Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Breathtakingly arrogant smugness

The NZ Herald's editorial today regarding the party leaders debates is evidence of a smug arrogance that fair takes one's breath away.

No contest of values unless they are those advanced by Labour and National.

No broad policy being debated unless they belong to Labour and National.

No market of ideas competing on a level playing field for voter support....unless they belong to Labour and Naitonal.

None of that. All anyone else deserves in the Herald's view is arrogant disregard.

The Herald advances the view that elections "have become a two-tier contest", ignoring the reality there is only one tier of voters with each holding a vote equal to all others.

The Herald, once a supporter of MMP under Wilson & Horton's local ownership is now an opponent of MMP under the ownership of the foreign billionaire who clearly wants a right wing government ruling alone in New Zealand and is happy to sacrifice - undermine - our democratic values - and practices - to ensure he gets one. Of course they will claim they are defending these same values while dismissing the 20% to 30% of voters they explicitly have no regard for.

I won't be watching any leaders debates that do not include all the leaders. TV3 should have held their debate with two empty seats for those who refused to attend.

In any case, I won't be watching.

As for the Herald, I think it is now time for them to face genuine competition. They have abused their monopoly long enough. I'm far from alone in being disgusted by their abuse of their monopoly position in New Zealand's largest urban centre.

The Herald, today, disgusts me to a degree I have rarely felt toward anyone or thing. They have bared themselves as an enemy of democracy and debate. We can only treat them as such.

They have earned it today.

Key and the rail shares

If you haven't seen it, watch the two videos about John Key's rail shars (on the right in the "Vids of the Week" column). 

On the face of it, National Party leader John Key's 'lack of clarity' over his direct pecuniary interest in TranzRail would appear to be a bigger issue than the Peter's issue. 

In Peters' case, the money that went to the legal fund for the electoral petition did not go directly to Peters or his party. The issue there is whether or not Peter's solicited the donation and knew about it when it was rendered. 

In Key's case, the money involved was either his directly (50,000 shares?) or that of a trust in which he was a beneficiary (up to 50,000 shares). All while he was actively seeking information as an MP about rail and possible sale. He says he didn't make any "public statements" about rail until his shares were sold. So what? He's already privy to information other shareholders don't have and can't get - a fairly straight forward prima facie case of insider trading and a fairly overt conflict of interest given his activities as an MP looking into the matter. 

Honesty is the core issue here.....and isn't it absolutely fascinating how Winston Peters' honesty about money that wasn't his has been front page news for months while Mr. Key's apparent lack of candor about his own money in relation to his activities as an MP has been glossed over in those daily newspapers that desperately want a National Party government.  

In that context, the NZ Herald and others haven't got a leg to stand on where integrity is concerned. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

NZ third in the world in "economic freedom"

Contrary to the apparently unfounded assertions made by the National party and echoed their media backers at Fairfax and APN, the Canada-based Fraser Institute has (again) judged New Zealand to be the third most economically free country, after Hong Kong and Singapore.

This would appear to yet another example of reality contradicting the propaganda of the Right in NZ.

A separate debate is whether or not every aspect of individual economic freedom is a positive thing for everyone. Enabling the rape of the commons might be freedom, but it won't be good in the end.  Society at large should have some understanding of the difference between knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. At the very least, it is a debate worth having.

The full report can be read here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I found myself at the Borders book store in Albany Mall this afternoon. I wandered around the place looking, in vain, for books that dealt with current affairs. The closest I came were autobiographies by the Mad Butcher and Suzanne Paul. Like Whitcoulls at Glenfield Mall, there appeared to be something missing.

To be sure, there are thousands of books there. The place was chocker with novels of all types: murder mysteries, sci-fi / fantasy, thrillers and "literature". There were picture books, cook books and self-help books. Biographies of minor celebrities abound. You could buy funny cards, CDs and DVDs, too.

But if you wanted any idea of what is going on in the real world, you'd be sadly out of luck.

Borders at Albany Mall doesn't appear to do reality.

They aren't the only book store, but all the others I have seen on the North Shore are similarly devoid of public affairs / current affairs books. Having grown used to Wellington book stores that had all the latest such books, this aspect of life in Auckland is an unhappy one. But it does provide some insight into why so many people I meet here appear to know very little about the background to the major events and forces of recent years that are shaping (and re-shaping) the world around them.

Media bias: The Herald's at it again

The Weekend Herald includes a large article by Simon Collins "Swinging to the Right". The article as a whole amounts to little more than a multi-page campaign leaflet for the National Party.

The vast majority of photo / quotes (15 of 20, or 75%) support National, despite a majority - 56.5% - of those who responded to the informal polls not being supporters of that party. Roughly a quarter of the text in the article recounts the views and thoughts of just one person polled: Shane Wairau of Queenstown.

