Is it just me or does John Key look like enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau?
March 31, 2011
The Government has ordered a new body aimed at boosting economic performance to investigate the cost of housing.
The Productivity Commission, set up under National’s governing agreement with ACT, has been asked to report on issues including the cost of building a home, the efficiency of taxes, levies and charges and the impact of Government regulations.
The commission has also been told to inquire into international freight transport services, including transport costs and port charges.
English and Hide also announced the appointment of two new commissioners to work alongside commission chairman Murray Sherwin.
They are former Treasury secretary and past ACT candidate Graham Scott, who is now executive chairman of Southern Cross Advisers Ltd, a company specialising in public sector reform, and Victoria University management school head Sally Davenport.
The commission formally begins its work tomorrow.
I wonder how much we’re paying the commissioners to research and consult widely on this complex issue and then advise the government to deregulate the industry and privatise all its state houses?
The high court injunction I received a few days ago inspired me to check the statistics page for my blog to try and figure out how many people actually read it, and by happy accident it turned out that I was only a few days away from my two millionth page view which will happen sometime today. This graph shows monthly readership since I started the blog back in mid-2008.
The big trough is my summer sabbatical. Average number of views on a weekday is about 6,000. On weekends it’s much lower. Average visit length is 3.40 minutes.
I do juke the stats. People mostly read blogs when they’re supposed to be working, so I often write a post in the evening to be read first thing in the morning when everyone gets into the office (as I’m doing now). Then in the very early hours of the morning I read the news and write something time delayed to be posted at about 10 AM when people take their coffee breaks. And I’ll generally post something brief at lunchtime. If I haven’t eaten this will be something horrible about one of the news websites. If I’m fed I’m generally more good-natured and less predictable.
For someone who lives in Wellington I am surprisingly out of the loop. I know some journalists, and some press secretaries, and a couple of MPs, but most of my observations are made by observing the process via the media. I’m frequently wrong, but I like to think I’m wrong on my own terms and not through buying into the groupthink that often dominates political classes. I’m also wrong in good faith – I believe all those inaccurate statements and false predictions when I write them. I don’t assert them because I want to deceive my readers, or because I’m paid to promote a certain party or lobby group, which goes to show that my business sense is as poor as my political insight.
My wife Maggie works in the press gallery, and some of my writing incorporates her inside knowledge and the sundry gossip she picks up, but far less so than you might think. If a big story breaks and I call her to find out what’s happening she’ll generally just tell me to stop bothering her, and she often refuses to discuss politics when she gets home from the office, or, if she will talk politics she frequently precedes her commentary with statements like: ‘that thing you posted on your blog today was such bullshit.’ So she is less useful to me than you’d expect.
In philosophical terms I’m what liberal thinkers call a value pluralist: I believe that many of the values our society strives for are in basic conflict with one another, and the best we can achieve at resolving these conflicts is a series of unhappy compromises, beneath which the ground constantly shifts. So I don’t believe in utopia, or the class war. I do believe that in the last thirty years the balance has tipped far too far in the direction of the values prized by the wealthiest and most privileged members of society, which leads to a system that preserves and maximises their wealth and privilege.
I believe that the free market is an excellent solution to problems of value and allocation of scarce resources. I don’t think it has magical powers. It is not moral.
I am now a convert to twitter, and I check it a few times a day and make occasional tweets, so if you like you can click the link in the sidebar and join the scores of spam twitter accounts that started following me after I made a sarcastic comment about Prince William.
March 30, 2011
The Telegraph reports that the man who lives in the House That Looks Like Hitler is bewildered by the sudden flurry of attention. The photo at the linked page reminds me that we only ever see a tiny handful of pictures of Hitler, all of which make him look spooky and evil, but in reality he looked much the same as any other European statesman in the early 20th century. The photo below was taken at the opera in Munich in 1937, and it was never reproduced in post-war Germany because it was seen to glamorise the Nazi regime.
I think it helps to grasp the source of his power and influence if you understand that he was one of the first modern media celebrities, instead of regarding him as some sort of incomprehensible evil.
The tourism sector will bear the brunt of the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes, but a plunge in tourist arrivals should be short-lived and largely over by the middle of the year, says new research from Goldman Sachs & Partners New Zealand.
The tourist sector is a big part of our economy. And the tourist sector is largely serviced through international jet travel. And international jet travel keeps getting more expensive as the price of oil goes up.
