Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In flew Enza

"I had a little bird. Its name was Enza. I opened the window and in flew Enza." - Robert Leitch

I am thankful I was not alive in 1919. The psychic disturbance from the Great War was still raw and excruciating. Two examples: War wounded created an industry that would mutate into the plastic surgery of today. Mask makers and prosthetic artists were kept busy with men trying to reclaim some self-esteem with half their faces missing from shell fire or gas attack. What we now call post traumatic stress disorder was first recognised as shell shock.

To have this mindquake followed by the wretched and random Spanish Flu must have sapped even the most optimistic of souls. Such was the existential despair, the art world was assailed by Dadaism. Analyse that one, Sigmund.

So there's a certain reverence needed when referring to such times. Whenever Spanish Flu is used as a yardstick of misery, you've got to compare warily. The mandarins of spin had better make damned sure they don't mix their apples with oranges when it comes to this year's swine flu.

The almost sacrilegious abandon that hypothesised what would happen to NZ if we got a repeat of the Spanish flu, that had appeared on Monday with proclamations of how many corpses would stack up and what it would do to the GDP, have thankfully faded out by today. No links, you know who you are.

Those times are not these times. Medical science is more discreet with its leeches and bleeding someone to remove the bad blood is no longer considered appropriate treatment. OK, wrong century but you get the point. Tech upgrades and the benefit of hindsight means that we are better equipped than Spain '18. If in doubt, consult the MacDoctor.

The response from NZ's Health Ministry has been generally good. MacDoctor has pointed out some minor failings, such as the Healthline call centre ignorance, but generally appropriate nonetheless. The only quibble I can see is that it would be preferable to have infra-red imaging at the point of entry for incoming American traffic, but you use what you have.

Simple hygiene rules have been pushed. This is stuff that should be common practice already. Wash your hands before preparing food or after using the toilet. Keep your hands away from one's orifices to avoid infection (of any sort. Dave, the barber in the James Smith Market, taught me that one).

Health Minister Tony Ryall has said exactly the right thing at the right time, in the right manner. Some credit is also due to whichever Labour Health Minister (there were so many) over-reacted and went nuts buying Tamiflu when the avian flu was the latest apocalypse. It leaves NZ with a considerable comfort zone.

NZ will be fine. It's South America I feel sorry for. Like us, they're coming into flu season. Unless the Mexican government can parley insistently with the drug lords, it will only be a matter of time before the continent will incubate the strain. What havoc it will wreck on the slums of South America will more closely represent what happened when the Maori got hit with Spain '18.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My middle name is Earl

I never get around to praising Bernard Hickey and enough. There's so much feisty goodness, from the Daily Top Ten Reads to the YouTube humility. And it's not just me:

With numbers like that, it's no wonder that they've hooked up with TradeMe. Morgan and Hickey go together like coffee and cigarettes.

NTB flu

Pig flu has led to non-tariff barriers being thrown up:
China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates have banned meat and pork products from some parts of the United States.

Russia has banned imports of all meat not treated thermally from Mexico, Texas, California and Kansas, and raw pork imports from eight other US states, Central America and the Caribbean.

China has also banned imports of live pigs and pork products from Mexico, Texas, California and Kansas.

You can't get pig flu from eating pork, but banning imports does help favour domestic interests.

Monday, April 27, 2009

BERL bashing

Earlier this month, I casually dismissed BERL's Costs of Alcohol & Drugs report as rubbish. Economist blogger Eric Crampton has delved deeper into BERL's methodology and concludes:
BERL cites total social costs of $5.3 billion. $3.9 billion of that, 74%, cannot honestly be counted as policy-relevant costs from an economic perspective.
Rauparaha at TVHE also rips into the Law Commission for quoting an increase in alcohol related offences from police figures. Although the gross figure has gone up, if liquor ban breaches are removed, alcohol-related offences have actually dropped.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Copyright Customs

The NZ Customs Service will be helping enforce copyright on behalf of multinational company Proctor & Gamble, according to this report just in from NatRad:

Customs says the fake goods are not produced to the same standards as legitimate products and could contain potentially harmful ingredients.

Customs officers in Auckland will be trained to tell the fake from genuine products using test kits provide by Proctor & Gamble. The Customs Service has signed a confidentiality agreeement with the company over the training.

