Monday, February 25, 2013

Homemade Vodka Mojito

Once again, there is no news. Nothing is new today. Instead, I will share with you my recipe for vodka mojito, a perfect aperitif for these unusually consistent hot summer nights we're having.

First, make the sugar syrup. Dissolve 500 grams of sugar into 500 mls of hot water and bring to a slow simmer, stirring with a metal spoon. Let it cool and pour into an empty wine bottle and store in the fridge.

Second, make lemonade. Put 50 mls of sugar syrup and 50 mls of lemon juice into a 1 litre jug and top up with water. Chill.

Thirdly, put some mint leaves and ice into a tumbler and add a slosh of vodka. Crush the mint into the ice and vodka with the butt of a small knife and top up with lemonade.

Friday, February 22, 2013

American Morality

H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. H.G. Wells described censorship as jealousy with a halo. So, it's a bit of worry that not only is Andy Serkis planning to take the politics out of Animal Farm, Boing Boing happy mutant
My 9-year-old daughter is an avid World of Warcraft player, and enjoys reading Dungeons and Dragons manuals (We are joining a twice-monthly game that my friend is setting up). So it's no surprise that whenever she hears my wife and I discuss Game of Thrones (which we do a lot), her ears perk up. She wants to know everything about Arya Stark, the young female sword fighter. She begs us to let her watch the show. I wish she could watch it, too, but I don't want her to see the sex and nudity scenes. (I don't really mind her seeing the violent scenes.
That, in a nutshell, is the paradox of American Morality.

There's nothing new about the Yanks infantilising works of art. The Christian Fundies have been sterilising movies for wholesome consumption for years.

The US spawns great observers like Mencken, Hemingway or Henry Miller. But if any artist flashes a bit of cunt at the American consciousness, they can't deal with it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Shining City

Two facts are immutable in human behaviour; money corrupts and power corrupts. Balzac nailed it when he wrote "behind each great personal fortune lies a crime."

Polite society passes over their kin's amorality in favour of lordly titles or other absurdly over-priced pissing competitions between suitable peers, while the rule of law is purely for show trials with proles.

Take, for example, Matt Taibbi's latest scathing piece of financial journalism in Rolling Stone. Too Big to Jail expands on his already caustic look late last year at HSBC, and ties it into the LIBOR scam. All told, some hundreds of trillions of US dollars has been skimmed by bankers, and no-one has to do an hour of jail to pay for it.

It all makes our royal toady John Key look bent on a nano scale. The deputy Auditor General has found no evidence of foul play in the Sky City Conference Wining & Dining dodgy tender.

John Key sez "Vindicated!", bringing the Obama Doctrine Dictionary into play by bending words into opposites. i.e. imminent meaning in the fullness of time. Or as Dexter, the fun-lovin' homicidal TV character might say, there's no crime without evidence.

The White Elephant has the Green Light. The Black Box wins again.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lament for the Bike Curious

A Wellington Coroner wants hi-vis flouro vests compulsory for all cyclists, as noted in his ruling on the cause of death of road safety cop Steve Fitzgerald.

It's not the drug-ignorant Gerry Evans who's making nutty claims this time, but Ian Smith. But Coroners' Logic is presented in its standard position of being arse-backwards and upside down.

NZ Transport policy has long dictated that people in cars and trucks are more equal than any other people. NZ Cultural Policy has reinforced this bias by blaming the most vulnerable when things go wrong. In this light, Coroners' Logic seems quite reasonable. In the normal light of reality however, it boils down to "screw the walkers and cyclists".

Cars causing bicycle mayhem and roadkill? Put a polystyrene tit on the bikers' heads. Trucks totalling safety cops? Make the cyclists wear a twat jacket. Yeah, that'll stop the truck.

When will someone blame the road design? Why not go Dutch and separate the traffic flows adequately? Or, just for novelty's sake, put the blame on the  inattentive wheel jockeys behind the Steel Death Machines? Go Dutch and put the onus on driver liability.

