Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Damn stupid time

There's a curious need to believe that your countrymen must have invented every important thing. It's particularly strong among imperial powers. The British emphasis on their own achievements has waned noticeably, as the British empire fades into history; but America and China are both insistent and singleminded in teaching their children that their country did everydamnthing.

Take submarines, for instance. The first working submarine was built by a Dutchman living in England; the first one to be of any practical use in war was invented by an American living in France. Dutch, British, American and French schoolkids each hear about whichever invention fosters their national pride. Later in life, adults who like to think of themselves as well-rounded Renaissance Europeans point to the fanciful drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, who is sometimes claimed to have invented practically everything - despite never having built any of it. Then, inevitably, some idiot Chinese historian pops up and announces that China was developing them in the 13th century.

Or electricity. Every American schoolchild learns that Ben Franklin invented electricity by flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Britons may hear that story in passing, but it's not nearly as important as the contributions of William Gilbert (who invented the word, roundabout 1600), or Michael Faraday. Danes learn the name of Ørsted, Germans of Siemens, French of Ampere, Italians Volta, and practically everyone claims Tesla for their own.

And so I wasn't surprised to find an American website claiming, in all apparent seriousness, that Ben Franklin invented the idea of daylight savings time.

But I acquit Franklin. He thought he was joking. The fact that some people took him seriously says more about his ponderous sense of humour than any active ill-will on his part.

I am ashamed to say that this particular invention can be more convincingly laid at the door of a New Zealander. George Vernon Hudson was an entomologist, who wanted more time after his shift to go bug-hunting.

Independently, a few years later, an Englishman strolling through the streets of Croydon one summer morning was appalled at how everyone was still in bed. With the unfailing paternalistic instinct of the Victorian do-gooder, he devoted the rest of his life to campaigning to force everyone else out of their beds to enjoy the morning quiet.

It took the Great War to make people listen to him.

Of course "total war" justifies a lot of things. In terms of the impositions made at such a time, setting one's clock forward an hour seems pretty mild. But ninety years later, we still have this idiotic institution. Every year at this time, an hour gets stolen from our lives, to be returned in autumn when we will least appreciate it.

And that's why Susan is now getting up in the dark (again) and walking around like a zombie all day; that's why I'm trying to force myself to go to bed while my body is still screaming that it's wide awake.

It's not really Hudson's fault, or Willett's. They lived in a very different world from ours - a world of mass employment in factories, shift working, and where artificial lighting was an expensive luxury.

Today? We have no-one to blame but our own politicians - the same people whose idea of an early start is getting out of bed before 9 a.m.

Why, oh why, can't we just forget the whole thing?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


A bunch of Kiwi politicians are pushing to turn the country into a republic.

It's not the first time the subject has come up. It's a good old standby for politicians who want to increase their own TV face-time, or who think that the current direction of news coverage isn't going well for them. The real risk is that one day, they'll succeed...

It's one of those issues - like Quebeçoise independence in Canada, or Scottish independence in the UK, or any given EU treaty - where one side just won't take "Fsck off and die, you timewasting gits" for an answer. No matter how many times it's rejected, there's nothing to stop the next generation of hacks from raising it all over again, just as soon as a reasonable number of people have forgotten about the last time.

To me the drawbacks are obvious. The queen may not be a New Zealander, but the Treaty of Waitangi was a treaty between Maori peoples and the crown. If the crown no longer has a role in New Zealand, then those 500-odd Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty, as an agreement between sovereign rulers, may or may not consider that the agreement is transferrable - we'd need to hear from the legitimate heirs, if any, of each and every one of them to be sure. So although the republican movement's website claims that "Creating a republic does not require any change to the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's flag or Commonwealth membership" - these being the three untouchable issues in Kiwi politics - it seems to me that it's entirely mendacious here. They can't possibly know that.

It'd be a bonanza for lawyers, and for Maori politicians on the make; existential purgatory for the rest of us.