NZ's border security staff, there to protect our borders from plague, pest and P, is diversifying into trademark protection. Nothing threatens our nation quite like Genuine Imitation Old Spice.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fighting for freedom

The closest NZ came to alcohol prohibition was in April 1919. The referendum to ban alcohol nationwide was narrowly averted due to returning soldiers voting for freedom:
With these resources a tremendous effort was made at the first poll and, with the New Zealand results counted, it appeared that the fight for prohibition was won. The figures were:


After a few breathless days of waiting, the votes of the Expeditionary Force overseas were counted and the result was announced.


The soldier's votes swung the balance and continuance was carried with only 51 per cent of the votes.

They died so we that we might drink.

Lest we forget

"There are many ideas worth fighting for. Some are worth dying for. None is worth killing for." - Tom Robbins

Friday, April 24, 2009

Law Commission favours Black Market alcohol model

I'm following the Law Commission's signalling on the proposed review of the Sale of Liquor Act very closely. Geoffrey Palmer's speech earlier in the year outlined the realities. Yep, alcohol is a Class B drug. But the latest news is not so great:
Proposed changes included increasing the price of alcohol, raising the drinking age, and radically lowering the breath alcohol level for drivers.
In the cause of Doing Something, this report paints the Commission as decidedly conservative. Alcohol and tobacco have long been whipping boys for the Treasury coffers. Never mind that there's something like a fifty percent tax on them already. It's one tax increase that even Bill English can get away with, such is the self-flagellating acceptance of the citizens' sins.

And dismiss the thought that the additionally inflated value of these goods might see armed robberies of their suppliers more likely. As a wild guess, the report (due in July) will probably also recommend a tightening of licence restrictions. Between the taxes and the increased costs, expect to see a few more business busts. The DB pub massacre will just be the beginning. Job losses through a transmogrified "harm minimisation" policy.

You'll also see bars go underground to evade these punitive rules. There's a few in existence already due to the indoor smoking ban. Where once bars were the preserve of adults only, the nanny state ensured that every bar now had high chairs and a kid's menu. The pubs turned into crèches, leaving adults nowhere to be irresponsible. Markets abhor a vacuum.

As for raising the PURCHASING AGE of alcohol, fat lot of good that'll do. One of the best ways to get a teenager to do something is tell them not to do it. I'm quite sure the Keep It 18 campaign would have no trouble in rebooting and refuting the case there.

And lowering the limbo bar for drink driving will have little to no impact at all on the main culprits, that small but dangerous loose unit of habitual drunken nutters who get behind the wheel. None of the above would have prevented the drunken pregnant teen from Whangarei being in the news.

More worryingly, the Law Commission's review of the Misuse of Drugs Act is due out at around the same time. The Law Commission does not do coincidences. The throttling of liquor bodes ill for positive reform of things there. Small hedge though. The LawCom cites alcohol as Class B. If marujuana is recognised as Class C, a lower risk than booze, it could be good.

Putting out the fire with deleted scene

There's a bit of internecine sniping going on in the local blogosphere with some blogs boycotting Tumeke. In order to add fuel to the ire, here's a deleted scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. Hat Tip Total Film's 27 Scenes That Shouldn't Have Been Deleted:

Finally, after thirty years, the suicide squad's appearance at Brian's crucifixion makes sense.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Vernon Small mentions little Olivia, the poster child of a debt riddled nation in 1984. Poneke gives an update on the 28 year old Olivia. If the story is anything to go by, the cure for Muldoon's debt was to go pro and go offshore. Not much of a moral to boost morale here in NZ. Nice use of the internets though.

The Losing Edge

Auckland, the alleged cultural capital of NZ, has just lost over a couple of mill due to under-performing blockbuster plays. Chekhov bounced and Shakespeare choked, losing half a mill between them. But it was the production of My Fair Lady that sank almost $1.9 million down the drain.

Auckland City Council, which owns arts company The Edge, underwrote the production of My Fair Lady thanks to future supermayor John Banks. And speaking of drains, did you know that the amalgamation means that Auckland City's upgrading of its small, old and leaky storm and waste water pipes will be spread amongst the entire region?

Bigger lizards do not mean better lizards. Bigger lizards are hungrier lizards. Bigger piles of shit too.

Stockholm Syndrome

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Name that name

Fucksakes. After enduring the national trauma that beset us with the "h" in Wanganui, namely having Michael Bloody Laws in the MSM, now the New Zealand Geographic Board are inflicting us all with more bloody paperwork. According to the rule book, the North and South Islands remain officially unnamed. It's straight from the Goon Show:
"The English names North and South Island are not official," says Don Grantz, chair of the NZ Geographic Board. "They had appeared in maps for a long time, but were not official."
Let's this this absolutely clear. New Zealanders have never put much stock in paperwork. Everything from the Treaty of Waitangi and Gibbon Wakefield's dodgy torts onwards, NZers have put more stock in a person's word than their lawyers. Naive buggers, aren't we?