While we're at it, I've always pondered why bus and taxi drivers are licenced to buggery if they transport members of the public around, but any mad cow on a general licence can pilot a God Mover packed to the rafters. Maybe you wouldn't get so much street pizza if you made a separate licence for that class of Steel Death Machine.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NZ First's Next Prosser-cution

It is no surprise Winston Peters is reluctant to let Richard Prosser quit Parliament. Horan's already making a mockery of whatever passes for NZ First's List selection process. To lose one MP is unfortunate. To lose two would be careless.

The wily werewolf must be incandescent with rage at his fat-headed sidekick. Every word that Prosser utters is one soundbite Peters isn't using to attack the government, indelibly inking his schtick as NZ's populist conservative.

To think it all started out over a pocket-knife confiscation that wasn't. I have been in similar circumstances with airport security theatre. Like Prosser, I also have vented on the matter. Unlike Prosser, it never once crossed my mind to impugn an entire religion because of it.

Come to think of it, replaying it in my head, so to speak, I wouldn't be surprised if this was Prosser here:
The Auckland Airport security lady, who went into great swathes of busyness checking the specific blade length on my standard issue Swiss MacGuyver knife, was almost enough to set me off into official complaint mode. "I've got into Parliament with that," I said to ignorant response. She needed to consult a bigger ruler, she said. So much for one size fits all, eh.

Some poor bastard and his missus were having similar but different problems with security. They were about as out-of-type for terrorists, domestic or foreign, as Tama Umaga batting for the Black Caps. Still, some trivial slight had to be enquired upon them. Your tax dollars at work.

If it was him, I'm glad I could assist in Prosser's political comeuppance. The really interesting question is which NZ First MP will be the next to go off the reservation. My money's on Andrew Williams or Denis O'Rourke.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Midweek Brain Teaser

Truth or bluff?

1. Up to four percent of Richard Prosser's DNA is Neanderthal.

2. Peter Dunne's head is swimming in cannabinoids.

3. John Key once mistook the Whitbread round the world race for Indonesian boat people heading for NZ.

Answers: 1. Truth. 2. Truth. 3. Bluff.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Idol

Pope Benedict Rat I has had enough of being the Catholic Church's version of an earthly Metatron for "god" and tendered his resignation. The Vatican sez there will be a new Pope in time for Easter. NZ toonist Grant Buist wants a rabbit pope.

As a disinterested atheist, here are my nominations for who should have a crack at pontiff-ication and have their fisherman's ring kissed.

US Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas - Conservative as Catholics come; knows Latin. He's no saint, let alone cardinal, but if anyone can smack the Vatican bureaucracy into action, he can. Yank-imposed compromise candidate for an African pope.

Justin Bieber - Would encourage millions of new converts to the faith. Has successfully unified deep Christian belief with immense wealth. On the downside, he's almost certainly too young too be pope, and too old to be any use as a choirboy or cardinal's assistant.

Grumpy Cat - Because cats eat rabbits.

Then again, Gordon Campbell has a perfectly reasonable take on the serious contenders. Martini? I'm more of a vodka Mojito guy myself.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Taming the Sevens with Hospitality

It's a slow news day domestically, and I'm far too sober to write about the Brennan hearings or drones yet. This one is about rugby. I don't personally enjoy the game, but some of my best friends are rugbyheads. Also Neil Miller, who once lent me his beers at the Old Malthouse on Willis St. Cheers.

Neil Miller was griping on NatRad's Panel today about how the Wellington's Sevens weekend has jumped the shark. More precisely, he despaired at the empty seats during the game, as punters went out on the concourse, or mulled around like pissed mullets around the Wellington CBD.

The Sevens should take a leaf out of the hospitality sector with the airline, restaurant or theatre solutions.

The airline solution is to overbook the seating. Try a 25 percent overbook for the first day next time and see how it works. The same principle is used by political parties in public meetings. Better to squeeze a big crowd into a small hall than have a small gathering in a cavern.

The restaurant solution is to sell the seat to a casual if the punter's not there on time. This only works if you don't allow punters off the premises.

