape gravity is by tying a whole lot of balloons to their house and floating it across to South America. That's the plot of Pixar's latest effort, Up. Emboldened by Wall-E's success, the people at Pixar are upping the ante in the story department. The teaser trailer is a joy, as is this short clip involving an old man and a boy scout.

Or you could go universally fantastic to float your boat.

But all is forgiven with Soderbergh because of The Informant, which is promising to do to agricultural lobbies what The Insider did for tobacco. The strain on free trade could do with all the help it can get right now, but that's another blog post. Matt Damon chubs up for the role in between Bourne franchise obligations.

Mindless action movie for 2009 will be The International, not Terminator Salvation. This is because fighting bankers is scarier than fighting unkillable robots from the future. Features everyman world saver Clive Owen and Naomi Watts (yum).

Unusual premise of the year goes to The Box. Directed by the guy who made Donnie Darko, a couple are given possession of a box for 24 hours. In the box is a button. If they press the button, they become rich but someone they don't know dies. As far as moral dilemmas go, it's cleaner than Saw but more personal than The Dark Knight's ferry stand-off. I wonder if the deaths are the penultimate recipients who pressed the button?

In the comedy department, there's The Boat That Rocked (pirate radio station antics), The Brothers Bloom (with the DNA of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and whatever Sacha Baron Cohen calls his Bruno film. Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds covers the exploitation circuit, while Sin City 2 awaits a 2010 opening, maybe. Exploitation name of 2009 goes to Lesbian Vampire Killers. Great title, shame I'm all coming-of-aged out after Juno, Superbad and Pineapple Express.

But the movie I'm most looking forward to this year is the one I don't know about yet. In between the credit crunch and the Screen Actors Guild strike, Hollywood is going to take a back seat to some little ripper from off-shore. It will be like Slumdog Millionaire, but more like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days or maybe Lust, Caution.

Then again, it might be Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones.