Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Corporate Fandom

Two things I noticed today:
  • Apple launched their iTunes site in New Zealand, after several years of depriving us of it.
  • I read Robyn's article about Holden fans and the prevalence of them on NZDating.

Which got me thinking about the strange phenomenon of corporations that have fans.

I can understand sports teams having fans. Musicians, actors and authors have fans. But why does anyone bestow their admiration on a publicly quoted company?

For car manufacturers (Holden and Ford in Australia and NZ, Ferrari in Italy) motor racing has been the route to this status (I guess). And while Ferrari have had to spend billions on producing the worlds best racing cars, Holden just hop up an overweight, low-tech family saloon and race a single opponent (Ford, of course) around the backblocks racetracks of Australasia.

Apple's method of reaching adulation has mostly involved Not Being Microsoft. Pushing their gear mostly to influential creatives and up market home users ensures cachet (David Brett uses a PC - he would never in a million years be furnished with an Apple). So while an MSFT product launch involves a good deal of sneering about bugs, security and how many dollars Bill Gates is making, the launch of iTunes is met with pure obsequiousness: "Can you tell us again how insanely great the iTunes store is, Mr Cue".

What other companies have corporate fans? Sony almost has, but could just be trying a bit too hard lately. Vodafone would dearly, dearly like to, but at the end of the day they're the phone company and they take your money. Google might have, but it's hard to see really how the search process is exciting enough to keep the fans amused.

Maybe MySpace - it's a bit ugly, but then that was never an absolute bar to fanned-ness.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dumb and dumber

If you think the stadium is a silly idea (and I only disagree really because it's a waste of public money, not on planning grounds), look at this plan to make Albany "a city in it's own right".

Like Auckland needs more "edge cities" on greenfield sites! I suppose there might be a place for this in 20-30 years time when the central city reaches an optimal density, but not now. I know Albany has a busway link to the city but that isn't going to help when people living in the eastern, southern and western suburbs get jobs there and need to commute in - and they will.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Just *why* am I buying a new stadium?

Apparently the government is minded to build a $700 million new stadium on a waterfront site in Auckland. Plus $150mln for land and relocation costs (and that seems quite cheap, assuming the port will have to relocate to Tauranga). If this doesn't work, then the bargain alternative is to spend $350mln improving Eden Park.

I don't really care where they build it. If they did build on the waterfront, then I'll lose what remains of my view from work (below) and won't be able to walk to the rugby/cricket any more. But I'll probably have moved house and job by then.

I just don't see why the taxpayer needs to fork out for this. If the hospitality/rugby industry feels it essential, why don't they raise the money themselves? I have better things to spend $400 (waterfront) or $160 (Eden Park) than to build a stadium for a match I'll almost certainly not get tickets for.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Big bangs

According to the Herald, New Zealanders last year set off 1,700 tonnes of fireworks. That means we beat the North Koreans puny 500 tonne nuke!! Suck that Kim Jong Il!

(Ok, so gunpowder only has 1/10 the energy of TNT but I still think we're getting pretty close. Everyone needs to buy more firecrackers this year so we can try and get well up into the small nuke range).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Energetic improvements

I commented earlier on No Right Turn about the government's scheme to reduce fuel usage by restricting the import of gas-guzzling cars.

I said I had a better idea, so here it is:

Some petrol usage is clearly non-discretionary - e.g. driving to work. Other usage is highly discretionary, e.g driving to a bach in the Coromandel every weekend. I propose that we tax the former less heavily than the latter.

One mechanism for this is for each vehicle owner to get a smartcard (no more than one per person, clearly). This would allow them to buy a certain amount of petrol each year at a discounted price. Fuel bought outside this would be taxed more heavily (to pay for the scheme and to allow for the purchase of carbon credits).

The amount of cheap fuel would be based on driving one of the most economical cars currently available (e.g. a Daewoo Matiz) for an average commute (this could possibly be regionally based). This equates to around 400 litres annually. The price of this cheap fuel would be pegged to inflation, while the amount would reduce every year to allow for changed travel patterns and improvements in vehicle economy.

The chart below shows the effect over five years. I've assumed that to start with the price of cheap fuel would be $1.30, resulting in an unsubsidised price of $1.56. I've also put various inflators in. This is a very rough calculation, but it serves to illustrate.

I reckon this would modify people's behaviour in a positive fashion. It would also help the less well off, who would benefit from reduced, predictable fuel costs.

PS: I will post the spreadsheet when I track down a suitable site!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My new project

I've started a new blog. This one covers everything about mixing, mashups and emerging multitrack music formats like ChoonML, Umixit and U-Myx.

Have a look if you're interested! No politics there, of an NZ or any other flavour...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stand up for the boys in...

The capacity of Eden Park needs to be increased by 25% for the 2011 World Cup.

This is expected to cost NZD320 million - for which the NZ taxpayer and/or the ratepayers are being hit up (for some reason the NZRB are suddenly too poor to afford more than 10mil - they didn't seem to mention this when they bid for the cup?)

There does seem to be a simpler solution to increasing capacity - take all the seats out. I'd reckon this would provide comfortable standing for at least 25% more people. (UK soccer grounds had more than twice today's capacities before they went all-seater).

And if the players are expected to run around for 80 minutes, can't the spectators be expected to stand up for that long? Also, the NZRB would be able to save on having stewards to get people to sit down.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I see a ship in a harbour

Went to the Peter Hook gig at Coherent on Thursday - it was awesome!

I wasn't expecting that much - 40-something (ok 5-something) bass player DJing - but he was cool. No technique, just great choons (and quite a lot of them matching *my* record box).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Jackson to remake "Dambusters"

Peter Jackson is to remake the WW2 classic movie "The Dambusters".

I wonder whether they will change the name of Guy Gibson's dog?