The theatre solution is similar to a mash of the airline and restaurant gambits. Pre-sales ticket holders must enter by a certain time with an exit only policy (no pass outs). The tally of vacant seats is filled by 'standby' hopefuls at the gate. A sales gate could top numbers up if and when punters leave.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Quid pro quo

John Key would really actually prefer a four-year term of government, not the three year cycle NZ has. Opposition Leader David Shearer agrees with the prime minister.

Fortunately, only a moron would try to pass such a law with a two thirds 75% majority in Parliament, as is required under the Constitution Act 1986. The people must choose, not the pollies.

A four year term might improve the quality of lawmaking, but the public has never agreed. Referendums on a four year term have tried and failed. And, what with the MMP Review looking to be watered down into nothing, the public is right to be suspicious of Parliament's motives. Don't mention the OIA Review either.

A three year term will remain as long as the public think politicians are a bunch of low-life, self-serving grifters with no nose for the public good. So, probably no four year terms for NZ for a while then.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Kiwi Grundnorm

Waitangi Day seems a fitting time to share some conclusions from my summer study of How Things Change in New Zealand.

It is already well understood how things don't change around here. Colin Espiner's welcome return to blogging highlights the Kiwi mantra of "She'll be right". This laconic, laid-back philosophy has a nasty duality which can be summed up thusly: If we ignore a grave injustice for long enough, it will inevitably resolve itself to everyone's general satisfaction.

Your choice whether this is fantastic naivete or helpless optimism. As a philosophy though, it has more plot holes than a Scientology chapter. As a security blanket however, it has provided New Zealanders with a warm glow of smugness from inertia.

So, how do things change in NZ? Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Everything always changes. Hate it or loathe it, we are glued to the arrow of time. History doesn't repeat, although it may be fractal with self-similar blobs.

Political reform must also be continuous, as that PriceWaterhouseCoopers wonk said last year. Otherwise, as Malcolm Tucker said in the final episode of the Thick of It, "Dark shit builds up." And then you get a Rogernomics enema.

Unfortunately, the law is usually the last thing to change. Take, for example, our alleged national symbols. Our current cobbled together official national flag was officially endorsed after over thirty years of informal use by the public and military. The dreadful dirge that is our current national anthem was written by an Irish Australian in 1876, and recognised officially only in 1977.

Lewis Holden makes a good point along these lines in today's NZ Herald. The Silver Fern is used by an increasing number of NZers to represent them instead of the old defaced ensign. Never mind that the Silver Fern was first hoisted during the Boer War, around the same time the blue ensign was adopted as de facto flag of convenience. The people are deciding to adapt the Silver Fern for themselves, and damn whatever the law says.

Similar cultural adaptation has been replicated in Deaf culture. Official government policy outlawed sign language for 99 years. That didn't stop the underground proliferation of NZSL, which evolved from a BSL, ASL mash-up into its own linguistic space.

Although it was illegal for many years not to report deaf people to the government, at least they didn't ruin their lives by locking them up in prison. The same cannot be said for the substantial proportion of the NZ population arrested and persecuted to this day for using cannabis.

Happy Bob Marley's birthday. Get up, stand up. Live free or die Kiwi.

Extreme Holmes Makeover

In two days' time, mainstream baby boomer New Zealand will bury its short dark knight, Paul Holmes. NZ hasn't poured out this much undeserved maudlin treacle since Elvis Presley died.

Amidst all the crocodile tears, only three brave essayists have been more accurate in appraising the ego-driven gnome. The first comes from an unexpected source, Boomer Karl du Fresne, who explains the Holmesathon as TV doing what is does best; onanising itself.

The second was the raw obit by former Q+A producer Tim Watkin, who channels Prima Donna without saying it. Russell Brown ties the Holmes schtick into a larger news and current affairs narrative, including this elegant observation:
He was attracted to people he saw as like himself – battlers against the bureaucracy. And more even than most men of his generation, he believed that if he felt something, it must be right.

Yes, that lobotomised certainty abounds in men of a certain age. I put the blame on Compulsory Military Training.

