Thursday, December 28, 2006

Award time

While the fecking rain appears and disappears to ruin the bbq in South Canterbury, a few awards:
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1. Best left wing blog: No Right Turn. Frankly the competition is pretty slack, but more often than not there is some decent argument and thought that goes into this blog. I'd rather read this than all the others combined, because it isn't part of the Labour party felchocracy. I may more often than not disagree, but I would rather disagree with someone with arguments I think are wrong than a fawning idiot.
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2. Best new word of the year: Felchocracy (n) 1. Participating in politics by engaging in support for one party to the extent that you are willing to swallow whatever shit it excretes, and spit it in the face of all others.
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3. Best non-left wing blog: Not PC. I did think hard about this, as PC is a friend of mine, but it is consistently one of the most pithy well balanced and thoughtful blogs on the freedom side of the fence.
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4. Smartest kid I know: My niece Jennifer. At 7 she is more articulate, thoughtful and mature than plenty who are 10 and counting. I can only wish her the best for the coming year, she's top of her class (which I understand isn't hard given the state of better state schools), precocious and very cute to boot. She'll outgrow Napier quicker than her peers, I only hope that she knows - politely - how much better she is than them. As long as she can avoid the provincial NZ diseases of mediocrity, pregnancy, welfare and drug addictions - she'll be fine, unfortunately too many of her peers wont.
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5. Book of the year: Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion. I've devoured half of it on my trip so far. Absolutely gripping, entertaining and insightful. Some of the answers are not a mystery (if God created the universe, who created God? Same problem). He should produce a kids version for distribution to all schools. He gives most of the answers. I believe Objectivism gives the rest. Religion isthe second greatest cancer in the world, only second because it is a subset of the first - irrationality.
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6. Best new blog: Pacific Empire. Damned good stuff in this, thoughtful and debatable too. A few young guys who enjoy a good bit of mental gymnastics.
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Anyway enough of that, have a Happy New Year wherever you may be... I may add random ramblings at times or not... just expect not too much until after the New Year.
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but if there is one single thing to take away from this, it is to be yourself and be true to yourself. Nothing is more important to live for than your own happiness - there is nothing else. Respect the right of others to do the same.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

End of year....

Well like most bloggers, I'm too busy enjoying the holidays to be arsed writing about anything much... since I am currently in South Canterbury for a few days before heading up to Wellington, I thought I'd just make a few random remarks for the hell of it:
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1. Why is it that Air New Zealand's British and Chinese cabin crews from London to Auckland were friendlier and more helpful than the Kiwi ones (or the one in the front cabin)? The difference is between people who couldn't do enough, to sour faced bitch. The Chinese cleaner at the United lounge at Hong Kong was a blessing though, she came and got me when a shower was free - THAT is what benevolence is about.
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2. Appreciate the low density housing, wide open spaces, lack of traffic (seriously NZers, get over it, almost all congestion is a joke compared to London) and room. Think carefully about those who want to impose high density living on our cities, and the arguments they put forward. I can just say that it is one of the things I appreciate the most while away from London.
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3. When thinking about recovery of fines, think about tax. Think about how dedicated the state is to taking your money to fund its activities, and think how less dedicated it is to punishing criminals, ask yourself if things shouldn't be reversed, and whether the state is more interested in growing itself than undertaking its core function - to protect you from criminals. David Farrar comments rightly about how immoral it is to fine people based on wealth. An alternative is to deduct fines from people's incomes JUST like tax, including welfare.
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4. Death of Gerald Ford - the President who pardoned Nixon and shepherded the USA until the disaster of Jimmy Carter. Sadly he wont be remembered for much more. He survived two assassination attempts. On the bright side he fought the wasteful and destructive welfarism of Johnson, he reduced taxes, and entered into the Helsinki Accords with the USSR. These accord which included commitments on human rights, such as free speech, planted a seed that undermined the communist administrations in eastern Europe over the following decade or so, it gave NGOs in those countries something to start holding their regimes to account, though few would notice how significant it was for some years. On the other side he gave Suharto the nod to invade East Timor, which saw hundreds of thousands murdered. The justification was fear of a Marxist regime following Portugal's swift decolonisation - but Suharto's blood thirsty ways had been ignored. That must surely be his darkest moment, darker than pardoning Nixon. So I am ambivalent about Ford - he recovered the dignity of the Presidency, but only just.
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5. End of Don Brash's political career - I written almost enough about this. All I wish is that Don and his family have a great holiday season. He has done more for NZ than his colleagues will ever publicly give him credit for.
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6. Politicians I most want to see the back of before the end of 2006:
- Fidel Castro (come on, I'd like the year to end on a happy note);
- Robert Mugabe (he is surrounded by so many low lifes someone must be ambitious);
- Ken Livingstone (there must be a mad bus driver somewhere ready to give productive (i.e. 10% of) Londoners an end of year present;
- Helen Clark (you haven't climbed enough mountains yet Helen, you know 2008 is virtually unwinnable - oh that's right you're facing Key and English, fair enough then);
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (time to visit God you bigoted knuckle dragging prick).
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7. Saddam's death sentence. Yawn get it over with, the man has the blood of hundreds of thousands on his hands. I have better things to do than waste time giving a damn.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Corrupt influence of blogs

I am sitting in the United Red Carpet Club Lounge at Hong Kong Airport, waiting in transit from London to Auckland. Following a shower, change of clothes and a light snack I thought I'd go online using one of the terminals in the lounge, and look at some of my favourite blogs. Could I?
No.
Most of you have the word "fuck" or "fucked" or variations thereof, including my own. Since I use blogrolls to check out others, i tried google but it is blocked as a "domain with forbidden content", so I used dogpile which of course works perfectly because the censorship nazis at the lounge are too dumb to know how easy it is to get around any of this.
So I couldn't see Not PC or Kiwiblog or my own even. Others not viewable include Cactus Kate and Whaleoil
I didn't look at left wing ones as I am on holiday and I don't want to be pissed off (the 2.5 hour wait for takeoff from Heathrow hasn't helped).
However AJ Chesswas's one was blocked, due to a weird obsession with Bill English categorised as disturbing content.
and flight is called...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas Turkmenistan



