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?