Also, I really hope he does it without CGI. There are two Lancasters still flying they could use for the aerial shots (as well as lots of genuine wartime footage that could be spliced in). The Waikato dams could be mocked up to look like the Ruhr.

It'd be so much better than a high-tech cartoon!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Spying on the net?

The Herald has an article on the Motion Picture Association's apparent deployment of a system which can "track internet searches".

There are a number of ways they could be doing this:

1. Tapping Internet traffic, either on peered networks or at an NZ ISP.

2. Placing spyware on individual computers,

3. Obtaining details of searches from Google and others.

4. Placing spoof sites and possibly paid advertising on search engines and then monitoring where the hits come from.

5. They're bluffing.

1 & 2 are plain illegal - section 216B of the Crimes Act prohibits the interception of private communications (which a search request clearly is).

3 would seem to run counter to Google's privacy policy (at least) and would also possibly contravene the Privacy Act.

4 wouldn't be illegal, but possibly also wouldn't be effective. They'd probably get a lot of hits on "lord of the rings torrent" - but that wouldn't be proof of anything. My guess is that this is the most likely methodology, apart from (5).

It will be interesting to see if any more emerges on this.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

NZ offered "scientific" reactor - yeah right!

According to this article, NZ was offered British aid to build a small nuclear reactor in the mid-1940s for "medical, industrial and scientific purposes".

The real purpose behind this is not hard to fathom. After having been a junior partner in the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bombs, Britain had been cut off from access to nuclear material and knowledge by the McMahon Act . As a result, an independent project was started to build a bomb, the first step in this being the construction of nuclear facilities at Windscale.

Canada was involved in this from an early stage, both in mining uranium and in building reactors, the plutonium from which was sold to both Britain and the US. The whole nuclear weapon program was very difficult for a small and relatively impoverished country like post-war Britain, and any assistance, especially in terms of space for facilities was obviously welcome.

Fortunately, as with later British requests for a test site, NZ declined this "opportunity".

Monday, August 07, 2006

bFM and Havoc - get over it?

Bit of a comment on Damian Christie's Public Address posts on bFM's upcoming replacement of Wallace with Mikey on the breakfast show.
By not totally agreeing with Damian, I think I'm in a minority of one, but here goes:

- bFM obviously have a business issue. More than 50% of Aucklanders prefer to listen to the kind of radio station that doesn't tax you with music that you might not have heard before. The rest mostly favour hip-hop, right-wing drivel, or something in their home language. That leaves maybe 5-10% of people who are open to listening to an "alternative" station, in which I'd include bFM, Kiwi, George and some of the low-power stations. With bFM at around 1.5%, it's hard to see how they can substantially boost those figures (assuming they don't fancy a total change of format / demographic). You can see how tweaking with "name" presenters might appeal.

- They could of course go back to their "student radio" roots, fire most of the paid staff and rely on the endless pool of keen volunteers. Trouble is, I've listened to RadioActive and it isn't pretty...

- Mikey's musical tastes aren't to everyone's liking. The USP of bFM is, however, *meant* to be, as far as I can tell, that they play a wide range of different music. Surely that includes "bangin house tracks"? After all, Havo also plays plenty of noisy rock music, hip-hop and wistful pop. There is a wonderful device on the market that allows you to restrict yourself to music that matches your own taste - it's called a CD player (or iPOD, even).

- Havo has a range of views on politics, some of which I find annoying and some I even agree with. But surely bFM viewers are intelligent enough to filter this? I think it's a sad day if we can't hear opinions beyond "sensible and realistic liberal opinion".

- There do seem to be rather a lot of callers to bFM whose mental functions are in some disrepair, either through natural causes or through overenthusiastic drug use. These people do seem to be attracted to calling Mikey.

- I think it must be a general problem for radio stations to find creative presenters that will reliably turn up at 7am. Look at Chris Evans.

Having said all that, I think Wallace does a good job on breakfast and is steadily getting better. I haven't switched to George for ages (unlike with the previous incumbent). But then, I'm not in the typical demographic - maybe 20 year olds want a bit more craziness at breakfast time?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Uncyclopedia thingy

Paula has discovered this Wikipedia game that involves finding interesting things that happened on your birthday.

Trouble is, nothing significant happened on my birthday. Some alleged muslims allegedly tried to blow up London, but failed, possibly because Play-Doh isn't an explosive. The first Indo-China war was resolved by the Geneva Conference - lasting peace, that one. And some English soccer player I've never heard of was born.

However in Uncyclopedia there are far more exciting happenings, only a few of which I just put there:

Three events
1944: End of the Great Toaster Rebellion

1968: Kitten Huffing banned in the state of North Dakota.

2002: The execution of the Spice Girls by the Vatican Boys Punishment Squad.

Two birthdays
1497: Mona Lisa - Author of the DaVinci code and inventor of the aeroplane

1921: Barney Hitler - Adolf's younger brother.

One holiday or observance
National Fight Day.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Visiting Bali

I recently got back from a holiday break in Bali. It was great: nice people, excellent weather and a new cultural experience.

Also, nobody blew me up.

What there isn't at the moment is very many tourists - largely because Australia and New Zealand recommend against non-essential travel. Other countries don't do this, the UK recommends exercising caution. Since I'm British and in any case consider a beach holiday to be "essential travel", then I reckoned I was ok.

I do think the travel advice thing is bad. It hurts a lot of people who can least afford it. Anywhere outside an active war zone, one is far more at risk from traffic accidents than terrerism.

I reckon the travel advice for everywhere should be something like the following:

Abroad isn't like NZ (or Australia, etc). Bad things might happen. They probably won't though. We don't provide a nanny service for travelling Kiwis (..etc) - if things turn bad, you're on your own. Having said that, almost all people have an enjoyable and enriching time overseas. Have a good trip!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fiat advertisement and "All Blacks" Haka

Offensively amusing?

Graham Henry, the manager of the Ford Steinlager Adidas All Blacks, was on the telly tonight complaining about the awful Italians commercially exploiting the "Ka Mate" Haka. Which came out of copyright in 1899 (50 years after Te Rauparaha's death).

I think the iwi is on slightly better ground that the AB's, morally, if not legally. But if they have a complaint about culturally disrespectful advertising, the Italian people could have one with the "don't toucha the hair" Sky ad - depicting Italians as mafiosi. Come to that, the Germans might have an issue with Steinlager using the German language to market one of NZ's nastier beers.

And have you noticed the Ford/All Blacks ad - doesn't the tune remind you of Chumbawumba's 1997 hit Tubthumping?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ben Elton's not just boring because he's turned Tory

Boring Ben

There's an interview with Ben Elton (not online as far as I can see) in the Herald on Sunday.

It covers, as you might expect, the criticism that Elton has "sold out" and become unfunny.

I think he isn't funny any more, not just because of his new-found Tory politics, but also because he's become very, very stale. Comedians have a sell by date, as do rock bands (take REM for instance: way back in 1980, they were cool as, nowadays, they're grannies music). And whilst rock bands can get away with a lot if they maintain a decent obscurity and keep playing the same stuff (like Iggy Pop, or George Clinton), comedians have to keep producing new material. And Elton's new material isn't any good.

He also came up with the lamest excuse for his political turnaround from left-wing firebrand to sycophantic royalist: "with a soft liberal government there isn't anything to get angry about" (paraphrased). I'm sorry:

- Thatcher refrained from invading anywhere except the Falklands (and pretty much all of the Falklanders favoured the re-invasion)

- Thatcher never gave state schools away to religious wierdos to run

- Despite them repeatedly (not to mention understandably) trying to kill her, Thatcher avoided locking up IRA members without at least a semblance of a trial

- After totally losing the confidence of her party, Thatcher at least had the good grace to resign

Monday, June 19, 2006

Prejudice and property?

According to this Herald story (and I can't find anything on the Green party site, so it may be a misrepresentation), the Green leader, Russel Norman, is calling for (further) restrictions on foreigners buying NZ property in an effort to limit house price rises.

To me this smacks of racism, and I don't think it fits well in the policy of a progressive party.

I don't believe non-resident foreigners are a major factor in the NZ housing market, except maybe in a few places like Herne Bay or Queenstown. Returning Kiwis and new immigrants with pounds/euros/dollars to spend might be, but I can't believe the Greens want to stop permanent residents owning houses?

I'd suggest the following non-discriminatory measures that would work much better in controlling house price inflation:
- Just as the Reserve Bank has a target for general inflation, set a similar target for house price inflation and use mostly fiscal measures to achieve it. I'd suggest 2% under general inflation for the next five years.

- Introduce GST on larger mortgage payments (e.g. a mortgage over $300k).

- Introduce capital gains tax on house sales over say 500k (with an indexing allowance).

- Introduce a wealth tax on fortunes over, for instance, $2mln. Making this fall on any property in NZ would ensure that any "wealthy foreigners" would be making a fair contribution to the country.

All the above measures could be adjusted to achieve the inflation target (and abated to control a house price crash). The revenue could be used to reduce income tax and/or GST, helping ordinary people afford houses. They'd also help address the massive imbalance between taxes on capital and taxes on income in NZ (why is it that if I earn $80,000 working I pay 39% tax, while if I make the same amount of money speculating in property, I pay *no* tax).

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Citizens or Serfs

This month's edition of Prospect magazine has an article by its editor, David Goodhart, setting out his views on the nature of "citizenship" in modern (British) society. I thought it worthy of comment as it shows how far Blairism has diverged from the internationalist and liberal ideas that Labour began with.

To start with, the article shows incredible causistry in trying to argue that discrimination against non-European peoples is in some way not a form of racism. That there is a unfortunate practical need for some form of immigration control I do not dispute - that it is in some way a worthy expression of "Liberal Realism" I utterly disagree with.

Goodhart then constructs a model of citizenship suitable for a Blairite society.
It states as amongst the requirements of citizenship:
"acceptance of the rule of law and the authority of the state and its institutions; agreement to play by the economic and welfare rules and to accept national norms on such things as the place of religion, free speech and women's equality"

This negates democracy, as it requires that certain aspects of the nation's current arrangement are to be "accepted" as beyond disagreement. This is rather reminiscent of pre-Victorian Britain, where everyone was required to adhere to the state religion as practiced by the monarch - Jews, for instance, being banned from public office unless they converted to Christianity.

The author goes on to discuss the "duties" of citizenship. This is a communitarian idea that has become popular in Blairite circles over the last few years. The problem with this idea is that it directly conflicts with the concept of a democracy bound by laws. In such a political system, the duties of everyone, whether citizen or visitor, are limited to one - they must obey the law or face the consequences. Current British law imposes very few legal obligations that differentiate by citizenship: mostly it is one's presence or habitual residence in the country that determine an obligation to comply with national law.

As if to remedy this, Goodhart proposes that citizenship be bolstered by obligations and ceremonial. This ranges from a civil birth ceremony to the promotion of ID cards as a badge (I prefer the word "brand") of belonging. He even brings up the old concept of conscription - arguing for a "national volunteering scheme for school-leavers". (Since there are numerous such schemes already, I assume that "volunteering" is a euphemism).

These measures are not a mark of democratic citizenship as we have come to know it. It is rather more reminiscent of the system that preceeded liberal democracy - serfdom. Under this system the people of the nation were subject to the arbitrary requirements of the state for labour and military service and were expected to comply with the forms of religious and other thought required by the state. In a similar fashion to Goodhart's "contract" the state then attempted to protect the serfs from Mongol hordes and the like. The Blair project appears to want to revive this - with perpetual "centre-right" governments and local councils replacing kings and barons in the feudal structure.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

If you live in Auckland you're an Aucklander

I went to the rugby at the weekend, as you do. It was the Waikato /Auckland game, and apart from the fact that we lost bigtime, I did notice a bit of a dearth of Auckland supporters. Which is odd, given that you'd usually expect mostly home supporters at an Eden Park game.

So why is this? I suppose you have to allow for the fact that a lot of Aucklanders are league fans, quite a few are from what you could call a non-rugby heritage, and the weather was what you'd consider bloody horrible up here, but a nice evening by Hamilton standards. Still, you would have thought that we could muster as many people (from 1.3mln) as a city of 200k two hours drive away managed.

I guess it's that many people who live in Auckland don't identify with the city. A lot of Aucklanders were born elsewhere (or claim to have been). I've noticed also that people will choose the most interesting and "authentic" place they have lived as their hometown, even though they only spent six months there at the age of four (or in extreme cases, once stopped there for a pie).

The only problem with this is that people without any attachment to the city they live in don't want to do anything to improve it. But really, I think Aucklanders should face the fact that we're stuck here, the city has plenty of good points, and most of us don't really want to try and live on $10 an hour picking kiwifruit.

By the way, I'm not an Aucklander. I've decided to identify as a Frenchman from Fontainebleau. I lived there until I was two, so despite not having been back since, not being a French citizen and only speaking schoolboy French, I think I should identify as Fontaineblouis (?). They don't seem to have a rugby team - maybe I should start supporting Stade Fran├žais. Neat shirts too!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Helping Bill out

Bill Gates has said that he "doesn't want to be the world's richest man".

It's a problem I think many of us could help him with. I couldn't take on the full USD55bln, or even the USD30bln or so needed to get him to #2 on the list. But I could happily take on a little bit, say USD100mln.

And I'd spend it wisely. People would be employed building fast cars, teaching me to fly helicopters and Harrier jump-jets, keeping my boats and houses maintained. I could buy a daily newspaper and maybe a radio station or two to use as a platform for my unique opinions. My regular free dance parties would provide entertainment for thousands of New Zealanders - especially if they avoided the "Richard is DJing" tent..

And it would make up for all the dosh I've lost on Microsoft stock because he's employed a bunch of impeccably qualified idiots. How can it take five years to write a frigging operating system - it only took Alan Turing three to invent the computer!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Immigration II

Section 4 of the document covers the visa and permit system: in other words, the bureaucracy by which arrivals and stays in NZ are regulated.

To me the key principal here is that the system should not only be fair, open and transparent, it should place the absolute minimum burden on travellers to New Zealand consistent with a reasonable level of border security. That isn't just a question of being nice to travellers, it's also of economic importance.

One of the main impediments to NZ's growth is our geographical position. Tourists and business people (or "customers" in commercial terms) need to endure a minimum of three hours on a plane, and mostly much longer. We shouldn't add to this by slowing things up at the airport.

It's to be noted that our major trading partners have much quicker and more efficient border controls than we do. Generally, a scan of a passport is all that's required, even for non-EU citizens entering the EU (and "Schengen" borders within the EU, which one could reasonably regard as similar to the Australia/NZ "border", consist of a roadsign, as shown below).

Border between Germany and Holland

The document asks the following questions:
4.1.1 Should the single term "visa" be used for all travel, entry and stay authorization granted to non-citizens?
4.1.2 Should the system continue to allow for exceptions to the standard requirement to have authorization to travel to, enter and remain in New Zealand (for example, through the equivalent of visa-free arrangements or permit exemptions)?
4.2.1 Are all the current permit exemptions justified?

I would say yes, yes and yes.

I'd go on to argue that the Act should put an obligation on NZIS to justify and minimize compliance costs and times at NZ airports. We could look at the following:
  • Recording most, if not all, visas and permits electronically rather than through passport stamps and stickers.
  • Removing the arrival and departure card requirements. According to this Guardian article most UK landing cards pile up unprocessed in a warehouse, and I wouldn't be surprised if this happened here as well. Almost all the information on landing cards can be (and mostly is) obtained from the airlines electronically. Having travellers sign to say that they have no contraband might be useful (but doesn't have much legal force).
  • Replacing the departure counters by spot-checks and automated scrutiny of flight manifests.

Wiki failings

Good article from Russell Brown on the various failings of Wikipedia, including the tendency for various NZ wingnuts (and others) to try and convert it into a propaganda board for ACT.

It does occur to me, however, that the GFDL allows anyone to take a snapshot of all or part of Wikipedia and run with it. For instance, one could envisage a system of expert (or at least unbiased) editors who can approve and lock copy. The difficulty is that such systems can eventually logjam and become (more or less) useless (like Open Directory).

One day, technology will allow articles to be checked, referenced and approved by a neutral software program!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Immigration I

No Right Turn has a good article commenting on the NZIS discussion document on changes to the Immigration Act, on which comments are currently being sought.

I thought I'd add some of my own thoughts, starting with Section I - Purpose & Principals.

They ask the following questions:
1 Do you agree with the suggested purpose of New Zealand’s immigration legislation?
2 Do you agree that New Zealand’s immigration-related interests are those suggested?
3 Should a purpose statement be included in the legislation?

To me, there is a philosophical objection which any immigration legislation has to address - such legislation is inherently discriminatory (Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality, although this is qualified elsewhere).

The argument for such legislation is that it is necessary to prevent uncontrolled and excessive migration from poor, unstable countries to wealthier and more stable states. It's worth noting in passing that the EU has had no controls on intra-union migration for over 25 years and that such migration has been relatively small - even though there are quite wide wealth disparities between, for instance, Portugal and Germany.