To round off a year of dictators' deaths, Saparmurat Niyazov or "Turkmenbashi" as he made his subjects call him, has died. I wrote about him briefly 13 months ago here.
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Had Sacha Baron Cohen done his research properly he probably would have picked Turkmenistan rather than Kazakhstan as the subject for his succesful film. Although having said that, he may have needed protection had he done so.
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Niyazov was only rivalled by Kim Jong Il for authoritarian power in the world today. Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko may try, but Niyazov is far closer to Stalin. Pinochet was an amateur compared to Niyazov. Reporters Without Borders rank Turkmenistan as having the 2nd worst press freedom in the world (after North Korea).
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Niyazov was one of those dreary nasty Soviet Communist Party officials who worked his way to the top of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic Communist Party, and ironically got his original position because Mikhail Gorbachev fired his corrupt predecessor. During glasnost and perestroika, Niyazov largely ignored what was happening elsewhere in the USSR. He supported the failed putsch against Gorbachev in 1991, and in the break up of the USSR inherited the Presidency of Turkmenistan.
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He held an election and got 99.2% of the vote (!) and essentially continued the old USSR except in his own image (I hope Matt Robson, George Galloway and Chris Trotter observe since they miss it so such). It is a totalitarian state with any expression of political opposition resulting in imprisonment or internment in a mental hospital. The state owns and operates all press, broadcasting and publications. While water, oil and gas are "free to citizens" nothing else is and state set wages for the state owned industries (i.e. virtually all jobs) are very low. It's official GDP per capita (PPP basis) is similar to neighbouring Iran, but it is almost impossible to rely on official statistics from a regime which has been eternally optimistic. He maintained neutrality on foreign policy, allowing US military aircraft overflight rights in the war in Afghanistan, but also close trading relations with Russia and Iran. The EU even granted Turkmenistan MFN trading status, largely to access its oil and gas.
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Niyazov had run a personality cult which was only rivalled by Kim Jong Il. His name and face are everywhere on billboards, banknotes, carpets, products and of course the news media is filled with his deeds. He wrote a philosophical book called the Ruhnama, which is literally the national bible. It is compulsory reading at school and must be kissed upon entering a mosque (Turkmenistan is Islamic, but Niyazov clearly created his own religion). Knowledge of the book is required for many jobs and even a driving licence. Criticism of even inadequate reverence for Ruhnama can land you in prison or even to face torture. He had built a gold statue that rotates to always face the sun (you can see it on google earth)
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The list of bizarre features is too long for even this blog but here goes with some of them:
- He introduced a new alphabet and made it compulsory;
- The months of the year have been renamed with Turkmen heroes;
- Despite being wealthy with the world's 5th largest gas deposits, Niyazov spent many of the national wealth on projects such as a ski resort, an ice palace outside the capital, and a 130 foot pyramid;
- Banned beards;
- Banned car radios;
- Banned video games;
- Banned opera and ballet;
- Banned smoking in public;
- Closed all rural libraries saying rural dwellers don't read anyway;
- Closed all hospitals outside the capital Ashqabat saying if people are ill they can come to the capital (country is 488,000 square km in area!);
- Niyazov's short stature can never be mentioned (he was 5ft);
- Women under 35 cannot leave the country without having given birth to 2 children;
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I hope this results in real change, I hope the struggle for succession in Turkmenistan sees someone benevolent take over, free his country and avoid the vacuum being filled by Islamists thanks to neighbouring Iran. Turkmenistan deserves to have freedom unfold, while maintaining personal security, and for its people to see the fruits of its ample energy wealth. Good luck Turkmenistanis, my best wishes are with you that your age of madness has come to an end. With 60% unemployment, it is easy to see the risk that this could unfold into a whole bloody mess. Isn't socialist central planning truly wonderful?
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Anyway I HAD to write that as I get ready to fly out of Heathrow through the blanket of fog!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

11 things I like about Britain



Given I fly out in exactly 24 hours (hopefully since Heathrow is covered in fog and the number of flights permitted to land/takeoff has been halved - the 90 second safety factor gets doubled!), I thought I'd end my UK based blogging for the year with a positive note about this country I now call home. There is a lot to be negative about, so I figured I should spontaneously think of 10 good things and found 11:
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1. Comedians. The UK has some of the best comedians in the world. The highlights this year have been Russell Brand (probably considered the sexiest man on UK television), Dara O'Briain, Charlotte Church, Phil Jupitus are all people who have stood out as being extraordinarily funny. Paul Merton and Ian Hislop deserve a mention for Have I Got News for You, as does Simon Amstell on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. I'll even mention the million pound man, Jonathan Ross. Without these people UK TV would largely be pretty dire. Even Jeremy Paxman, who is by and large a serious journalist on Newsnight has a brilliant wit.
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2. Stage and theatre. London is almost unrivalled in talent and variety. It makes this city alive and after a while you take it for granted.
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3. Newspapers. You simply can't read the NZ Herald or the Dominion Post ever again for anything other than local interest stories and the very occasional columnist after devouring the Telegraph or the Times, or even the leftie Guardian. This is journalism at its best. Comparing these newspapers to NZ papers is like comparing 1st year undergraduates to their lecturers. The tabloids are just funny, especially the Sun and the News of the World.
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4. Friendliness of northerners and the Scots. Now it might be an exagerration to say they are either really friendly or ready to mug you, but almost all of the people in "the north" that I have met have been friendly and helpful. There is another side, but I'm going to be positive and many of you don't know what "Chav" means.
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5. Variety. It's not the best place to shop in Europe, but you can buy almost anything. Big population means specialisation. It may take some looking but you can find most things here. Of course I mean in London, this doesn't apply much the further you get out of town. Variety also means concerts, it means people (40% of people in London are not from London).
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6. Pride in appearance. So many people dress so much better here than in New Zealand (I don't mean Chavs). Classy, sophisticated, imaginative and individual. Women are wearing short skirts in 2 degrees weather. In other words, many people try harder here to look their best. Going to the corner shop on a Sunday does not mean dressing like a slob - well where I live anyway.
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7. Gordon Ramsay. This man is a culinary and business god. His original restaurant may outclass all of his others by a mile, but he is THE inspirational chef. He is passionate, hard working, intelligent, loves the food and the appearance and tolerates NO fools. If only a tenth of people in Britain were like him...
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8. "Take the piss" game shows on TV. I have mentioned Have I Got News for You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, but there is also QI. Forget nonsense like Deal or No Deal, these shows are funny, irreverent, witty and very clever. The Americans find it hard to make fun of themselves for fear of offending each other, NZers can only do it between close friends, but the Brits are brilliant at playing games which don't really matter in order to crack jokes.
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9. Properly heated and insulated homes. How do New Zealanders survive, especially down south, without central heating? In Britain nobody needs dehumidifiers, everyone has central heating and you wonder why NZ's asthma rate is so high?
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10. Transport hub for the world. Heathrow and Gatwick (and Eurostar). The greatest hubs in the world, makes it cheap and easy to go virtually anywhere. Eurostar means Paris is not far over 2 hours away by the end of next year and Brussels already is. If it gets a bit much, it is easy to leave.
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11. Irreverence for the royal family. Where else can you joke about the Queen's husband being a murderer, where else can you talk about the sovereign's grandchild as Harry the Nazi, where else can it be the norm to take the piss out of the next in line for the throne? In many countries you'd be executed, in Britain they are an object of affection and fun. Brits can laugh at themselves, and that is perhaps the greatest thing of all.
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Merry Christmas Brits, have fun and take care, and try not to fight.

Annoyed? Start a petition

10 Downing Street has a website where people can lodge serious petitions to the PM about various issues. If you ever wonder why Nanny State is alive and well in Britain, then consider the thousands of petitions that, by and large, statists promote for the government to run other people’s lives. Most of the ideas are crazy, showing how many people think the government is omnipotent and should be all encompassing (and authoritarian). Some of the funniest petitions that are still open (not rejected!) are:
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- Charge fat people more for using public transport when they take up more than one seat space;
- Bring back public flogging;
- Get people to stop bullying other people;
- Stop wives from nagging men
- Require eggnog to be available at all licensed premises at advent;
- Extend child benefits to cats (petitioner's name is Mrs Cat);
- Forbid hairdresser and fish and chip shop owners from giving their shops silly names;
- Keep HP Sauce in Britain;
- Cut taxes on lingerie, sex toys, chocolates and cigarettes;
- Make Spanish the only language taught at schools;
- Ignore petitions with poor spelling;
- Ensure exterior lights point downward to avoid light pollution of the sky at night
- PM to stand on his head and juggle ice cream;
- Move Parliament to Bradford;
- Dis-establish the Church of England and ban creation of new religions;
- Force house prices down to 25% of their current value;
- Ban all online petitions including this one
- Recognise Borat as leader of Kazakhstan
- Acknowledge fetishism and sadomasochism as sane sexual practices
- Replace God Save the Queen with Gold by Spandau Ballet as the National anthem

