Friday, July 31, 2009

Regular service WILL follow shortly

Apologies for those who usually read this blog, I've been very slack, for a long list of reasons that I wont bore you all with. One of which has been extraordinarily long commutes for the past month which have taken up effectively 5.5 hours of each day, as well as some time off over the northern summer.

Between that, work, sleep and time with the missus, I really couldn't be arsed feeding my daily wisdom (or angry doggerel) to you all. I've enjoyed not giving a damn about the blog ratings as well - there is life outside the laptop!

However, regular service will return shortly. I've long thought I should blog quite separately on matters that I get into Aspergers' Syndrome like detail about - like transport policy and air travel experiences. So I will be doing that, and linking to it from here if it has national political implications.

Most of you couldn't give a rat's behind when horror of horrors, British Airways drops food except breakfast on flights less than 2.5 hours for people sitting in cattle class. Similarly, the intricacies of how the government structures the transport sector or the new Auckland megacity does it, are a minority interest.

However, I will continue to blog both on NZ and the UK as my main spheres of interest.

Starting again next week!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Labour and Greens hit (in the UK)

The Norwich North by-election occurred because former MP Ian Gibson (Labour) had been pilloried as part of the Parliamentary expenses scandal. He resigned in protest, after allegations that he had let his daughter live in his taxpayer funded flat rent free (taxpayer funding the mortgage), and then sold it to her at half market price - in essence, the taxpayer subsidised a gift to his daughter. So quite rightly he resigned.

Gibson won the seat at the last election with 44.9% of the vote, against Conservative candidate James Turnbridge with 33.2% of the vote. A healthy majority, given he had held the seat since 1997.

However, this time Labour has been hammered into second place. The Times reports Chloe Smith, 27 year old Conservative candidate has won with 39.5% of the vote, against Labour's Chris Ostrowski getting only 18.2% of the vote. The Conservatives picked up votes nicely, but Labour has lost more than a quarter of the total vote in Norwich North.

Now Labour will be slightly relieved by this, as there had been expectation it may be battered into third or fourth place, like the earlier European elections had done, but no. Labour has held onto second. The Liberal Democrats will be very disappointed that their share of the vote has dropped also from 16.2% in 2005 to just under 14% this time. Hardly a ringing endorsement for a party that sees this part of the country as ripe for the picking.

The bigger surprise was UKIP, which did stunningly well to come fourth with 11.8% of the vote, clearly picking up much of the former Labour vote. This has to disappoint the Greens which came fifth with only 9.7% of the vote. While the Greens will say this is a great result, up from 2.7%, the truth is that the Greens hoped this would be their breakthrough to rival the big three parties. The Greens are second on Norwich City Council with more seats than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined. Many Norwich residents trust the Greens with their rubbish, roads and council housing, but not in the House of Commons. For UKIP to pip them in this by-election (as happened at the European elections), demonstrates the limited appeal of the brand.

Of course a wit would notice there was a UK Libertarian Party candidate who did far far worse, but given that party has existed for two years and put up an unknown but keen 18yo as the candidate, it isn't surprising.

NZPA stuffs up again

Yes, someone once again shows how all too many New Zealand “journalists” are not up to the mark.

You see much of this report is quotes from Helen Clark, but the imbecile who reported it (remember journalism isn’t about quoting verbatim what someone said, but actually interpreting it) starts the article with “Former prime minister Helen Clark has called for world leaders who promised aid to developed nations at the turn of the millennium to deliver on their promises”

Aid to “developed nations”? What, to EU member states, Japan, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Who promised that? The word is developing. What fool wrote developed? What moron can’t proof read to save himself?

Now the material issue here is whether aid is a good thing. I’ve just finished reading the rather dated book “Lords of Poverty” by Graham Hancock, which despite having a centre-left tint to it, comes clearly to the conclusion that aid is harmful and destructive. That despite billions of dollars going to developing countries since the 1950s, it has not made a material difference. State aid primarily goes to wealthy people in poor countries and wealthy people in rich countries (who go there to “help out”), and private aid is an industry in ripping people off.

