Friday, December 17, 2004

Judgment on detention

The House of Lords has ruled on the case of nine suspected "terrorists" detained in the UK. They found (by a majority) that their detention is contrary to the Human Rights Act, on the grounds that only those without right of abode in the UK could be detained. The UK government now has to review the legislation, and is reported to be continuing to hold the nine while it considers what do do. Unfortunately, as in New Zealand, where a law gainsays Human Rights provisions, the courts cannot disapply that law.

There were two grounds for appeal: that the law enacting the legislation discriminated unlawfully against foreigners; that the derogation from the ECHR, permitting indefinite detention, was unjustified because no threat existed "to the life of the nation". The court as a whole agreed with the first premise but not the second. Lord Hoffman, however, dissented on the second ground. His contribution to the judgement is well worth reading, particularly this paragraph:

95. But the question is whether such a threat is a threat to the life of the nation. The Attorney General’s submissions and the judgment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission treated a threat of serious physical damage and loss of life as necessarily involving a threat to the life of the nation. But in my opinion this shows a misunderstanding of what is meant by "threatening the life of the nation". Of course the government has a duty to protect the lives and property of its citizens. But that is a duty which it owes all the time and which it must discharge without destroying our constitutional freedoms. There may be some nations too fragile or fissiparous to withstand a serious act of violence. But that is not the case in the United Kingdom. When Milton urged the government of his day not to censor the press even in time of civil war, he said:
"Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governours".

To my mind this is absolutely right. If "terrorists" succeeded in mounting a major atrocity in the UK (or indeed here in New Zealand) it would undoubtedly be a tragedy. It would not however, terminate the continued existence of the nation, its institutions and values. Elsewhere, Hoffman contrasts the present situation with the threat posed by Spain in the 16th Century - had Spain succeeded in overwhelming England, this would have placed the nation under reactionary Catholic rule, very different from the prevailing Anglo-Norman values of England at that time.

The majority did not concur with this view - to do so would rather pull the rug from under the "war" on "terror" and judges tend to prefer the scalpel to the bludgeon. The finding (by 8-1) that the law was discriminatory on grounds of nationality is less controversial. I fear the UK governmment will now proceed to enact arbritary detention for UK nationals as well as foreigners.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Even odder

The Herald reports that "Dame Ann Hercus, the TVNZ board member accused by National of informing the Government of the new $800,000 pay deal for newsreader Judy Bailey, is understood to have offered her resignation from the board".

Very strange. Normally, a controlling (or even major minority) shareholder will have access to board minutes. This was standard practice in the various private firms that I've been a director of. Also, we had an investor appointed director whose job, in addition to normal fiducary duties, was to report formally and informally to the investor firm. TVNZ is a 100% government owned company, so there are no minority shareholders. As far as I can see the government, as major shareholder can do anything it likes (subject to not breaking the law and not running up debts that cannot be met).

Blunkett gone

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has resigned.

His then partner, a right-wing magazine publisher, wanted to take her nanny on various foreign trips and needed UK residence expediting. Faced with the Kafkaesque security apparatus he had created, Blunkett took a shortcut and had his office email various immigration functionaries to speed things along.

Unfortunately, there is a limitless pile of hard-right "New Labour" clones to take his place. The similarly bearded Charles Clarke has been appointed Home Secretary.

It interests me how people like Blunkett wind up in a nominally left of centre party. You would have thought that an extreme social conservative would, like his erstwhile partner, have been more at home in the Tories. I suppose it must be a tribal thing - being from a working class north of England background, joining Labour would be non-voluntary, like supporting the local football team.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Soaring population

Auckland's population is expected to reach two million by 2031, according to this article.

A lot of people might see this as a bad thing for the environment of the Auckland region - I don't. At the moment the city suffers from road congestion and inadequate public transport. The latter is largely due to a lack of people wanting to use any given public transport corridor, making our current commuter rail marginally economic at best.

If (and I agree this is a big if) the expansion of the city was properly planned, we could wind up with a more livable city of two million than we have today with one million.

Some things I'd like to see:
  • A "green belt" at the current limit of the city - that is, an area with a total ban on new subdivision and development.
  • Most growth happening on the current footprint - we have to accept that many of the next million to live in Auckland will reside in apartments, not houses on quarter-acre sections.
  • New residential development to be within walking distance of adequate public transport to major commercial centres.
  • Commercial and retail developments to incorporate suitable public transport links.
  • Road traffic to the docks steadily phased out.

We should look to Amsterdam as a model for growth, not Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Star quality?