It took forty years before the New Zealand flag was officially recognised as the New Zealand flag. Inasmuch as the Silver Fern is our defacto second flag unofficially, or the fact that many Kiwis have their favourite national bird which is not the Kiwi. I'm a Tui. A mate of mine's a Kea. Another's a morepork. And everyone knows a keruru or two.

So the officials can call the isalnds whatever they like. The widely accepted English and Maori names are thus: North Island / Te Ika a Maui (a Tia), South Island / The Wai Pounamu. That said, I'd happily back calling the top one Heartland and the bottom one Mainland. The cheesemakers won't mind.

4:20 News - 420 Day Special

April 20th is 420 Day, which was yesterday here but today over in the States. International time zones aside, here's how various media outlets are celebrating.

The Huff ('n Puff) Post details the origins of 420.

The New York Times reports the growing consensus among disparate political tribes on the legalisation of marijuana:

Long stigmatized as political poison, the marijuana movement has found new allies in prominent politicians, including Representatives Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, who co-wrote a bill last year to decrease federal penalties for possession and to give medical users new protections.

The bill failed, but with the recession prompting bulging budget deficits, some legislators in California and Massachusetts have gone further, suggesting that the drug could be legalized and taxed, a concept that has intrigued even such ideologically opposed pundits as Glenn Beck of Fox News and Jack Cafferty of CNN.
Time features a poll on the legalisation issue. Results so far?

From The Insider:

And finally, a bit of research that confirms what I have long suspected; human brains make their own marijuana.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pirates vs. Superpowers

Oo ar, me hearties. It's been a week of bad news for pirates. The US used its mighty power of might to rescue a captain being held hostage by Somalian pirates. Of course, it helps to have the former fishermen turned pirates on the end of a line, reeling them in slowly before bumping them off. They have irony in Somalia, don't they?

Meantime, reports behind what motivates a bunch of fishermen to become high seas ransom factories points west. Europe has been accused of disposing of atomic, bacterial and chemical waste in the Somalian waters using its super powers of Shitting in Other Peoples' Nests. Whatever non-mutant fishing stock is left has been greatly depleted by competing fishers. With no fish in the sea, who wants to become a millionaire bounty hunter? Sounds more glamorous than starvation.

The MPAA and friends, using their super powers of attorney, have managed to get the founders of Pirate Bay found guilty of assisting copyright infringement in Sweden. The four men have been sentenced to a year in jail and a NZ$6.2 million fine (MPAAetc were asking for $24.8 million). Even so, the Swedes are far from mashed. Never underestimate the power of parley (appeals).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Back to Box

I'm most of the way wading through the Royal Commission Auckland Governance report, and must say I'm impressed with the scope and depth collated within it. I'm hoping to have that one in the bag in the next week or so, but in the meantime I've enough information at hand to talk on a matter that was of little consequence to many submitters before the AuckGov Commission. Let's talk rubbish.

As I see it, there are two main varieties of solid waste disposal in the main centres. Auckland and Christchurch have "swarm[s] of wheelie bins" or "legions of the daleks’ retarded kid brothers", as Bernard Darnton so colourfully describes it. Non-recyclables in one wheelie, mixed recycling in another. Then there's Wellington and many of the other smaller centres which use kerbside recycling and prepaid rubbish bags. Conscientious residents (such as yours truly) usually separate their recyclables by kind; paper, plastic, glass and tin.

Each method of recycling collection has its benefits and drawbacks. Intermingled recycling means less thinking and/or education of householders. No sorting required. At collection, the wheelie bins can be emptied with little grunt work. The whole street's load can be crushed up together, so there's less trips to the transfer station. In Auckland, recycler Visy has a big grunty machine that sorts the recycling into component commodities.

But wheelie bins are only useful in areas as flat as Auckland and Christchurch. In Wellington and Dunedin, wheelies are impractical. The distance between the average Wellington front door and kerbside is roughly 60 steps apart. Level access is limited to pockets of reclaimed land, such as Kilbirnie. Just like Daleks, wheelie bins are not made to climb up and down stairways. Then there's the intermingling factor. NZ generally has a high throwout rate for glass, 35 to 45 percent of recycled materials. The quantity of glass can wear out Visy's machine parts quicker, and cross-contamination of plastic and particularly paper means the commodity's purity is compromised.

