Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great minds

I missed the rural women's breakfast meeting with Fran O'Sullivan the other day. It's a bit too early in the day for this goNZo to be among the chickens. However, enough echoes from attendees have bounced around Fran's idea that NZ On Air funding should be widened to all media. I wish I had thought of that. Hang on, I did:
If the Press continue video coverage of events like that, they'll be giving the network news and current affairs shows a run for their money soon. Any NZ on Air funding available for that kind of stuff?
Sure, Ms O'Sullivan has expanded on the premises. But it's good to see my ratio of good idea/bad idea strokes are improving.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Public Bar Republican

Backbenchers is talking Republicanism with Peter Dunne, Charles Chauvel and John Hayes tomorrow night. I have been invited on the show to give the citizen's perspective on a Kiwi Head of State. The show goes out live after 9pm on TVNZ7. I'll be in the bar from 7:30pm if you're curious about what it's all about, armed with a copy of the new Hitchikers Guide to the NZ Republic. Don't be shy.

Vote Tui

Vote for NZ's best bird in the annual Forest & Bird Bird of the Year poll.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fun with veal

Bernard Hickey has broken the lid off Crafarms with an expose of some very ugly farming. I'm glad someone has had the grit to get stuck into Crafar after this puff piece from the used-to-be-better Matt Nippert a few weeks ago. I waited until watching the Close Up interview tonight just to make absolutely certain of my revolt, but yep, still there. You can't run a business like that.

John Banks steps on rusty nail

People power strikes again, with John Banks and Aaron Bhatnagar realising they are on a hiding to nothing over the proposed clamping of fun in the city and canned it. Someone should buy those guys a drink; toast Katija for setting up the facebook board, and a round of Diet Schadenfreude to the losers at Alcohol Healthwatch too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To infinity and back

I must have been about 8 when I discovered a glimpse of infinity at my Nana's state house. It was in the bathroom. If I stood on a stool and opened the medicine cabinet, I could angle the shaving mirror in such a way that I could witness a sudden row of dwindling me's.

That was one memory that came slamming back to me on entering one of Yayoi Kusama's installations at the opening of City Gallery today. Another featured a superposition of inverse rooms linked by a zigzag tunnel of convex mirrors (There's not a concave mirror in the place. Everything bounces out).

The ground floor holds a sea of reflective orbs, scattering the incoming sunlight all over the show. In the centre dangles bulbous shiny mobiles framing everything just right. Looking up at them sucks you right into Escher land (or down the rabbit hole).

There are other surprises. See it for yourself. It's the closest you can get to drugs without drugs. Wednesday 7th October is the next free day, then it's every second Wednesday after that. Parents, be warned. Some parts may look like a bouncy castle or sofa, but you're supposed to use your eyes only. All you have to do is look. That's where the fun is.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

More Maher Brilliance

While I find Letterman about as funny as motion sickness, Bill Maher is good value. This week's Real Time with Bill Maher was a case in point. Michael Moore talks about Capitalism, A Love Story, while Maher ribs him on his solution (fair go). Paul Krugman and Eliot Spitzer talk on the economy. Then director John Waters joins in and adds some surreal threads to the debate. New Rules is just great too. My meat flavoured milk idea turns up, albeit baconnaised.

Line of the day

Brian Edwards has launched the equivalent of a fireship at public libraries, calling them a form of theft. This has resulted in a very funny and scathing thread. Best line goes to the University of Waikato Library:

Hello Brian

I know your post is aimed at public libraries, but I used to have your worthy tome within my sturdy walls. (Just how sturdy they are is evident for all to see at the moment as they are being ripped apart! It’s a bit chilly on the inside.)

I can tell you that your book was borrowed once in 2003, thrice in 2004, four times in 2005, thrice in 2006, once in 2007, twice in 2008 and once in 2009 whereupon it was lost by the patron.

Out of interest, this is the most popular of your tomes in my collection. Of the 13 other tomes I have authored by you, one has been issued 4 times, one 3 times, two 2 times, six 1 time, and three have had 0 issues.

Ka kite

London, Tehran, Pittsburgh

The G20 meeting in Pittsburgh makes London's G20 kettling and Tehran's Green Wave crackdown on scooters look like amateur productions. THIS is how you disappear protestors:

See that, totalitarian wannabes? Quick, efficient, scary.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zombie 92A Copyfight

The Ministry of Economic Development released a fairly comprehensive summary of the Section 92A submissions it had received. So I was a bit curious why someone wanted to pull a full OIA request on all the submissions received. The MED were kind enough to ask if there was anything I would like to withold from my submission. No worries, sez I. So much so, here it is:

Dear MED,

Thank you for publicly consulting on the proposed copyright tribunal scheme.

In general terms, the proposed tribunal is not serving any greater public function but rather an attempt by dinosaurs to outmanoevre the mammals. The scheme is unfair as it pits very large corporation might directly against citizens' rights. It is an inefficient because the proposal is not fit for purpose. It will not work. These criticisms are expanded upon in the commentary of the Phase Questions.

1. What does one define as reasonable evidence? An IP address, a time and a profile of an alleged infringer's OS and configuration is not enough. Apart from Intranet traffic from large businesses sharing one IP address, IP addresses are subject to misinterpretation by dynamic IPs, proxy servers, IP hijackers and tapping into unsecured wireless networks, to name a few examples. The probability of false positives and wrongful accusations is very high.

If a tribunal were to enforce some form of copyright scheme, it should be aimed at the very worst cases, the ones who infringe copyright for pecuniary gain; the spammers of copyright if you will. That's the type of deal that allows NZ Customs to enforce a range of copyrighted goods, instead of something more relevant to the public good such as maintaining the integrity of our imported food supply. For example, Customs maintains a licensing guide to Disney's Winnie the Pooh franchise, which pulls in around $1 billion a year in revenues worldwide for the corporation. It's not as if they can't afford their own brand enforcement.

Consequentially, accusations of copyright breach should be treated along the lines of the recent court case involving the reselling of Sione's Wedding DVDs. The intent should be to prevent the passing off of a tangible product for financial gain. The threshold for such copyright claims would need to match the burden of proof for such a prosecution.

2. 3. 4. The proposed tribunal structure seems aimed at the very targets that the RIAA and others have taken court in the US, solo mothers and high schools students. Certainly, the queries on the length and number of notices are trifling points of contention and merely portend to the level of spamming of notices rights holder groups are preparing for.

5. At no times should ISPs be required to divulge personal customer to details to third parties outside law enforcement, without the customer's explicit consent. ie. police.

6. Without sanctions for vexatious accusations, there is no opportunity cost real or imagined. MED and ISPs will be required to expend considerable resources on enforcing this proposal, whilst rights holders harvest alleged complaints through bots. For example, the requirement for ISPs to actively track infringement notice subscribers' internet traffic for some time will be onerous and contrary to their usual business. Rights holders should be charged full cost of proceedings to affected parties.

1. Once again, at no times does a rights holder have the right to seek subscriber contact details without their consent. While the ISP may release these details to the tribunal, it is none of the rights holder's business to know. It is irrelevant to their complaint.

2. N/A see above.

3. No opinion

1. No. Mediation won't work. Like DRM and regional zoning for DVDs, it is one more failing idea on maintaining an extinct business model. This change might be mitigated if copyright holders had been more adaptable to modern communication. For example, it was years after iTunes launched before NZ finally, almost grudgingly, got a foot in the virtual shop. Even now, record companies make it extraordinarily difficult for NZ music fans to be good and buy legally. Here's media commentator Russell Brown talking about eMusic, the darling of the rights holder lobby:
So all this wouldn't be so bad if the service was working properly. But it isn't. It's not just the Sony catalogue we southern plebs can't get, it's more and more stuff.
And that's not entirely eMusic's fault. It can't sell catalogue where it doesn't have the right to do so. Further, I realise that some of the people with exclusive local distribution rights are indie folk who I personally know.
But I'm still paying for something I don't get, because Sony can't get it together to localise its eMusic sales. I don't doubt that this is possible -- of course it is. It only happens because it's inconvenient to interrupt business as usual.
Rights holders are largely responsible for the situation.

2. No opinion.

3. No opinion

5. No part of this proposal causes me greater concern than the potential penalty of terminating a user's internet connection. It is draconian, disproportionate, and manifestly against natural justice. Internet disconnection is a penalty that we don't impose on criminals, let alone people suspected of copyright infringement. It is disproportionate as an internet connection is vital for businesses to operate and citizens to participate in civil society. The threat of termination of account for copyright breach must not occur. If it does pass and is enforced by the tribunal, there will be test cases in court that will get it thrown out one way or another.

Of secondary importance is the structure of fines. Penalties should reasonably reflect the value of breach of copyright. This could be a low multiple of the retail value of the most closely substitutable retail good, and not the fantastical damages which are popular in the US. A solo mother recently recently fined almost US$2 million is a case in point.

6. N/A. No disconnect is permissible.

7. Appeals should be allowed, as long as accused subscribers are provided with state-paid representation.

8. All costs should be reasonable.


While an improvement on the previous 92A, the current proposal is fatally flawed by including the disconnection notice threat. Rights holders have provided little evidence of compromise during negotiation. Indeed, the proposed copyright tribunal is one of the most one-sided haggles since the NZ government bought KiwiRail. If the tribunal must exist, it should seek and fine only those breaching copyright for pecuniary gain.


Will de Cleene

Joining the dots

I remember when the City Gallery used to be the library. The music section used to be half underground and it was in these light catacombs where I donned headphones and discovered all sorts of wondrous sounds that never reached my ears on Palmy's radio stations.

It was there I first heard The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and John Lee Hooker. Upstairs I tripped over Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections while looking for something completely different. The building has a pleasant history of delivering the unexpected.

It continued this trend as the City Gallery. No matter what was on at the gallery, a poor bum like me could always find something good to see for free. Easily navigable, the City Gallery didn't hide its treasures, unlike the Escher-like labyrinths of Te Papa.

So, after simply yonks sitting there wrapped up in renovations, the City Gallery is reopening this Sunday with a blast at high noon. The premiere exhibition for the reopening is the fascinating work of Yayoi Kusama. I first tripped over her trippy work back in the 90s with Peter Gabriel's immersive computer game Eve. Good score, City Gallery! (HT EotF)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Safety Nazis out in force

A Kerikeri hospice is going to lose up to $15,000 a year from selling jam because the jam maker doesn't have a licence.

Auckland CitiRat councillor Aaron Bhatnagar is seeking to do unto the hospitality sector what John Banks did to the sex trade; try to regulate it out of existence. Suggested outcomes include mandatory CCTVs, bouncers at fine dining restaurants and pumpkin o'clock enforcement. Licences depending on garrymandered favoured property sites and cap in hand pleading with the rubber stampers.

Bhatnager has more dollars than sense. Thank Dagg I'm a Wellingtonian!

Finally, tobacco.

It was a great night at the Backbencher last night. I had been down the hill for the launch of The Republican Handbook (which I'll write up after a read. In the meantime, join the Republican Movement and get the book for free!) Saw many old faces and met some new ones too at the Grand Hall launch.

I planned to go straight to the supermarket afterwards, but was sidetracked to the Backbencher. Didn't plan to stay too long, but I did. It was a most excellent night with wit, gossip and crowd watching. One of the most festive crowds I've ever been there for too.

Hone Harawira had successfully gatecrashed the Backbenchers show talking passionately about his detestation for tobacco companies. All that talk of tobacco had me craving a cigarette out the front door. I all but missed Hone's Cunliffe line, but the audience loved it.

I also caught Ian Lees-Galloway out back later on arguing about the alleged evils of dairy tobacco walls; Power Walls, he calls them. Fair go for him trying to sell it to the ring of smokers out the arse end of the building. He's pushing a private member's bill to that end, after all.

But he's pissing in a Southerly if he thinks one more ban will make a blind bit of difference. In spite of killing sponsorship, print and web advertising, and attempting to kill smokers through hypothermia outside public bars, tobacco use shows very strong resilience.

While Hone Harawira can act as born again non-smoker all he likes, you will find that a good percentage of humans will always smoke. I quite enjoy the rite. Smokers are humans with inalienable rights. We have a right to food, shelter and warmth too. Stop sticking us in the gulag.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


As Homepaddock points out, it's that time of year when the day is as long as the night. It also marks the time when my Southern-facing hobbit hole sees some sunlight again after half a year of shadows. This calls for some Jean-Michel Jarre:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mean looking competition

You think you know what Neanderthals looked like right? Not quite like this one to the left, who looks more like an Italian friend of mine, but you get the picture. Same sorta hominid as us. Even the BBC docos play it thusly.

Good news everyone! An Australian scholar has teamed up with a Madrid digital sculptor and they have come up with an updated rendering based on skulls and...

Voila! Super scary apex predator who hunted, raped and ate humans. From Scoop:

Vendramini’s forthcoming book Them and Us: how Neanderthal predation created modern humans, describes how the human population of the Mediterranean Levant—the population from which every human on earth is descended—was almost wiped out by Neanderthal predation, until there were only 50 human individuals left in the region. He illustrates how those 50 survivors salvaged humankind from annihilation by transforming into aggressive and predatory beings that fought back—spreading across the globe, killing (and sometimes eating) all Neanderthals in their path, as well as ‘Neanderthal-looking’ hominids, until Neanderthals themselves became extinct.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009


I wish the MSM would stop saying that the purpose of a Capital Gains Tax is to help prevent housing bubbles. It's not. It's like saying the purpose of journalists is to cure cancer. CGT, like journalists, have their uses but neither are miracle cures.

CGT is one way of widening the tax base to include more forms of wealth creation. The hard yard at present is being done by labour taxes (PAYE), capital (company and witholding tax), and consumer consumption (GST). One way or another, land and buildings will have to be included in tax reform to stop distortionary effects on NZ investment. Land tax is another angle on the same CGT skim.

NZ must stop bingeing on residential property development without paying their dues. I know it's hard to make a living in this country, what with the small domestic market and all. With the red tape, risk and tax on other forms of small scale investment, buying rental accommodation to pay off their mortgages seems perfectly reasonable.

However, it's domestic cannibalism. It's turned the Mum and Dad investment funds into Loss Attributable Qualifying Company vampires feeding off those who cannot afford to own the roof over their head. Heck, they've even bred the property management leeches that, for a discreet premium, allow the owner to wash their hands of actual live tenants.

That cash should be going into enterprising companies earning their bread and butter on the offshore markets. But between the volatile dollar, dodgy companies, lousy management, etc, it's all a bit too much like work. Perhaps those seeking low-risk, low-yield returns could be more helpful and stick it in the bank. Oh yeah, they get taxed on that interest more than on residential property. That's not right.


Another thing that's not right, Phil Goff on excluding the main home from CGT. Exclusions breed distortions, and the whole point of introducing a CGT is to flatten the system out not add to the bumps. Ask Bill English about the loopholes surrounding the definition of a main place of residence. Somewhere overseas, I forget where, there's a CGT exclusion on uncompleted houses. Unsurprisingly, there's whole neighbourhoods of houses with unfinished chimneys that have been lived in for years without paying CGT. No loopholes, OK?

Those Americans are crazy

Director Jon Amiel's latest film, Creation, is having a hard time finding a US distributor after the Toronto Film Festival. Most other countries have picked up on the movie, telling the story of Charles Darwin, his wife, their grief, and the origin of the species. Roger Ebert notes that during the scene where Darwin walks out of a church reading of Genesis, a member of the premiere press screening audience walked out too.

The film centres on Darwin and his wife Emma, played by real-life married couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. Ebert sez that the evolution theories play background to the core theme of how people deal with the random and brutal reality of the natural world. Some might turn to faith to explain away the reason, while others throw themselves into their work and uncover the amorality of cause and effect instead.

The director's previous work includes such wholesome splendours as The Singing Detective TV series, Jim Henson's The Storyteller and the remake of The Return of Martin Guerre, Sommersby. It's not as if the Yanks aren't afraid of a bit of period drama. Just no challenging ideas in their drama, period.

As the latest Yank craziness on the healthcare debate shows, winning a debate with calm rational analysis is not an option over there. Faith and spectacle trumps evidence and observation every time.

America is damned. Let them eat Michael Bay and starve. Natural selection will prevail.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Encore My Pretties

Fly My Pretties is regrouping for two early December gigs, one at the Civic in Auckland and another at Wellington's acoustically excellent Michael Fowler Centre. Makes for a nice early Xmas pressie. HT Loop.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labour's 16th Apology

Sixteen things Phil Goff needs to say sorry to the electorate for but probably won't:

1. Nanny State - Screw the CFC lightbulbs and douse the shower nozzles, how about the Nanny Knows Best turning school tuck shops turned into Health Nut temples?

2. The Electoral Finance Act and the retrospective legislation that legalised the 2005 campaign funding theft - Every Labour MP still in parliament bears the blame for just following orders and passing these anti-democratic pieces of self-justification.

3. Winston Peters and Owen Glenn - When there's a conflict between the public good and Winston Peters, Labour chose the wrong side. Screwed a big donor without a second glance too.

4. General tolerance of corruption, bullying and incompetence - Where to start; Philip Field, David Benson Pope, Chris Carter.

5. Judith Tizard - The apotheosis of cronyism. Utterly useless politician put in charge of responsibilities far beyond her competence. Speaking of which...

6. Section 92a of the Copyright Act. Utter clumsiness on an integral subject of NZ's future.

7. KiwiRail - Might as well have burned $300 million in a big bonfire in front of parliament. Thank Dagg everyone wasn't reliant on trains to get from A to B. Between unheated commuter carriages in winter through to lines closed by mudslides, rail transport makes Auckland's motorway system look reliable.

8. Foreshore and Seabed - Labour Five's first really big blunder. If Clark had the cajones to hang in there and let the courts handle the jandal, it would have been fine. Never pick a fight you don't have to.

9. KiwiSaver - Noble plan poorly executed. High bureaucratic churn, money stuck in IRD limbo, uncertain value for money. Middle class welfare which made a mockery of the welfare state.