It's not clear whether these idiots (Phil Twyford, I'm looking at you) want to see a political head of state (like France, the USA, Italy), or a purely ceremonial one (like Ireland, or Germany). Please not the former. Most politicians in this country don't exactly inspire me with trust, and politicising the head-of-state job would mean far more pressure than any of them could stand. (Look at America, for pity's sake.) No, if we must have a president, let's have someone decent - not a businessman or a politician or a lawyer. Give the job to Jonah Lomu or Tim Finn. At least they wouldn't be a national embarrassment.

Seems to me there's a hidden benefit in outsourcing the head of state's job. As well as saving the trouble, the publicity, the campaigning and expense of maintaining our own president, it also removes the temptation for the head of state to claim any sort of authority. Even if some sort of constitutional crisis in the UK forces a split between the crown and country - as in 1936, for instance - that doesn't affect us here.

Effectively, we're spared an entire series of the soap opera of politics.

But bring the job in-house, and there'll be no avoiding those little upsets from time to time. It's not a big deal, but it's a distraction we don't need.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wage slavery

My eye was drawn today to this headline: "Women spend more time at work - but less time working". Feel free to read the story if you want, but you won't learn much from it. It explains, in very sketchy terms:

OfficeMetrics claimed that its research showed that over the last nine months, UK office workers were tending to spend more time in the office, as they seek to impress their bosses and stave off the threat of redundancy.

The firm claimed that in July this year, UK workers were spending on average 15 minutes longer at their desks than they were nine months ago, but "the amount of time spent on work based activities had reduced by three per cent."

OfficeMetrics, of course, goes on to punt its own product:

Jon Mulligan, OfficeMetrics MD, claimed that, “Our research has shown that assessing time in the office to judge employees can be extremely misleading and many of those who seem to be spending longer at work are in fact spending more time on personal browsing and social networking sites." The solution, at least as far as Mulligan is concerned, is to buy his software to keep better tabs on what staff are up to.


Because while "desk time" is a very misleading indicator of work done, "time spent with certain documents open" is of course the gold standard of workplace achievement. I'm sure it would never occur to anyone to write their private blog posts inside work-related documents...

I'm reminded of a story by Mil Millington, author of the hilarious Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About, about one of those Things. Setup: Mil's girlfriend goes out, leaving him playing on his computer, with the instruction "Vacuum the floors". When she comes back, she asks: "Did you vacuum the floors?" To which Mil replies: "Can't you tell?"

Words ensue, but Mil sees the episode as a moral triumph - because if she can't tell, then either he's so bad at vacuuming that there's no point in his doing it, or the floors must be clean enough already that there's no point in his doing it... so the only point of his vacuuming them would be to inconvenience him.

Some employers seem to see "work" like that. The reason they pay other people to do things they don't want to is because otherwise those things wouldn't get done. From that point of view, it makes a kind of perverted sense that if you're enjoying your work, you're doing it wrong.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, takes it a step further. He suggests that employees have their own idea of what their time is worth, and they will exact that price from their employers by whatever way is left open to them. In practice that will mean some combination of surfing the web, ransacking the supply cupboards and running up personal phone calls; and the more you try to control them, the more they resent you and will steal from you to compensate.

It's axiomatic in management science that "you get what you measure". Or, more precisely, "you get what your employees think you measure". If they think you're taking note of how much time they spend at their desks, then they'll spend more time at their desks - goofing off. If you make them sign a book every time they take a new pen from the stationery cupboard, your turnover of pens will drop - but petty theft in the workplace will rocket. If they get the idea that you're monitoring their use of certain websites, they'll find other websites - or do their socialising by other means, such as IM. In each case you're not getting what you wanted out of them, which is productive work. So most of these measures will reduce actual productivity - or at least they would, if you could just figure out some way to measure it...

See, the trouble is that it's so much easier to measure inputs - time spent on the job, or time spent with a certain file open in Word, for instance - than to measure outputs (the quality of the work done). And so managers who don't know any better - a category that includes at least two-thirds of those in Britain, and I'm currently guessing about nine-tenths of those in New Zealand - will settle for those proxy measures, rather than go to the trouble of figuring out how much work people actually do.

Because that would mean they - the managers - would have to do some real work...