Holmes is dead and so is the egocentric format he introduced. Say what you will about Seven Sharp, they don't exploit their subjects and re-edit their stories to fit with a producer's preconceived prejudices.

It's the difference between reporting the news and inventing it.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The "Do You Know Who I Am?" Defence

One night in Taupo, some twenty years ago, I was charged with drink driving. Both the breath and blood tests showed I was ten percent over the limit. After seeking two legal opinions, I was advised that the law is clear. There is no way to avoid a loss of licence and fine for drink driving. None at all.

No, I couldn't argue that I needed my licence to continue my job. No, I couldn't take advantage of the trial scheme, whereby the police gave warnings to people caught just over the limit. My level was three percent too high. I plead guilty, said my piece to the judge, lost my licence for six months, and paid a fine. I adapted.

So, you can imagine my surprise today to read that, actually, the law is more plastic than previous legal opinions had suggested. One can be twice the legal limit, get off, and have a cone of silence fall over the whole thing as if it never happened.

Unfortunately, one needs to be a worthy Sleb, not a working Pleb, to play this Get Out of Drunk Tank card. Undue hardship can only be begged by people who don't know the meaning of regular hardship.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Ride the Walrus

Martyn Bradbury is preparing to destroy Seven Sharp when it debuts tomorrow. I know so, cause he said so on Plebook. Today he's sharpening his hack saw and polishing his mallet, for tomorrow he will lay waste to the sold-out, dumbed-down, infotainwashing Seven Sharp.

I'm setting my standards a bit lower. I wish Boyed, Mau and Mulligan well. Ride the Walrus, guys!

Licence Revoked

The Herald on Sunday's big story today is the undetonated timebomb of expired drivers licences, which threatens to inundate bureaucrats with more revenue.

NZ Drivers Licences expire after ten years, the way that NZ Passports used to. It wasn't always thus. For a brief moment, the bureaucratic clouds parted and drivers licences were for a lifetime (or 70-something, whichever came first).

But there's no user-pays fees in that strategy. So, one day the government declared that after ten years of being an able and competent driver, all of a sudden you weren't.

You had to go to the AA, fill in the correct form, sit an impromptu eye test of dubious merit, get photographed in unflattering lighting, and hand over a significant chunk of change. Only then were you deemed a competent and legal driver again.

The old 'lifetime' licence had no photo, the current 10 year ones did. The drivers licence has since become a form of generally accepted ID, contrary to legislative intent.

As a nation, we used to scoff at other countries that required its citizens to carry ID papers at all times. Now we suck it up.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Today is Satyr Day

# Steve Braunias is back with the Secret Diary of Kim Dotcom. I was hoping for Gareth Morgan, but no complaints.

# Toby Manhire is settling into the Herald nicely with a blistering satire column.

# The NBR's Judge Jock has dipped his toe into the poison ink. Aimed squarely at Auckland's Law Jockeys, it is a welcome (and hopefully continuing) addition to the NBR Free to Read section.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Easton Counterfactual

The Left is neatly divided into two insoluble groups; social democrats and neo-liberals. Social democrats are morally and intellectually superior to neo-liberals, who are anti-intellectual and stifle debate.

This is the smug and fabulist world according to Brian Easton, going by the speech he gave to this year's "Young" Labour Summer Camp (HT Bryce Edwards).

In fairness, for no short time I've been taunting members of the Left Intelligentsia for a counter-factual to Rogernomics. Easton's world is the closest I've seen to a theory to date.

The logic goes something like this: the social democrats would have thought of something to fix New Zealand's economy, if they hadn't been decimated and slaughtered by rampaging neo-liberal Visigoths in the party during the 1970s and 1980s.

It's rubbish, of course. The 'social democrats' Easton referred to had their chance in the Third Labour government. But, like the Second Labour government, shown to be rubbish at putting their theories into practice for public betterment and kicked out of power.

The only reason Norm Kirk is revered by Labour traditionalists is that he died in office. If he had lived, there's every chance Kirk's Labour would have destroyed the NZ Labour Party's spiraling Keynesian/socialist waffle like Callaghan's government did in the UK. Alas, Muldoon won 1975, and Labour's old socialists were never given enough time to finish their course of self-destruction.