If oil gets too expensive there are various alternatives for most forms of land transport. Electric cars, trains and other forms of public transport, biofuels and so on. But googling for practical alternatives to jet fuel reveals that this is something researchers are ‘looking into’, which isn’t encouraging. What happens to our tourist industry if civil war breaks out in Saudi Arabia and the cost of long-range air travel becomes prohibitive? Nuthin’ good.
One of the (many) things that National do better than Labour is to invent or recycle slogans and neologisms to attack their opponents. Helengrad. The Nanny State. Catchy little phrases that have an emotional impact that supersedes rational debate. Last week the term ‘New York branch of the Labour Party‘ popped up on NBR and all the right-wing blogs, more-or-less simultaneously, and so yesterday TV3′s political editor Duncan Garner faithfully regurgitated the talking point:
Judith Tizard, told the country Goff was effectively a crap leader and could never win. If that wasn’t a message to the caucus from New York – then I don’t know what is.
Actually there’s an abiding enmity between Tizard and Goff, but Garner is far more gullible to this sort of manipulation than most journalists. Anyway, this is how these terms filter out into the public sphere, and they can play a powerful role in politics and election campaigns, especially because they’re based on wit and emotion, and can’t be rationally refuted.
Labour has used this sort of technique in the past – if they didn’t coin the term ‘Ruthinasia’ they certainly hammered it repeatedly during the nineties. What do they have today? They refer to John Key as ‘smile and wave’ which is not a term setting the country afire with its esprit and deft insight. They have no term for English’s economic agenda. (I coined the term ‘the English disease’, as in ‘the economy suffers from’ as I was writing this sentence. That sort of thing.)
Sure, they also need policy, and for their criticism of the government to be substantive – but we live in an age of marketing and sound-bytes. A good slogan can be worth just as much as a credible economic platform.
March 29, 2011
Labour leader Phil Goff says the Darren Hughes affair is bound to be bad for the party.
Labour leader Phil Goff has said the Darren Hughes affair has “strengthened” his leadership.
Stuff has an article up about Garth McVicar’s book ‘Justice’:
The book is described as the story of how a “ordinary cocky from Hawke’s Bay became a spokesperson for the victims of violent crime”.
I hate to quibble, but this is technically incorrect: McVicar is a spokesman for white victims of violent crime, and – rather oddly, or perhaps not – he is also a spokesman for white violent criminals who attack non-white people as well as an advocate for a more forgiving, lenient justice system for any of his friends who commit crimes, but I guess that would clutter up the cover.
“Justice is [McVicar's] story told in Garth’s straightforward no-nonsense style,” the blurb reads.
The article goes on to reveal that the book was written by someone else, and McVicar has not read it yet.
The injunction names six defendents, being Fairfax, APN, TVNZ, Mediaworks, Danyl McLauchlan and myself. This isn’t because any of us have named him, but that they were specifically worried we may do so – or that a commenter on our site will.
The suppression applies to everyone who becomes aware of the order though – not just those named. So anyone who names him, or supplies information which can identify him, will be in breach of the order.
I’ve already deleted more comments regarding this issue than I have in the last however-many-years the blogs been running, although none of them named the complainant.
Update: Deleted a few more comments that the complainant’s lawyers pointed out to me. Reading my discussion threads must be the best part of his job.
An uncharacteristically worthless story from Vernon Small keeps the Darren Hughes scandal alive for another news cycle:
The fallout over the resignation of Labour MP Darren Hughes has turned ugly as police confirm receiving an anonymous letter, and a witch-hunt begins within the party to find the source of coup rumours.
Some media received copies yesterday of a complaint sent to police making allegations about Hughes. It included contact details of three people and urged the police to contact them.
But one of the men named in the letter vehemently denied that anything untoward happened. “It’s just untrue. It’s just rubbish,” he said. A second refused to comment.
The writer claimed to be concerned “at the potential ramifications for my employment of sharing this information with you” as the reason for anonymity.
The writer is almost certainly a National Party staffer, so I think his job is pretty safe – although I guess it could have come from independent political commentator Matthew Hooton, or non-partisan public intellectual Cameron Slater, or some other highly reliable source that sets the news agenda for the press gallery these days.
What I’d like to see is an article examining the glaringly obvious role National and its activists played in spreading false rumours about a Labour coup: the Hooton/Ede/DPF/Slater nexus – although I guess writing such an article might compromise the authors chances of receiving more false rumours in future.