10. Working For Families, especially Stage II - What started as lower income suppport for the working poor quickly morphed into middle class welfare for families with iPods and cellphones. More high churn uselessness complicating the picture.

11. Interest-Free Student Loans - Another opportunistic unaffordable scheme targeting middle class voters. Wouldn't more good have been done upgrading the universities?

12. ACC blowout - Just one more unbudgeted promise Labour ignored.

13. Section 59 - Word out after 2005 was that Labour was not looking at rocking the boat with more social engineering policies. So why handcuff yourself to Sue Bradford's Bill?

14. The Indoor Smoking Ban - More Nanny State crap treating adults like children. Great way to piss off quarter of the elctorate. Grew NZ's carbon footprint by requiring smoking patrons to have access to outdoor gas heaters in winter.

15. Back to the Future with Jim Anderton - Introducing a man to the annual conference whose party received less than one percent of the vote last election is hardly reaching for popular appeal.

16. Helen Clark - You'll never hear Goff question Clark's autocratic reign. In spite of controlling everything from last year's Labour campaign (normally a task of the Labour party not the executive), through to the horizontal and the vertical of everything within the party caucus, Clark failed. But you'll never hear a discouraging word about the ex-Queen Bee.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Albatross seen over Rotorua

News just in. The first Northern Royal Albatross of the season has landed safely at Dunedin's Taiaroa Heads.

It was spotted earlier in the day en route for the breeding grounds over Lake Rotorua. It circled over the lake for over an hour, cawing loudly.

Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff got into some trouble when the very large gull swooped at him as he stepped off the plane at Rotorua airport. Mr Goff is visiting Rotorua for the Labour Party conference, and was attacked by the gull as he went to switch his cellphone back on after the flight.

After a brief struggle, the bird managed to wrestle the phone off Mr Goff. It banked over Lake Rotorua and dropped the mobile into the water, before resuming its course south to Dunedin.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bohemian Kiwi Index

I love it when my opinion is reinforced with evidence after the fact. Days after I call Wellington the art capital of NZ compared with Auckland and Christchurch, Infometrics has put a chart together based on NZ arts related employment per city. Wellington comes out tops. Dunedin beats Christchurch. Good news for boring Hamilton. Palmerston North has fewer arty people than the Tron.

Yeah, yeah, Auckland has three times the number of artists, but per capita Wellington's in the thick of it. Don't believe me? Here's a few more qualitative reasons why Wellington runs arty circles around the rest:

1. The Capital Times. Weekly free high circulation arts newspaper. Nothing like it anywhere else in the country.

2. The Wellington Waterfront. Popular promenade walk with inspiring surprises. Very busy thoroughfare for foot and pedal traffic. Nothing like it anywhere else in the country.

3. The Green Belt. Peace, picnics or psilocybin shrooms; the Green Belt will ease your mind. Never mind the chainsaw orchestras in Auckland warming up. Wellington will always have its native bush within walking distance of the CBD.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A week of the shit

After years of next to no NZ comedy on the box, 7 Days hits the screens with laugh out loud lines. Like a fast paced, less prosaic version of Stephen Fry's QI mixed with a witty version of A Game of Two Halves, the show's premise takes current events and squeezes them through the raw and uncensored minds of NZ finest comedians. Utterly brilliant.

HT Tim Watkin at Pundit.

The alcocop paradox

It was a bit of a lark listening to Police HRD manager Wayne Annan's interview yesterday on NatRad, explaining away the latest drunk cop to get pinged on the open road. There is no systemic abuse of alcohol in the police according to him, just a few individuals prone to human error.

In this case, a police trainer at Police College had attempted to drive home so drunk, only his taxpayer funded driving lessons saved him from wrapping himself around a pedestrian crossing pole. It comes not one year after another (individual human) cop was found passed out outside a Johnsonville petrol station, before scuttling off home and avoiding an evidential breath test. Years before that, police commissioners Doone and Broad have both have had close shaves with the bottle and driving. Little wonder they need a chauffeur.

I suspect the only reason these two cases above made the news was because of irrefutable evidence from the public that couldn't be swept under the carpet. Too many witnesses. Without going into too much detail, I have acquaintances who have been harrassed and intimidated by police for being at the wrong place and the wrong time when cops drive drunk.

There is no question that Annan was going into bat for the police. That's his job. But defying reality is another matter entirely. This became obvious when Kathryn Ryan pulled him up about the Police College bar procedures being cleaned up; no more jugs, no more drinking games. Obviously, these were condoned before someone spoiled the fun and something had to be done.

There's a slight difference between these two recent examples of police behaving badly. The Police College bar is covered by the Sale of Liquor Act but the police bar in the latter case is exempt. While the Law Commission will almost certainly remove the loophole that allows police bars to operate on a different authority, will including them all under one law really make a difference?