hmmm

Marian Hobbs's imminent retirement

David Farrar (who was campaign manager for Mark Blumsky's attempt to unseat Hobbs in 2005) reports on Wellygirl's report that Marian intends to retire from politics. This has been confirmed by Newstalk ZB so it then leaves Wellington Central wide open for Bernard Darnton :) doesn't it now?
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I first heard of Marian when she stood for Labour in the Selwyn by-election after Bolger stabbed Ruth Richardson in the back, and Marian came third against as the Alliance's halfwit extraordinaire John Wright came second. She won a list seat in 1996 and I shuddered when she defeated Richard Prebble in Wellington Central in 1999, reflecting both a swing against the government and changed electoral boundaries losing parts of Ngaio and gaining parts of Brooklyn and Newtown.
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As much as I despise most of her politics, I found her to be a good natured person and has a great sense of humour. While she was once a communist, she has also been pragmatic. She is prepared to listen and debate, and will actually read the entire content of a Cabinet paper. In short, after a rather difficult start (the 5th teletubby - Boo Boo nomenclature arrived quickly), she gained the respect of colleagues and bureaucrats for working hard and being willing to engage. In that sense, as a person, she will be missed.
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I followed her on the electoral trail twice with the Libertarianz candidates in the past two elections and she was always respectful and considerate of other candidates and their rights to speak and debate. She was probably not best suited to the lies, nastiness and vapid nature of politics, but very well suited as an auntie and someone to sit and have a good natter with.
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I never voted for Marian (I mean she is Labour, sheesh!), but she was, by and large a rare breed. A rather honest politician. She would rarely promise what couldn't be delivered and while she certainly is a socialist, she also knew some of the limits of her politics. Though I am sure I couldn't convince her that she committed many mistakes, most of them involve voting with the Labour Party since 1996 :)
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In an age when so many politicians are either vindictive, treacherous or complete political whores - it is something worth noting. I hope she enjoys her retirement.
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PS: It was Bernard's birthday on Monday, he is a ripe old 34, as one of the political heroes of 2006 he deserves that to be noted. Cheers Bernard!

2006 in politics


UK political winner: David Cameron. Proof that there is a year long honeymoon period in politics for the nice young man who smiles, utters vapid catchphrases and “listens” to everyone. He has made the Tories electable by making them New Labour Lite.

UK political loser: Tony Blair. With national popularity at an all time low, not loved by the party he saved or the man likely to succeed him, Blair has visibly aged as he slowly plods to his retirement. You’d think after winning a record third successive victory for Labour he’d still be their hero.

UK political nutcase
: Ken Livingstone. Red Ken has always been a socialist maverick, but flying at taxpayer’s expense to Cuba and then Venezuela to try to meet Castro and Hugo Chavez, being snubbed by both and unable to pull off a deal he claimed could be done to get cheap diesel for London buses was outrageous. Now he is calling for a wealth tax on City bonuses, could there ever be a Mayor who if let off the leash would single mindedly destroy the goose that lays London’s golden egg? The Tories also deserve a brickbat for being unable to find a suitable candidate to put up against him – this is London, surely SOMEONE can be found who is talented.

Number 1 UK political theme: Environmentalism. The Stern Report predicted doom and gloom if climate change wasn’t addressed, without explaining how it could be addressed when most greenhouse gas emissions come from other countries. The media is full of obsessions about carbon footprints and Protestant guilt about flying to holiday destinations, which can be easily offset by the latest tithe – paying to offset your carbon emissions. It doesn’t of course, but hey it makes people feel better. Recycling is the national obsession, with EU targets for recycling and some councils fining people for NOT recycling. Meanwhile, rubbish collection remains free and nobody has made an evidence based evaluation of why government intervention to support recycling will deliver net benefits to the UK. It is faith not fact based. The local food/food miles lie continues to be spread by the protectionist farming industry and the BBC.

So how about NZ?

NZ political winner: John Key. Having inherited a revitalised National Party from Don Brash, a general public mood of tiredness with Labour, John Key has been quick to put his stamp on the National Party and flung it towards the left. He too is having a honeymoon period, he too is following the lead of David Cameron in ditching previous policies and philosophy and generally being “nice”. He too is leading Labour Lite.

NZ political loser: Don Brash. Having revitalised the National Party from its worst ever electoral result and bringing it within one seat of victory, Brash was hung out to dry by his own party. The public never did this, National’s public support remained generally above Labour’s, but the wets in National discarded Brash with the support of a media generally lacking in intellectual rigour. Brash lost because he failed to be himself, and be upfront and honest - the characteristics that saw him do so well, the characteristics that are an anathema to most politicians.

NZ political nutcase: Dick Hubbard. One of the most ineffective Mayors Auckland has had in recent history. He has surrendered control over to his leftwing council which is now embarking on its grand Auckland takeover strategy with the ear of Helengrad. Labour supports Hubbard despite his strong esoteric religious beliefs – you know, the ones that put him closer to the Exclusive Brethren than atheism – but it’s ok because he supports Labour

Number 1 NZ political theme: Corruption and lies. Corruption ranging from almost all Parliamentary parties using taxpayers’ money to fund their propaganda campaigns, but Labour the most. Labour’s litany of lies and unwillingness to face the facts of its own fundamental misjudgement. Labour with its United Future and NZ First lickspittles voting to retrospectively legalise this theft. Labour now promoting that this theft be made compulsory every year with a ban on private donations to parties. National for overspending its broadcast spending money by failing to consider GST. Taito Philip Field for giving favours for getting favours. Nicky Hager for writing a left wing attack on Brash without revealing his own personal political agenda and most of the media for not questioning that he had one. Labour for accusing Brash of National leading an orchestrated campaign of attacks against Helen Clark and Peter Davis regarding their marriage, and then leading a campaign against Brash about his own. Labour for endlessly spinning the non story that the Exclusive Brethren led a campaign against Labour and the Greens, with moral support from National – as if this is wrong in a liberal democracy.

Most enlightened political moment: Bernard Darnton, Libertarianz Leader commencing legal proceedings against the Labour Party and Helen Clark over breaches of the Electoral Act and Public Finance Act.

Internationally?

Global political winner: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While continuing to pursue “peaceful” nuclear energy in the guise of a weapons programme, he has avoided further economic sanctions. He continually leads much of the political debate in the Islamic world, wears his anti-semitism on his sleeve and still the West tries to placate him. Ahmadinejad has shown that the Islamic Republic is still solid, that the West gives few articulate and reasoned responses to Islamism, and he can grab the attention and sympathy of much of the Islamic world. He is liked more in the West than George Bush and Tony Blair

Global political loser: George Bush. Having lost the congressional mid-terms, the ongoing difficulties in Iraq, he has lost much momentum for the last two years of his Presidency. Possibly the most hated political figure alive today, he has often failed to communicate clearly what his objectives are, and could hardly have less sympathetic media. With his foreign policy goal in Iraq well out of reach, and domestic policy about to be stymied by a revitalised centre-left Democrat majority in Congress, Bush faces a difficult repositioning as Republican nominees for the 2008 presidential election will want to stand apart from him.

Global political nutcase: Hugo Chavez. After talking of Bush as being the devil from hell, and bribing voters with the vast oil money that Venezuela is bringing in for now, Chavez continues to be the Western socialists’ favourite rebel. His own penchance for roughing up political opponents, corruption and crazy rhetoric are ignored.
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Global environmental scare in decline: Genetic engineering. Fewer are scared of it now than ever before. The doom merchants have quietly shifted towards climate change.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why are they low income jobs?