When I worked for a venture capital funded company, one of the features of our shareholders agreement was a cap on management salaries and bonuses. My advice was that such clauses were pretty standard where a major shareholder is providing substantial funding to a company.

I can't quite see why the NZ government doesn't put such an obligation on TVNZ. Obviously the TVNZ argument for paying Holmes, and now Judy Bailey, such large salaries is that they bring in sufficient viewers, and hence advertising revenue, to pay for them. Another argument is that without the budget for much news gathering, especially overseas, the news consists largely of talking heads and we need to pay a big salary to get attractive (?) and charismatic figures to front the programmes.

Maybe NZ on Air should fund the news - they seem to have a lot of success getting music videos made for $5000 a throw - I'd watch a 30 minute, advert-free news programme with presenters at the start, rather than the peak, of their careers.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A society governed by laws

Great news on Ahmed Zaoui's bail and the Civil Union Bill being passed.

I'm amazed by the level of ignorance shown by many commentators on the former (less so on the latter - you don't get much logic on Planet Religo-Nut).

A lot of people seem to think that the government had the option to deport Zaoui to Malaysia or wherever. They don't. The reason for this is as follows:
- The Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which NZ is a signatory, requires that NZ admit anyone who appears on our shores meeting the definition of a refugee.
- The Refugee Status Appeal Authority determined, in this decision, which I would recommend reading, that Zaoui met the requirements of the convention.
- The government may not deport a refugee - it may, as it has done in the Zaoui case, detain a refugee it believes to be a threat to national security.

The Supreme Court has the right to form a decision based on the entire body of NZ statute, common and established constitutional law. For those who don't like this, it would be interesting to hear an alternative - rule by decree? bills of attainder?

In a society governed by laws it is clearly necessary and proper to have a body that can interpret those laws, and yes, that body is in many cases going to be able to overule parliament and government - to me that is how it should be.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Conscience voting

I've been reading various discussion on Left & Lefter and elsewhere regarding the right of electorate (as opposed to list) MPs to take a stance on "conscience" issues that differs from generally accepted party policy.

Some have argued that an electorate MP gets elected (to some extent) as a result of their own personal policy stance, rather than that of their party, and that gives them a right to vote independently.

I thought it might be useful to look up (on how the election panned out last time for each of the 6 MPs who opposed the Civil Union Bill:

All votes in thousands

MPMajorityVotes castPersonal vote - party vote
Cosgrove11 (31%)34+3.2
Duynhoven15 (49%)30+8.3
Field15 (61%)25+0.4
O'Connor8 (25%)30+6.0
Robertson11 (39%)27+1.3
Tamihere9 (58%)16+1.4

All these MPs have substantial majorities, and it can be assumed that they will be re-elected (except for John Tamihere, who faces opposition from the Maori Party next election). They all get more votes than their party (I assume this is the case for every electorate MP?).

However, it is fairly certain that any Labour candidate would hold the seats above in most circumstances (again excepting Tamihere).

Thus, I don't see the argument that these MPs are in the house because of a personal following as holding much water.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Age, youth and idealism

No Right Turn posts, apropos of the Civil Union Bill:

All of these issues are simply stalking horses for generational change - for a struggle of the young, with their vision of a pluralistic, independent and progressive New Zealand, and the old, too many of whom look back nostalgiacly to the "good old days" of the fifties, when Pakeha were unquestionably dominant and secure in their identity as British, and women and Maori knew their place. The problem for the old is that they are dying; History (or rather demographics) is on our side, and we will bury them - literally, in most cases.

I agree - most New Zealanders under about 35 (I fall into neither category, BTW) will have been brought up with a multi-cultural viewpoint on society. It is interesting in this context that "Choosing a Maori name for your baby" is a sufficiently mainstream book to be sold at the Auckland Airport bookshop (I suppose it could be being bought by outgoing tourists - so we'll get a whole bunch of little Tane Schmidts and Hinemoa Yashimotos).

I think Don Brash is part of the last gasp of the grumpy 50+ generation - in ten years or so they probably won't come near having the numbers to try and push NZ back into an anglocentric nuclear family mould.

Ethnic cleansing

The Australian Government has unveiled plans to "improve" the inner-city Redfern neighbourhood. They propose to acquire a housing project from the Aboriginal organisation that currently owns it, to evict those tenants considered to be misbehaving and to demolish the site to create apartments for more "up-market" tenants. This reminds me of the history of "District 6" , a multi-racial area in Cape Town which was forcibly cleared by the apartheid regime in 1965.