The 600-person informal poll conducted by Collins produced an overall outcome of 43.5% for National, 35% for Labour, 8.% for the Greens, 5% for the Maori Party. This is easily the worst poll result for National in recent months.

The Herald attempts to explain this away by saying: "Collins' one-man poll was biased towards the poor and the young, who are more likely to be in the streets than older, better-off people." Surely that would depend on the street? Could it not also be true that polls of people who are not in the street are also biased?

The opinions voiced leave you scratching your head. A tour driver from Kaitaia will vote National because the company who took over the business he works for reduced their wages as fuel prices rose. What this person expected the National Party to do about that wasn't clear.Perhaps he should ask John Key.

Others cited people leaving New Zealand for higher wages in Australia as a reason to vote for National. "Everything is going up. No one is getting any wage increases", says an Onehunga mechanic. Exactly how he expects the National Party to fight for higher wages for mechanics isn't clear.

Despite falling crime rates over recent years, many polled saw crime as a big issue. Their response is to demand higher sentences, despite all the evidence this changes nothing. The country with some of the highest sentences - the US - also has one of the worst records where crime is concerned.

What comes through most clearly to me is what I can only describe as the appalling ignorance of most of those quoted. They clearly believe things that simply aren't true. Or they are relying on anecdotal evidence completely unconnected to the big picture.

The Herald has taken these prejudices, preconceptions and misapprehensions and distilled them down into a 'swing to the right' that its own poll doesn't support. That 43.5% is more or less the same share of the vote National has had for most of the past 50 years. A clear majority do not support the right.

What the Herald poll story tells me above all is that the foreign billionaire who owns APN and the Herlad, wants a National-lead government. preferably a one-party government so they can get rid of MMP.

"Swinging to the Right" is more a documentary of the Herald's bias than any polling bias.

(I should say I have a lot of time for Simon Collins, having followed his work over the years and I am mindful of his history in the Parliamentary press gallery in the late 80's and early 90s. This article isn't typical of his work, as far as I can recall. I wonder how much it was edited. )

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Latest spam more desperate than usual

From: Minister of the Treasury Paulson


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funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund
account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to
wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission
for this transaction. After I receive that information, I may or may not
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to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully
Minister of Treasury Paulson

Friday, September 26, 2008

US: Politicking on the edge, while banks fall over

Despite early appearances there might be an agreement on the US financial crisis, it now appears party political considerations have taken over and any deal is now in tatters.

Democrats had insisted the interests of taxpayers, who will be funding the bailout, be given priority. This included equity stakes in banks who got the billions and a share of any profits that flowed from the bailout over time.

US House Republicans turned up at a White House meeting convened by President Bush and announced they could not support such a bailout. Objecting to the government having any equity role in the banks, instead they want taxpayers to underwrite an insurance guarantee without taking any equity in the banks being bailed out.

Democrats, who were ready to support a bailout, reportedly felt betrayed and it went downhill from there, to the point were US Treasury boss, Henry Paulson, went down on one knee imploring Democrat House Majority leader, Nancy Pelosi, to not "blow it up". She responded that it wasn't Democrats who had blown it up and Paulson resportedly agreed.

Finger-pointing ensued, including - tellingly - the Republicans accusing the Democrats of trying to rush through a bailout agreement before Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain, could get to Washington and participate in the forming of any agreement.

Hang on a minute.

Is the bailout urgent or not? Why is making John McCain look good suddenly the overriding aspect of any deal to be brokered? Accusing the Democrats of moving too quickly to effect the bailout seems like a VERY odd way to respond to a financial crisis.

The Republicans have no problems with taxpayers funding the bailout, they just don't want taxpayers to benefit by it - apparently on ideological grounds.

Apparently private property is sacrosanct to Republicans unless it's money that belongs to taxpayers. The markets can crash in a heap before they will let taxpayers see value for money.

Meanwhile, today saw the largest bank failure in US history. Washington Mutual, worth over US$309 billion, was taken over by the US government, wiping out shareholder equity and many bond holders. Alongside the big picture, this historic event barely rated a sidebar.

CBT Election forum on public transport

A day late, but better than never. The Campaign for Better Transport's forum on public transport was well attended with over 200 people turning up. The last dozen people had to stand when they arived.

Among the panelists were: Judith Tizard for Labour, Maurice Williamson for National, Keith Locke for the Greens, Rodney Hide for ACT, as well as Elliott Blade from RAM and Aaron Galey-Young from United Future. 

Christine Rose from the Auckland Regional Council was also on the panel. She kicked off the speeches, reciting a lot of very good things that have been happenig recently on the public transport front.