In the case of kerbside collections, it can be back-breaking work for the grunts who have to haul them up to the truck. Some households separate their recyc, some don't, so it can be very labour-intensive to collect. In windy weather, recyc is blown all around the place. Non-compression of recyc means more frequent trips to empty the truck. It would be ironic if it wasn't so messy. It's for this reason that I haven't accepted invites to join the Save the Green Recycling Bin campaign on Facebook.

So, just how much rubbish are we talking about? From the AuckGov report:

So, when you hear about stockpiles of unsold recyc in Auckland, it gives a good idea of quantities involved. This report says there's a stockpile of 28,000 tonnes of glass in Onehunga, accumulated from the Auckland and Manukau recyc schemes. That's roughly a year's worth of glass.

In this Nine to Noon interview featuring Warren Snow, sustainability and waste consultant with company Envision; Mike Mendonca, manager of City Operations at Wellington City Council; and Bruce Gledhill, chair of Recyclers of New Zealand, Mr Gledhill dismisses this glass mountain as "not huge" as a percentage of annual turnover. Which begs the question, how much IS huge? It's spilling onto public land on the Manukau Harbour, for Daggs' sake!

In fairness to Gledhill, he makes a very good point regarding bread bags and plastic film, which isn't collected as recyc. Gledhill reckons this stuff is "like diesel", yet here we are chucking it into landfills. Warren Snow summed up the debate when he said it all comes down to Who Pays? Gledhill started the interview saying User Pays, a scheme that went down like a cup of cold sick when Wellington City Council suggested it earlier this year.

Warren Snow presented an alternative; producer pays. This is my favoured method, internalising the cost of container disposal. Snow gave the examples of Germany, where used plastic bottles can be reused up to 18 times before their structural integrity fails. New York City is extending its bottle deposit schemes to water bottles in an effort to slow down landfill waste, sez Snow.

I'm a bit more ambitious in how to structure recycling. I'll give you a few hints. Where does most of the packaging come from? Which entity has the existing machinery and scales of economy to process large quantities of recyclable waste? Where do most households visit on a regular basis?

My first job after high school was at department store LD Nathans (It became Deka for a while afterwards, before it went bankrupt). Even in this sepia-tinged epoch before barcodes had usurped price tag guns, there was a cardboard crusher out back in the stores area. Bales of heavily compressed cardboard and paper were baled up for collection. Every decent box shop and supermarket has one of these at hand.

We have the New Zealand Packaging Accord. According to the AuckGov report:
30.5 The New Zealand Packaging Accord (2004) is a voluntary agreement by industry with the Government to take responsibility for the complete life cycle of packaging. Producers and brand owners agreed that when they developed new packaging they would give higher regard to factors such as using fewer materials and using recycled materials. They also agreed to look at production efficiency, and the potential for recycling into other products after the packaging was no longer needed. The packaging accord has been given credit for significant reductions in packaging waste.
So, what's my plan? Recyc centres at every decent-sized supermarket and box shop car park. Everything that can be recycled is collected there, compressed separately or sent back to the bottler. Green, clear and brown glass is kept separated from each other as well as plastic and paper. No co-mingling, no sore backs, no mess. You want to collect bread bags? Sure! Why not? Between the Packaging Accord, Nandor Tanczos' Waste Minimisation Act and the goodwill that comes for being environmentally responsible, there should be more than enough incentive to make it work.

That should take care of most of the recycling. There will still be a need to retain some local area recyc collection for those who cannot transport their junk to the car parks. Smaller recyc centres based on meshblock requirements should provide back up. Meshblocks? Ah, I'm getting ahead of myself. More on that when I survey the AuckGov report.


Community newspaper The Wellingtonian has a mid-term report of the Wellington City Councillors:
Four stars, eight journeymen and three no-hopers: that's our panel's verdict on Wellington city councillors' performance halfway through their three-year term.
It's a fair report. I've always got replies from Stephanie Cook and Andy Foster. I got to know Iona Pannett from the NZ Flag petition days. While we disagreed on some matters, she's diligent and heart-felt about the people. The same can be said for Kerry Prendergast.