For those of you too young to remember the 1970's or Life on Mars, it was an awful decade. I could go on, but let's keep things in economist-talk. Regardez:

Say hello to the 1970's. It wasn't all Dr Who and Tomorrow People. In the twelve years between 1970 and 1982, prices quadrupled (double doubled). Can any Young Labourite truly grasp what that meant? What it felt like, and why those who did feel it don't want to go back there?

No-one knew the price of anything, or what it would be in a year's time. Overseas shocks combined with the rolling domestic shocks in NZ of falling exports from 1967 onwards, that marked the end of the good times that NZers of a certain age still pine for.

The unions attempted to keep the manner to which they had become accustomed, and set about using NZ citizens as pawns; ruining school holidays, striking for the most trivial of reasons. The generation I grew up in had a distrust of unions built on all those interrupted childhoods, not neo-liberal ideology.

The Lange government had more intellectuals as MPs than at any other time in Labour Party history. Debate was welcomed, but wool gatherers weren't. Boo hoo. Easton neglects to point out how utterly broke the country was either.

Three decades later, there's no sign of neo-liberals within Labour, the Alliance people have taken their walkabout full circle and are back in the Labour fold,  and still the social democrats still can't think of a way ahead.

Yet they would tear out the foundations of the Reserve Bank Act out of spite. I cannot vote for a party of such wanton recklessness. Destruction is easy. Creation is hard. Do better.

NZ's Fugly Buildings

New Zealand has one of the finest collections of ugly architecture outside of the former or current socialist blocs.

Smaller examples of these can be seen in the residential housing stock, which has had recent problems with 'leaky housing', but many older dwellings can also be made uninhabitable through careful neglect. For example, I used to live directly under this 'house' in the Wellington suburb of Northland. Not pictured are the massive cracks in the foundations.

Dunedin's Scottish custodians of student rental stock have long been held to be the finest owner operator slum landlords in the country. This is a fearsome reputation to have, considering the vast bulk of New Zealand's rental housing pool was last refurbished when they were originally built.

Ugliness from neglect is one thing. Deliberate ugliness in design is another matter entirely. Some of the most awful buildings in New Zealand have been built under a National government.

David Tsow goes into bat in today's Herald for the old Auckland City Council building. He sees:
This unique building is a remarkable New Zealand architectural object to be studied and analysed. It represents New Zealand's approach to innovation and creativity and contributes to the dynamic expression of the New Zealand identity.
Whereas I have always considered the building an eyesore, an ivory tower of bureaucrats lording it over their ratepayer minions. I never knew there was a garden at the top. It's not very visible, and it lacks the bravery and openness of Hundertwasser's vision.

The 1967-era building was probably the last time the Auckland Council's building has dominated its territory. The same cannot be said for the rest of the country. Go to any NZ town or village, and without fail, the newest, most over-built building on the main street will be the Council building.

The Palmerston North City Council building and Convention Centre was a battleship-sized eyesore foisted on Palmy by then-mayor Brian Elwood. It straddles the side of the Square which itself has more recently been turned into a giant slab of concrete. Nelson's Council has a Mini-me bomb shelter too.

The Beehive has long been recognised as one of the worst buildings in the world. Drawn on a cocktail napkin and reverse-engineered into a building, it is a terrible place to get drunk in. It is with some delicious irony that the prime minister who commissioned the eyesore ended up announcing a snap election in it before puking his ring out on the shit-brown carpet.

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington was designed with the intention of reflecting NZ's Pacific culture. It resulted in more of a Byzantine-style labyrinth. Not so much ugly aesthetically, more an ugly waste of space. So much more of the museum's treasures could have been on display if some sense of proportion has been brought to bear.

A sense of proportion is also missing from the Von Zedlitz building at Victoria University's Kelburn campus. Stairwells in impossible places, floor layouts that would make Escher or Kafka scream. If buildings had theme songs, Von Zedlitz's would be David Byrne's The Red House.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions for NZ's worst building in the comments.