Assuming however, that we accept the principle that immigration controls are a pragmatic necessity, it seems to me that they should be constrained to the minimum required to prevent economic and social damage. The document lists the following interests that NZ has in maintaining immigration controls:
  1. maintaining the safety and security of New Zealand
  2. generating sustainable economic growth
  3. establishing strong communities
  4. fulfilling New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen, and
  5. promoting international cooperation.

I have no problem with 2, 4 and 5 as far as they go. Item 1 is slightly more problematic, since "safety and security" can be expanded to cover a multitude of evils. Indeed, the chosen examples lead straight away to a very broad interpretation of "safety": "ensuring that non-citizens are of good health" is cited as one restriction justified by this clause. The current measures affecting the health of immigrants are primarily concerned with avoiding cost to the health system (an economic ground) than restricting the transmission of infectious disease. Indeed, there are no controls on the health of returning citizens and residents, who would seem equally likely to have picked up something nasty overseas. I'd suggest this clause be replaced with the simpler "prevention of crimes and hostile acts".

Item 3 I fundamentally disagree with. I don't think the government should be engaging in "social engineering" to try and force the nation's development down a certain path. New Zealand appears set to remain a basically Anglo-Polynesian society - if it takes in other influences, then that is a Good Thing. I also don't believe in the idea that immigration by groups with different ideals (e.g. Muslims) will lead to the erosion of our tolerant society: firstly, I believe our instutions are (or should be) robust enough to resist such erosion; secondly, most immigrants move here because they actually *like* the way things are.

I would add a further item: "protecting the rights and interests of migrants". This would cover activities such as preventing the exploitation of migrant workers (and indeed students).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter bunny

Christ Easter is boring here! England used to make the pubs close at 1030 on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which was bad enough, but at least they opened.

I don't quite get the labour protection argument. Lots of workers, from the duty shift at Huntly to Mick Jagger, and including the Department of Labour's own inspectors, have to work Easter.

I argued elsewhere that all public holidays should be replaced with an increased annual leave entitlement, giving workers the right to holidays of choice rather than on days ordained by the church. If this is impossible, and the government reckons a relaxation on Easter opening wouldn't pass the Christian element in parliament, then there is another option, which could be implemented without legislation: Give the DoL inspectors Chocolate Egg Day and Hot Cross Bun day off.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ciao Berlusconi

Looks like Berlusconi has lost the Italian elections - depending on whether the Prodi-led coalition has enough seats in the upper house to form a workable coalition.

So Bush just lost another satellite state!

It's also interesting to consider whether there might be further prosecutions - he has wriggled out of rather a lot of accusations.

Friday, April 07, 2006

My fake sheikh brings all the boys to the yard

George Galloway has been in court again - the News of the World has been trying to suppress images of it's investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood. Quite what legal grounds they could have for this I don't know - images taken in a public place are generally the copyright of the photographer, not the subject. I can't believe he'd be entitled to a "Mary Bell order" - those have only ever been given to protect a child. Anyway, this is what he looks like:

and in his highly believable Sheikh costume:

So if you're a celebrity and he tries to stitch you up, then beware!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Random jottings from Europe

I'm away in Germany and England for a couple of weeks and I thought I'd just post a few random comments from my travels:

Singapore: I was briefly in transit through Singapore, as you do. It does seem to be impossible to fly from NZ to Europe without transiting at least one authoritarian fascist state - but at least the Singaporeans are efficient fascists and don't make you spend most of your two hour stopover in line at immigration. I read the Sunday Straits Times on the plane out, and it worries me - it's ostensibly just like a normal Sunday paper, but with this Orwellian overlay to everything. Just about every article in the paper is slated to the national "model" of how people should live and behave - scary.

Germany: I was staying in a city in the Ruhr, which is what the Americans would call "rustbelt". Most German cities provide a constant reminder of what authoritarian government leads to - very few buildings older than 50 years (for obvious reasons). I think this leads to a sensible skepticism for authoritarian measures - one example of this being the German attitude to motoring - my taxi driver heading for the airport got up to a brisk 160km/h on the autobahn - in NZ that would practically be considered attempted murder!

Britain: I'm informed that drinking on the street outside a pub has been banned. All the time I worked in the City, this was traditional on sunny days (yes - England does occasionally have them) - you'd get your pint and stand out on the pavement and drink it. I *never* saw any trouble. Now they've decided to ban it - no doubt part of Blair's "Respect" (= social control) agenda. Next thing they'll ban chewing gum!

I just don't see how this slide into authoritarianism can be stopped - part of the reason is that societies don't have the big problems like depressions and world war that they used to, so governments feel they have to solve every tiny issue. Bah!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

PM rocked by jammy dodger dodginess

Scandal hit Prime Minister Helen Clark has been rocked by the news of unchecked theft within her departmental offices. Police last night confirmed that they are investigating the theft of a number of plain and chocolate biscuits from ministerial catering facilities at the Beehive. A cleaning operative is believed to have helped herself to the biscuits while tidying the departmental kitchen.

Act leader Rodney Hide said he had spoken to staff within the department who had told him that not only had plain biscuits been stolen, but also Tim Tams and jammy dodgers. Mr Hide said that he had been told that biscuits were left in unlocked cupboards and that staff regularly helped themselves to not only biscuits, but also to unauthorised cups of coffee and tea. Helen Clark's spokeswoman said that they were aware of some misuse of catering supplies, and that guidelines had been re-issued on staff refreshments. The spokeswoman said the theft was investigated but an outcome had yet to be decided.