Aid is a salve for consciences, as the biggest sources of developing country poverty are quietly ignored:
- Corrupt, thieving governments that don’t protect individual rights, property rights or have judicial systems to manage disputes over these (such as contracts). This is generally the rule in Africa;
- European, Asian and US protectionism against developing country goods, particularly primary produce;
- Intellectually and morally bankrupt socialist economic philosophies that damage wealth creation in favour of grandiose “national” plans and ideas.

Helen Clark feeding the patronising dependency attitude that has kept many a politician and bureaucrat well fed (especially the likes of those now working for her) is counterproductive. The adage trade not aid is right

However, you can’t expect New Zealand journalists to engage in any critical investigation or reporting on the UNDP when some don’t know the difference between developed and developing countries!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ireland facing massive spending cuts

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph writes a depressing forewarning to those in countries engaging in massive debt funded state “stimulus” activities. He does so by pointing at Ireland, where the news is truly bleak. Given Ireland has a similar population to New Zealand, it is worth those who preach “borrow spend and hope” to give pause for thought.

Ireland, you see, has gone down the stimulus line. It bailed out its banks, guaranteeing all deposits. The result is a debt trap imposed upon the state. The interest is now crippling the Irish government. The Irish government is currently borrowing 300 million euro a week to cover this, at penalty interest rates for fear it will default. You see Ireland has external debt of 811% of GDP, albeit this includes substantial private debt held by financial institutions, but it also includes government guarantees of bank debt and the nationalisation of banks.

A report commissioned by the government aims to abolish the budget deficit by 2011, and recommends drastic cuts:
- 17,300 public sector jobs to go;
- 6,900 teacher jobs to go, with commensurate closure of many schools;
- Public sector pay cuts
- Welfare benefit cuts of 5%
- Child benefits to be strictly targeted
- Hospital A&E fees to be increased.

Without such drastic measures, Ireland risks defaulting on its debt, making future borrowing near impossible, forcing Ireland to cut even more drastically. The article expresses fear that other Western countries, such as the UK and the US, face similar risks. UK national debt is now over 90% of GDP, France is approaching that level, Italy is at 120%.

You see, Japan has been engaging in fiscal stimulus for well over a decade now, to no avail. Public debt is estimated to be 240% of GDP by 2015. Hasn’t quite worked has it?

The truth is that Gordon Brown, Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd have all embarked on a gamble with your childrens' taxes - fiscal stimulus is being undertaken because the short term political gain is to soften the recession - and because none of them have a political instinct for less government - and none of them are willing to take a gamble on "do nothing you can't fix it".

After all, do you think people in the British Labour Party, US Democratic Party and Australian Labor Party sit around thinking how they ought to get out of the way of people?

Oh and if you want to read the report on cutting Ireland's public spending go here, and here. You'll see it isn't half as dramatic as many are making out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Goff lost the fiscal plot

Seriously!

Phil Goff. The man who brought student fees to universities, arguing for a massive expansion of the welfare state? Labour has lost the plot.

To call for the partners of those who are employed to be eligible for welfare benefits is impractical, unaffordable, immoral and destructive. Consider quite simply how many hundreds of thousands of people would then be welfare beneficiaries, consider what disincentive it creates for work, consider how much more tax on the employed partner would be needed to pay for this.
John Key says there are no pixies printing cash (he's not quite right there), but this harks back to when the Labour Party regarded fiscal prudence as some plot by the bourgeoisie.

Consider how parasitical this would make so much of the population. Husbands shouldn’t pay for their wives, or vice versa, no. The state should, and hubby can run off with ALL of his earnings (more highly taxed) and wife can just bugger off and enjoy her benefit. If the notion of the welfare state as a safety net is widely accepted by the majority of the population (doesn’t make it right), what does the Labour view of the welfare state tell you? That half of the population should be supported by the other half – with a leviathan state to enforce, violently if necessary, the leech like demands on the productive, to pay for everyone else.

Think more how many people would be grateful for this kindness, how many would vote Labour to keep it, and what a travesty of modern liberal capitalist society such state enforced dependency would represent. Not a society of free individuals pursuing their interests, desires and being what they want to be, but a society where half work hard to sustain themselves and their families, and another family at the same time, and the other half take their “entitlement” from the loving state – knowing they don’t ever have to really be accountable for it.