The good news was that every one of them agreed that public transport needed improvement. Almost all backed rail strongly, though National's Maurice Williamson preferred buses to trains for people moving. He argued they are cheaper and more flexible and he would be right about that up to a point. In my own experience, the big drawback wth buses is the need for a driver for each 50-70 people, whereas a train can move many hundreds of people with one driver and perhaps a guard to make sure no one gets stuck in a door. Trains are even more efficient when you stop collecting fares on board and take care of ticketing before people even get to the platform.

Williamson also argued trains were expensive to build and maintain and capital intensive and - again - he is correct up to a point......that point being when masses of buses simply can't scale to match demand. Buses also tend to share roads with other vehicles, further reducing their efficiency and reliability (for scheduling) overall.

The surprise of the evening for me was Rodney Hide's more or less bullish attitude toward public transport. It's not often the "Me first!" party supports the public good. There was one funny moment when the huge cross on the wall above the panel lit up while Hide was making a point. I'm sure he was mystified as to why people suddenly started laughing when he was making a serious (and worthwhile) point about integrated ticketing. Hide made it clear he isn't religious about any particular mode of transport and would be pragmatic in support of what was the best overall balance. But he did support more and better trains.

Judith Tizard put the public transport debate into context and gave a brief run-down on her 35 year history of involvement with the issue in Auckland. My memory may be faulty,  but it seemed to me she laid much of the blame for a generation of inaction on public transport at the feet of the National party's local  proxies, the Citizens and Ratepayers grouping.  She also made it clear that she wasn't a fan of privaisation of public transport by National, saying she thought the old Yellow Bus Company did a good job.

Keith Locke outlined the Greens' public transport policy and arguably received the largest round of applause during the evening. Williamson was hissed at most and loudest, by a few, though all speakers received significant applause, though more polite than enthusiastic for the speakers seen as being most car-friendly.

It was a great meeting, followed by a lively question and answer session with the usual mix of thoughtful questions and quesions that left you thinking "WTF!?" from one or two who clearly ned o hear the sound of their own voice.

I'm sure the CBT raised a few hundred dollars from the event and it won't go amiss in supporting future events and activities. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Election '08: Public Transport Meeting

Tonight I'll be attending the Campaign for Better Tranport's "Election '08: Public Transport Meeting".

The details:

With Auckland's public transport straining to cope with patronage, come and find out what this year's general election candidates have to say.

Speakers include:

  • Judith Tizard - Labour
  • Maurice Williamson - National
  • Keith Locke - Green Party
  • Rodney Hide - ACT
  • Aaron Galey-Young - United Future

Auckland Regional Councillor Christine Rose will also highlight the challenges facing the Auckland public transport network.

Candidates will be allocated speaking slots of eight minutes each, to allow time for questions and answers from the floor.

  • When: Wednesday 24th September, 7:30pm start
  • Where: Methodist Church, 360 Queen Street, opp. Auckland Town Hall

Look to the East

The financial crises hollowing out many major banks in the West is revealing more signs of China's growing influence and wealth.

In March 2006, China eclipsed Japan as the largest holder of foreign reserves of currencies of all kinds - more than U$8.5 trillion.

In June of 2008 China's reserves of US dollars passed the US$1.8 trillion mark.

Last week, in the wake of the Lehman Brothers investment bank failure, the government-owned Chinese Investment Corporation (CIC) was being touted around as a possible saviour should Wall St top dog, Morgan Stanley, run into trouble. The CIC already owns 8.8% of Morgan Stanley.

Whether they buy Morgan Stanley or any other bank hardly matters. What does matter is that when no US organisation other than the government had the resources to step in, it was to China (and Japan) they turned for cash.

That is as clear an indicator yet that the baton of global power and wealth has already shifted to the Far East. There is no way a United States mortgaged to China (and others) and dependent on its manufacturing can be anything other than polite to the country (China) that now makes its things and funds its lifestyle.

It now remains only for perceptions to catch up with that reality.

Though still the world's largest economy, the United States won't be number one for much longer. It's decline has been rapidly advanced by the very policies that were supposed to see the opposite occur.

Life is like that sometimes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The crony capitalist achilles heel

Oops.....Not a good time to be praising deregulation of financial markets, Mr. McCain.

If the public begin to understand the link between the National Party's policies and their derivation from similar policies (less regulation, less "red tape") that contributed to the financial market meltdown in the US (and spreading)....It might not be a good time to be talking about PPPs and handing public services to private businesses (your Rotary mates).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Socialising the losses

Anyone remember the chaos in Argentina a few years back? That country followed the "strong medicine" of the IMF and others and went though economic hell for a couple of years until the people revolted and (peacefully) changed the government.

When the shoe is on the other foot, and the rich countries who formerly gave out that advice are on the receiving end of some richly deserved, well-earned financial chaos, apparently there is no limit to the amount of money that can be spent on behalf of their respective nations to buy their way out of the problem.