With Don Brash's clear desire to make NZ more like Oz, I could see this happening here if the Nats ever get in - a good thing recent opinion polls suggest this is unlikely.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Secret intelligence

An interesting article on Scoop regarding the SIS and it's role. The author, Paul Buchanan, an academic in the security / foreign relations field, makes a number of interesting points and suggestions:

He describes SIS as: " organization that has over the years seemingly taken on "rogue" characteristics - it does what it pleases, as it pleases, for reasons not of State, but of its own, or those of its immediate political masters."

I would agree with this - I'd also argue that all intelligence and policing bodies promote a "security agenda" where threats of any nature are played up to justify the expansion of the security apparatus.

He suggests stripping SIS of its internal intelligence role and giving this responsibility to the police. I'd wholly concur with this - a police force is both subject to an oversight procedure and has a clear focus on prosecuting and convicting those attempting or committing crimes.

I disagree with his suggestion that we need to develop an overseas spying capability. We don't have one at the moment, and it doesn't seem to do us much harm. I can't see that the number of spies we could deploy would enable us to find out anything particularly useful, unless by some lucky fluke. The current facilities of SIS to analyse "intelligence" and open-source data could be moved to Foreign Affairs, or kept in a residual agency.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Red-light for rev-heads

The V8 racing in Auckland has been denied resource consent. As an inner-west Auckland resident, I think this is good. The race would undoubtedly have made a lot of money for the organisers, and for the hotel and hospo industry in Auckland.

I can't quite see how the rest of us would benefit, though, and I think the idea of the council part funding the race was a cashflow in the wrong direction - if they were going to pay all Auckland city residents $500 to take a weekend in the country, or even give us free tickets, I might have been a bit keener. Or maybe Holden and Ford could sling us some money - after all the V8 race is brilliant marketing (in the UK Vauxhall cars (i.e. Holdens) are among the least sought after transportation - most of their production goes to companies who are too tight to give their sales reps BMWs).

There must be lots of places around Auckland they could hold a motor race without as much disruption as the CBD.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Phishing guide

I occasionally, when I have nothing better to do, read through the emails that Xtra have rejected as spam. This one is particularly good, and I thought that as a service to the phishing community I'd provide some help with their English. If anyone wants to help with better descriptions of their grammatical errors, feel free to comment.

Dear Sir/Madam,

You have got [ "You got" or "You have received" ] this email because either you or one of your household member has [ missing indefinite article ] credit/debit card account. As a unite [ should be "united" ] work in [ superfluous] between Co-operate [ should be "Co-operating" ] Governments of different countries , we have developed a new System [ nouns do not take a capital in English ] which will help all bank customers to protect their identity from theft and provides [should be "provide" ] complete protection.

[Missing article] Governemnt [ do you own a spell-checker ] Authority is kindly requesting [ no! ] to fill out the form completly and you will not have any privacy problems with your credit/debit card details in future.

You will be free to shop [ possibly the word "for" should appear here ] anything anywhere you want without getting any problem of [ not "of" - "with" ] your identity and it will make your shopping safe and secure. In case if [ what? ] you do not provide your billing information, you will not be applicable to our System as a kind of service to all bank customers. [ they're all words, but they don't have any meaningful relationship ] Kindly provide your information by following the link [ removed ]. We will be happy to hear from you. [ My god! An entirely correct sentence! ]

Providing the information will let you to [ you don't need that 'to" ] shop instantly anywhere you want with total safety and security.

Co-operate Governments Bank Security Services
9800 Savage Road,
Suite 6740 Washington,
20380 United States
[ You do know that the Americans torture and execute fraudsters, don't you? Using a US address probably gives them jurisdiction. Wouldn't it be better to use an address in Nigeria? People everywhere in the world have a high regard for Nigerian financial institutions and are much more likely to reply to spam emails with a genuine Lagos address ]

I suppose I wouldn't do better at writing spam in German, say.

Donna gone

The judgement of the Supreme Court in the Donna Awatere Huata case has been issued - this is the first case the NZ Supreme Court has heard.

I must say, that (as a non-lawyer) it struck me as sensible, professional and competent. I couldn't detect any bias (as the right imply) or incompetence (as Trevor Mallard seems to perceive). Now if the judges would stop complaining about office arrangements (in public at least) then I'd be happy for one.

I can't disagree with the judgment (not paying your dues seems to be to be a fairly clear cut way of leaving an organisation to me), but I do think it's a good think the waka-jumping legislation is going to lapse. Selecting someone like Awatere Huata as a list MP doesn't seem to show much judgment and I think political parties should have to live with their bum decisions.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Cambridge High?