Enlightened employers - they do exist, I had one once - understand that the purpose of work is to get stuff done. It doesn't matter whether or not you enjoyed it, or whether you goofed off at 2 p.m. every day - provided your allotted work is done on time, that's nobody's business but your own. Efficiency should not be penalised. (What should be penalised, of course, is making life miserable for your colleagues. If, by flaunting your idleness in their faces, you damage their morale and output, then that's an externality that should be included in the assessment of your work.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

All kinds of juvenile

Students have been in the news lately, and not for the right reasons. I remember when students made headlines by their exemplary work calling into question the advertising of well-established brands. Ah, those happy bygone days...

Last week, we heard a great deal more about the "Undie 500".

For those who have the good fortune not to know what that means, it's an annual event - a "tradition" - of students driving from Christchurch to Dunedin, to go on a pub crawl. Ostensibly it's an occasion for car enthusiasts to show off their lovingly maintained vehicles. But in the way of traditions, it's become so much more than that. Nowadays, to hear the media tell it, it's mostly about drunkenness and rioting in the streets. At the event a couple of weeks ago, some 80 people were arrested and 67 charged.

Politicians love it. The mayor of Dunedin - one Peter Chin, a typical local politithug - was quick to blame out-of-town students for the whole mess, conveniently ignoring the fact that most of those arrested actually lived in or around Dunedin. John Key, our Beloved Leader, seemed unsure whether he should be wringing his hands with sorrow, or gloating over lawbreakers facing the Awful Majesty of their comeuppance. He settled for deploring the "waste of their futures", as a result of graduating with a criminal conviction.

(Yeah, like any employer is going to care about some student misdemeanour... It's just another part of the Great Lie we tell kids, the lie of the "permanent record", that there's some kind of recording angel who knows the wrongs they do and will hold it against them at some unspecified later time. Absolute bollocks, of course. The truth is that almost nobody cares now, and even they will have forgotten by Christmas.)

And today comes the news of another fine tradition, this time from Lincoln University. (That's Lincoln the one-horse town near Christchurch, New Zealand, not Lincoln the historic county town in England. That Lincoln has a university that is, as far as I know, entirely reputable.) New Zealand's self-styled "specialist land-based" university held an Oktoberfest party (huh?) with a German theme. Nothing wrong with that, apart from the date. What got it into the news was the fact that an unspecified number of students turned up sporting Nazi uniforms, regalia and slogans.

"It was not an issue of racism or Nazi ideals, it was a lack of understanding," says student association president Megan Harte. She points out that some of the students were first years who may not have known what the "Holocaust was all about".

I feel for Ms Harte here. She clearly feels it's her job to defend the indefensible. Even so, this is pretty feeble stuff. Lincoln is a very "vocational" university: it doesn't even offer a course in "history" or anything like it. It's not clear why students of "Valuation & Property Management" should be expected to come out of university knowing much more about the Holocaust than when they went in.

Dear Mr Key, Ms Harte, Mr Chin, and countless other Kiwis: university isn't about learning facts and skills that will see you through your working life. Sure you might pick up some of those if you're lucky, but really you'd learn ten times faster by just going out to work. University is a nice sheltered environment where you go to grow up. The courses are just there to give you something to think about while you do it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The mouse that slipped

Since Disney has been in the forefront of fencing off, and aggressively policing, its share of the "intellectual" (read "imaginary") property landscape, it's a delightful thing to see someone else setting the legal dogs on Walt for a change.

Story: the Pixar lamp - which we all know from the credits to every decent movie Disney has made in the past 20 years - is, in fact, a design made by a Norwegian company called Luxo. When Pixar was a little up-and-coming animation house, it made a (very) short film about such a lamp - Luxo Jr - which impressed the heck out of everyone who saw it. The lamp in Pixar's logo is a tribute to that short.

And that was well and good, and everyone was happy.

In 1999, Luxo Jr was released as a short alongside the immodest hit Toy Story 2. And that, too, was well. Toy Story 2 went on to gross a quarter-billion dollars at the US box office alone - or, in Hollywood terms, about the price of admission for a family of four with popcorn and soda. (It was also the cause of a falling-out between Disney and Pixar, but that was swept under the carpet when the Mouse finally bought out the Lamp a few years later.)

And that, too, was fine and large.