The taxpayers of these nations will now be required to pay many times over for the losses others incurred. Nationalising the debt-eaten corpse of a former market high-flyer is small consolation for the people who will have to stump up the US$ 1 trillion (plus) estimated to buy out all that bad debt. 

Of course the alternative would have been worse: Companies crashing as the streams of falling dominoes headed off in all directions; millions out of work; banks falling over by the dozen. Not a god look to destroy wealth on that scale just as the baby boomers begin to retire. Bad enough the present situations has already shrunk their pension funds just as millions upon millions will looking to begin to draw on them in retirement.

My own super fund is now worth barely two thrids of what it was worth 2 years ago.  I would have been far better off to put the cash in a box under the bed. The advisers say it will be ok in the longer term. But for someone (not me) who is 65 today or in the next few years at least, that isn't going to help much at all.  It looks like those who took the advice to save for their retirement have been made fools of.

Someone got fat eating my money.....and now tax payers in many countries will have to pay for these losses twice over: through taxes on what they earn and again through reduced incomes. Both as a consequence of actions taken by others who clearly screwed up on a monstrous scale.

All the evidence I've seen indicates free markets are REALLY a place where the consequences of corruption and incompetence can be maximised.

From poisoned milk to collapsed buildings to global property bubbles, too much market freedom for people who think only of money is more obviously than ever a bad thing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Political leanings nature rather than nurture

I'm old enough now to know the facts often don't amount to much when presented in a context involving firmly held misconceptions or prejudices. The idea that political views are rationally developed is hopeful at best.

In "The laws of nature: How to spot a conservative" Telegraph science editor, Roger Highfield, reports science has found that people who are more easily shocked or disturbed by loud noises or shocking images tend to be conservatives when their political stances on a variety if issues are examined.

Conversely, people more able to take these things in their stride tend to be of a liberal persuasion.

The research indicates that people at either end of the political spectrum may well perceive the world around them in differing ways, perhaps leading them to different conclusions as a response.

It's obvious when you think about it....watching others respond to things you also see, but in very different ways. You may not understand why they are so excited, or not excited, contrasting that with your own response. It appears there may be a genuine physiological difference operating.

It may then be temping for each to then refer to the other as a form of dysfunction.

Some will fight for freedom and civil liberties while others will give up anything for what they think will bring them security. Both groups will likely think the other has their head firmly stuck where the Sun never shines.

Subprime Primer

(h/t to Russell Brown at Public Address)

To see the presso, click here

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Buses: NZ Herald falls off right end of the Earth

Whoever wrote the editorial ("Back off on the buses") in Monday's Herald is almost certainly not a user of Auckland region public transport. If they do use it, they must be among the lucky few who enjoy the door-to-door services randomly possible from any single provider, but most definitely not two.

The long walks - in any weather - from your starting point to the bus stop, then between carriers, and then again to your final destination can easily amount to 2 kms all up and that's only ONE way. The lack of integrated ticketing. The lack of integration between trains and buses because the latter see themselves as competing with rail. The lack of any weekend services or off-peak services across huge parts of the city, make it even worse.

This is not what any sane person describes as a good service. It isn't even an adequate service for huge parts of the Auckland region. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver (Van is comparable to Auckland in size) have excellent public transport and they do not operate a disparate set of fragmented, privately-owned systems.

Can anyone provide me with an example of a region-wide, integrated publc transport system in a large city that can be described as excellent? To be fair, it must also lack any real central authority or effective oversight. The only excellent systems I have ever used have ALL been operated by a single public provider. I've used public transport in a lot of cities and Auckland has a long way to go before it can be described as excellent. 

It seems the the Herald obtusely clings to market theory now LONG proven to be nonsense in public transport reality. Markets definitely work well for some things, but it is increasingly obvious that infrastructure of almost any sort isn't one of them.

ARTA (Auckland Regional Transport Authority) was set up by the "Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004". It's about to be given the powers an equivalent organisation SHOULD have had right from when the public transport system was privatised (which shouldn't have happened anyway) by the National Party and it's local proxies.

Public transport is like the circulatory system in a human body. You need a heart to drive the "blood" around and an integrated set of paths to and from, servicing all areas. You can't leave every organ to fend for itself and the blood to decide which organ it will use.....if there happens to be one nearby. It's absolute raving nonsense to think it would work well and it hasn't.

That the Herald STILL can't see how poor and dysfunctional this system is says a a great deal about their (in)ability to perceive things as they are. Bearing that perceptual impairment in mind, the Herald's views on a whole range of topcs cannot be credible where the market theory they hold to conflicts with the reality of dismal failure in actual practice.

Its looks like if there is a big advertiser with a vested interest to defend, the Herald will defend it.

Not clever in the long run. Especially for a monopoly. Distrust will one day see them lose that monopoly.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Meltdown Monday" on financial markets

Giant US investment bank, Lehman Brothers, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy under US law after the US Treasury refused to bail it out and no buyers came forward to provide additional capital.