Mr Hide said an answer from Helen Clark to a parliamentary question only gave part of the story, not mentioning that luxury biscuits such as Tim Tams had been involved in the theft and misleading the house that only plain biscuits had been misappropriated. He called on the Prime Minister to accept responsibility for this shameful neglect of public property and resign.

A government spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "I don't know about biscuits, but I'd like to see a stock-check on the doughnut supplies at the Business Roundtable after Rodney's paid them a visit."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Exceptions to every rule

Normally I am of the view that torture should never, ever, be considered and that criminals should be rehabilitated rather than punished. However there are some people whose mere existence stresses my liberal principles to breaking point. Martha Stewart for example.

If the American's have to satisfy their 18th century bloodlust on someone, what was wrong with her, rather than random Kabul taxi drivers? And I'm sure a video "Martha Stewart executed by Scaphism" would be a hit on MTV.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Resigning ministers

David Parker has been forced to resign his cabinet posts after making an allegedly false declaration on a company form.

I was surprised to find that ministers were allowed to be directors anyway. British ministers can't - the UK Ministerial Code is quite firm that "Ministers must resign any directorships they hold when they take up office". Our cabinet manual just requires them to be declared - I think this is something the government should look at - they're reasonably well paid for a full time job and shouldn't really need side interests.

The Herald (along with the usual not-exactly-unblemished wingnuts -thank you Russell Brown for the reference) suggests he might be prosecuted. I guess this rests on whether there was any material problem with the business. Parker should probbaly get the books audited pronto - if this shows that everything is above board, then I'd think that the chances of a prosecution and conviction are slight, and he might have some hopes of getting back into politics. If however there was actual sticky-fingeredness, then he's in trouble - and rightly so!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Protection-free poms

Interesting story in the Guardian. Apparently almost no CDs released in the UK have copy protection. The UK record company branches don't believe it works.

An unspoken reason might also be that a pirated CD with the copy protection removed (or a memory stick full of MP3s) is *more* useful than a pukka copy-protected disk. Which might tip the balance for your average record buying kid between buying a CD or copying the choons from a mate.

Anyway, for New Zealanders, it might be useful to note that list the Arctic Monkeys at GBP8.99 (=NZD23.65) against RealGroovy at NZD34.95. And it'd be less likely to try and *monkey* with your computer. (Groan!)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mortgage rates up

Interesting article in the Guardian by Larry Elliot, especially the last bit where he talks about Iceland and carry trades:
"The technical term for what has been going on in Iceland - and other emerging markets - is a carry trade. Inflation and interest rates are low in the leading industrial nations, and their currencies have been moving in fairly tight ranges. Central bankers tend to like this state of affairs, because it suggests economic stability. Investors don't like it nearly so much, because it means returns are not as big as they would like. So, they have been filling their boots with money borrowed in dollars, yen, Swiss francs and euros (at suitably low rates of interest) and buying assets in countries where interest rates are much higher (including Iceland)."

And New Zealand - that is how banks are managing to offer fixed rate mortgages (2yr 7.95%) at substatially lower rates than floating (9.55%) (

What these (often Japanese) investors are betting is that the NZD (or ISK) remain stable against their baseline currency (e.g. JPY). If they lose this confidence, then they will either want a higher premium for Uridashi and EuroKiwi (NZD denominated bonds marketed in Japan/Europe) or will bale out of the market altogether - this will send (fixed) mortgage rates up as the banks switch to alternative conventional financing.

When that happens, it could be the tipping point for the housing market.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's she been smoking?

Anti-crystal meth campaigner Marie Cotter is reported as saying:
"We've got the support of the whole of New Zealand"

Well she hasn't got my support, so she's clearly wrong! I think that all drugs, including methamphetamine, or "P" to give it it's marketing name, should be made legal.

The only reason why NZ has a (much exaggerated) problem with meth is that, being isolated, the authorities are able to interdict the importation of drugs with more success than in Britain, for instance. As a result, drugs like MDMA and cocaine that need to be imported (or made from imported ingredients) are expensive and hard to find. Hence, people (ab)use drugs that can be cooked up locally from common materials - which methamphetamine can be. So instead of taking a drug which makes you happy, people take a drug that makes you psycho (allegedly).

Great idea, prohibition.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ban everything now!

The Maori party has apparently come out for a total ban on tobacco, similar to the oh-so-successful one on cannabis and other drugs.

A cynic would suggest that this might be a policy ask on the part of the Mongrel Mob and Black Power - who would be in line to make an absolute fortune out of illegal tobacco plantations in every cornfield and forest.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Excessive access costs

There has been much discussion on Telecom's latest broadband products, with Russell Brown raising the issue of contention rates and Paul Brislen of Computerworld (the magazine not the shop) calling for "boots and all" regulation.

Keith Ng, writing last week suggests that Xtra sells to "suckers-who-are-unaware-that-other-ISPs-exist". This might be partly true, but I get my connectivity from Xtra and I *am* aware of other ISPs. Why do I stay with Xtra? Basically because I sort out IT problems all day for a living - I don't want to do the same when I get home. I could see buying connectivity from a Telecom reseller (there are no competitive non-Telecom resellers, such as Woosh, that can provide services to my Auckland inner-suburb residence) resulting in endless circular arguments about whether a fault was with Telecom or Xtra - each helpdesk naturally blaming the other.

The "market" at present seems to work by Telecom setting their end-user pricing a little above the cheapest competitor. This means that the price is defined by the competition's cost of sales (not by Telecom's).

The main difference between Telecom and the rest is that they own a network worth around NZ$11 billion (at cost) or NZ$4 billion (depreciated) (estimate based on Telecom's 2005 results).
This network is largely paid for by Telecom's voice customers - broadband is an added value extra. Because the other ISPs don't own a network like this, they have to buy service from Telecom or build a very expensive alternative infrastructure. Hence the Telecom cost of sales is much less than the competition, thus enabling Telecom to offer a lousy service at high cost because no-one else can afford to sell anything better.