But the Toy Story franchise is worth a hefty fortune not for its movies, but for its merchandising, which now ranks second only to Winnie the Pooh among Disney's most profitable brands. And Toy Story 3 is being released next year, and Disney is gearing up the publicity for that right now. And against that fevered background, some genius at Disney looked at the lamp, and thought: "We've never tried making one of those."

So they did. Calling it the "Luxo Jr".

How a company as lawyer-infested as Disney failed to check, first, that they could get away with this - will probably always remain a mystery. But this month came the news that Luxo has issued a writ against Disney for trademark infringement. Seems they didn't agree to the deal, and now they're accusing Disney of marketing shoddy versions of their product with their name attached.

On the face of it, it's an open-and-shut case. It's a textbook example of just the sort of thing trademarks are supposed to prevent.

The only question is: will Disney put its hands up to a fair cop? Or will its Achillean hubris make it fight for the principle that US-based media companies are the only ones who can rightfully be said to "own" intellectual property?

My money is on Option 2.

Bye bye, blackbird

I was delighted, when we moved into our new house, to see that a pair of blackbirds were apparently nesting in the loquat tree on the far side of the garden. It's a large tree, towering above the nearby magnolia and apple, and it's leafy and dark all year round. An excellent spot to raise blackbird chicks, I thought. (Sorry, no pix. My camera is still non compos mentis.)

Blackbirds are an introduced species - brought over by the British, along with the chaffinch, song thrush, mallard and two types of sparrow, in the 19th century to make the place feel more homelike. It works. Every time I see those little critters in the garden, I feel a little more at home.

So I was none too happy when Susan found the body by the garden gate.

She didn't look closely at it, but I went out to do the dirty work. Close up, the plumage no longer looks black - it's a very dark brown, like burnt coffee. A couple of loose feathers fluttered in the air, but the bird was undoubtedly dead. Ants crawled across it frantically, as if trying to revive it, but I didn't give much for their chances. I could see no sign of violence, but then I wasn't in the mood for a detailed examination and autopsy; I suspected, and still suspect, one of the local cat community.

Unfortunately there's little chance of getting any of them to squeal.

Using a stick, I rolled the tiny corpse onto a newspaper supplement, wrapped it up, and consigned the whole thing to the rubbish bin. It's being emptied roundabout now. I haven't seen our blackbird since, so I'm pretty sure that was him.

This morning I saw a female blackbird building what appeared to be a new nest, in another, smaller tree, just outside our living-room window. If that turns out to be a good spot, we'll have a grand view of the family growing up. But I'll still miss that first bird who welcomed me to my new home.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I see Gordon Brown has issued "an apology" to Alan Turing, for the persecution he suffered at the hands of the British government.

That's all nice and peachy, but it does raise the question: "What exactly is an apology for?" It's a bit late for Turing, who's been pushing up daisies this half-century or more. Gordon Brown was less than three years old when Turing died, which makes his personal complicity a bit tenuous, and his contrition a bit - contrived. None of the officials who had anything to do with his case are still alive - or if they are, they're understandably keeping their heads down.

Such belated apologies are all the rage lately. When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, practically the first thing he did was to apologise for Britain's actions in the Irish potato blight. The Australian prime minister apologised for the treatment of aborigines; the Japanese government issued an apology to the "comfort women" of those parts of Asia occupied during the war; Pope John Paul II apologised for many of the past crimes committed in the name of the Catholic Church, with particular reference to women, "other Christians" and Jews. Last year, the Church of England issued an apology to Charles Darwin, and earlier this year, the US Congress apologised for slavery.

These apologies vary in coherence and usefulness. The Pope's statement was admirably clear as to its goal ("We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours [Jews] to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood") - but vague as to exactly what he thought he was apologising for.

The Japanese and Australian apologies have been different in that at least some of the victims of their actions are still alive, and the governments have actually made token gestures towards restitution. It would be going too far to call them "sincere", but they at least seem to have some meaning.

