The Dim-Post

February 28, 2010

Fooled by randomness

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:50 pm

Don't cross a river if it is four feet deep on average - Nassim Taleb

Via Cactus Kate,  ACT Deputy Heather Roy quoted the philosopher Nassim Taleb in her conference speech yesterday:

A ‘Black Swan’ is the occurrence of high-impact, hard-to-predict and rare events beyond normal expectations
A ‘Black Swan’ is the occurrence of high-impact, hard-to-predict and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations. Despite our hard work and successes, we have already seen the black swans overhead. We will see them again before the next election.

I’m pleased to hear that Roy is reading The Black Swan. It’s a good book in which Taleb argues that markets are chaotic systems prone to unpredictable catastrophic failure – I’d be interested in how Roy squares this with the ACT philosophy that markets are perfectly efficient systems that should govern every aspect of our society.

I don’t think Taleb’s theories about the epistemology of chance apply to politics. To use his terminology, political events occur in the realms of mediocristan not extremistan. Political parties do not appear out of nowhere and capture 99.9% of the vote, they don’t disappear overnight, voters respond (fairly) rationally to broad social and economic trends, not unpredictable changes in technology or market conditions.

It might seem to politicians as if their world is subject to extreme, unpredictable events – just ask Phil Heatley – but at a macro level politics is subject to known probabilities. Taleb has made himself a huge amount of money hedging against unpredictable events in the financial markets, but for a politician or a party to try and build a policy platform around unpredictable or statistically unprobable events would be clinically insane.

(So maybe it’s a pretty good fit for ACT after all.)

Fools rush in

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 10:42 am

Shayne Curry is no longer editor at the Herald on Sunday but his legacy lives on: this week the paper sends two female journalists to interview a disturbed convicted killer in his home (what could go wrong?). Hilarity ensues:

During the interview Kurariki’s behaviour grew increasingly erratic and sexual. The reporter – who recorded much of the discussion – said Kurariki at times became aggressive and started sweating.

Ten minutes after sitting down to speak – during which the framework of the interview was discussed – Kurariki exposed himself to the reporter.

The reporter said that while she remained seated, Kurariki stood before her in an obviously excited state and said: “You two are beautiful women. What will you give me?”

The photographer said she told Kurariki: “We don’t do this. What are you doing?”

The reporter told Kurariki the newspaper did not pay for stories and his behaviour was wrong.

West’s partner arrived at the house, distracting Kurariki and creating an opportunity for the women to leave.

As they left, the photographer said Kurariki groped her.

A non-APN paper might have sent their most menacing-looking male photographer along – but that might not have turned the story into a front page lead for the paper.

February 27, 2010

Public Service Announcement: when there’s no more room in hell . . .

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:42 am

No, the zombie apocalypse is not upon you Wellington – those crowds of pasty white, dead-eyed cadavers shuffling towards you are not the living dead, they’re just delegates for the annual ACT Party conference. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Or is there? The other day Brian Fallow wrote about ACT’s latest scheme to rescue the New Zealand economy and transform us into the South Pacific equivalent of booming free market Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia:

Beware. There is a risk that radical legislation, gravid with constitutional danger, will be smuggled into the statute book disguised as a measure to relieve business of vexatious red tape.

Its innocuous-sounding title is the Regulatory Responsibility Bill and in its most recent iteration was drafted by a taskforce headed by Graham Scott, who was Treasury Secretary at the time of the sweeping economic reforms of the 1980s. It would redefine the relationship between Parliament and the courts in a way neither is likely to welcome. And it would tend to entrench the current distribution of wealth by setting a high hurdle for any legislated redistribution of resources.

Rodney Hide’s office says the Government is considering its response to the taskforce’s report. “It is anticipated that the issues will be considered by Cabinet in April.”

One might hope, rather against hope, that the Cabinet’s consideration of the issues will be illuminated by the views a string of lawyers and economists presented to a symposium on the bill held by the the Institute of Policy Studies on Tuesday.

Almost without exception they were critical of the draft bill.

Essentially ACT are attempting to introduce a new constitutional document – like the Treaty of Waitangi or the Bill of Rights – so that all future and retrospective legislation must adhere to the principles of the ACT Party. Of course they have no mandate to do this and Hide is attempting to sell the bill as a crusade against ‘red tape’. Even though we’re always top of the world in the ease-of-business, deregulation surveys ACT likes to pretend that our underperforming economy is crippled by government bureaucracy.

The benefits and costs of the Regulatory Responsibility Bill itself, are not, the taskforce concedes, easily quantifiable.

“The taskforce is convinced, however, that the potential benefit to the New Zealand economy of a step-change in the quality of legislation significantly outweighs the additional compliance costs placed on the Government by the bill.”

As Brian Easton points out in the article, the most costly regulatory failure in recent history was the leaky homes crisis, caused not by too much compliance but by deregulation of previous standards. And how about the finance companies? The third party transactions, poor reporting and misleading risk analysis that created the disaster are illegal in almost every other developed economy on the planet. The mad genius of Hide’s bill is that it’s impact on existing regulations and legislation gives it the power to create dozens – possibly even hundreds – of future leaky building and finance company crisis. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

The only other article I’ve read about Hide’s bill was a puff piece in the SST – it does have an opposition quote though: here’s Labour’s response to ACT’s attempt to impose a new constitutional document on the nation with no discussion or electoral mandate:

Labour’s commerce spokeswoman, Lianne Dalziel, said the bill was little more than window dressing and would hinder rather than help, although she admitted much more could be done to remove regulatory “roadblocks”.

Labour still doesn’t get that Hide is this government’s Winston Peters writ small: a deeply unpopular megalomaniac that the PM can’t sack without breaking the governing coalition is an opposition’s wet dream, but for some reason Labour devotes all it’s attention to the Maori Party and Anne Tolley instead of the guy with the bullseye in the middle of his massive orange forehead.

February 26, 2010

Neologism of the Day

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 11:34 am

proC++rastinate.

Verb. Use without object.

To spend an hour writing code to perform a one-off task that would have taken you ten minutes to complete. The task is usually of a dull or repetitive nature.

Two theories

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:36 am

1. There is more to come.

2. Heatley couldn’t handle the pressure he’s been under this week; it seems silly to resign when your PM has offered to stand you down pending an investigation but it might make sense if you haven’t slept or kept any food down for four days.

February 25, 2010

Heatley’s reign of terror comes to an end

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 12:40 pm

The government might be breaking it’s pre-election promises, misusing urgency and planning to mine our national parks but at least Ministers who expense a beverage as a food and beverage will no longer stain our body politic.

February 24, 2010

Non-story of the day

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:09 am

The Herald follows up The Standards scoop:

Yesterday blogsite thestandard.org.nz revealed Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully held shares in Widespread Portfolios, a New Zealand investment company with mining interests at home and overseas.

The Government is drawing up a discussion document about the prospect of mining in parts of the conservation estate.

Yesterday Mr McCully downplayed the significance of the shares, saying he had tried to sell them and would continue trying to sell them.

“They’ve been in my hands since about the year 2000. I declared in them in the appropriate fashion, there are a total of 184 shares and their market value is approximately $31.63.

I don’t doubt our Foreign Minister’s principles are for sale but I venture they’d cost a bit more than $31.

It’s a shame that the mainstream media keep following up silly blog stories like this and Chris Carter’s ferry ride instead of looking into Idiot/Savants allegations around the appointment of government lackeys to the Human Rights Tribunal.

February 23, 2010

Picture o’ the day

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 4:04 pm

Via Andrew Sullivan, Simon Brown West Yorkshire was blinded by sniper fire in Basra in 2006. It’s a glass eye.

Speaking of Yorkshire, anyone else checked out the Red Riding trilogy?

Base is the slave that pays

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:06 am

Via Stuff:

Prime Minister John Key says he is disappointed in his ministers for “stupid” mistakes revealed by inquiries into the use of taxpayer funded credit cards by Government ministers.

Two senior government ministers have apologised this morning and one has handed in his ministerial credit card after admitting they misused taxpayer money.

Mr Brownlee said he had now returned his ministerial credit card “so there can be no future confusion over what is and is not ministerial business. I accept I have made a mistake and I have apologised to the Prime Minister”.

In charge of the nation’s economic development and energy strategy but not quite up to the responsibility of having his own credit card.

Tune in next week when Key reveals he sends Murray McCully off on diplomatic missions with a pair of mittens and an ‘If I am Lost’ note pinned to his jacket.

Git yer media conspiracies here

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 9:27 am

From Stuff:

My theory is that the public would have a different attitude towards the conflict in Afghanistan if stories about massacred civilians were accompanied by pictures of massacred civilians instead of scary looking soldiers with guns. We don’t illustrate stories about 9/11 with pictures of US Marines, so why the double standard?

On the subject, why did the story about Israel assassinating a single Hamas commander in Dubai get more coverage than NATO’s semi-regular slaughter of civilians?

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