I don't believe there can really be fixed-line competition in an economy the size of NZ - at least not with Telecom around in its present form. The current solution as advocated by Paul Brislen and others (and favoured by most of the ISPs) seems to be for Telecom to be forced to lease out dark copper (or dark fibre) from premises to exchange, along with rack space in the exchanges for ISP equipment. I can't see this working that well - Telecom would still dominate the resale market and be the monopoly provider of wholesale infrastructure.

I can think of two possible alternatives:

Option One would be to force Telecom to divest it's local network to a mutual body controlled by a consumer trust. This would then lease circuits back to all ISPs and telcos - Telecom would be just another supplier working on leased capacity. Two problems with this: firstly, the network would have to be bought with public money (or confiscated from the shareholders, including the Super Fund); secondly, prices for basic telephone service might end up higher than they are today in order to finance the "artificial market" (resulting in poor old grannies with one phone subsidising wealthy geeks with 16 megabit circuits).

Option Two, which I think better, is to recognise that Telecom is inevitably going to be the monopoly provider in NZ. As such, it needs to be strictly regulated. I think international comparison is the best approach. Telecom should be required to price their services (on a PPP basis) to be in the cheapest quartile of the OECD for each bandwidth segment. At the same time, the "full bandwidth" offering should offer world-class bandwidth (as well as matching worldwide best practice for features such as contention ratios and bandwidth caps). The details should not be for politicians to bother with - there should be a new telecom regulator with the ability to enforce the price/delivery regime.

The latter option would not necessarily be welcomed by the ISPs - prices might fall too quickly for many of them to compete. But the purpose of regulation isn't to help ISPs make money - it's to enable consumers and businesses to buy broadband at a reasonable price.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Public Broadcasting II

The Herald headlines today a call from a bunch of old farts group of eminent New Zealanders for TVNZ to revert to being a public broadcaster.

I wrote a piece on this back in November, suggesting how this could be funded without increasing net public spending.

An alternative to this would be to create a number of regional low cost broadcasters (a bit like Triangle or Alt.TV but with more original local content). This works well with radio (bFM, George) - perhaps it would work for TV.

Friday, February 10, 2006

UK politics decoded

Why have the UK Lib Dems won a by-election while gripped by a leadership challenge, disarray and infighting?

Easy really, a substantial majority of Brits take not a blind bit of notice of issues, policies or anything else when deciding how to vote:

The working class vote Labour, giving Labour dominance north of the Severn/Trent line and in inner cities everywhere.

The suburban and rural middle class votes Tory, enabling the Tories to win most seats in the South-East outside inner cities.

So, how do Tories in Liverpool or Labour supporters in Winchester vote? Lib Dem - hence their resilience. Ironically, exactly the same factors make it awkward for them to come up with coherent policies when they are an alliance of people as different as socially conservative Northern businessmen and southern polytechnic lecturers.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A model nation?

Helen Clark is reported as saying (in today's Herald):

"[Egypt] does have moderate leadership [and] we should be there," she said. "It [the opening of an embassy in Cairo] fits in with the general strategy we have of empowering the moderates, building up the relationships with the moderate leaders of the Islamic world."

WTF? Where did she get that idea?

Egypt is at best pseudo-democratic. The election last year was to a large extent rigged, with candidates outside Mubarak's National Democratic Party being prevented from standing. (The main Islamicist party in Egypt, which has substantial support, is banned).

Amnesty International also have a litany of complaints about human rights in Egypt. Torture is endemic, with many cases of people, including a lawyer, being tortured to death.

And this, according to a Labour prime minister is "moderate leadership". Apart from any moral aspect, doesn't our government realize that it's the existence of governments like Mubarak's that drives Arab peoples into supporting extremist organisations and adopting fundamentalist interpretations of Islam?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Logical priorities

George Bush has proposes to increase spending on the "war on terror" by 5%, while cutting numerous non-warlike federal programs including cancer research.

In the last ten years, less than 3000 people have died in terrorist attacks in the US. The chances of an American dying in a terrorist attack in any year is less than 1 in 80,000.

In the same timespan, around 5 million Americans have died of cancer. Americans have a 25% chance of dying of cancer.

Go figure.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Blair officially Tory?

The Guardian reports that:

Tony Blair will tonight praise a "new generation" of centre-right leaders across Europe for helping guide the EU out of a "darkened room" into a brighter future.

It strikes me that that is tantamount to declaring that New Labour is henceforth a centre-right party rather than maintaining it's increasingly unbelievable claims to a Social Democrat heritage.

I wonder whether our local wingers will be over in the UK helping "Labour" rather than the (increasingly leftist) Tories at the next election?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

More on censorship

The Guardian reports that Die Welt and France Soir have both republished the following cartoon:

This apparently caused riots and diplomatic ructions when first published in Denmark last week.

I guess if you're a Muslim then it's offensive - simple answer to that - don't buy the paper and feel smug in the fact that the authors, like me, will be off to hell in due course..

Anyway, I don't think it's nearly as offensive as a cartoon of Jesus getting a blowjob on the cross - I can't draw so I won't be regaling you with one (unless anyone happens to know of one I can reproduce for the purposes of comment?).

UPDATE: I've changed the cartoon to one that's funny, rather than just offensive. I did think about this article after I pushed it (which is unusual) on a basis that if "the sewer" seems to be agreeing with your opinions, then you should reconsider them. Basically, where I differ from the wingnuts is that I think that just as western media be allowed to print cartoons offensive to Islam, mullahs and others have the right to preach in a manner offensive to us - e.g. praising the perpetrators of terrorism. As I posted elsewhere, tolerance shouldn't just extend to the easily tolerable.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Banned in NZ

An issue of Otago's student magazine Critic has been banned by the official censor, for containing an offensive, but clearly satirical, article that allegedly advocates date rape.