For the same reason that houses in Murupara are cheap. There are more people providing them than people wanting them. The price of unskilled labour is based on how much there is, vs how much skilled people are prepared to pay to not do jobs that literally anyone could do.
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In short, there are too many people out there prepared to undertake low to no skilled jobs because they do not have the skills or experience to do anything else.
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It is a matter of supply and demand.
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So what is the solution? Adjust the supply and the demand.
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The supply will only go up if you pay them more, because it becomes more attractive relative to semi-skilled jobs. The more you pay people to do something the more they will do it.
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The demand will only go up if people have more money to spend on their services, like cleaning. So tax cuts may increase incomes for the poor. The demand wont go up if the price for their services goes up.
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A socialist would say “because they are undervalued”. Who by? If you value these low income workers then go on, set up a competing business and hire them what YOU think they are valued at. You’ll have to charge people for that, which probably means some sort of “fairtrade” business whereby you say your business costs more, but pays better wages so there is a “feel good” factor. Go on, do it – stop moaning about how others treat those on low incomes and you pay them. Bet you don’t, far better to force others that act yourself. However I guess anyone who hasn't sacrificed their time, money and reputation to create employment wouldn't know better - far easier to just apply for jobs expecting others to create wealth opportunities you can share in, rather than do that yourself.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"It might sound funny to others, but suddenly thinking you are French is terrifying"

Louise Clarke of Bristol did it, but she had a good excuse. She was diagnosed with Susac's syndrome, which is thought to be caused by an autoimmune condition whereby healthy brain tissue is attacked by the immune system.
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The result is hilarious. Though I am sure the journalist was laughing with these quotes..
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This is London reports "She started speaking French all the time, rang her friends to invite them to stay in the French capital - and asked to eat croissants."
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"At one point, my sister discovered I had phoned all my friends and told them to come and visit me in Paris. She had to ring them all back to explain what had happened."
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don't laugh too much because "Miss Clarke, who still has the syndrome, is able to control it with steroids and other medication but has been told it can last up to five years. ". So it is far from a funny illness for those who have them.
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Of course Boris Johnson on "Have I Got News for You" (one of the best UK comedy game shows) did say that 60 million French people wake up with this everyday.

Is Key seducing you?

Really? Are you more likely or less likely to vote National because of him?
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"I believe in a tolerant and inclusive New Zealand." (If this means the state being uninterested in people's race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or lack of, then fine, but hell it sounds like platitudes if he isn't making it clear).
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"I believe in a society therefore for the benefit of all New Zealanders" (Which means what exactly? You live for the benefit of everyone else? From each according to her ability to each according to his needs? You DO know where that comes from don't you?
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"I think that the future New Zealand must be a New Zealand that everyone has a stake in" (Own shares? Own land? or what John? a wooden stake?)
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"One of the huge advantages of having Bill English as my wing man. . . is he has huge experience" (Doing what? Seriously, name his most significant political achievement and most significant policy advance while in government?)
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"The fact I was given an education by the state and lucky enough – and I think hopefully motivated enough –to go on and have a successful career" (Yes John, it's all down to luck isn't it? Perpetuate the myth held by the lumpen proletariat and perpetuated by the left that a successful career isn't about brains, hard work and sacrificing time and effort for the reward, it's luck - like winning lotto eh bro? It's not fair that some fellas got all that luck and we aint eh? You gotta redistribute the proceeds of your luck. Using the word motivated as secondary and conditional did little to help that)
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"If I could make a difference for anybody in New Zealand it would be to give that opportunity to other young New Zealanders who find themselves in a disadvantaged position." (Go on John, it's called education and culture change. You could always spend money on an education foundation, but for now it would help if you tackled the mediocrity that passes for education in so many parts of the country. This means tackling nihilistic envy-ridden culture, bureaucracy and unions. Lockwood Smith wouldn't, Ruth Richardson proposed doing so in 1987, but will you?
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Key represents the National Party's fundamental problem. It does not at all have at its base a philosophical foundation for viewing New Zealand and what it values. The Labour Party does, because deep deep down if you scratch enough, you'll find it - it's called Marxism - the inherent belief that the poor have been robbed by the middle and upper income earners, and that most people are unable to make the best choices for themselves in many areas, and need to be looked after. I think the National Party isn't that different.

Define "redistribution of wealth"

Leftwing euphemism for Theft.
Definition of Theft: "The act of taking the property of another by force or threat of force".

Definition of Tax: "A sum of money demanded by a government"

Give all of the reasons/excuses, justifications you wish for it - but theft is theft, regardless of who carries it out, for whatever purpose.

Ipswich darkened by murders

The murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich in recent weeks has had one effect - it seems to have seen official attitudes to prostitution change. At one time the murder of a prostitute was a "lesser priority", as if women who sell their bodies for sex were less deserving of protection than anyone else. In this case, there is every indication that the police, local authorities, even local churches have all been working in sympathy for the victims and prostitutes in the town. The murders have terrified local women understandably, and shed light on the sad and dangerous lives of prostitutes in Britain (or more specifically the regions - prostitution in London is an altogether different world, with trafficking being a major problem).
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British prostitution laws are not entirely dissimilar to NZ's old laws. With prostitution itself not illegal, but soliciting is, keeping a brothel is. There are suggestions of implementing Swedish laws to legalise prostitution but criminalise being a client. However this is passing moral judgment on a business activity that will never be eliminated.
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No doubt few women (or indeed men) choose to be prostitutes as a preferred profession. It is largely a career of desperation, one they can choose because they are men equally desperate enough to have a guaranteed sexual encounter with a women, on their terms. A minority of prostitutes do so with pleasure, Xaviera Hollander perhaps being one of the most well known example. However, human sexuality is far more diverse than most of us ever care to know, which is why it is remarkably foolish and even dangerous to make any assumptions about men, women and sexuality, except that which is personal to yourself and that which should form the basis for laws to protect people from force. Similarly, the (mostly) men who partake of prostitutes may be the bored businessmen, the shy virgin, the partying students, the wheelchair bound loner, the old widower. Prostitutes know this, they know they get clients who scare them, and those who are easy to please.
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This is why prostitution should be legalised for adults in Britain, enabling prostitutes (and indeed clients) to be able to rely on the protection of the law from those who may hurt them or steal from them.
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I sincerely hope the murderer/s of these prostitutes is caught before Christmas Day and before he (more than likely a he) hurts anyone else. It is a sad and terrifying Christmas period for the women of Ipswich, but perhaps most forgotten - a rather poor and fruitless one for its prostitutes. I doubt many are helping them as they are unable to earn the desperate income they usually seek.
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However, if anything positive is to come from this, it is an awakening in Britain that prostitutes are entitled as much as anyone else to feel safe engaging in their business, and as distasteful as are the motives of those involved (whether it be those prostitutes desperate for money to fuel a drug habit - another issue - or clients wanting to get off), as long as they both parties act peacefully, it is not for the law to judge either of them.
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The world would be a better place if no one felt they needed to be a prostitute, and no one felt they needed to use one. However, it is a worse place when those who choose to be a prostitute and those who choose to procure one, on mutually agreed terms, are persecuted. It is time for this to end in Britain. Legalised prostitution can then see police efforts put onto underage prostitution and trafficked women, who no doubt number in the hundreds in London alone, working as slaves. This is the true horror - hidden by a law that is archaic, blunt and does no one any good.