Anyone thinking of running in next year's race should take note that all three "no-hopers" in the report are from the Northern Ward. Hmmm... tempting...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

US prepares to go postal

Maybe it's just the internet gambling crowds I hang out with, but I wish the Yanks who chat in-game would stop talking about stocking up on guns. But these Timothy McVeigh impersonators might be the tip of nutbar. The Guardian is worried. The talk of Obama banning assault rifle sales has sent sales skyrocketing. Some gun stores have run out of ammo and civilian versions of M-16s:
A year ago, the Guns and Ammo Warehouse was selling, each month for $1,000 each, about 10 of their AR-15s, a semi-automatic civilian version of the army's M-16 assault rifle. Howley says he can now sell 45 a week, when he has them...

"All the hand guns are selling and I can't get more in. I'm wearing a $3,000 hand gun. That's expensive and even they are sold out," he says. "When the guns come in I sell in a day or two what used to sit on the wall for weeks..."

Even big department stores, such as Wal-Mart, are complaining that daily shipments of ammunition have all but dried up and that when stock does come in it sells out the same day.

"The largest gun show in Virginia was two weeks after the election," says Howley. "It sold out of ammo on the first day. People were just wheeling it out by the cart load.
Note, hunting rifles aren't selling. Now the Department of Homeland Security warns of the rise of domestic extremist right wing zealots:

A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines "rightwing extremism in the United States" as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.

"It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration," the warning says.

Meantime, what's up with the GOP? The rent-a-cause teabaggers party or that Glenn Beck, highlighted by RB, shows they're leading by example in the Loony Tunes department. Bill Maher, you're always welcome in Wellington if things go Mad Max on you over there.

The new powerlines

Big ups to Chris Keall at NBR for pointing out this year's 3D Map of the Internet. It's huge. Here's what Grand Central station on the interweb looks like:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Marilyn Chambers is dead

The world's first real porn star, Marilyn Chambers has died. Behind the Green Door was in the vanguard of porn, coming out the same year as Deep Throat in 1972. While the star of the latter movie later recanted her enthusiasm, Marilyn Chambers never withdrew from her infamy.

The Seventies was a time of great pop art hormonal flux. Germaine Greer was going on hell for leather about female eunuchs, Erica Jong was writing about zipless fucks and Cosmo had their sealed sections. Subversive and liberating, BtGD put the images to these words.

A legend has passed on. There will be flags flying at half mast in the porn trade this week.

Compulsory entertainment

Governor George Grey was NZ's first real leader. With intelligence and the authority to back it up, Grey did what Hobson, Buzz Bar Busby and the FitzRoy bunny couldn't; unite the country under peace. His leadership was not without controversies, but his heart was in the right place.

So it's great to have NZ On Screen wrangle the rights to show The Governor (Part One anyways). More illuminating than Piha Rescue, more bloodshed than Dancing with the Stars, and more realistic than Wheel of Fortune, the episode includes a young George Henare playing Hone Heke.

They don't make 'em like that any more. Good onya, NZ On Screen! Hat Tip Russell Brown.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What a cute little- Argh, the pain! Get it off me!

Cruising for a Darwin Award in the House of Knut:

The keepers' bravery was praised after they dragged the 32-year-old out of a moat for the animals. They had to shove the animal out of the way after one of four polar bears dived into the water and attacked her, inflicting serious bites to her legs and arms...

Police did not say why the woman jumped into the enclosure. She had to climb over a fence, a line of prickly hedges and a wall to get in.

Polar bear massage was never going to become popular

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Microdemocracies of bacteria

As Homepaddock points out, the search for treatments against antibiotic resistant superbugs is a big thing. Light activated drugs sound very similar to this talk at TED from Bonnie Bassler, which refers to stealth squid, bacteria encrypted family conversations, quorum sensing and Esperanto for inter-species co-ordination:

The last bit of the talk, where Bessler rejoices in the brains trust of twenty-somethings, makes a crucial point. HP sings the praises of 29 year old former Otago uni graduate Linda Dekker. Very few physicists make their mark after their 20's (Richard Feynman's work on Quantum Chromo Dynamics was an exception. His work on Quantum Electro Dynamics were forming way before WWII got in the way).

Hit me with your medicine stick

Cop medic at the G20 protests. His cousin probably worked as a doctor in Abu Ghraib. Hat Tip Boing Boing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

BERL releases more meaningless statistics

Thank you to Nine to Noon for pointing out BERL's latest clanger, COSTS OF HARMFUL ALCOHOL AND OTHER DRUG USE 2009. The report follows on from last year's random number generator from BERL which Russell Brown charitably described as spectacular but useless. Go on, have listen to that interview with Kathryn Ryan and tell me that ALAC CEO Gerard Vaughan doesn't sound like a freaking teetotalling Mormon killjoy.