It’s what the Greens have always really believed in, and what Labour now espouses. So imagine a teacher asking a classroom of kids. How many want be paid for working, and pay half of what they earn to the government? How many want to be paid for not working, getting all of it from the government?

Not your's to spend Phil!

Phil Twyford, who is being touted by Brian Rudman as Labour’s big leftwing challenge in Auckland, is damning Rodney Hide’s local government policy for Auckland, with a “Not Yours to Sell” campaign regarding Auckland local government “assets”.

The campaign is to stop the government allowing the new Auckland council to sell whatever it wishes on the same basis that it currently can buy whatever it wishes. In other words, it levels the playing field ideologically between more and less government, as far as you can do. The “people’s assets” of course are anything but, since if they ever generate a financial return, the money is typically spent for local government to do more, not to reduce the burden of rates. Similarly, whenever they are a liability, few on the left are keen to let them go.

Rodney Hide’s call for a cap on rates which basically means that rates can’t increase beyond inflation, is barely a cap at all. Rates have long gone up as property values increased beyond inflation, as has the roles and activities councils have sought to pursue.

I have a simple message to Phil Twyford. Ratepayers' money is not your's to spend, or councillors. It's not your damned money! Twyford says Labour believes in "trong communities" which is code for "strong councils". Sorry Phil, communities don't exist because councils make them so, people fund raise, establish businesses and help each other out without some mediocre left wing loud mouth like Richard Northey having his hand in their wallets.

However, Twyford is of the school of thinking that government exists for the good of everyone, and if it decides to spend your money, you should gladly surrender it for the greater good (and the likes of Twyford to get a living while he spends your money).

In an age when people are scrimping and saving, and the private sector cutting back, it’s time for local government to do so as well. Rodney Hide's proposals wont decimate local government, at best they'll just stop things getting worse. What is needed at the very least is for councils to be told what they can do - and be given the next two years to get out of everything else they do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

That's the way it is, farewell Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was the first real TV newsreading personality, reading CBS news from 1962 to 1981. His passing brings memories of the sort of newsreader he was, as he was the man who saw Americans get their news from television, for better or for worse.

CBS has much on its website about its greatest newsreader (the successor, Dan Rather was shockingly biased and fell on his sword as a result of it), who is remembered for coverage of the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing (forty years almost to the day) and the Vietnam War.

Curiously, the age of the high profile national news anchor in the US has faded away, as the generation AFTER Cronkite (Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw) resigned, died and retired respectively.

Cronkite had his own views, which came out most clearly AFTER he retired from reading news, but he was always the dignified face of US network news. Perhaps only David Brinkley of his era came close to his status.

It is no longer an age where network news is the dominant source of news for Americans. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all provide national 24 hour news reports, and the internet has eaten away further at audiences. So there wont be another Cronkite, as television news struggles to gain audiences by pandering more and more to being folksy, and covering stories of ephemeral meaninglessness like celebrity happenings. So farewell - he set a standard as perhaps the world's first globally known television newsreader.

Garry Sheeran - 2nd rate reporter

Seriously, why do newspapers in New Zealand continue to pay reporters who can't get their facts right in their stories. The one that has caught my chagrin today is Garry Sheeran in the Sunday Star Times, writing about the idea of Air New Zealand buying Virgin Blue.

Not a big deal? No, maybe not, if you think that checking your facts is important, but I am mere blogger, not one of those paeans of journalism in the New Zealand press. So what did he get wrong?

1. He wrote, "Like virtually any other airline, Virgin could do with extra capital, in its case to stem losses being suffered on its Atlantic routes being flown by its new international carrier V Australia, launched this year". On its what routes Garry? Why didn't you go to the V. Australia website and see the routes the airline flies are from Australia to Los Angeles. Not near the Atlantic is it Garry? Oh you mixed it up with Virgin Atlantic, a different airline, but similar name. Tsk tsk.