At the same time, fellow giant investment bank, Merrill Lynch, has been bought by the Bank of America, itself a very large investment bank.

Events are moving rapidly and the details are changing by the hour as financial markets scramble to deal with the fallout. Suffice to say, there is going to be a lot of turmoil in the weeks and months ahead as other institutions caught short by the failure of Lehman Brothers find themselves tottering on the edge of the abyss.

I don't profess to be an expert in these matters, but it has been apparent for some time losses from the sub-prime market collapse and the string of dominoes that set tumbling over have been aggregating toward the remaining centres of financial strength. Lehman was one of them and Merill Lynch another, but both have been overwhelmed.

The US Federal Reserve, the US's privately-run, heavily regulated collection of central banks,  has moved to over funds for equity to firms who need cash. In effect, they are a buyer of last resort for financial firms who would otherwise fall over for lack of capital from any other source.

We live in interesting times....and with elections in New Zealand, Canada and the US only weeks away, the calculations will be furiously worked and re-worked in the days and weeks ahead.

How interest rates can avoid going up is hard to see. With risk now arguably greater than for a very long time,  reducing interest rates would look like walking naked in a blizzard.

NZ's glaciers: Going.....going......

Scientists at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NWA), are reporting NZ's glaciers are at their lowest ebb since records began and shrinking rapidly.

When they disappear....and "when" appears to be the right word....that will have interesting implications for the local climates in the area, water supplies and may affect hydro power generation.

Looks like we will get to find out the hard way. Hope all the climate change deniers enjoy the money they "saved" while we still had reliable power and water.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sarah Palin: She's a light weight

The idea that Sarah Palin could one day soon be a heartbeat away from being President of the United States is a sobering thought. The US Republican Party Vice-presidential candidate is way out of her depth. That she was chosen at all indicates to me that more credible people were not willing to go down in a hail of electoral bullets with John McCain in the November election.

If McCain were in serious contention for the job, you would think that more serious and credible people would have been chosen. Ok, McCain did the choosing and if Sarah Palin is evidence of the quality of his powers of judgment, then McCain himself is not up to the job he's campaigning for. But then we already know that as he thought invading Iraq was a good idea....and says he still does. Whether he really thinks that or not hardly matters. His judgment is trash either way.

I withheld judgment until I had seen enough of her own words to get a feel for what she knows and who she might be in office. This week, I've seen enough to know that she isn't up to the job.

Her own words make that more than clear. Even stitched together and out of context.

...and on climate change....

Ogg Vorbis player for $29 from DSE

DSE 1GB Flash Drive - $29

I bought one of these flash-ram based "mp3" players today on a whim to find out if they support the open, patent-free, Ogg Vorbis sound / music format as well as the advertised MP3 and WMA formats.

To test it, I downloaded an interview Kim Hill did this morning with a Brasilian economist and copied it to my new device. Radio NZ's "Saturday Morning" program makes itself available as downloadable *.ogg files.

The *.ogg file played just fine. No problem.

The file name as rendered by the download was rather long, so I renamed it to a much shorter name prior to even attempting to play it. This was a precaution on my part. I did not test the full file name. One minor restriction is that the player limits itself to no more than 99 files in each folder if you want to able to hear the music / sound files.

The sound quality rendered by the player is actually pretty good considering how cheap it is. I think a $29 Ogg Vorbis player is a cool thing.

November 8th NZ election

I'm looking forward to voting on November 8th. It will be for the Greens.

I can't vote for Labour, for reasons given below.

I can't vote for National because they want to take away from hundreds of thousands of Kiwis the vote that actually counts. The vote that MMP gave them and that they never had under First Past the Post, no matter who they voted for.

I can't vote for NZ First because it's lead by Winston Peters, whom I've respected as a survivor, but never felt he spoke for me.

I can't vote for ACT because to me, they represent all that is selfish and retrograde in human behaviour.

I can't vote for United Future because they lack the wider vision it takes to chart the course for a nation.

I can't vote for the Maori Party, though I have a lot of respect for them, because the Green Party promote the same things and much more besides. There is much in Maori culture that we would do well to learn from, and the Green Party has taken that lesson on board. As Derek Fox said on Radio NZ tonight, the top 10 NZ companies of 20 years ago no longer even exist, while the top 10 Maori companies of 20 years ago are still there and still generating wealth and overseeing resources.  Sustainability is the underlying theme for both parties in many ways.

I can't vote for Jim Anderton's Progressives because, though Jim is worthy in many ways, he is a failed leader in much the same way Winston Peters is a failed leader. They alienate others by not sharing the vision.