The American apology over slavery, it seems to me, is simply incoherent. Since Congress now represents all Americans, black and white, it follows that part of the nation was apologising to itself. It may express regret, but by "apologising", it seems to me that the US government is implicitly saying "we, a white nation, have done wrong". It would make more sense for Georgia to apologise to the Cherokee over the Trail of Tears - since both the state of Georgia and the Cherokee nation still exist as distinct entities in their own right - but that would inevitably open a whole can of worms about all the Indian nations: treaties broken, wars and war crimes on both sides throughout the 19th century.

Tony Blair's apology over Ireland made more sense: "Ireland" is still a recognisable entitiy, and Blair was the legitimate, linear successor of Lord Russell. However, the timing made it clear that the driving need was not for absolution, but to be seen to make a concession for the sake of peace in Northern Ireland. It was based squarely on the needs of present-day politics, not historical understanding.

The Church of England, for its part, was mostly interested in diverting attention from its internal struggles over gay clergy. The Darwin apology was part smokescreen, part weapon against its own fundamentalists - by reminding them that the Church had erred in the past by being too strict, not the opposite.

And Gordon Brown's is similar. In the wake of the furore over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Turing apology serves several purposes. It creates some mostly-good press; it subtly reminds the western world in general, and America in particular, that Britain has its own priorities and sense of justice; and it reminds them that there was a time, within living memory, when the whole of the western world - America included - had reason to be very glad of that sense.

Otherwise, it makes little sense. Turing's persecution was not something the government of the day set out to do wilfully or spitefully: in 1952, anti-homosexual attitudes were deeply entrenched in practically all levels of society. Turing was not singled out by an enemy, but prosecuted, quite routinely, by the legal system. It's not the government that owes him an apology: it's the British people. The logical person to apologise to him, on behalf of us all, would be the queen. Not Gordon Brown.

Nor is Brown foreswearing the practice that led to Turing's plight: basing laws solely on public morality, not public welfare. On the contrary, he has presided over a considerable expansion of laws banning things on the basis of nothing more tangible than public disgust.

I firmly believe that this blurring of distinctions between roles - between people, state, and different layers of government - is the cause of most of what's wrong in our world.

Take the al-Megrahi case, for instance. Whether he was guilty or not, he was clearly a scapegoat for his country. We pretended that he alone was responsible for Lockerbie, because we could punish him and then move on with commerce. That's why he was greeted as a hero in his own country, and rightly so. He was a hero - a sacrifice on behalf of his country. That should surely earn him some glory on his return.

And his release - the British and Scots governments alike find it convenient to pretend that this was a purely Scottish legal decision, with no political interference. This is of course garbage - both governments clearly interfered for all they were worth - but by pretending it was "just the normal course of Scottish justice", they both disclaim responsibility, and thus avoid embarrassing questions. It's a trick that successive British governments have used to great effect. Unpopular policies are blamed on Europe, or America, or the World Trade Organization, or some treaty or other. More often than not this is pure smoke; the policy is the government's own.

And even if it isn't, the decision to implement it in this damn' silly way - is.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank you, Google

The latest visitor to be drawn here by a Google search was a reader in Barnsley, who was searching for "whores bradford".

I hope he (I'm guessing it was a he) found what he was looking for.

Just when I'm getting used to the idea of Google as the new evil empire, they go and illustrate just how much sheer free entertainment they're still willing to provide, and I find myself warming to them again. Just a little bit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Troubleshooting your Rheem Integrity continuous-flow boiler

  1. Is the gas connected to the boiler? If not, what is it connected to? This investigation should be undertaken by someone with a functioning sense of smell, and preferably without any naked flames.

  2. Is the power connected? Jiggle the plug into the socket a bit. Try plugging in something else, like a lamp, to test it. If you bring down one of your nice bedside lamps for this purpose, try not to scratch it on the wall en route.

  3. Is it a weekend? If so, don't bother calling around gas fitters. Everyone in the Auckland area who has the first clue how these things work, also has better things to do with their weekends. Good for them. You can get by without hot water for a day or so.

  4. Are you sure about the power?

  5. Don't take the cover off. I mean it.

  6. If you conducted the test described in (2), try the boiler again now. Then try running an extension lead out from inside the house. An ordinary, lightweight lead will do - it only has to power a bit of basic electronics, nothing heavy-duty. Connect the boiler to a socket you know is working, and try the hot water again.

  7. It was the power, wasn't it?

  8. In your bathroom, probably on the ground floor, there's a socket like those shaver outlets you get in hotels, with an orange LED plus blue and green buttons cryptically labelled "Test" and "Reset". When you press "Test", the orange LED should go out. When you press "Reset", it comes back on.

  9. For no very obvious reason, these buttons control your boiler. If the LED is out, the boiler won't work, even though the socket outside appears to be turned on.

  10. I know, I know.

  11. If you absolutely must call Rheem:
    1. You should know, it'll cost you at least $100.
    2. A man will come and look at the boiler. He will be perfectly civil and informative, and yet somehow contrive to make you feel like a drooling idiot.
    3. He will take the cover off - revealing an incomprehensible mess of wiring that will make you glad you didn't take the cover off - and re-invoke the last few error codes by following a high-tech procedure requiring a retractable ballpoint pen.
    4. These codes will all say "Ignition failure", which means "out of gas". I think it's the only error code there is.
    5. Feel free to discuss the weather, sports, any home improvement projects you may have in mind with this man. He's perfectly friendly once you get to know him.
    6. There's also a water filter, which he'll check if he's feeling thorough, but since the water comes directly from the mains, it's vanishingly unlikely - under normal operation - that the filter will ever have anything to do
    7. That'll be $100 please.

  12. If you need to call an electrician, that'll be closer to $200. For that fee, he'll tell you about the trip switch in the bathroom.

And that's the lessons I learned this last four days. Provided to you, the faithful reader, for free. Such are the joys of home ownership.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Right-wing doublethink

Sometimes - just sometimes - I get the impression that the rest of the world, the great and good in places like the USA and Europe (heck, even Australia for that matter) - don't pay all that much attention to New Zealand politics. It's almost as if they see it as remote and irrelevant to them.

Go figure.

And so I was quite pleased to see the Wall Street Journal today devote an entire editorial to saying that we'd gone crazy. Not least because it gives me the chance to retort in kind.

Background: our beloved leader is trying to set up a "cap and trade"-type scheme to limit carbon emissions. There is a great deal of debate as to what targets should be set for reducing emissions, but almost none as to the desirability of the goal in itself. New Zealand simply doesn't have a noticeable community of global warming doubters. From where we sit, human damage to the world environment is all too obvious.

But the WSJ thinks differently. That journal belongs firmly in the camp of those who hold that global warming is some kind of hoax designed by the global Marxist conspiracy to reduce the rightful profits of rich people. I had heard that the Journal had escaped lightly from the Murdochisation process, but having sampled its writing, I no longer believe it.

Now, I'll admit there are problems with the global warming theory. And I'll be the first to agree that a great deal of alarmist claptrap has been spouted about it - much of it by Mr Murdoch and his cohorts, in their unending quest to sell the indefensible. (The Day After Tomorrow, let it be noted for the record, was a 20th Century Fox production.)

But it's a long, long way from those two concessions to the conclusion that "there's nothing to worry about". I did the maths on this myself back in the early 90s, and I worked out then that if we dug all the known coal reserves out of the ground and burnt them, we would approximately triple the atmospheric concentration of CO2. You can't tell me that the environment could simply mop up that much change without dramatic effects.

Compare the WSJ's language:
Their report, issued last week, doesn't question disputed United Nations climate-change assumptions, nor explain the cost to the average Kiwi of taxing every corner of the economy — especially agriculture, the country's biggest export. The authors brush aside the fact that New Zealand only emits 0.2% of global emissions, calling it "small," but "not insignificant." Thus Wellington should "act now" to reduce emissions "to protect our international reputation, particularly in the areas of trade and tourism."


The best advertisement for New Zealand isn't to support ideas that make the country poorer. Instead, Mr. Key's government would do better by focusing on encouraging strong economic growth to support a vibrant, entrepreneurial society. That way, tourists may want to come to New Zealand and stay.

I should damn' well hope that a NZ Parliamentary committee wouldn't spend its time "questioning" United Nations climate-change assumptions. They don't have the expertise, the resources or the time for such a masturbatory exercise. The only reason I can imagine for doing so is to make sure your inquiry comes to an answer that you'd already decided on before you began.