Leona Lewis.... superstar to be


Following Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, Leona Lewis (pictured) could be the next big thing in pop. She certainly has the talent.
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She won the UK’s X Factor show on Saturday night, and while I, like many, criticise such shows for not generally finding anyone interesting or extraordinarily talented, this time it has outclassed itself.
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X Factor, like the Idol shows, tends to be a largely annoying show. There is the nauseatingly repetitive theme music, the focus on thousands of utterly talentless freaks, who get trotted out throughout the series to poke fun at their incompetence and weirdness (more disturbingly they are willing to be a part of this, possibly because they may be paid for the privilege of national humiliation), while a range of moderately talented people are sifted through by judges and popular vote.
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It is an extraordinarily successful format (it had to be, ITV is hardly doing that well). Successful because people like talent shows, it is interactive (people vote every week by phone or text message for whoever they like the most), it has three very different judges in the form of the knowledgeable but annoying Louis Walsh, the far too nice Sharon Osborne and the refreshingly frank Simon Cowell. The general rule of thumb is that Simon will be critical if possible, Sharon complimentary if possible and Louis will go either way (well not in that sense, as he is certainly gay). However, the great success is seen in the audience numbers and the revenue from interactivity. 35p per text message with between 2 and 8 million votes a week is worth a small fortune, and shows how interactive TV works.
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This year I confess I have watched a lot of episodes, and the final was a contest between an entertaining short young Liverpudlian lad called Ray, who is an accomplished swing singer and all round nice guy. While he certainly had the cute boyish factor (and the northern vote), he was well and truly outclassed by Leona Lewis. Throughout this series, her performances have not been rivalled. She has been too good for a talent contest.
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However, she has been the underdog. Besides clearly winning over the judges, the popular vote has been an issue. Although she was the only contestant to never ever get in the bottom two, it was clearly a concern because of her sex. You see the main voters in these shows are teenage girls, who typically vote for some slightly rough around the edges boy in his 20s who they would spread their legs for. They tend not to vote for women, especially pretty ones. However, once Ben (30 something semi-finalist with Rod Stewart like voice) had lost the semi-final, Ray was too much of a boy to attract the teen girl lust vote (though no doubt got his share), and Leona attracted people by her talent. Good for her.
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Leona Lewis comes from Hackney, a less than well off part of the east end of London. Her vocal range is remarkable, she holds notes perfectly. While shy demure and almost embarrassingly modest, she sings with great passion and commitment, and sang “I will always love you” BETTER than Whitney IMHO (and it is a song that I largely loathe because it was thrashed on the radio when it was a hit). Check out her performance of Over the Rainbow on her MySpace site!
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The £1 million record deal she now has, with her single released on Wednesday is the beginning, but she also apparently has a deal with Clive Davis, founder of Arista Records, responsible for Whitney Houston, Patti Smith, Alicia Keys and many others.
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She is the first female winner, and her mixed race background has not been unnoticed either. Her incredible voice is complemented by being sweet, thoughtful, hard working and good looking. She simply needs to believe more in how brilliantly talented she is. She is 21, she'll learn.
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You will hear of her outside the UK soon I don't doubt. I hope that the album produced for her has songs worthy of her talent. Pop music is incessantly formulaic, passionless and banal, Leona deserves better than that.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Judith cuts a ribbon and that's it


I see the major upgrade to Spaghetti Junction in Auckland (known as Central Motorway Junction) is complete. The upgrade sees a range of improvements, from additional lanes, to FINALLY links between the North-Western and Northern Motorways and from the Northern Motorway up Grafton Gully to connect with the upgraded section of Grafton Gully. This will remove much traffic from Auckland streets and reduce congestion for traffic passing through the city. It cost about $200 million, but I understand the benefit/cost analysis says it will return travel time and fuel saving benefits of over 3 times that in the next 20 years.
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Judith Tizard is opening the improvements, but that's the extent of her involvement besides making noise and cheering on something that would happen anyway was nil. It is a good project, and although Transit needed some coaxing along (because it is naturally nervous about big urban projects and to be fair, Labour did ask why this was taking so long after it got elected), full credit goes to the engineers of both Transit and its contractors for designing this complicated project, probably the most important single upgrade of Auckland's motorway network in the last ten years. Credit also for the then Transfund New Zealand (now Land Transport NZ) for funding this worthy project from your petrol taxes/road user charges. Spaghetti Junction was always half built, on the cheap by the Ministry of Works, which cut corners when it had to, and left Auckland with a bottleneck near the centre.
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Every day around 210,000 trips are made on this part of the motorway network, it takes two weeks for the same number of trips to be taken on all Auckland passenger trains between all stations on all lines.
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Meanwhile, Wellingtonians can celebrate the Mackays Crossing overbridge between Paekakariki and Paraparaumu finally opening today. That bottleneck has been a pain for some years, the only railway crossing on State Highway 1 between Wellington and Hamilton I think! Some Labour MPs will cut a ribbon, but again it was a very good project that was already a priority for Transit and Transfund, so this will no longer be a bottleneck going north, and will be less of one going south (2 lanes merging into 1 will still be a problem). This will relieve congestion for 24,000 vehicles a day, again more than uses the entire Auckland rail network in a day. The inner city bypass open day this weekend will be a few weeks before the first stage of that project is opened. Another worthwhile project of moderate cost, but high benefit.
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This follows a big upgrade of State Highway 1 north of Taihape, at the worst section of the highway south of the Desert Road - Hihitahi Bluffs, a right dogleg windy section, now bypassed. This opened last weekend.
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So be grateful that your petrol tax does, sometimes, get spent on some decent bits of infrastructure, eventually.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nat's attack on freedom continues

If you go here you'll learn that "the National Party seeks a safe, prosperous and successful New Zealand that creates opportunities for all New Zealanders to reach their personal goals and dreams".
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We believe this will be achieved by building a society based on the following values (among others):
...
• Individual freedom and choice
• Personal responsibility
Limited government
...
So the latest National announcement calling for party pills to be banned is another example of the gross inconsistency with these principles. No freedom and choice, no personal responsibility and anything but limited government. Jacqui Dean should not be in the National Party, she does not want a society based upon the values of that party (but then who would be left? seriously!). She says "'With party season approaching, Mr Anderton's inaction can only mean trouble." Trouble because people can't ingest something following the instructions on the packets, a bit like alcohol. Jacqui you are not the nation's mum - leave people who enjoy themselves alone.
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but then why should I be surprised when this follows:
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-National's support for banning third party criticism of political parties (which was ultimately killed because Labour realised it couldn't work!);
- National calling for the government to give Maori jobs "What we should be doing is putting more Maori into positions where they will receive training and have long term career opportunities";
- National calling for action on climate change, without saying what, why and the cost;
- John Key opposing allowing nuclear powered ships into New Zealand waters, without any objective reason why other than he basically can't be arsed arguing for it;
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The Nats have never been good on personal freedom and if John Key could do something to redeem himself slightly, it would be to abandon the Nats conservative line on personal issues. After all Labour is sometimes more liberal and they have supported four Labour policies in the last few weeks. No wonder Jordan Carter is happy - the left have won half of the ideological battle, for now.

Walk the Wellington Inner City Bypass


After years of wrangling and the Greens threatening to pull support from the government on the issue, the Wellington inner city bypass is nearly completed.
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It’s a modest road, mostly involving a new 2-lane one way street to complete a one way system of existing roads across Te Aro, linking the end of the motorway with the road network near the Basin Reserve. It shifts one of Wellington’s main corridors one block south of the city, removing one set of traffic lights. It is a far cry from the 4-lane cut and cover tunnel motorway once planned (which would have been far better). This road only costs about $40 million, and if you had listened to Sue Kedgley and the Greens, you’d think that Wellington has been blighted by destruction across the heart of Te Aro. In fact, a lot of government owned buildings (bought over many years as they came up for sale) that were run down have been moved and are being restored, and others without heritage classifications have been demolished. The bypass will cut traffic on Ghuznee Street dramatically, and reduce congestion on Taranaki Street, as well as providing a more efficient route across town.
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Transit is giving people the chance to walk the new section of road on the 16th and 17th of December, so give it a go. Don't worry if you can't, almost all of the route has a footpath and cycle track along it. The northbound/westbound section will be open from December 28, with the completion of the project expected a few months later when the Ghuznee Street offramp is closed and southbound/eastbound traffic diverted permanently to Vivian Street.
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If you take the walk, think about the hysteria and exaggeration spread by the Greens about this road. It is apparently "destroying a community", and Sue Kedgeley constantly lies about it being a "motorway extension", when it is hardly that. However, once it is opened I will post more thoroughly about how much distortion and nonsense surrounded this project - a currency that the Greens unfortunately trade in too frequently. It would be nice if they once admitted they are wrong.
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Meanwhile, Transit has an excellent site about the project which should answer most of your questions.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Blogosphere to be placed on a fairer level