I cannot imagine booze checkpoints set up outside police bars to catch drunk police, nor trust police to neutrally ensure police bar patrons are treated the same as the civilian counterparts they keep in check. It's the old Who Watches the Watchmen argument that the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act quietly ignored by allowing the cop bar cop-out.

So what if police bars are included in a new Sale of Liquor Act? Can you seriously imagine any public disagreement at the District Licencing Agency to a police bar renewing its licence like every other booze barn? Who will perform the walk-ins to ensure compliance? DIA? The IPCA? Not likely.

The only realistic solution is hinted at in Annan's interview. The point he makes that police deserve their own private bar away from the citizens is the weakest part of his argument. This is not Fallujah. In spite of police impressions that they are fighting an insurgency, there is no reason for the police to hide away in their own little private club. Close the police bars. Let them drink where everyone else does. If they get caught up in the net with other drunk drivers, so be it. It's called leading by example, and Dagg knows the cops need something to lift their reputation.

Won't get Fuld again

How many bankers have been locked up since the Great Recession began? I can only count to one, Bernie Madoff. Reuters tracks down former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld on the eve of the first anniversary of the company's demise. There's still the occasional power lunch, but with 40 lawsuits hanging over his head still, there's a big aura of persona non grata about the poor little rich gorilla.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Neverending Referendum

Right at this very moment, up in bible belt Mt Roskill, Act MP John Boscawen is holding a meeting to discuss his borrowed Burrows private members' bill to define the smack for parental correction. Meantime, Section 59 petitioner Larry Baldock is flying very close to self-parody by calling for a referendum on the referendum.

This comes a few months after Rodney Hide suggested local body referenda as a sop to public consultation on the future Supercity. This point did not go down at all well. Right at this very moment, I'd say that the general electorate is getting heartily sick of hearing about referenda/dum full stop. Public intellectual Andrew Geddis has my full support in suggesting ditching the Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act altogether.

So it seems at bit weird timing for the MMP referendum question to raise its head right now. Yes, it was part of the Nat election promises. True, with two years to go before the next election, now would be sufficient foreshadowing to prepare the public for such a momentous decision (unlike the CIRs, this one would be binding). But still, a referendum-weary and leery public is a dangerous beast to approach.

I remember the electoral reform referenda in the 90s. I remember the impotent rage of a general electorate sick of being lied to by politicians, and venting it with a vengeance. Never mind the reason for that rage was largely fixed by Ruth Richardson's Fiscal Responsibility Act, a signal had to be sent all the same.

I also remember the attempts by the Electoral Commission sending out brochures trying to explain 5 different voting systems to the lay people, so they could make an informed choice. Needless to say, you'd have as much success teaching my cat to type.

MMP became the main contender against FPP mainly due to the earlier Royal Commission's recommendations. Not that the Commission's findings were followed to the letter. Maori seats remained. The threshold of 5 percent or one electorate seat was set, a higher barrier than the one recommended by the Commission.

But everything's changed since that choice. As mentioned on NatRad's Politics segment this morning, there's not exactly been marches down Lambton Quay on electoral dissatisfaction with MMP. Peter Shirtcliffe may still be miffed, but it's not as if he can realistically hope to regain FPP. That's dino's dead. Supplementary Member voting would have a hell of an uphill battle getting through to people, if for no other reason than the double entendre title.

The only realistic alternative to MMP is STV. Local body elections are already increasingly moving to this system, and changing the national system to match would greatly simplify informed decision-making for the citizens. Realistic but not practical. MMP is good enough and you can't keep mucking about with these things.

On the whole, I think Key will be treating the issue as a tick for things promised and delivered. Unless there's a lot of private money suddenly pouring into websites and pamphlets pushing for an alternative popular electoral system, I'd say that MMP will breeze through with barely a concern next election.

The alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Oh no, not another referendum after that. Even for a politics junkie like me, that's too much. It's good enough reason for me to tick MMP in two years time. And can someone please discreetly strangle the Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Pseudo-intellectual About Town

Earlier in the year, I was privileged enough to get free advice from one of NZ's most influential lobbyists. Mai Chen gave a lecture on myth busting the dark art of persuasion at Rutherford House. Verily, it was good.

One myth, don't try special pleading with MPs. It doesn't work. If your point is to be effective, it must be for the greater good somehow, not just your own little retainered fiefdom. It's the same principle involved, albeit with the telescope swinging the other way, when the public react to MPs special pleading themselves. Think Roger Douglas, Chris Carter and Bill English on perks. Little wonder if they get a black eye or a bleeding nose when it swings their way and they're not paying attention.