No Right Turn comments on this NZ Herald article claiming that police have been told to "go easy on P labs" in favour of dishonesty offenses.

There's some truth in the argument that making public services perform to a statistical target can distort they way the operate in favour of creating "good" statistical outcomes, I'd argue that this isn't happening here - or at Cambridge High.

In the latter case, the "traditional" education methods at the school were failing, as they usually do, with students of below average academic abilities. With School Cert, etc. this would show up less, as low ability students would be expected to fail. A more sophisticated system of examination, NCEA, made this problem more obvious. Instead of changing the methods of teaching, the principal chose to fiddle the assessment process.

With the "P" labs, the police are faced with the thankless task of enforcing drug prohibition. In conventional crime, success in enforcement does not increase the rewards for undetected crime - if the police arrest more burglars, it doesn't mean that those remaining are able to steal more or sell their stolen goods for more money. With drug dealing, the more drugs the police interdict, the higher the price goes and the greater the profits for those still in the business. So it's quite reasonable that the cops should concentrate on victimful crimes rather than drug enforcement.

So, in my biased opinion both NCEA and the model of police performance assessment are working - they are just throwing up unpalatable results to some (e.g. believers in drug prohibition or 'traditional' education).

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Monarchy and the right

Why is republicanism (in the Commonwealth) often seen as a left-wing belief, while most rightwingers (with honourable exceptions such as Lewis & less honourable ones such as Rupert Murdoch) tend to be monarchists?

For a snapshot of right-wing attitudes to government, I found this quote from Chris, a typical right wing bloggist:
"It is scandalous that the government continues to thieve off us like this and no amount of bullshit third way labour spin neo-keynesian nonsense will justify it".

In say, 17th Century Europe, this would have made perfect sense. The government was essentially the monarch and their cronies, and the main application of state funds was to enhance the personal lifestyle of the court (and very often to expand the realm through conquest).

In a modern (social) democracy, this isn't the case - the government is the entity by which the people provide themselves with services on a collective basis. The quantity and quality of such services, the mechanisms of provision and the detail of financing are a matter of collective decision, but the government *is* the people - it can no more "thieve" from the people than I can steal from myself.

Keeping the remaining vestiges of a monarchy blurs this. In NZ, we refer to the entity of government as the "Crown", maintaining the pretence that our government is not us, but an overlord beyond our control. This helps the conservative argument that a tax surplus (for instance) is not our money being squirelled prudently in a big bank account somewhere, but is somehow being spend by politicians on Louis XIV style amusements.

Hence, monarchy is a great way to keep people isolated from and distrustful of government...

Monday, November 08, 2004

"This is another Hue city in the making"

Confident, then...

(Hue was captured by the North Vietnamese in the Tet Offensive of 1968. It was recaptured with the loss of 482 men on the US side and 7,500 NVA/Vietcong. Although regarded as a military victory, it turned the tide of US public opinion against the war and set the stage for eventual US defeat).

But you knew that.

(quote by Sgt Maj Carlton W Kent, the senior enlisted marine in Iraq)

Questionable Alliances

There is a good article in today's Guardian suggesting the abolition of Nato. While I don't have any faith in this happening, I do think its a good idea! Equally, I think that NZ should be thinking of leaving any remaining (military) entanglements we have with the US/UK/Aus "alliance". Leaving the UKUSA agreement and abolishing the SIS would be a good start.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Do we need governing?

The Herald reports that Sir Wilson Whineray, a former All Black captain, is hot favourite to be the next Governor General. Apparently the key requirements for the job are to be male and not to be a judge.

Why do we need a G-G anyway? They seem to have two main jobs:

Make personal appearances
Assuming the event doesn't require the PM to attend, there are a whole bunch of people that can do this - cabinet ministers, ambassadors, sporting and cultural identities. There doesn't seem to be a need for a specific job of attending parties that the PM doesn't want to go to.

Umpire disputed election situations
The only time an Australasian G-G has needed to intervene in politics (the Whitlam dismissal) they didn't exercise their powers in a particularly impartial or judicious manner. Not having a Senate, NZ is unlikely to experience the same situation - however it is quite possible that a future election could lead to an impasse. I'm not sure why a former rugby player would be expected to be up to resolving this - we should have a clear procedure and a Constitutional Court.

As a republican, I realise that many people have an emotional attachment to the Queen - but why not keep Brenda for a few more years and just dispense with the G-G?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

US Hostie with brain shock horror!

The BBC reports that a Delta attendant has been grounded after writing a blog (with pictures) about her experiences.