2. He wrote "Virgin is moving towards a joint venture with Delta Airlines on their respective Australasia-US routes". Australasia? OK so does Delta fly to anywhere in the South Pacific besides Australia? No. Does V. Australia (or any other Virgin branded airline) fly to the US from anywhere else in the South Pacific besides Australia? No. So why Australasia Garry?

3. He wrote "Though Virgin is not a member of any airline alliance, Delta is the major player in the Skyways Team alliance" The what? It's called Skyteam Garry. There is a website for it. However, guessing it was easier than looking it up online wasn't it? He mentions it again "one of the two leading carriers in the Skyways alliance".

So if you paid for the Sunday Star Times today, ask yourself whether you think it is good value for money to buy a newspaper that publishes lazy inaccuracies.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

So what does the DIA's software block?

The news report in the Dominion Post that ISPs can acquire filtering software from the government to allegedly "block child porn" of course all sounds good. It is voluntary, and who would oppose blocking child porn, unless you're a pervert of course.

Well, if Claire McEntee were a better journalist, she would have asked some rather pertinent questions. Here are mine:

1. What is the definition of child porn? Does the software block all "objectionable" material, which goes well beyond what people commonly think of as child porn, but also includes adults wearing school uniforms roleplaying and includes erotic stories about legal acts between adults? How focused is it? Who is really going to lobby for erotic material that is legal to be let through?

2. Isn't the bigger problem those who abuse children and in the course of that video/photograph it and distribute those images, and doesn't this do absolutely nothing to stop it (it just stops people seeing material others produce)?

3. How does DIA respond to the report in Wired that an increasing problem is law enforcement agencies finding that much "child porn" is produced by the "children" themselves with camera phones - the children being teenagers who are underage. Such behaviour is foolish and should be discouraged, but not exactly what the law should be prosecuting.

4. What is the scale, extent and main geographic sources of the real child porn problem? That means those who are underage who are abused and have images taken of this abuse and distributed. How much material circulating is decades old (when such material was sadly legal in some European countries and poorly enforced elsewhere), how much is produced in developing countries, Russia or Ukraine where law enforcement has other priorities, how much is material swapped between child rapists, how big or small is the alleged "industry"? After all, what fool would pay for illegal material online when any payments can easily be traced?

Nobody knows because nobody can undertake research on the topic without becoming a criminal, and some law enforcement/censorship agencies have institutional interests in seeking increased funding to address the problem. It is perhaps the only area of the criminal law where research is effectively closed.

Let's be clear. Laws relating to censorship should shadow those related to crime. Images of what consenting adults do (or stories) should not be a subject of the law. Real child porn - images of those under the age of consent as victims of sex crimes - is appropriately the business of criminal law, as those producing it are accessories to the crime itself. However, there needs to be some genuine open discussion about what the business of the law is, what is the extent of the problem and ensuring that measures to address the real problem,are not sledgehammers to crack a nut.

In that context, if ISPs want to purchase software to block sites, then let them feel free to do so. However, it should not be a trojan horse for censoring more than material produced in the context of a real crime.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Urumqi explodes, somewhat

Few will know of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang province in China’s far west, but the reports from the BBC that riots that have erupted (and the news reports of them) show much about what China isn’t anymore. There have been riots, protests and counter-riots between the Uighur minority (who are the majority in Xinjiang) and the Han Chinese. Reports of 156 dead Han Chinese from Sunday’s riots are what the monopoly state media report, but some Uighur are saying many of their people were killed too. The truth is difficult to determine whilst China remains largely closed to alternative media.

It is easy to accept that China’s state media is pro-Han Chinese, so will always report the official view that all of China’s ethnic minorities are well treated and part of the People’s Republic of China family. Any protests are seen as counter-revolutionary riots inspired by foreign devils.

What has been reported so far is that there were Uighur protestors who turned on Han Chinese passers by, and the security forces. Since then, local Han Chinese have turned on Uighur owned shops and properties. In short, it is a nationalist conflict, being mediated by a state that is hardly known for its even handedness. China is, after all, a deeply racist society, which can be seen in its patronising attitude to minorities, and also if you scratch the surface about attitudes towards Africans, Europeans and other Asians.

However, let’s eliminate a few ideas about what these riots are:

1. Desire to overthrow the communist party: No, it’s not anything quite as fundamental as this. It started as a dispute regarding treatment of participants in a fight at a toy factory in Guangdong province between Han and Uighur peoples. Uighur are not so politically organised (or indeed brave) to confront that issue head on.
2. Muslim fundamentalism stoking in China: Yes Uighur are traditionally Muslim, but there is little sign that Uighur protestors are motivated by Islam.

This is a racial conflict, between Uighur who feels constantly discriminated against by Han Chinese, and now Han Chinese who are aggrieved by violence shown to them by rioting Uighur.

So what does it say about China? Well the tight security in Xinjiang seems to have waned significantly, as having protest to this extent and scale in this province is largely unknown (although protests are more common than most outsiders would believe). It also shows there will be grave fear that this could spark unrest elsewhere that could lead to the division of China – something the Communist Party fears second only to losing its monopoly on power.

It has echoes of Tibet, not that Xinjiang should be independent, but rather that calls for accountability, transparency and for the state to be colourblind are only fair and natural. However, one should be cautious about supporting the Uighur unreservedly. Turning on innocent passers by, attacking and killing them isn’t exactly a way of gaining ANY kind of moral authority.

However, it would probably be in the best interests of China, the Han Chinese and Uighur if the people of Xinjiang had the same sorts of freedoms, and independent state institutions that Chinese enjoy in another part of China – Hong Kong.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

This should not be a matter for the law

The NZ Herald reports how the Auckland District Court is hearing a case of a woman who was almost 30 meeting a man who was probably (but not certainly) her father who was in his 40s, and having a sexual relationship, is not something that should be a matter for the criminal justice system.
So it may disgust many, it may offend people of many religions, but it is a victimless crime - this is NOT a case of exploitation or force, just two consenting adults. It appears to be a more a case of the girl's mother being upset, which is frankly not a reason for criminal prosecution.
So here's an idea, a simple change to the Crimes Act so that incest is not an offence if both parties are over 18 and consent.
Of course we all know no MP will take this up, because of fear of being branded perverted and having strange priorities, but then again that's how many thought in the 1960s and 1970s when consenting adult men were thrown in prison for sexual activities with each other. Very few are prosecuted inappropriately under this law, but surely it is time to tidy up this nonsense and ensure none do. It ruins the lives of people who make misguided decisions, and most of all becomes a weapon for upset partners or relatives to use against those who are acting as consenting adults.
I'd prefer an omnibus bill to remove all victimless crimes, after all why should people be thrown in prison for this?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Farewell Mollie Sugden

Yes after the hype around Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, Mollie Sugden, best known as Mrs Slocombe on "Are You Being Served", has died at age 86. She outlived Wendy Richards and John Inman from the show - it being one of those double-entendre "Carry On" type classic British comedies that went profoundly out of fashion in the 1980s.

First Class?

So Helen Clark would fly first class internationally as a matter of course? How?

There are precious few airlines flying to NZ nowadays with first class. Maybe it is why Helen Clark so welcomed the arrival of Emirates, as it always has first class, usually of a high standard as well. However, it does indicate that even she wasn't willing to support the state nationalised carrier, as Air NZ abolished first class in 2005 in favour of the upgraded business class - Business Premier - which has better seats than the old first class.

Those with first class flying to NZ are:

Air Tahiti Nui: to Papeete with connections to LA, Tokyo and Paris. Recliner seats that lay horizontal (Air NZ Business Premier would be superior).
Emirates: to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubai and connections to Europe. Mostly now private mini-cabins with their own mini-bar.
Korean Air: to Seoul with connections to Europe . Recliner seats that lay horizontal.
Singapore Airlines: to Singapore with connections to Europe and Asia. Fully lie flat semi-cabins (and of course suites on A380s from Singapore to London).

So first class to Australia, Europe and select Asian destinations is possible, and even LA via Papeete, but basically NZ is not a wealthy market to fly into. Unlike the UK, where BA maintains four classes, and even business class outranks what you get in NZ in terms of airport side service.

For me, I really don't give a damn, what really matters is why travel at all. There are precious few reasons to travel as frequently as most ministers do.