Another point Ms Chen made. If you hold a free lecture like this in Auckland, no-one comes. She said this to around 150 people or more in the Rutherford House theatre. I can fully believe it. It's why I never got around to writing up any Supercity crap. If Aucklanders don't give a shit, why should I? Auckland's more a Portuguese Man O War than a unitary confluence anyway. Good luck to anyone who can steer that squid. I'm busy preparing for Wellington's transition.

If for no other reason than Auckland's Not Interested intransigence (You'll never see a Hellfire Club started in Auckland), any Public Intellectual thinking will come from Wellington (No good social movements come out of Christchurch, although there's a few good people there. Maybe it's the Nor' Wester. Maybe it's the faux-English drag act that the city clings to like a gin bottle. But Christchurch is not a fertile home to big thoughts).

I say this after Pablo at KiwiPolitico's excellent post on NZ social thinkers snowballed Chris Trotter into a muse on truth to power. Bryce Edwards has said his piece too. It's fascinating stuff and obviously touched a nerve. I'm glad to see that the Left still has some spine.

Auckland used to have opium dens, along Nelson St at a guess. K Road used to have character and a hint of danger, before it lost its guts and blanded down to the slightly quirky strip mall it is these days. In fairness, Wellington's Cuba St has seen better days too. There's no Carmen to outrage the twinset and pearls brigade.

And Helen Clark's smokefree laws have banned any chance of dens of iniquity anywhere. No places where heresies can be exchanged, ideas collided (Camus, after all, was and always will be a smoker). Drinking Liberally is an attempt to reboot this vibe, but no speaker has really seized the imagination enough to compel my attendance.

It's a great shame. This place has so much potential. New Zealand has always been a grand experiment. European colonisation began with science. Abel Tasman dismissed the islands, but Cook's science field trip (to study the Transit of Venus among other curiosities) included New Zealand and it was that that started the really long migration. Karl Popper saw fit to visit and study our progress later on. He was the first of many academics to not hang around here for long.

It's not that the country is short on criticism. We're a nation of critics. You're doing that wrong, that's not how you do it, you can't do that. If in doubt, the answer is no. Consequentially we've developed to be icons of iconoclasts, each to their own and bugger the rest.

Whilst Trotter keeps snowballing the rogernomes, the rot set in much much earlier. Rogernomics did not give us Michael Laws or Lindsay Perigo. Anyone remember Norm Jones berating the Homosexual Reform Bill in the 80's, on the steps of parliament waving his stick has all those godless queers? Patricia Bartlett anyone?

We tend to be good at destruction but consider any creation with doubt, fear and trepidation. Say NIMBY. Wealth creation is seen as such a particularly dirty task, we leave it to foreign capital to pay for our housing fixes and petit indulgences. The NZ stockmarket never recovered from the '87 crash. Stocks and shares are a big boys' game anyway, seeing as how all those flashy prospectuses and TV advertising before the finance company collapses shows none of it was worth a set of adman's cufflinks. Fortune favours the insiders.

Rugby is taken more seriously than any other corporate religion, to the extent that Clark's Labour pushed for Rugby World Cup protection racket laws, discussed in the latest issue of Werewolf talking to Time Law Lord Walker. The closest most kiwis get to a passionate debate is watching rugby or netball on the telly.

We're not only critics but we're experts too. Public intellectual discourse is full of it on talkback shows, at DPF's and the Herald's YourViews section of the gutter. Our mainstream media is full of experts, from P experts such as Paul Holmes and Mike Sabin, through to philosopher kings such as Michael Laws, who have a near-divine private pool of wisdom. Certainly a monopoly on soundbites and media-whoring.

I can't remember the last time I saw a proper interview on the MSM box. There is certainly no signs of intelligence left on the free to airs. Paul Holmes displayed no greater example of just how much respect, professionalism and interest in his craft he has, than with his time talking at David Kilcullen on Q&A recently. He managed to mispronounce both his name and the title of his latest book, before reading out a number of non-contiguous questions obviously not written by him.

Russell Brown on Media 7 has been the best and most consistently impressive cross-examiner over at TVNZ ondemand. I might get round to watching Talk Talk too sometime, once I stop buggering my datacap.

But for all this bitching, I think the state of public discourse in NZ has never been better. In spite of the pervasive Nanny Statism, talkback vomit and occasional blog sewer, in spite of the likes of Ian Wishart and Bob McCroskrie being taken seriously, in spite of the lack of public spaces and private places where one can sit in warmth and comfort with consenting puffers and kind strangers. In spite of all this, I have hope.

The stereotypical academics are beginning to circulate outside the ivory towers of circular reasoning through a number of blogs, freeing interested readers and commenters from the constraints of time and space of public gatherings. Conferences and talks which most would have no means or contacts to go to in person are posted up for public consumption online. While the public spaces are tamed and anonymised into nothingness, social networking sites provide a platform for soapboxes of all shapes and sizes. Communication has never been easier.

Don't expect an avalanche of public intellectuals to suddenly burst onto the scene though. NZ is a country of part-time tinkerers and our thinkers are no different. The renaissance is here. We're soaking in it. But don't expect miracles.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Software Freedom Day

Yet another free event in Wellington this month. International Software Freedom Day is on Sunday September 20th in Wellington. Check here for more details, or have a listen to Colin Jackson on NatRad giving an overview of what it is.

Michael Laws is still a gimp

What sort of public figure spits venom at children one fifth his age? Michael Laws is still a gimp.

God's message to Sarah Palin

I've been really enjoying the post and subsequent comments over at Open Parachute on Carl Sagan's challenge. Speaking of the cosmological argument, news just in from Hubble. God has a message for Sarah Palin. That's right, it's a fifty-five million light year long arm extending a fist with a middle digit:

Scientists have named it the Bird Nebula (because as all scientists know, to name it is to understand it. Ask a Weather God.) By the looks of it, God is left handed or at least ambidextrous.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oh dear how sad never mind

The government of the Cayman Islands is broke and may have to introduce new taxes:

The leader of government business, William McKeeva Bush, begged the British government to borrow $310m (£190m) from banks. In a strongly worded response, Chris Bryant, a junior Foreign Office minister, has demanded the Caymans cut its borrowing and debt. And in a shockwave that will send tremors through the island's financial elite, Bryant even suggested that the tax haven introduce taxes.

"I fear you will have no choice but to consider new taxes – perhaps payroll and property taxes," Bryant wrote to Bush. "I understand, of course, that in so doing you will want to consider carefully the implications for Caymans' economy, including the financial services industry."

It's a very egalitarian recession we're having!

Milking it

There's a certain amount of caveat emptor involved with buying stuff. Take Fiji Water, for example. But there is a reasonable limit. Hot on the heels of a study saying all that added crap in milk is at best useless, there's some signs that added crap in a water solution can be downright harmful.

Whole water, manufactured by Fonterra, contains fibre and milk protein and it says so where it has to. More fool Kristy Oxenham if she was to give her toddler lolly water without reading the ingredients. You'd get as much sympathy from me on your plight by feeding your daughter Coca Cola or Gatorade.

But, but but... if consumers are stupid enough to buy bottled water containing weird shit because it is packaged in opaque bright colours, what marketing ideas were also considered before this one rose to the top of the To Do List? Here's a few guesses:

Pongo Milk - Milk with added suphur, for authentic Rotorua experience.
Beef Flavoured Primo - Not a winner in NZ, but the USA market loves it.
Calci Stick - Condensed milk calcium in solid form. Dismissed when chalk discovered as main competitor.
H2J - bottled water with added gelatine. Aimed at weaning toddlers off eating paste or mud.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cheesecake and a trim latte

If you want to learn irony, become a waiter. My personal favourite was the archetypal Barbie who would order some rich dessert, say creme brulee or cheesecake, then order a trim latte to finish. In cafes, you'll see them requesting chocolate gateau with yogurt not clotted cream, which is a much more appropriate accompaniment. Indulge or don't but save me the empty gestures to one's health. You're not fooling anyone but yourselves.

Since the late 80's, this feminine self-delusion has been a boon for dairy marketing people though. Skim milk was dolled up with the more flattering Trim moniker. One thing lead to another and before you could say Diana's dead, the chicks are going for new improved this milk and added Vitamin K that milk.

Finally, science has caught up with common sense and says all that added goodness is a load of vacuous upselling nonsense:

Ignore all the fancy labels, there are only three kinds of milk you need to worry about, namely full-cream, low-fat and skim. The rest, boasting added calcium, vitamin D, A2 proteins, or omega-3 fatty acids, are unlikely to make any difference to your health, consumer group Choice has found.

If only there was a way to put folate in the paper of Women's magazines...

Spirited consultation

The Law Commission has already started its roadshow of public meetings on its review of alcohol and the Sale of Liquor Act. Hamiltron had a taste last Friday and yesterday was Palmy's turn. The next public meeting is set for Wellington next Monday 9th September at the Wellington Town Hall. Check out the schedule for a town near you here.

Selected meetings also permit people to book short appointments with Sir Geoffrey Palmer in person to discuss their perspective. Get in there!