In response to widespread community concern about the untrammelled and biased perspectives presented in New Zealand political blogs, the Minister of Information Technology, Daffid Cantlift announced that all blogs would be subject to a licensing regime and be subject to regulation by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
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“It is unfair and discriminatory for blogs to exist that can promote neo-Nazi, fundamentalist Christian, neo-liberal and other points of view without giving balanced space and time to alternatives” said Cantlift at his press conference today.
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“We will be giving notice than all blogs produced and published in New Zealand will have to apply for a blogcasting licence, which will be at modest cost, putting the blog under the BSA’s jurisdiction”. Cantlift noted that while industry self regulation was an option, “the widespread hatred, lies and distortion from the right wing blogosphere was cancerous and corrosive to our democracy”, the licensing regime would ensure that blogs could not express an opinion without giving a tolerant alternative point of view. “Clearly this will not apply to informative blogs” said Cantlift, although he refused to respond to enquiries about whether he knew of such blogs he did say “blogs simply publicising what is government policy and the implications of the great problems of our day, such as climate change, would be free to continue to do their good work. These are in stark contrast to those using insulting, even blasphemous language”.
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When asked what blogs were clearly causing concern, Cantlift said it was inappropriate to single any one out, so he simply listed the following:

Kiwiblog
Sir Humphrey’s

Whale Oil Beef Hooked
Oswald Bastable’s rantings
Not PC
The Free Speech blog
Gman
New Zeal

Blair Mulholland
Cactus Kate

Insolent Prick
Silent Running
Pacific Empire
Julian Pistorius
Tomahawk Kid
BZP
Elliot Who
Southern Gent
Writeups

Crusader Rabbit
Andrew Falloon

Lindsay Mitchell
Mikeenz
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he continued but pointed out that clearly there were too many subversive blogs. When asked about how so many were hosted offshore Cantlift replied "if Iran can do it, we can. We're not America, why should we follow America?".
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Leader of the Supposition, Hone Quayside said that the Notional Party would “carefully consider” the proposal as it was a “real issue for all New Zealanders who simply are fairness loving kiwis”. Quayside said “it is important to be a constructive Supposition and to not oppose what is clearly the democratically elected government of the country – that would be treason. After all, there are sound arguments for restricting criticism of political parties which perform a vital function”. Quayside said Notional would support the legislation going to select committee, and said the government can rely on Notional support, as it was important that incorrect political lines were not allowed to “willy nilly” pollute New Zealand media. He said there needs to be some thought given as to how to accommodate the Maaori Party’s call for all blogs to be bilingual, saying that while not opposed “in principle”, there may need to be “language training and workshops” for licensed bloggers to make it easier for them to meet their Treaty of Waitangi obligations. The Maaori Party spokestalisman agreed with anything that would bring the blogosphere under local control.
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Reliable government supporter Peter Don’t said he was “appalled at the standards” of blog debate as his party was rarely mentioned, and there was insufficient attention given to how critically important it was for families to get Transmission Gully built as soon as possible. He said “in principle he opposes much of what the government proposes” but that “he gives them confidence and supply because it is “common sense” to support the largest party in Parliament that he was once a member of.
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Tree Party spokesfrog said “people shouldn’t be mean online and if you can’t ban mean blogs, they should be regulated for the safety of the public, because they were not organic and many people used Telecom, which we know uses the hairs of poor children to build what was once its network”. The Trees would support the legislation, as long as it took account of the Maaori Party’s bicultural concerns.
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Minister of Foreign Affairs Winsome Baubles could not be reached for comment as he was sleeping on a plane. His spokesman was overheard saying the Right Hon. Baubles recognised his status required him to work hard for New Zealand and he was pursuing opportunities for exporting gold to elite markets. This was later clarified as actually meaning "working hard to earn Gold Elite status with Air New Zealand Airpoints".
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Minister for Labour (Party) Jim Il Sung said that blogs that said anything good about drugs should be banned, and mentioned BZP in the first instance.
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* Cantliffe pointed out to journalists that there was no need to constantly misspell his name just because the "a" was pronounced with a "u", not least by half of his colleagues behind his back.
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UPDATE - Capitalist Writer has also been listed as cancerous and corrosive, as well as being divisive, selfish and unfair.

Bits and pieces

Well in traditional English winter style I am crook - hopefully I will be fine for flying back to NZ in a week's time! So just a few pieces of comment about what is going on:
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1. Energy strategy. Well it isn't my one, could be a lot worse, but is populated by a few oddities like David Parker's comment on electric cars. Crusader Rabbit is right on this as is Kane Bunce. Let me place a bet on whoever wants to take it up - I will bet £100 (yes £ not $NZ) that there will be no more than one kerbside power point for electric cars in New Zealand (that one will be a demonstration), and that there will not be 100 electric cars in New Zealand (trolley buses don't count!). I have an alternative energy strategy:
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- Remove all restrictions on energy lines companies entering in the generation market;
- Privatise the three generating SOEs with a combination of sale and distribution of shares;
- Reform the RMA to respect private property right as a first step towards full replacement of planning law with private property rights;
- Scrap EECA.
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The price of electricity rising makes it profitable to invest in more supply, and more likely people will invest in energy efficiency measures, removing the RMA restrictions will make it easier to build supply.
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2. Party pill regulation
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Why don't they just fuck off? Seriously. Stop protecting people from their own idiocy, it enables them to breed and produce more idiots. Has cannabis prohibition increased or reduced its availability among young people? As Cactus Kate says, Jim Anderton is conflicted on this - his own conservative stance is due to family tragedy. Sorry Jim, lots of people ENJOY party pills harmlessly, like people enjoy drinking and enjoy being promiscuous and enjoy eating high fat sugary meals - You are NOT the nation's dad. Stop being such a bloody catholic killjoy wanting to stop people having fun you don't understand or participate in. Some fun is risky and dangerous to those who choose to enjoy it - but it is a damned sight safer than being an authoritarian politician. Why do New Zealanders so enjoy telling others what to do?
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Frankly Don Brash's final shame is voting for this atrocious pandering to the lobbying of Telecom's competitors over Telecom's owners. Instead of buying Telecom themselves or investing in competing infrastructure, they got the government to make Telecom give it to them at a price they were willing to pay. The Alliance's telecommunications policy of 1999 has effectively been implemented, with support from the National Party. Under Brash, the Nats were going to at least consider a cost/benefit analysis of this proposal (it's not freedom, but at least economics might have given an objective assessment of its merits and risks), but that seemed to evaporate. David Farrar's sad betrayal of most of his principles on pragmatic grounds is notable, but what is not so transparent is the gigantic transfer of wealth from Telecom shareholders, from superannuation and insurance funds, to mums and dads - to the likes of big companies like Telstra. In Parliament only ACT stood up for private property rights, and the Maori Party showed themselves to be craven pork barrel driven racists wanting a slice of the Telecom pie - like little Hugo Chavez's ready to steal whatever isn't there's. One of the left's bitterest little feuds has been won - showing how little backbone most of the "right" in Parliament really has. I've written enough on this many times over, but what grates is how little opposition we really have. Glad you voted National now?
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As Not PC has said, Brash was never a good politician - not one the National Party and it simpering appeasers could stomach. The National Party that occasionally trots out freedom, but really believes that the future lies in statism and out doing Labour with statism. National which can never stand up for capitalism, free enterprise, celebrate success, decry envy politics and believe in principles - even when it nearly won an election. Not PC once again has said much of what I agree with, and no, Brash wont be joining ACT to become an MP again, but never has a National leader instilled such hatred and fear among the left. John Key warms them, in a way no National leader ever should. Remember Muldoon, for all of his vile statism and bigotry, never ever conceded that Labour had a point - he dismissed them as buffoons, and won three times in a row (please don't waste time with the tired FPP Labour got more votes argument, he won). Brash had none of the statism and bigotry of Muldoon, despite attempts by some advisors to taint him with the latter for some votes - but he made his opponents quiver. He also had some in the media out for his guts (such as TV3's Alliance voting/Green sympathising John Campbell) because of his popularity. It will be another generation before National gets a similar leader again, I suspect such a person is probably only in high school now, whoever she is.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Drink “a descent scent of a Korean soil floats in a mouth”