I find it somewhat Victorian that NZ even has a position of "official censor". Censorship of text is not usual in a democracy. This BBC article suggests that attempts to censor text died out in the UK during the 1970's, after a number of failed prosecutions (Lady Chatterleys Lover, OZ, Inside Linda Lovelace). In the US, most recent efforts to censor text have fallen foul of the First Amendment.

Personally, I believe that information should only be suppressed if there was a crime involved in its production (child pornography) or that it consists of specific incitement to a crime that is likely to be acted upon.

I saw the article when it came out and it was none of this - it was a piece of satire intended to shock. I can't unfortunately find it cached anywhere. If anyone does know of a copy then pass it on - I know people outside NZ who might mirror the text.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sport and skiving

Apparently NZ primary schoolkids are going to have a compulsory hour's sport each day. That is, I think, around 25% of available teaching time.

I have numerous objections to this:
- Most kids get plenty of exercise without formal sport. The main reason some become obese is excess calorie input, not insufficient exercise.
- School sports just put most of the less athletically inclined kids off exercise. I hated sport. From the end of 5th year to about age 25 I took very little exercise (beyond riding a bike for the year until I got my first motorbike). I went back to exercising when (1) my lifelong struggle with porkiness started and (2) there were things like skiing and mountain biking that I actually *wanted* to do.
- Very few kids will make any sort of living at sport, and they're mostly deluding themselves if they think they can. School is supposed to train children for life - basically sport isn't going to be a necessary part of this. NZ in twenty years time won't have too many good jobs for fit, thick adults.
- PE stresses physical strength and conformity (that's why the military is so keen on it). Violence is a major problem both schools and for society outside- how does emphasising the physical help with that?

Strikes me this is another attempt to appeal to the braindead vote.

Save the bunny!

Today I was looking for evidence that rabbits and cats *can* live together - my partner reckons, probably correctly, that providing Poppy with a "bunny friend" will end in tears (and vet bills).

I came across (on a Californian website) these heartwarming tales of life with a physically challenged rabbit. I wanted to add to them with a story of how, after a long struggle against tail cancer, Flopsy succumbed, but was remembered by as all as we ate a delicious rabbit pie. In searching for rabbit recipes, I found this site:

Basically, unless enough people donate by November, the owners pet rabbit, Toby, is going to be cooked and eaten (using one of the no doubt yummy recipes therein).
Very sad...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sunburn - I nearly drowned!

Here is today's UV forecast for the Auckland area, courtesy of metservice:

For those not here, it's the wettest day for some months. Rick Breeze is showing 30mm of rain already today. I guess the "clear sky" bit means that the UV forecast has no weather input at all - e.g it will be "11 - Extreme" for all summer days no matter what happens with weather, volcanic eruptions or any other sun-attenuating events. Seems a bit pointless - they could just have a block reading:

Summer in New Zealand can often involve sunshine. You can detect this when you go outside and don't get wet. Hanging around in the sun too long can lead to sunburn. Wear sunblock. Or stay inside a movie theatre, underground carpark or shopping mall.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fanzines of the 21st Century

I've been re-reading Tony Parsons The Stories We Could Tell - after all, one of the main characters is a thinly disguised Iggy Pop - who's playing tomorrow at the Big Day Out.

One of the characters writes a left wing fanzine called Red Mist, and reading about this makes me think that blogs are the fanzines (or minority political newspapers) of the 21st century. The difference is, in 1977 you had to *want* to spend 20p on buying Class War. Nowadays, you just have to click a link.

Which means that ideas and attitudes that didn't make the mainstream a few years ago now get wide circulation - to the annoyance of those like Deborah Coddington who expect the nation's reading material to fit inside certain boundaries. Way back when, I'm quite sure that you could find a poorly duplicated A4 mag comparing David Lange to Stalin - now you just need to click over to Sir Humphreys.

Strikes me, if you don't like it, then don't buy it - even if "it" is available free on the web instead of being sold by a lad on a street corner.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Got away with it!

The latest vulnerability in Windows seems to have attracted remarkably little coverage in the media. Surprisingly, given it's the silly season (at least in the southern hemisphere).

For those that missed it, there is a vulnerability that allowed a (fairly) obscure file format to be loaded with arbitrary code that'd run on your computer when you browsed a website or viewed an email. Quite nasty - most recent exploits have required an unusual configuration, or been easily blocked by firewalls - this one wouldn't (unless you run intrusive content security software like WebMarshal).

Perhaps it's that no confirmed exploit turned up before the patch was issued - or maybe kicking MSFT for security holes is just so 2005.

Movie Reviews

From Tim Dunlop (an Australian):
"Don't watch the new King Kong movie. Ever. Not even as a late-night re-run on commercial television in ten years time when you are sitting home one evening with nothing better to do than put lard on the cat's boils. Choose to lard the cat. Really."

From the esteemed Russell Brown:
"...we loved it. I thought it was a tremendous piece of film-making."
"The crowd cheered and applauded"
"Naomi Watts ... was great. The script was spot-on."

Whether to go and see it? One should perhaps factor in the views of Mr Brown in 2004 and indeed Damian Christie way back in '02. To summarise: watching NZ movies is like watching a national sports team - they may put on a piss-poor performance, but it's still a patriotic duty to go and yell for them.

Thus it's hard to tell whether Russell's right, it's a great movie and Tim is just smarting after they lost at League; or Tim's right and Russell is cheerleading like a true patriot.

Maybe I'll get it on DVD - that way I can always watch it at X8 with subtitles (thank you Douglas Coupland for this suggestion on how to deal with overlong movies).