The Green Party best encompasses my own values, particularly their strong commitent to democracy, internally and externally and their pragmatic approach to  problems of all kinds. Despite the propaganda from some quarters to the contrary, Greens are essentially unbound by any ideology other than working to ensure we build a sustainable world system for all who come after us. Greens understand we are, together, stronger and more whole than we are separately. That community can exist alongside individuality and that joint stewardship is just as important as individual property. 

No other party makes the planet we all share and rely entirely the centre of their view of the world. To NOT behave this way is madness in the long run. No other party seems to grasp how long the long run really is.  Labour comes close at times, but has opted to compromise in the short to medium term, rather than face the debate that we all need to have about where New Zealand is headed. The consequences of that failure to make and win the arguments is all around us.  

It doesn't help genine debate that the daily newpapers in New Zealand, with their monopolies in each major town and city, are almost exclusively owned by foreign interests who do not share Kiwi values. There is much "dog whistling" and misdirection (Tony Veitch, Winston Peters, Millie Elder...and on and on....) and the big issues get short shrift.  

I'll be looking for 10% or more for the Greens. 

Canadian petrol price up 13 cents / litre amid election campaign

"Supply fears" related to Hurricane Ike are being claimed as the reason for a huge 13 cent / litre petrol price rise in Canada yesterday.  That would be close to 20 cents NZ at current exchange rates. Canada has other issues that make for a fairly uncompetitive market, but even taking that into consideration, this was a BIG jump. 

The petrol price increase is against the backdrop of Canada's minority Conservative government, lead by PM Stephen Harper, having decided to call an October 14th general election for the federal Parliament in Ottawa. 

The polls are telling a fascinating story. The Conservatives are "way out in front" (according to the right-wing "Sun Media" news chain)........on barely 38%.  The Opposition Liberals are on 28% and four more parties are on 8% or better. 

Canadian voters on the Centre-left account  for over 55% of the vote, but it is split three ways between the Liberals, NDP and the Greens. Even  the populist Bloc Quebecois, based soley in French-speaking Quebec, is arguably a centre-left party. Their 8% takes the total to 63%, compared to the Conservative's 37%. But the Conservatives are the largest single bloc of votes and Canada still uses the First Past the Post voting system. So what 63% of Canadians think may not amount ot much depending one whether or not the Consevatives win a majority of the 318 seats. The past two elections have delivered minority governments, first for the Liberals, then for the Conservatives. 

Clearly Canadians are significantly fragmented on who should govern and the winner of this election will have a hard time claiming they have a mandate to do anything if more than 60% of voters didn't vote for them. But that's First Past the Post for you. Britain's current Labour government "won" with only 35% of the vote just under 4 years ago.  

It will be interesing to see if the petrol price rise features in their election as an issue and whether or not there is any effect on prices here, this far from the hurricane zone. 

Canada's Conservatives are firmly in the denialist camp where climate change is concerned, having done essentially nothing about implementing Kyoto while echoing the "wisdom" of George W Bush on climate change. It's an issue that could cut their legs off. Public opinion in Canada is firmly of the view that something must be done. The conservative media in Canada are doing the same thing there as they are here, highlighting the cost of reducing emissions without making much, if any, mention of what the cost of doing nothing might be. 

Living in a land on the knife's edge between frozen in winter and fried in summer, Canadians are well aware of how their climate is changing. The Canadian version of the reality denying global Conservative model won't easily be able to turn back that tide.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Walking to work.....

I walked to work this morning. Google Maps indicated the best foot-route was 9.7kms from my place to Albany. That's 1km shorter than by car because feet can go where cars can't. 

When I set off, it was sunny and looked benign enough. About 10 minutes later a big grey thing crawled over the hill to the north of me and rained heavily. No problem. I've learned not to trust
 Auckland sunshine any further than I can throw an elephant wearing a necklace of grand pianos. I had an umbrella.  

A few minutes later, another grey thing swept over me. And another. And another.......and so on. The wind came along for the ride - big time - as I crossed the Northern Motorway on the bridge at Sunset Road and walked down past the Constellation busway station through the Park & Ride. 

Walking up Apollo Road, the sun came out but the wind was coming from all directions as it made its way through the various grey boxes in the Apollo business park. 

Heading down Triton Road, the wind blew my hat off and a car drove over it. No problem. The hat was already wet anyway. The weather at the Albany end of my walk felt very much like a stroll through Tawa or Newlands  in the Wellington area. Great open hill faces full of fresh, new aluminium and glass buildings and few trees, surrounded by mushy wet lawns that left mud clinging to one's shoes when you stepped out of the grass.  

It was a great walk - especially stomping up steep Easton Park to Manuka Road. Bearing the weather in  mind I felt slightly heroic for making the effort. Of course having left the car at home, I had to walk home as well. The air was cooler, but it didn't rain on the return leg.  

I think I'll do it again tomorrow. 

Windows Vista Selfishness

I was typing up a blog post when suddenly the web browser disappeared and the system shut itself down and re-booted....and installed some updates.