Not PC’s excellent beer o’clock posts collectively are quite a mini-wiki of different beers you can choose, but you haven’t had alcohol until you’ve drunk north Korean liquor.
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Alexei Sayle’s “song” “Didn’t you kill my brother” was number one for weeks in 1985 and included the line “I like North Korean sherry”. Now it is good stuff, and I am sure it keeps army boots polished, but if you want a really good review of North Korean liquor try this.
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My favourite is “Pulrosul. Adder liquor. Contains actual snake. Alcohol 60%. "Tastes a bit fishy for its high alcohol concentration. Some find it unpleasant” as it was on sale at a North Korean trade exhibition in Wellington a few years ago for $100, which is extortion. However I understand they sold out, as students found them “cool”.
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Sacha Baron Cohen could probably do a film about North Korean peculiarities, except the North Korean secret police do abduct and assassinate. The authoritarian Kazakh regime was risky enough to poke fun at methinks. However it is far more appropriate to simply watch the 1984 movies, there is only so much laughing one can do when 100,000 men, women and children are starving working 18 hour days 7 days a week in gulags.

Ahmadinejad hosts holocaust denial conference

What a prick, so blinded by his hatred of Israel, that he is prepared to ignore the mountains of historical evidence, the testimony of those who were there, those who found the concentration camps. The Holocaust was perhaps the most orchestrated, deliberate, coldly calculated systematic slaughter of a people ever undertaken in world history. There have been brutal genocides, and brutal regimes, but the rounding up, transporting, concentrating and executing Jews en masse as deliberate state policy is difficult to parallel. To question it is like questioning whether a nuclear weapon went off at Hiroshima, whether Pearl Harbour was bombed or whether there were political prisoners in the Warsaw Pact. Ahmadinejad is a buffoon, I just think he is stupid and crazy, but a stupid crazy man pursuing nuclear weapons. His regime is despicable and evil, spreading nonsense from hate filled fools.
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His conference includes the likes of David Duke, former KKK Imperial Wizard and onetime Lousiana State Representative. David Duke has endorsed a black homeland for African Americans to all be moved to, and blames Israel for 9/11 and founded the National Association for the Advancement of White People. Nice, I wonder if Persians count in his world? They do if they can kill Jews I guess.
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Another bizarre figure going to Ahmadinejad's sick joke conference is Michele Renouf. Australia's most disgraceful ex. beauty contestant (though what did it take to win Miss Newcastle 1968), married briefly to Sir Frank Renouf (who divorced her when he discovered she lied about her heritage, and she got nothing from the divorce). Michele Renouf is anti-semitic, a friend of David Irving. Stupid evil bitch.
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Besides it being a sideshow, it is telling that Ahmadinejad thinks it is appropriate to hold a conference like this. The Iranian Foreign Minister is quoted as saying " the aim is neither to "confirm nor deny" but to "create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe" about the Jewish experience under Nazi occupation". The thinkers are discredited bigots. Although I disagree with laws restricting the free speech of hate filled charlatans like David Irving, the idea that Iran believes in free speech is without credibility. It is one of the most censorship driven governments in the world. Ahmadinejad's call for freedom is hypocrisy par excellence. His government censors Youtube of all things.
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The Daily Telegraph comment that "What should surely be occurring to any responsible observer of this appalling conference, which has gathered together notoriously anti-Semitic figures from all over the world, is that Iran under its present leadership is a dangerously hateful and malevolent force whose intentions in the Middle East can never be other than malign and destabilising." is quite true.
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Imagine if apartheid era South Africa held a conference on eugenics and racial superiority. This is the same. It should provoke protests, burning of Iranian flags and official condemnations from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Iranian Ambassador.
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Shouldn't it?
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and a bullet to the head of Ahmadinejad wouldn't go amiss either. If you met any holocaust survivors you would understand why.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Economist on how ethical food isn't

Local food, organic food and fairtrade food. They all sound good don't they? They are part of the mantra of the Greens. The idea behind each of them is:
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Local food is "better for the environment" because transport is "bad" for the environment, and it also appeals to the inherent positive communitarianism of the Greens, and the socialist xenophobia;
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Organic food is "better for the environment" and "healthier" for you because it doesn't involve "artificial chemicals" (because, apparently, natural ones are benign, you know, like snake venom) and it is better for the environment because of it; and
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Fairtrade products are "better for society" because you are paying a lot more for a commodity, ensuring the producers in developing countries get more money and be wealthier. In other words, it is about paying people on very low incomes more for what you buy off them.
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In the childlike world of simple platitudes this all sounds very good and plausible. In fact, as the Economist reports this week with its cover article, most of this is about feeling good, rather than doing something constructive. When examined more closely, applying any one of the "local food, organic food, fairtrade" labels to something may either be a waste of money, or worse, counterproductive to what you actually want to achieve.
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The local food argument has already been blown out of the water by the Lincoln University study and a separate report by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which also says that there is less environmental impact importing tomatoes from Spain during winter, than growing them in heated greenhouses in Britain, and that half of the UK food vehicle miles are consumers driving to and from shops. This means it is better for food to be distributed from large supermarkets than people driving further to multiple smaller retailers. The NZ Greens have thankfully taken these finding and have written to their UK counterparts. So the local food argument is extremely dodgy, not helped by the massive protectionism for European agriculture under the Common Agricultural Policy. Removing this distortion would do far more for the environment (and lower food costs, and taxes in Europe) than any campaign for food miles, which is actually counter productive. Quite simply, the local food argument is a combination of misguided environmentalists and old fashioned trade protectionists. The UK farm lobby is in favour of it for old fashioned reasons, it helps them keep their prices up because people think they are helping the environment, when, much of the time, they are doing the opposite. You see, transport costs are only a small proportion of the energy used in food production.
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However, while the NZ Greens appreciate this, they remain wedded to the latest money making enterprise of the food industry - organic food. The Economist quotes a number of researchers who counter claims that organic food is better for the environment. These come down to:
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- Organic farming produces lower yields and requires much more land to be cultivated to produce the same amount of food. Dr. Norman Borlaug, an agricultural scientist, argues that environmentalists argue from the comfort of living in prosperity and is quoted saying "If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things". He points to how global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the land used increased by only 10%;
- Anthony Trewavas of Edinburgh University argues that organic farming uses more energy, because instead of fertiliser and pesticides, weeds are kept at bay by frequent ploughing and other energy intensive techniques;
- There is no evidence that organic foods are healthier or non-organic are less healthy.
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Organic food may, at best, be a good choice on the basis of taste and quality. Certain foods may be tastier and more enjoyable because of how they are produced. However, this is not simply an organic matter. Indeed there are big differences between non-organic food produced in Europe and that produced in Australia and New Zealand in some cases, if simply because subsidies in Europe encourage far greater use of fertilisers and pesticides than down under. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the word "organic" has become a useful tool for food sellers wanting to put a premium on their products based on perception rather than reality.
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Fairtrade food is a bigger con. While sometimes local food may make sense, and sometimes organic food may be more enjoyable, fair trade is entirely counterproductive.
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The concern is that low prices are "unfair". Well they are not. Low prices exist because not enough of a product is being sold compared to what is being produced. They are a signal to stop production and move to something more profitable. Fairtrade buyers guarantee price floors for producers and pay a guaranteed premium over the market price with the benevolent notion of encouraging producers to develop their families and communities. Unfortunately it also perpetuates production and may increase production of commodities that are already oversupplied. If Fairtrade coffee demand increases, more will be produced, reducing the price for the rest of the coffee market making those producers poorer. The fundamental problem is that too much coffee is being grown - paying more for it EXACERBATES that. It is basic economics. Some argue that the high price enables them to fund diversification, but the Economist points out that there is hardly much incentive to diversify away from something paying you such a premium!
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Fairtrade certification also often is available to small co-operative producers, not family owned firms or plantations because the certifiers can't guarantee the workers get the premium. In other words, it is also about changing the corporate form of producers, which may shut out many workers who cannot afford to get into a co-operative (the most poor).
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However, the biggest argument is that it is wasteful. Fairtrade retailers see buyers as premium purchasers prepared to pay extra, when one economist calculates that 10% of the premium paid for Fairtrade coffee gets to the producer, as everyone else in the chain gets their cut. People pay more for it so those selling take advantage of it - meaning, of course, there is less money available for people to spend on other goods and services.
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There is room to do more research on this, but it is clear that the words "organic" and "fairtrade" are potentially a major ripoff of consumers that does little for what is claimed. They are not necessarily healthier and does not benefit the environment, or producers in poor countries - as it encourages them to produce more of what people don't want. It is economics rubbing against good intentions, and as is almost always the case, non-evidence based slogans might make you feel good, but they wont do you, your wallet, the environment or the world any good.