Reading the blog, I would imagine that she has contravened at least three ground rules of US airline policy:
1. Being intelligent (able to write!)
2. Being cute (see below)
3. Being nice (when you open the blog it doesn't flash up a message with: will you please f*** off and sit down now - Sir)

No wonder she's been suspended!

(This is an equal opportunity blog - hunky boys were last week!)

Commissioning democracy

No Right Turn comments on the current situation (BBC report) in Europe, where the European Parliament is threatening to reject the new Eurpoean Commission unless changes are made.

It is indeed an interesting situation. The EU has lacked direct democracy since it started. This is not coincidental - most national governments (and the political movements they spring from) want control of the EU in their hands. The anti-EU factions, especially in Britain, although many nominally claim to want EU "reform", are in practice heavily opposed to anything that would actually give the EU legitimacy.

(An interesting aside here - traditionally British Labour was more negative on the EU than the Tories. After a massive success in European Parliament elections in the mid-90s, the party changed its views from broad "scepticism" to broad "support". I believe this is one reason why Bryan Gould (who is/was somewhat anti-EU) left UK politics and came back to NZ).

It is interesting that the MEPs who are opposing the new Commission are doing so against the wishes of their "home" political parties. One interesting scenario would be that one or more Euro-Parties (these are currently alliances of various national parties) establish themselves independently and contest future Euro-elections on a Europe wide policy platform. This could involve a commitment to agricultural reform, for instance. It is conceivable, if unlikely, that a victorious grouping could face up to national governments and demand that their nominee be made Commission President.

Direct democracy would transform the EU. I'd expect it to become much more effective - a directly elected EU administration would be expected to show competence or face electoral defeat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Saved from the memory hole

No Right Turn comments on an article in the Guardian described as "calling for George Bush's assasination", and on NZPundit's outrage at it. Always keen to read a bit of sedition, I went to look at the article - it was gone, replaced by this apology.

Fortunately, I managed to yank it from the google cache and it appears below for your edification. It is very clearly ironic - it reads rather like some of the rants which Iain Banks created for his character Kenneth Nott, a radio "shock-jock" in his 2002 novel "Dead Air".

Screen burn

Dumb show
Charlie Brooker Saturday October 23, 2004
The Guardian

Heady times.

The US election draws ever nearer, and while the rest of the world bangs its head against the floorboards screaming "Please God, not Bush!", the candidates clash head to head in a series of live televised debates. It's a bit like American Idol, but with terrifying global ramifications. You've got to laugh.

Or have you? Have you seen the debates? I urge you to do so. The exemplary BBC News website ( hosts unexpurgated streaming footage of all the recent debates, plus clips from previous encounters, through Reagan and Carter, all the way back to Nixon versus JFK.

Watching Bush v Kerry, two things immediately strike you. First, the opening explanation of the rules makes the whole thing feel like a Radio 4 parlour game. And second, George W Bush is... well, he's... Jesus, where do you start?

The internet's a-buzz with speculation that Bush has been wearing a wire, receiving help from some off-stage lackey. Screen grabs appearing to show a mysterious bulge in the centre of his back are being traded like Top Trumps. Prior to seeing the debate footage, I regarded this with healthy scepticism: the whole "wire" scandal was just wishful thinking on behalf of some amateur Michael Moores, I figured. And then I watched the footage.

Quite frankly, the man's either wired or mad. If it's the former, he should be flung out of office: tarred, feathered and kicked in the nuts. And if it's the latter, his behaviour goes beyond strange, and heads toward terrifying. He looks like he's listening to something we can't hear. He blinks, he mumbles, he lets a sentence trail off, starts a new one, then reverts back to whatever he was saying in the first place. Each time he recalls a statistic (either from memory or the voice in his head), he flashes us a dumb little smile, like a toddler proudly showing off its first bowel movement. Forgive me for employing the language of the playground, but the man's a tool.

So I sit there and I watch this and I start scratching my head, because I'm trying to work out why Bush is afforded any kind of credence or respect whatsoever in his native country. His performance is so transparently bizarre, so feeble and stumbling, it's a miracle he wasn't laughed off the stage. And then I start hunting around the internet, looking to see what the US media made of the whole "wire" debate. And they just let it die. They mentioned it in passing, called it a wacko conspiracy theory and moved on.

Yet whether it turns out to be true or not, right now it's certainly plausible - even if you discount the bulge photos and simply watch the president's ridiculous smirking face. Perhaps he isn't wired. Perhaps he's just gone gaga. If you don't ask the questions, you'll never know the truth.
The silence is all the more troubling since in the past the US news media has had no problem at all covering other wacko conspiracy theories, ones with far less evidence to support them. (For infuriating confirmation of this, watch the second part of the must-see documentary series The Power Of Nightmares (Wed, 9pm, BBC2) and witness the absurd hounding of Bill Clinton over the Whitewater and Vince Foster non-scandals.)