Despite autosave being on, I somehow lost the blog post.


Thanks, Vista.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is the Peters thing over yet?

I know it's important when politicians are caught out being careless about the truth...but the time for this episode has been terrible. With an election only weeks away, this distracion from many much more important things has gone on more than long enough. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Your Views" in the Herald: Walk cycle on the Harbour Bridge

The NZ Herald online has a "your views" link most days asking for the public's views on a variety of topics. Today one of them is about the demand for a bicycle / walkway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The comments on these "Your views" pages - on any topic - often say more about the person making them than about the topic. Some of those who are in favour of (whatever) are outraged they don't already have it. Some of those who don't care or don't want (whatever) dismiss it as "PC madness". Hyperbole rulez KO.

But today, my favourite comment was this one:

David Thornton (Birkenhead)
Maybe the Auckland City Council could work the word 'rugby' into one of the proposed cycle lane options. There will be no cost problems then.

In a few words David Thornton sliced through the BS and said it like it is.

Well said, David.

My own view is that the lack of bicycle / pedestrian access across the bridge is a design flaw and has been from the very inception of the project in the 1950s. It needs to be rectified. I might not ride a bicycle across the bridge, but I would certainly walk it on a sunny weekend or during my holidays. As a tourist attraction it would rank highly. Whoever left the walkway off the plan made a mistake. Perhaps it could be built under the main roadway, thus providing shelter for walkers and cyclists from rain at least, if not wind.

Back to the comments. Someone describing themselves as "Genuine Kiwi" shows a disregard for the view of others that appears to be a feature of too many "Genuine" Kiwis....and GK didn't forget to mention "PC madness" either.

Genuine Kiwi (Auckland)
"I agree whole heartedly with Dave Newick, why add a walkway for a minority group, Cyclists can take their bikes on the ferry to and from the shore. The bridge is under enough stress as it is with the volume of traffic, i.e. trucks, buses, and general increase in cars, why add to it, the few cyclists and walkers won't wont to just take a portion of the already narrow lanes, they will want a protective cage and everything else that goes with it adding more weight to what is a vital link for those on the shore. I am one of the lucky ones I got to walk across the bridge the day it officially opened in 1959, yes thats right before all the PC madness hit."

"...all the PC madness". Lovely.....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

US: Largest mortgage lenders to be nationalised

The housing slump in the United States appears to have brought down even the largest of the large lenders.

A US Government takeover of mortgage-lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, appears to be imminent. Between them, they account for 70% of all new mortgages in the United States. They hold over US$5 trillion in mortgage loans.

Shareholder equity will be effectively wiped out by the move to impose a government conservatorship on the two mortgage giants. The size of any liability assumed by US taxpayers isn't known, but will be many billions of dollars.

This is huge. What it means for the US economy is hard to say. I wonder how many - if any - pension funds lost huge money as the share values of the two biggies lost over 80% of their value in recent months?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Animal Intelligence

I've had animals around me almost all my life in one form or another. Over the years I've learned they are much more intelligent than most people give them credit for. They understand things. They solve problems and devise solutions that meet their needs. One of my dogs understands people better than most people understand people. While he can't talk or count or make a paper airplane, he does understand very well the people and things that matter to him...and how to get what he wants.

A few years ago, we noticed our pony, Meg, standing and staring at the fence palings in her paddock. She would move to a new location and stare at another fence paling. This went on for several days until one night, around 2am, we got a call from a neighbour saying Meg was in his garden, eating his flowers. She had identified a fence paling with a knot in the centre and kicked it out, allowing her to jump through. When Meg was standing staring at anything, we learned to pay attention as she was thinking very hard about whatever it was....usually with aim of obtaining food or freedom to obtain food.

One of my cats, Lula, has demonstrated she can methodically solve problems. The video below documents how she went about it on one occasion, solving the 'Mystery of the Moving Curtain'.

She has now applied her problem-solving abilities to a new project: toiletries. For several months she was occasionally sleeping in the bathroom and apparently had been quietly observing the behaviour of the people who use it. She appears to have arrived at some sort of conclusion as to how to best perform her ablutions, as this photo shows.

The example shown here is - thankfully - the tail end of a roll. Lula's efforts to attain toilet perfection have on several occasions seen entire rolls of paper unravelled into her litter dish

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Google Chrome for Linux

If you're looking for a challenge, you can build the latest pre-release versions of Google's Chrome browser yourself. The best platform to do this on is Ubuntu 8.04 as that is the Linux distro that Google are using for development. It's an open source project, so they are making their source code available as they go along.

You can find the details here.

A closer race than expected - by some

Interesting to see the electoral race tighten up (NZ Herald) as the weeks pass. Here is a wee pie chart, using a "gadget", published via a very simple Google Docs spreadsheet. Try clicking on the labels and see what happens to the pie. :-)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google "Chrome"

I installed Google Chrome today and I have to say I like it. I'm using it right now. I find it fast and - so far - reliable. Idiot / Savant at No Right Turn likes it too, but for the lack of ad blockers. A show-stopped for him, but I've never bothered with ad blockers as I most often don't read the ads anyway...though do occasionally see one that is genuinely interesting.

I like the address space also being the search space. You can either enter the name of the web site or the words you want to search on. Nice.

Each tab being a separate process really appeals to me. That is what multitasking is all about. We'll just to see if it scales well when you have a lot of active pages open. How much do the ones in the background get? Enough? What effect will they have on a resource hungry task on the primary page....or does it pre-empt all others?

It uses almost all the screen for what you want to see. Unlike MS IE and - to a lesser extent - Firefox, you don't loose a quarter of the screen to toolbars of various sorts and dubious utility.

The only niggle I have about Chrome so far is that I can't remove the web site I went to by mistake (a type - "herlad" instead of "herald") from my "most viewed" sites on the front page without wiping the history for at least the whole day if not all the history. Maybe I can...but I haven't worked it yet. I did manage to get of it by wiping out all the history. Wiping each of the last 6 days (imported from Firefox) didn't do it.

Bottom line, though.....is that I like Chrome. I like it a lot. It feels good. Now I just have to wait for the Linux version.


Prudent security or police state in action?

Canada's "Dr. Dawg" blog reports on the heavy-handed actions of police in St. Paul, Minnesota in advance of this week's Republican National Convention in that city. Alleged abuses of police powers include illegal raids, arrests and detention of anti-war protest leaders on trumped-up charges. An apparent attempt to disrupt plans by anti-war activists to protest at the Convention.

The police tactics used are the sort of thing repressive regimes get up to and which the US has strongly criticised in the past.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Razor strife

I shave most days. My face feels better when I have shaved. I used to have a Schick "handle" and bought the Ultra Plus refills for it. You could get 5 blades for about $8 and that lasted me a good while. Maybe 10 shaves / blade and shave 2 days out of 3....so maybe 6 weeks or so.

But then the price of the blades went to something like $13 and that seemed a bit high, so I bought the plastic bags of throw-aways with the same configuration as the Ultra Plus (two blades plus goo-strip). They were $4-$5 / bag for 10 razors and lasted about the same as the ones I had used before, so represented better value than I'd seen for quite a while.

But after a couple of years, their quality has fallen away hugely and I found myself recently carving my face up most shaves......and the results weren't happy. Red Dawn.

Now, it appears the disposable range have all moved up-market and they want $12 for 3 razors. Too much. But today, for the more usual "handle", you'd pay $30 for the handle - cheap molded plastic thing that likely costs 20 cents to make (if that). The re-fills are anywhere from $18 to $24 for 4 or 5 blades (now 4 blades and a goo-strip).

Sorry....I ain't paying that kind of money for shaving.

I've now got a Philips electric razor ("Smart Touch XL") that should last several years and the heads are good for 2 years. I don't need to buy shaving for it either and I had been paying anywhere up to $8.50 for the Nivea shaving gel that is arguably the best on the market, but it lasts a long time. A couple of cans would last me a year.

Schick and Gillette have priced themselves off my market.....and Philips is my new friend. Plus it looks cool.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Weather events and politics

The US Republican Party has its pre-election leadership convention this week in St. Paul, Minnesota, where John McCain will be anointed as their candidate for President.

At the same time, Hurricane Gustav appears to be closing in for a direct hit on New Orleans. The city is being evacuated and a dawn to dusk curfew kicks in at 6pm US-CDT there.

Gustav has been downgraded to a category 3 hurricane. But it is still a very powerful storm and could prove to be an embarrassing reminder for the Republican Party and voters of what happened (and didn't happen) in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina landed there in 2005. Katrina, despite timely warnings from weather watchers, caused over a thousand deaths and ruined large parts of the city, some of which remain uninhabited today.

Katrina highlighted how unprepared almost every major agency was for the storm and provided insight into the extent to which critical jobs had been given to unqualified people as crony sinecures by the Republican administration responsible for federal disaster preparedness.

At the same time, comes the news that the NorthWest Passage across the top of North America is now open in both directions (h/t to No Right Turn)for what is thought to be the first time in 125,000 years. Scientists are warning that the Arctic ice cap is entering a "death spiral".

Again, the Republican Party in the US has actively denied there is a problem and spared no effort to frustrate any global attempts to address it. As that country is reportedly the largest single source of CO2, that matters.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, we are moving ahead with a modified ETS. Whether it is enough and soon enough is another matter, but at least we are moving on this issue.

It will be interesting to see how the weather will affect the politics, here and in the US, in the months ahead.