But enough character assassination, back to the report. Although I can't be bothered going through the latest report with a Keith Ng toothcomb (detects 99.9% of statistical anomalies), there are a couple of major lies I saw in the report which signified how ignorant and useless this taxpayer funded report actually is. From page 9:

Oh good, moral neutrality. Further down the page though:

It's not because they are illegal that they are all classified as harmful. No, no, no, it's because Roche and GlaxoSmithKline haven't performed any research showing benefits from these unpatentable drugs. Unlike, for example, artificial THC spray Sativex®, which the Ministry of Health has approved for use.

And when's the last time an economist could quantify fun? How does one quantify all the violence that never happened from having a doobie instead of a dozen 330ml tinnies? Who measures how many Mallards of stress get worked off one night clubbing on E with friends? If the drugs are no good, why are they so goddamned popular?

I'm no drug snob though. I'll go into bat for alcohol against BERL's report too. The thing with statistics based on statistics is that sooner or later you tend disappear up your own standard deviation. Here's BERL's take on Australasian alcohol consumption, page 95:

Get that? NZ has a substantially higher prevalence of alcohol consumption than Australia. Compare this conclusion against reality. From Nationmaster, alcohol consumption per capita:

Somehow, the Australians seem to be able to put away another litre of pure alcohol a year each, yet BERL sez NZ drinks substantially more. Like buggery we do. Hell, we're behind South Korea and Greece. We should be drinking more not less!

UPDATE: note that Russia is absent from this list, presumably because all the statisticians were too drunk.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

All you wanted to know about the OIA but were afraid to ask

Simon Pound presents a beginner's guide to the Official Information Act:

Not just us

The next time you bemoan the most popular stories on Stuff, consider the last couple of days on the Beeb's site.



Chimpanzee prostitution and oral sex cancer seem to be the most pressing issues on the world stage these days.

Gritty ditty

Natasha Richardson bumped her head,
And now she's dead.
Ian Tomlinson got hit and lost traction,
Cop-assisted cardiac infarction.

Ozymandias' Slaves

Boing Boing links to Johann Hari's report in the Independent on Dubai. Widespread tales of confiscated passports, debtors' prisons, misleading contracts and slavery. Right up there with Iceland's burning Range Rovers as riveting reading. The illusion of strong economic freedom meaning democratic freedom has never been so transparent.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

4:20 News

Harry Potter actor arrested for bedroom cannabis farm.

10-month old accidentally swallows a capsule of cannabis oil. After falling into a very deep sleep and becoming very flushed, he was taken to hospital. About ten hours later he regained consciousness, presumably well rested and wanting a Happy Meal. While not condoning the accident in any manner, it goes to show that a cap of oil may do less harm to a toddler than some of the prescription meds in some nana's home.

A report released in the UK this week concluded that the legalisation of drugs could save the country 14 billion pounds a year:

For many years the government has been under pressure to conduct an objective cost-benefit analysis of the current drugs policy, but has failed to do so despite calls from MPs. Now the drugs reform charity, Transform, has commissioned its own report, examining all aspects of prohibition from the costs of policing and investigating drugs users and dealers to processing them through the courts and their eventual incarceration.

As well as such savings is the likely taxation revenue in a regulated market. However, there are also the potential costs of increased drug treatment, education and public information campaigns about the risks and dangers of drugs, similar to those for tobacco and alcohol, and the costs of running a regulated system.

Speaking of cost effectiveness, the new US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has called the war on opium a huge waste of time:

"The United States alone is spending over $US800 million [$1.17 billion] a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," Richard Holbrooke told senior world politicians and experts on Saturday.

"It is the most wasteful and ineffective program I have seen in 40 years in and out of the government," the new US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told the Brussels Forum conference.

"We are going to try to reprogram that money. About $US160 million of it is for alternative livelihoods, and we would like to increase that. We want to re-examine it top to bottom."

And on the subject of opium, Russia is finally admitting that it has a rather large heroin problem:

"The Russian strategy is to stifle serious debate about the problem and demonise drug users," said Dasha Ocheret, of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network in Moscow. "The goal is not to help people suffering with addiction but to identify them, and then punish them. No country in the world has ever been able to deal with its drug problems in this way."

Any addict who seeks medical help for his or her addiction is immediately put on the state "narcological register". This information is available to police, who can have the drug user arrested and put in prison, and causes huge problems for people if they kick their habit and want to reintegrate into society.