Throughout the debate, John Kerry, for his part, looks and sounds a bit like a haunted tree. But at least he's not a lying, sniggering, drink-driving, selfish, reckless, ignorant, dangerous, backward, drooling, twitching, blinking, mouse-faced little cheat. And besides, in a fight between a tree and a bush, I know who I'd favour.

On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Home "ownership"

Lots of people (including David Skillens (?sp) of the NZ Institute on today's Wire, norightturn and my girlfriend) seem to think it's really important to encourage home ownership in NZ society.

I disagree rather. Firstly, when you buy a house on a mortgage, you don't really own it. Perhaps 90% belongs to a bank, and you're renting that bit. You own 10% (so kitchen ownership is a more apt term than home ownership). Of course, a bank is a friendlier landlord - they can't throw you out if you keep paying, and they won't complain if you paint the living room magenta.

The argument made by the NZI is that people who rent their house don't participate in property inflation (sorry, appreciation) and don't benefit from asset price bubbles (I mean value growth). To me this is an argument for a capital gains tax - why should I be taxed at 39% on money I work for and 0% on windfall earnings from owning a house?

The plan to subsidise housebuying seems to be going in the opposite direction - since the subsidies will have to be paid for, people will be taxed even more for working and at a negative rate for sitting in a house. They money won't even go to the poor deserving first time buyers - more money becoming available for houses will almost certainly just drive prices up and make existing property owners richer.

There are other arguments against forcing up the rate of home ownership:
  • Interest rates are higher than they need be in order to dampen house price inflation, reducing the competitive advantage of the productive sector.
  • People are less mobile, and consequently more likely to have problems finding jobs.

One argument Mr Skillens brought to bear was that home ownership made people more "involved" in society, and I think this is the crux. Modern centre-left parties (like Labour) wish to conscript people into the urban middle class (unlike the Nats, who want to boost the rural middle-class) and home ownership is their big "lever" in achieving this.

[ This reminds me of a spoof election slogan from the 80's - "Safeguard your hovel and pittance - don't vote Labour and lose them! ]

Have a good long weekend!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Pictures of "les Flics Suisse"

I thought some of you might like to see the photos and story that got Indymedia's servers seized by Blunkett's and Bush's stormtroopers.

The gist of the story is that the smiling chaps below are Swiss undercover rozzers spying on anti-G8 protestors in Geneva.

If you care about free information, you might want to copy these pictures around.

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The offending text:
GENÈVE post-G8 : Vidéos, photos et témoignages ; tout est bon pour remonter la piste des casseurs. Un travail minutieux poursuivi aujourd'hui par deux inspecteurs, et qui a conduit à 200 arrestations à ce jour.

La cellule G8 avait pourtant été dissoute en décembre 2003. Elle a repris du service, en plus petit : deux inspecteurs.

Ces inspecteurs visionnent des films et photos reçu par des balancent et des collègues.

Ils viennent aux manifs sur Genève où ils pensent retrouver des "casseurs"

De plus ils prennent de nouvelles photos afin peut être de constituer une bande de données de photos d'activistes suceptibles d'être les futures casseurs des futures émeutes Genevoises.

Comme le dit l'un des 2 inspecteurs : « J'ai vu deux de mes collègues se faire lyncher pendant les manifs anti-OMC, en 1998, raconte un inspecteur. Je ne l'oublierai jamais. »

Peut etre qu'il y a d'autres choses que cet inspecteur n'obliera jamais ! Car il n'y a pas que le Carpacio comme plat qui se mange froid !

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

PR Cockup of the week

So the Big Day Out lineup announcement is all set up, live radio on bFM , competitions to guess the line up, etc.

The lineup, all this time, can be viewed here. Somehow I don't think that was the idea. Ooops!

Doubt I shall be going. Last year was like you'd imagine a festival in the DDR (former East Germany) would be like. Queues for booze, queues for bogs, checkpoints for booze... And I don't really see the point of a rock show with lights and stuff in bright sunlight.. The Flaming Lips were excellent though..

Hopefully the Chemicals will schedule a side gig somewhere.

(of course the BDO gets excellent media by the simple expedient of isolating the journos from all the crap and giving them free booze...)

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Sensible Sentencing

I received the following junk fax today from the Sensible Sentencing Trust:

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Would anyone like to suggest a "Sensible Sentence" for stealing my paper and toner?