Pinochet's dead..

As Not PC says, don't mourn him. His free market policies and overthrowing an authoritarian socialist pinup (Allende) do not justify suppression of free speech, murdering, torturing and imprisoning opponents. Margaret Thatcher's support for him has been her biggest mistake and the biggest black mark against her name in my book. I understand why she did it (Falklands and his free market policies), but it never excused his oppression of Chilean freedom.
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Chile is doing very well thank you as a free open democracy, WITH the free market policies Pinochet implemented, but in spite of the dark period of oppression.
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I'm glad Pinochet has gone, and look forward to seeing Castro drop dead next, but as you'll soon see, I don't expect the leftwing blogs to celebrate both their deaths equally. I hope they prove me and PC wrong.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sell the damned post offices!

So the Royal Mail wants to close around half of all post offices. The Daily Telegraph has a ridiculous campaign to force taxpayers to pay to keep them open. Uneconomic post offices cost everyone else £150 million a year in subsidies, but as I have written before, they are so "core" to communities, that I apparently have to subsidise them.
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My answer is simple. The Royal Mail should sell all of the post offices it does not believe it can run profitably. If some are franchises, then the current owners should renegotiate their terms or face closure, and perhaps run a competing service (competition has been allowed for the Royal Mail since the beginning of the year, finally!). Otherwise, they should close. Why? Well what is a post office? It is a stamp shop, an envelope shop, a delivery shop. It's a friggin' shop!
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People don't demand the government do something about grocers, bookshops, shoe shops, so why post offices? It tugs at the strings of the elderly in particular, when the government did so much more, and when transport was poor and more expensive than it is today.
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Post offices are unprofitable either because they are inefficiently run or not enough people use it. So either have someone else run it, or face use it or lose it. Don't expect taxpayers to pay for something that is so important to your community, that you're not prepared to use it enough to pay for its cost. Frankly, if it isn't important enough for YOU to pay for it, don't expect me to.

You're airline cabin crew what would YOU do?

Rather than be a bureaucrat living off of money taken from others by the state, imagine you work for an airline. You're chief cabin attendant on an international flight, the passengers have boarded and you notice one passenger who had boarded is no longer to be found:
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- The passenger was wearing full Muslim religious garb;
- The passenger was noticed having gone to the bathroom before takeoff (a practice generally not permitted by most airlines for safety reasons);
- The passenger is in there for a whole 10 minutes and crew are concerned that he is not in the bathroom relieving himself, but is unresponsive;
- The passenger manifest indicates the passenger is travelling on a foreign passport;
- You are responsible for the safety of well over 100 other passengers, at best the passenger is acting unconventionally and delaying the flight departing the gate (passengers are told to be seated), at worst the passenger could be threatening the entire flight.
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So you decide, faced with a passenger who is acting against strangely, you decide for security reasons to escort him from the aircraft.
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Then you're accused of being "anti-Muslim". Frankly, if any passenger is found to be acting strangely, and disobeying crew commands then it is up to the crew to act against that passenger. The airline replaced his ticket, compensated him and apologised, and gave staff training on these matters. The Human Wrongs Commissariat, like school prefects, tell off the airline. How about THIS as an alternative?
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The passenger could have requested the crew whether he could use a bathroom for religious purposes, the crew could have decided whether it was a safe practice or not, or asked him to refrain until the plane had taken off. No, it is the airline's fault. When I fly I follow the rules of the airline, after all, it is not my plane and the airline essentially has the right to exclude me if I may pose a threat to crew or passengers. No, Rosslyn Noonan, who has not actually worked in the productive sector in recent history, can judge how airlines best apply security measures.
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Of course the Human Wrongs Commissariat is also a great defender of free speech, the same Herald report gives this example:
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"Numerous complaints were lodged after newspapers published the Mohammed cartoons, linking Islam to terrorism. A meeting was held between the Race Relations Commissioner, Muslim groups and members of the press. The Press and Dominion Post newspapers apologised for any offence caused and promised not to publish the cartoons again. "
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So, simply because the Human Wrongs Commissariat has NO right to bully any media to not print something because it offends people, here is a link to the cartoons. Am I anti-Muslim? No, Muslims have every right to believe what they wish, and peacefully express their opinions, and I have every right to criticise or ridicule their beliefs, any religious beliefs or any political beliefs. Religion is a choice.

France 24 is launched - more than just anti-American

Good job we didn’t have to wait till the French government got its act together for global news channels. CNN International was the first, and entirely the creation of a leftwing entrepreneur, Ted Turner. Its ubiquity was sealed in the Gulf War that repelled Saddam’s Iraq from Kuwait. This was followed by an entirely commercially funded BBC World. NBC established its global business news channel CNBC commercially, and since then Al Jazeera has also entered the global TV news market, again privately funded. The German government has quietly fully funded Deutsche Welle, which broadcasts news and cultural/current affairs programmes in German and English around the clock. I need not also mention Foxnews, Bloomberg business news, MSNBC etc.
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However, the French government, ever looking for a way to prove how utterly unresponsive government is to what people actually are willing to pay for, has funded and launched France 24, a global TV news channel in French and English. The concern has been that the other channels reflect an Anglo-Saxon view of the world. Well, had the French government not taxed and regulated its own broadcasters into submission, this could have happened spontaneously, but France and entrepreneurial flair are words that don’t go together often. However, it is clear that France 24 can't be accused of simply being anti-American.
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"Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Centre on the United States, said: "It's not an anti-American operation. It's more than that."
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Of course another reason for France 24 is basically to assuage French speakers about the fact that French is not the most universal global language. It is undoubtedly more beautiful than English, as I experience daily hearing English butchered by native speakers. However, France 24 is in French and English, as France has clearly figured out that a French only channel is only preaching to the choir so to speak. However, I doubt France 24 will have much influence, except perhaps beyond Francophone African opinion makers. You see even the website doesn't help when you click "how to watch". The incentives around a state run channel! I assume it will be on Sky and cable networks in the UK, but it is not yet distributed via satellite to the South Pacific.