The Dim-Post

March 31, 2009

Grim News

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 4:52 pm

From NZPA via the Herald:

Queenstown had the third biggest drop in city hotel prices in the world in the three months to Christmas, according to hotels.com Hotel Price Index. The index looked at hotel prices for October to December, 2008, compared to the same period the year before. It revealed hotel prices fell 41 per cent in Mumbai, 36 per cent Reykjavik, 35 per cent in Queenstown, 32 per cent in Manila, and 31 per cent in Las Vegas.

This is even worse than it sounds; Mumbai was recently attacked by terrorists who specifically targeted hotels, the economy of Iceland is an unregulated free market utopia totally fucked, so excluding cities recovering from catastrophic disasters Queenstown’s price drop is the worst in the world.

Quote of the Day II: Worth in Punjab

Filed under: india,Politics — danylmc @ 2:50 pm

“My personal commitment to Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is that New Zealand will be committed to improve efficiency and productivity of the farmers in the state by providing them technology transfer in agriculture, horticulture and dairy sector,” said Dr Richard Worth, Minister of Crown, New Zealand.

Worth said Tata, Kingfisher and Reliance are household names in New Zealand. “Ten per cent of the total population of our country, around two million, comprises Indians. Of this, 10 per cent, around 1.22 lakh (122,000), are Punjabis.

New Zealand committed to help farmers of Punjab; Indian Express, February 28, 2009.

Fascinating.

Anatomy of Nightmare

Filed under: books,general news — danylmc @ 1:44 pm

My wife Maggie is in Cambodia covering the genocide trial of former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav. One of her stories is up on Stuff:

Former teacher Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch as he is known, is on trial before two international judges, New Zealand’s Dame Silvia Cartwright and Frenchman Jean-Marc Lavergne, and three Cambodians, Nil Nonn, Ya Sokhan and Thou Mony.

Together they form the “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia”, more commonly the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which is trying senior leaders of Pol Pot’s brutal regime under which 1.7 million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979.

The court seats 494 and is, an ECCC official says, the largest in the world.

The audience watches from theatre-style seats while proceedings carry on behind thick bullet-proof glass.

To add to the sense of theatre, a curtain is drawn when privacy is required.

Duch, 66, the former head of Tuol Sleng, or S21 torture centre and prison, looking frail and dressed plainly in a white shirt and dark trousers, spoke clearly when asked to give personal details after the hearing was officially opened.

Charges against him – crimes against humanity, breaches of the Geneva Convention and violations of the Cambodian penal code including premeditated murder and torture – were read out to get the trial under way.

Duch sat in the centre of the court reading paperwork and appearing uncomfortable when his face appeared on the screen in front of him.

Indictments against him detailed how the prison was established and how the conservatively documented figure of 12,380 prisoners were interrogated, tortured and later executed.

Some died in prison cells from starvation, disease or their injuries. Only about 10 prisoners survived.

Prisoners arrived blindfolded, were photographed, stripped and shackled. They were not allowed to speak and the only hygiene was an occasional hosing from the door of their cells.

Prisoners suffered brutal torture, blood draining and medical experiments.

Duch has admitted the crimes that happened under his command but says they were carried out on the orders of his superiors.

He is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge leaders to be tried by the UN-backed tribunal.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

Duch’s trial will be followed by that of Ieng Sary, who was one of the intellectual leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement. Pol Pot – or ‘Brother Number One’ as he was known – died peacefully in his sleep back in 1998. Sary is said to be in ill health and might not survive the trial.

I’ve only ever read one book on Cambodia, Phillip Short’s Pol Pot. (The name is a nom-de-guerre, by the way, Pol Pot’s real name was Saloth Sar, which sounds to me like the name of a villain in a Star Wars prequel.) Short’s book was controversial – he argues that Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhism influenced Khmer Rouge Marxist-Leninism in the same way that Confucious influenced Mao, and that the Buddhist influence and Cambodia’s terrible history of atrocities were the ultimate causes of the genocide. This is a departure from the the standard left-wing analysis which holds that Nixon’s secret bombing campaign (‘back to the stone age’) led to the Killing Fields, in the same way that the treason of Malinovsky and attempted assasination of Lenin are supposed to have led to the terror of Stalin and Yezhov.

As a history of modern Cambodia Short’s book is excellent, but as a biography it is not so good. Pol Pot is ultimately mysterious; virtually nothing is known about him, his motives – Buddhist, Marxist or otherwise – remain opaque. He was a peasant who studied engineering and marxism in Paris but spent most of his lifetime in the jungle – with a brief four year stint as head of state in which he murdered about a quarter of the population of his country.

pol_pot2

Quote of the Day: Earth Hour Revisited

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 11:41 am

Let me break it down for you. People don’t want to sit in the dark for an hour in 2009. Period.

I am all in favor of efforts to promote the health of the environment. I will pay higher taxes on fossil fuels. I will support investment in green technologies. I will support investments in biofuels and alternative energy. I will support higher CAFE standards and substantial investments in mass transit. I will support efforts to protect endangered species, wetlands, and to preserve pristine tracts of land. I will reside in an eco-friendly abode as soon as it is economically feasible. I recycle. I use reusable bags when I shop. I will carpool. I’ll do all of that, and I am sure I will do more.

But I’m not going to sit in the damned dark for an hour. That is just silly.

John Cole, Balloon Juice

O’Henry

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 11:12 am

paul_henry_dI’m a bit bewildered by the shocked outrage against Paul Henry and his ‘mustache’ comments. If you’ve ever watched Breakfast TV for more than a few seconds you know that the guy is a gaping, abhorrent asshole so it seems disingenious for people to go on his show and then be amazed when he acts like a childish buffoon – that’s essentially what the show is, and it seems reasonably popular and successful on that merit.

I guess we could wish we lived in a world where TV shows starring gaping assholes weren’t popular and successful but until that sainted day comes around aren’t we better off ignoring worthless little creatures like Henry instead of watching his show and getting excited about him?

March 30, 2009

Quotes for the day

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:00 pm

Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve

– George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Mayor Michael Laws says a move to add an “h” to the spelling of Wanganui would destroy the culture and history of the city.

Earlier today the New Zealand Geographic Board released its finding that Wanganui should have an “h”.

In a statement, the board said the public would be given three months to make submissions on the proposed name change.

Te Runanga o Tupoho had submitted a proposal to the board to change the city’s name to Whanganui, with Iwi spokesman Ken Mair saying the name was considered meaningless without the ”h”.

Mr Laws today slammed the Board’s decision.

”This is a direct attack upon our city and our citizens.”

- Wanganui spelling change slammed. Dominion Post, Monday 30th March 2009

Libertarian Paternalism

Filed under: books,Politics — danylmc @ 10:00 am

The DomPost carries the story that the government is investigating a plan to charge supermarket shoppers for every plastic bag they buy:

Based on a “polluter pays” scheme, the initiative would push grocery shoppers to reduce the one-billion plastic bags used each year.

But rather than funding environmental research or sustainability schemes, the cash would help boost supermarket profits.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said yesterday that New Zealanders were over-using plastic shopping bags, and officials were considering whether to legislate bag charges.

“We are a country of just four million people, we use over a billion bags a year, and to me that’s excessive,” Dr Smith said.

He had asked the Environment Ministry to investigate a “polluter pays” scheme that would see charges of about 5c introduced for each plastic shopping bag.

I’m delighted to hear this. One of the things that drove me crazy about Labour was their gut-level Green Party style impulse to ban everything they didn’t like. I think you get a lot further by incentivising peoples actions than you do by sanctioning and punishing them.

If Labour had placed a levy on incandescent bulbs, making them as expensive as compact fluorescent lights then people who needed to buy the old bulbs would have been able to, most consumers would have switched to the energy efficient ones and the environment would be a lot better off, since National repealed the ban on incandescent bulbs as soon as they got into office. (Due to Labour’s ham-fisted botching of this issue, and National’s moronic anti-Nanny state populism it’s going to be almost impossible to have a rational debate around light bulbs and energy efficiency for at least another six years).

Moving along, there’s an emerging body of economic theory around this issue, nicely articulated in a book called Nudge, written by University of Chicago economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Since I haven’t actually finished Nudge yet – having put it down half-way through to read a Steig Larson thriller – I won’t try and sum it up myself, instead I’ll quote Freakonomics author Steven Levitt:

The main point of the book (paraphrased) is as follows:

Since people don’t think very hard about the choices they make, it is a lot easier to trick them into doing what you want than to try to educate them or incentivize them to change their behavior. There are many ways to trick people, but one of the easiest is simply by giving thought to the way choices are arrayed to them, or what they call “choice architecture.”

Let’s say you want men to stop accidentally peeing on the floor instead of in urinals in an airport bathroom. (Dubner is fascinated with airport bathrooms, so I’m sure he could think of some incentive schemes.) Or maybe someone could invent a new urinal. The choice architects have an easier solution: paint a fly in the urinal. It turns out with something to aim at, “spillage” is reduced 80 percent.

The Guardian has a more in depth review:

Thaler and Sunstein want to help real, fallible people make better choices without removing their right to choose. In many cases, the nudge required is to remove the need for people to do anything at all, on the grounds that inertia and bone idleness are fixed components of human psychology. Occupational pension schemes, for example, can be established either on an opt-in basis – meaning employees have to make a positive decision to join – or as an opt-out, with workers automatically enrolled in the fund unless they choose to get out.

For Rational Economic Man, there’s no difference. He carefully weighs up the pros and cons of the scheme and makes his decision. But a real person, afflicted by both a ‘status quo bias’ and what Thaler and Sunstein dub the ‘yeah, whatever’ heuristic, the differences are pronounced. Opt-in schemes have participation rates of around 60 per cent, while otherwise identical opt-out funds retain between 90 and 95 per cent of employees. It is no wonder that Adair Turner, in his report on pensions, urged legislation to push pension schemes to an opt-in default position and that policy is moving in this direction.

I wonder how the authors could nudge me into finishing their very worthy and interesting book instead of picking up another Swedish crime novel?

March 28, 2009

The Room

Filed under: movies — danylmc @ 12:45 pm

I am now intrigued. You can find plenty of clips from The Room on YouTube; here’s a taste:

Another gem here. Hopefully this will make it into this years film festival.

According to Wiseau’s wikipedia page he’s planning to make a musical about the life of Ayn Rand. It all fits, doesn’t it?

March 27, 2009

I rest my case

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 2:41 pm

Further to my comments this morning about the lack of vision or coherent ideology on the right, the US Republican Party released their counter-budget today in which they put forward their alternative to Obama’s spend-a-thon. Here’s a chart from their section on health care:

picture-4

This is, I swear, a real chart and not some gag I’ve cooked up. Ezra Klein is also amused.

(Somewhat related, Klein’s subsequent post contains this gem of a quote:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.)

Let the wild rumpus start

Filed under: movies — danylmc @ 11:23 am

Warners have released a trailer for Where the Wild Things Are.

Bits of the trailer make me throw up in my mouth a little bit (‘inside each of us there is HOPE’? Fuck you, assholes.) but it was written by Dave Eggers and directed by Spike Jonze. Also, someone in the comments asked me about Watchmen – I’ll try and write a review this weekend.

And while we’re talking about movies, has anyone seen The Room?

The Room is a San Francisco-set love triangle involving a banker named Johnny, his friend Mark, and Johnny’s fiancée Lisa, who is sleeping with both men. The film does seem to be beset with problems. Various subplots are inadequately resolved or simply disappear altogether, including the throwaway revelation that Lisa’s mother is suffering from cancer. The film’s many rooftop shots feature an unrealistic San Francisco backdrop, thanks to some less-than-impressive greenscreen work. There are lengthy, unerotic sex scenes, the last of which prompts a section of the audience to depart the auditorium temporarily in mock protest. Finally, in one sequence, a sharp bone seems about to erupt from Lisa’s neck for no reason at all.

The film’s so-bad-it’s-freakin’-awesome vibe has attracted a devout army of aficionados whose membership includes the cream of Hollywood’s comedy community. Role Models star Paul Rudd and Arrested Development’s David Cross are both fans, as is Jonah Hill, who uses a still from the movie as his MySpace photograph. Heroes star Kristen Bell hosts Room-viewing parties at her house and last year attended the film’s monthly Laemmle screening with Rudd, Hill, and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. ”There is a magic about that film that is indescribable,” she says.

The Room has even infiltrated the halls of cinematic academia. ”It is one of the most important films of the past decade,” says Ross Morin, an assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. ”It exposes the fabricated nature of Hollywood. The Room is the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”

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