Marginalising drug users? That'll fix the problem. Works really well with that P thing in NZ too.

And finally, the rather excellent 2007 documentary The Union: The Business Behind Getting High:

Cold-blooded murder

After days of official silence over the circumstances leading up to the death at the G20 protests, video showing a police riot squad goon pushing the now dead Ian Tomlinson appears. The Telegraph summarises:

The footage, captured by a New York fund manager and given to The Guardian, shows around 10 police officers, some of them with dogs, walkng down a street. One of them, wearing a riot helmet and high visibility jacket, approaches Mr Tomlinson from behind and appears to strike him on the back of the legs with a baton. The officer then lunges at him, pushing him from behind, sending him crashing facedown on to the pavement.

The officers then stand over Mr Tomlinson and do not attempt to help him as he sits on the ground. He appears to try to speak to them before he is helped up by passers-by.

In spite of plenty of police witnesses and Dagg knows how much official surveillance footage recorded, it takes a tourist to tell the truth. The Brit cops should really stop killing innocent bystanders and trying to cover it up.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Auckland Death Star 2010

Depending on how apathetic the residents of Auckland are, today's announcement of the Auckland Super City may be John Key's first big mistake. Rodney Hide is not generally known for caution, yet his early determination to let the Royal Commission report sink in should have set a few alarm bells going for the Nats. Yet here they are, plowing on with a new Super City election next year. Which is a bit at odds with the correct deliberation that the Nats are taking with the Electoral Act consultation.

What they should have done was allowed another round of public consultation followed by a final proposal and a referendum with next year's local body election. It would have given time for working out the great complexity of merging the assets and democratic structures. As the ASB business segment on 3News tonight demonstrated, this task should not be underestimated. The massive uncertainty of how to integrate 7 different balance sheets justifiably left the suit with a WTF arched eyebrow.

Consider the merger of 8 water and waste water operations, all charging different levies. From the sounds of it, Watercare will automatically become a regional monopoly. Public assets will be subsumed and controlled by private management. And what about Waiheke and Great Barrier Islands, where many households have their own rain tank water supply? Do they cross-subsidise the others, or get a divvie for other peoples' assets? Idiot Savant is onto it.

There are very real grounds for anger on the democratic front, where the nodal councils recommended under the Royal Commission report have been abandoned in favour of the harmless, powerless, splintered realms of local boards. The retention of At Large Council seats will be another source of antagonism. If the Wellington region proposed an At Large voting system for councillors, they'd have another shitstorm on their hands. They learned their lesson last time they proposed that idea.

Then there's the weird shit point that residents have more representation on a national level through electorate MPs than at a local level under this Death Star Council. There's more Maori MPs in parliament than in the local Auckland Council:

This is not on. There's a better way of doing this. Once I've finished reading the Royal Commission Report, I'll post up my cunning alternative plan.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hong Kong welfare

While Cactus Kate is in town and deep throating tons of Bluff oysters down at the waterfront, Hong Kong's premier is using her absence as a good time to announce extra possible stimulus spending. From the FT:

“I’ve got HK$400bn (US$51.6bn, €38.3bn, £34.9bn) in the bank, so I’m in a good position to spend more if I want to . . . If necessary we will do something in the middle of the year,” he said...

Last year the government rolled out stimulus spending equivalent to 3.4 per cent of gross domestic product, and Mr Tsang signalled he was prepared to do something similar. Ten large infrastructure projects are being accelerated partly to absorb thousands of construction workers returning from Dubai and the nearby gambling centre of Macao, where a five-year construction boom has petered out.

One trigger for additional stimulus could be rising unemployment, which at 5 per cent is relatively high for Hong Kong but still below the 8 per cent reached during the Sars epidemic. “I hope we won’t go that far,” said Mr Tsang.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A rough cut of DNA

It's 10 o'clock on Sunday night and the DNA Rape Bill submissions are due in to the J&E select committee first thing Monday morning. While my concerns about the Bill remain unabated, I'm just not up to pulling an all nighter on this thing.

I have had only the most cursory of readings of it (hey, there's the Tokyo phonebook-sized Auckland Governance Report as well. According to the Nats, a decision on the Greater Auckland democratic structure is to made in the next week. According to Rodney Hide, deliberation will be somewhat longer. What's up with that?).