Then the Journal goes on to tell John Key his job. Now, while I might privately believe that Key needs a great deal of help in that department, I can't help but wonder about the author's motives here. "Tourists may want to come to New Zealand and stay" - actually, that happens quite a lot already, and I have to tell you there's no great clamour among most Kiwis for higher immigration. (Personally I'd welcome it, but I'd be in a minority.) I get the feeling that the author has his (or, possibly but improbably, her) eye on New Zealand as a place to retire to, and wants it to be a tax haven.

As for "vibrant, entrepreneurial society".... whatever makes you imagine we'd want one of those? What do you think we are, Australia or something?

But the real 350kg gorilla in this argument is the curious assumption that a carbon tax will, axiomatically, be bad for the economy.

Now, I understand the basic libertarian argument that all taxes are bad for the economy, because they distort the free market. As an argument it may be dumber than a sack of bricks, but at least it's coherent. What I don't see is any prima facie reason to believe that a carbon tax is any worse for "the economy" than, say, a road tax, or compulsory employee health insurance, or a sales tax. What it does, like all taxes, is to favour certain types of economic activity at the expense of others.

But a carbon tax, in particular - what that does is to encourage efficiency. Doing more with less. The WSJ is not backward in criticising China and India for subsidising fuel, because they "thwart prudent energy consumption".

But then, of course, those subsidies are aimed chiefly at the poor...

Businesses, the WSJ assumes, need no incentives to restrain their energy consumption. It's not as if they'd ever treat externalities as "free". Surely it's sheer paranoid Trotskyite fantasy to suggest that businesses, left to their own devices, would wilfully or wantonly poison our air and our beaches, slaughter wildlife and destroy whole environments?

I'm delighted that our government is exposing our industry to harsh competitive conditions. Just as we have some of the most liberal agricultural trade policies in the world, and those haven't - contrary to many predictions - either destroyed our farmers, or forced them to go to wholesale industrial production such as used in countries like, ooh, America... so I look forward to our industry becoming leaner, fitter and stronger by having to pay the true costs of its activities.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I did say "smack", not "whack"

I blame the police.

Just so's there's no misunderstanding on this topic, I want to be perfectly clear: I'm not looking for the right to smack anyone. I have no problem with a law saying that it should be illegal to discipline children by hitting them, provided it's fairly and rigorously enforced.

What I object to about Sue Bradford is the way she has hijacked a party I approve of for her own, unrelated, agenda. She's costing us votes. But that doesn't bother her, because she's not interested in what the rest of the party thinks it should be about. She's a one-woman argument against minor parties: a two-faced, controlling, authoritarian bitch who is more than willing to sacrifice the entire Green vote if it means she gets her way on the things that matter to her.

Of course, the easiest way for her to do that is to keep herself in the limelight. Which was why I was so exasperated, last night, to see her all over the news again.

The reason this time? Someone has been making "death threats" against her on - wait for it - Twitter.


Let's see a sample of these "threats":
"Sue Bradford is STILL a good candidate for NZ's first political assassination.(watch sue run to the police because of a death threat, stupid cow)."
Seriously. That's what the police are investigating.

Honest to goodness, if that were a threat then I'd be long dead. Is there anyone who hasn't been on the receiving end of something at least that nasty, over this "Internet" thingy?

People blow off steam online. In the comfort of what they think is an anonymous medium, they say all kinds of things they'd hesitate to say in person (although seriously, I've heard worse "threats" than that in a country pub on a Saturday night, and nobody turns a hair).

Of course, Bradford is milking the opportunity for publicity. And John Key, of course, is happy to play along, because it makes him look positively statesmanlike in contrast to her ridiculous publicity-whoring. And the media - well, they've got time to fill. To blame any of them for their roles in this would be like blaming a goat for stinking - they're all just acting according to their nature.

But the police, now - they should know when they're being manipulated by these whores. Bradford didn't get as far as she has by being thin-skinned. If the police had the sense God gave a starfish, they'd tell this drama queen to grow up.