I reckon amputation of hands, as recommended by the Koran..

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Royal Addresses

There's an extract in today's Guardian from a new book, The Blairs and their Court which contains the most extraordinary statement:

But Prince Charles was irritated by the informal style that Blair adopted in correspondence.

An American-style informality was a trademark of New Labour's modernising agenda; everybody in Downing Street addressed each other by first names and every letter from the prime minister was signed: "Yours, Tony". When Blair corresponded with the palace he signed himself in the same matey fashion, and he addressed the Prince of Wales not as "Your Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales" but as "Dear Prince Charles". The prince pointedly replied by writing "Dear Prime Minister" rather than "Dear Tony".

It's been standard business practice to call people you know by their first names everywhere in the West for at least the last 20 years. I find the idea that this is "American-style informality" quite bizarre - it shows quite how out of touch these people are. Perhaps the Windsors will eventually become so appalled by the presumption of commoners that they abdicate en-masse and let us have a republic by default.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Worrying electoral developments

There are some interesting candidates standing for the ARC. Alex Burrell is standing for the "Regional Demolition Party".

I guess there are quite a few people in the rest of NZ who would think the demolition of Auckland to be no bad thing, however I'm not sure whom is going to favour this in the Auckland electorate.

Mr Burrell may not need to be elected however. There are relative few people in the world with access to the thermonuclear technology needed to reduce an entire region to rubble, but his son, a researcher at Los Alamos, appears to be one of them. Have NZSIS been informed?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Democratic contribution

I thought I'd add my comments to the Maverick Philosopher and Idiot/Savant's debate on democracy.

In my view, elections in many democracies are primarily decided on the incumbent's record. Some way behind this comes the opposition general coherence and perceived competence. Electorates don't generally consider policy very much at all.

I'd suggest the last three UK elections evidence this:
- In 2001, the Blair government was reelected, amid a fairly strong economy and an opposition widely seen as divided.
- In 1997, Blair defeated the Conservative government of John Major. That government was deeply divided on Europe and had performed questionably on the economy.
- In 1992, Major was reelected, despite an economic slowdown. The second factor of opposition competence possibly came to the fore here - Neil Kinnock was the subject of a sustained campaign of vilification in the Tory press.

This is probably a Good Thing in many ways. Most voters are not, on the whole, interested in or knowledgeable about the minutiae of policy. Choosing a government based on two simple questions: Are the current lot doing well? / Might the others do any better? doesn't require such interest or knowledge.

For this reason, I think that referenda are mostly a Bad Thing - the exception being where a constitutional change needs to be confirmed and entrenched. Equally, I think that democracy is best served where the system produces a government that is given its chance to run the country for a few years, and then stand for re-election based on its record.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Mayoral Racing

I got my voting papers in the post yesterday. (My first ever in NZ - I'm a fairly new resident of this great nation. Incidentally, I think that allowing permanent residents to vote is great).

Here in Auckland, we get a pretty substantial little book of candidates. I'm surprised they don't move the District Health Board elections to a different year, cutting down the number of posts up for election at once. And I'm fairly sure that Bruce Hucker will get quite a few disregarded votes as Mayor.

I think the question for me is whether I want rid of Banksie enough to vote for Dick Hubbard. I just have this nasty feeling that he might turn out to be a bit of a wowser, to use an Australianism. He is some sort of Christian, I believe, and as a militant agnostic I do try and vote for the least pious candidate in any election. I'd vote for Steve Berry, but in an FPP election voting for a fringe candidate seems to be a bit of a waste.

On the rest of the ballot, I think I'll just use an exclusion system:
  • I won't vote for any CitRats - as neither a citizen or a ratepayer I assume they don't want my vote anyway.
  • Some of the candidates have clear signs of being barking mad - for most this is made fairly clear in the bio, so I'll exclude those.
  • For the health board, it seems sensible to favour those with a medical background who might know something about the issues.
  • Otherwise, all councils (everywhere) seem to have far too many old gits elected, so I'll start with the youngest and work upwards.

I'm working on an intelligent post about public transport and housing densities, BTW.

Friday, September 17, 2004


I've wanted to get around to commenting on this for a while. A lot of people consider it bad/wrong/really, really wrong that David Irvine is effectively banned from New Zealand.

Firstly, who is this guy? He's a right-wing historian and all-round git. He unsuccessfully sued for libel over a book setting this out. You can read the judgment here and a Guardian article on the case here. The "nursery rhyme" alone suggests that he's a racist on a par with the worst we have in NZ - the fact that he has more hair than most skinheads and a posh English accent doesn't really detract from this - he is undoubtedly a very nasty piece of work.

Why isn't he allowed into New Zealand? NZ has pretty liberal rules on who is allowed to visit, and unlike many countries, a fairly clear-cut definition on what constitutes an undesirable. (Most countries are a *lot* more subjective in this matter). The test in this case is that visitors must be of good character (as defined here) - which equates to not having been in jail or deported. (NZIS has the discretion to exclude those convicted but not jailed).

Irving was convicted in Munich of defaming the dead, an offence under German law. He was later deported from Canada - the circumstances of this are somewhat opaque. Essentially my understanding is that his German conviction would have prevented his admission to Canada, and to circumvent this he snuck back and forth across the US/Canada border on several occasions, was eventually caught and deported (on the grounds of the demonstrably false account he gave for his movements).

The fact of Irving's deportation bans him from NZ under the rules above, unless the government wishes to grant a waiver. His German conviction probably would not (no jail sentence).

The German laws that criminalise holocaust denial are interesting, and a bone of contention with those who favour unfettered free speech. Germany is generally regarded as one of the most liberal states around. It's constitution was written after WW2 and is pretty much a model of its kind. German law is also subordinate to the European Convention on Human Rights. This guarantees free speech, but contains two caveats that allow the German anti-Nazi statutes to stand:
  • "The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."
  • "Article 17 – Prohibition of abuse of rights
    Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention."
Should a waiver be granted in this case? I personally can't see why. We have the rules as they stand, and generally they only get waived when it's in the public interest to do so. Irving can express his unfortunate views here through publications and broadcasts, so I can't see any overriding public interest.

Should we change the laws that govern the character of vistors? Probably? I'd like to see a requirement that any conviction be for an offence that would merit a prison sentence in New Zealand, and that the verdict leading to the conviction have been reached in a just and proper manner. (Currently the law would block Anwar Ibrahim from entry without a waiver, for example). A similar rule covering deportation would seem sensible.

Irving still wouldn't get in with these changes though. If you sneak into NZ (by boat for instance, or on a false passport) and aren't a refugee, then you'll be deported and banned. Most countries, including Canada, have much the same rules - so Irving was deported from Canada for behaviour that would have led to his deportation from New Zealand.

I can understand the alternative point of view that all views, however disgusting, should be heard. Contemporary European law has been framed in the wake of Nazism, and consequentially regards such the suppression of such extremism as a public good justifying restrictions on speech. Possibly we're so sensible down here that we don't need such protections?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Coming home

New Zealand's troops are coming home from Iraq. While I'm sure they did an excellent job in a bad situation, you've got to question why they went in the first place. Given we don't have access to Superman and his mates, how much difference can 60 people make - the Americans have 140,000+ out there.

I'm afraid that most Iraqis are unlikely to distinguish between one lot of English speaking foreigners and another - even to register that the ones with the funny bird on their sleeve don't shove electrodes up your arse (I would hope...)

The Nats have a logical defence policy - they see our forces as a resource for the Americans / British to call on as needed. For Labour, who presumably regard NZ as a fully independent nation, maybe they need to give this some thought. Here's my idea anyway:
  • Recognise that as one of the smaller countries in the world, we don't own any big sticks and will have to just stick to speaking softly (and intelligently) for the most part.
  • Set down in legislation that we cannot send troops anywhere without either a UN mandate or the consent of a legitimate, democratic, government.
  • Accept (and possibly entrench in law) that our role is within the South Pacific, not halfway across the world.
  • Possibly create a semi-military Regional Emergency Force with the task of dealing with natural disasters and other situations in the South Pacific area (from a cyclone in Fiji to an earthquake in Nelson). This is most of what we need military resources for really, and something that we don't necessarily have the right resources for anyway - e.g. when we wind up using diddy little civilian helicopters for search and rescue, when what's really needed is a big solid Iroquois.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Idol Viewing

Russell Brown comments on a piece in OnFilm by John Barnett, the producer of NZ Idol.

I'm not that worked up about NZ On Air funding Idol - you'd have thought they could do more with NZ musicians creating original music, rather than cover versions of overseas songs, but if that's what people want?

I do take issue with his comment that "NZ programmes for NZ audiences" are intrinsically unsaleable overseas. Why? The BBC (and PBS, and independent producers in other countries) produce a lot of shows on relatively small budgets that sell around the world. Billy Connolly's recent series springs to mind, or The Office, or Antiques Roadshow. And UK television seems very keen to take a range of Aussie soaps, so why can't they buy Shortland St?