But back to the DNA thing. One of my source materials was going to be Patrick Gower's report in the Herald:
Details and cost estimates remain vague but the Weekend Herald has learned that in its first year the law change is expected to add a further 25,000-27,000 DNA profiles to the national databank, which is held by Environmental Science and Research on behalf of the police.
The ESR is going to make a good clip of cash out of this. How much does each DNA test cost? Is this the same ESR who have been pushing for random drug tests in the workplace as well? Tests that the ESR would perform to their profit? Just how thin is the line between the police database and the private practise stuff?
Even allowing for a gradual drop-off in numbers as police catch repeat offenders, the databank is likely to at least double within five years from 90,000 to 180,000 profiles - about 4 per cent of all New Zealanders...

The Government wants to extend the law to cover all imprisonable offences by the end of 2011. It predicts the full law change will catch an extra 445 criminals each year, mainly for high-volume crimes such as burglary.
If this passes into law, it would be interesting to revisit these statistical arguments in favour after 2011, once the whole enchilada is served. For the price of every arrestee's DNA on record, this is the best case scenario for why it is being done. Not impressed. Back to Gower's story:

Meanwhile, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has added her voice to the warnings against passing the bill in its current form. In a letter to Mr Power obtained by the Weekend Herald, she urges the Government to appoint an independent committee to oversee the expanded databank and reassure the public it will not be misused.

In a separate letter she also questions the need to take DNA samples for all imprisonable crimes, which would cover low-level offences such as littering and lighting bonfires.

Treasury officials have dismissed the costings for the scheme as inadequate and Labour claims it will take an extra $20 million a year to pay for DNA collection and testing, plus extra prosecutions and prison beds.

In short, I think that the argument in favour of expansion is very weak. The price is too high. Correspondence from Simon Power, while gratefully received, still fails to sell it to me:

Power Dna

We're looking at a pool of 8,000 unsolved DNA crime scene samples. These do not all represent damning evidence. At very best it is corroborative evidence. It places the DNA owner to the location, not the crime. Any two-bit law criminal student could tell you that. Oversell. Just how many unsolved crimes have been resolved under the existing DNA database?

I appreciate the wording of this part especially: "The DNA profile currently used by ESR is only a very small portion of the individual's total DNA profile and can only be deciphered by a select group of specialist scientists. The only specific personal information that can be deuced from the sequence of numbers that makes up the DNA profile is whether the person is male or female."

This black box process of DNA databasing is not easy to determine from a quick cruise through the ESR's website and the existing Bodily Samples Act. What method of recording is it? Can familial searches be made with it? How many alleles do ESR match, etc. Yeah, I should have emailed off to the ESR to get more detail on the process, but I never got around to it (Neither did the MSM, so I don't feel bad).

I understand how fingerprinting works. I can replicate them, easy as a leaky biro. While DNA reading is not quite within layperson's reach at present, we must put our trust in the ESR. An ESR who are not above colluding with the police, if the insinuations in this Media7 slot are to be believed (On an M7 tangent, Simon Pound's lesson last week on the OIA is a classic).

A thought occurs. Say an ESR worker got a bit slappy in town one Friday night off duty and ended up getting arrested for, let's say, causing a public disturbance. Their DNA would end up getting sampled by their employer. How would the ESR respond if one of their staff got pinged on a matter unrelated to their work? Could they, would they ignore it? Employment lawyers would have a field day.

And then there's the broader worries, wonderfully outlined in this DNA database debate over at the Economist. Like the voting for this debate, my opinion on the Bodily Samples Amendment Bill has not changed considerably over time. The proposed expansion of the DNA database is an unwarranted, under-budgeted, over-promised bit of law that projectile vomits over the Bill of Rights Act.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A short diversion into meta-analysis

Over the last couple of months, I've been trying a little experiment in "popularity". From the end of January til about a week ago, I have been blogging pretty much daily. I wished to see how this regular blattery affected the hit counts. Well, I have to admit it didn't work out as planned.

Sure, my stats were temporarily boosted by shameless plugs over at Public Address, but that has all but worn off now. Matter of fact, the blog's Technorati Authority has actually dropped a couple of notches (that's the election wearing off. Six months already?). As far as expanding the mighty reading empire of gFBT goes, regular blogging is not a winner. So, it's back to esoteric and whenever-I-get-around-to-it blog posts.

But it's also the end of March and might as well list a few stats for Tumeke, Open Parachute and Half Done, as well as curious readers. A big thanks to those three popularity aggregators who manage to fit me into their top 70. I am particularly flattered by Half Done's latest ranking. Top 50! Woohoo! More popular than John Key! OK, maybe popularity IS a drug...

According to Sitemeter, March '09 looked like this: