The Dim-Post

December 29, 2011

Evil in return

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 9:36 pm

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

- W H Auden

From one of the stories about the five-year old tourist attacked in Turangi:

A sense of shame runs strongly through Kiwi messages to the five-year-old girl savagely attacked in a Turangi campground.

“Most of the messages are saying please forgive us,” Waikato Hospital spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill revealed yesterday as the girl left hospital, smiling and hugging nurses as she went.

Her European family plan to complete their New Zealand holiday, and police believe she may never remember anything about the sexually motivated attack because of her “heart-wrenching” injuries.

“The theme running through is a sense of shame … that this has happened in New Zealand .. This is not normal for New Zealand.”

If the family’s view of New Zealand was tarnished immediately after the attack, it wasn’t now, she said.

“They see it very much as an isolated incident.”

Isolated incident? But . . . this is normal for New Zealand, isn’t it? I mean, I guess it’s unusual that the child attacked happened to be a tourist attacked by a stranger, not someone living in poverty brutalised by a family member – but isn’t an assault on a child basically a routine occurrence in this country? We have the fifth highest rate of child abuse in the OECD, a child murdered roughly once a month.

Now the Herald reports that a sixteen year old has appeared in court, charged with the crime. If he’s convicted I’ll make two predictions (1) that he’ll be ‘known to CYFS’ because his own family has systematically tortured and abused him, and (2) he’ll spend almost his entire life in prison, because the risk he poses to the public is now so grave.

This isn’t a new problem, and New Zealand politicians have spent a long time insisting that ‘someone must do something’ – well, there are actual, proven policy solutions to the problem of endemic child abuse. Our MPs are ‘someone’ and they have billions of dollars and incredible scope to do ‘something’. But so far as I can tell, no one in New Zealand is even looking at these solutions.

December 27, 2011

One from the vaults

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 10:54 am

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the reality-TV freakshow that is the US Republican presidential candidate nomination, and something tenuously NZ-related just popped up. One of the prospective freaks is Ron Paul, a libertarian congressman from Texas, who promises to abolish the US Federal Reserve, arguing that the state’s powers of fiat currency are the greatest threat to freedom.

As usual, being a freedom loving, classical-liberal libertarian seems closely linked to being a white supremacist, and Paul is fighting battles over this charge on a number of fronts. One of his former aides has stepped up to defend(?) Paul, and published this open letter. The relevant passage:

In 1988, Ron had a hardcore Libertarian supporter, Jim Peron, Owner of Laissez Faire Books in San Francisco. Jim set up a magnificent 3-day campaign swing for us in the SF Bay Area. Jim was what you would call very openly Gay. But Ron thought the world of him. For 3 days we had a great time trouncing from one campaign event to another with Jim’s Gay lover. The atmosphere was simply jovial between the four of us. (As an aside we also met former Cong. Pete McCloskey during this campaign trip.) We used Jim’s home/office as a “base.” Ron pulled me aside the first time we went there, and specifically instructed me to find an excuse to excuse him to a local fast food restaurant so that he could use the bathroom. He told me very clearly, that although he liked Jim, he did not wish to use his bathroom facilities. I chided him a bit, but he sternly reacted, as he often did to me, Eric, just do what I say. Perhaps “sternly” is an understatement. Ron looked at me directly, and with a very angry look in his eye, and shouted under his breath: “Just do what I say NOW.”

Jim Peron played a brief roll in New Zealand politics, back in 2005. He was involved with the Rodney Hide led ACT Party, and Winston Peters accused Peron of paedophilia using Parliamentary Privilege. As always with Peters, the details of what happened are all pretty murky – Russell Brown summarised it at the time. Eventually the Immigration Service revoked his visa.

December 24, 2011

Division of Labour

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 12:43 pm

Jordan has a post up about the challenges facing Labour and the changes it needs to make to its internal structure to get back in the game. Here’s his short-list:

  • a record low vote, lowest since the 1920s
  • low and static membership in the past three years
  • over centralisation of control over policy and strategy, with too little power for members
  • an inward focused ‘divide the pie’ approach by too many party units
  • a cultural acceptance of low to no organisation in too many places, and a related culture of federalism divided between electorates rather than a sense of a nation-wide, cooperating organisation
  • too much belief that our connections with a wide range of Kiwis are strong, when they are weak
  • a sense that we ‘own’ the voters that went to the greens and nzf, and that they are bound to return to us
  • a perception among some parts of the electorate that we are out of touch with their hopes and dreams
  • a structure that incentivises our inward focus

I’d narrow almost all of this down to the problem of candidate selection. The primary goal of a candidate is to win votes for themselves and the party, but Labour doesn’t seem to value this quality in any of their candidates or MPs. They’re chosen for attributes that seem mysterious to the rest of the country, usually from a small pool of parliamentary staffers, unionists and activists and then farmed out to electorates to which they pretend some spurious connection (‘whanau in the region’).

By way of example, let’s talk about Maryan Street. According to her Wikipedia biography she was born in New Plymouth, educated in Wellington, taught in Auckland, became involved in the union movement there, worked at Auckland University, spent much of her career in Auckland – yet she’s been the Labour candidate for Nelson for the last two elections, during which Labour’s party vote in that electorate has dropped from a sizeable plurality (45%) to 32%. And Street was Labour’s fifth highest ranked list MP during the last Parliament. Front row. The A team. Officer class. Presumably because she represents powerful factions within the party – but in this core role of getting people to give the party their votes she’s deficient. And there’s not much point in having a powerful faction in a party if this factionalisation helps keep the party out of power.

But if you let local electorates pick their candidates then they’ll act as advocates for those electorates instead of the various factions. And then all those other problems will fall into place. Locals will be able to draw on existing networks to organise and fund-raise. The party won’t have to ‘listen’ to the people: the electorate candidates will actually have a connection to their local communities – beyond a tiny base of local Labour activists – and be screaming at the party leadership about things that concern them. Nationals’ backbench electorate MPs drive the party’s Wellington based political staffers crazy, because they’re always running off to the Prime Minister and complaining about ‘some trivial little rural issue that no one in Wellington cares about’. Labour’s MPs are, increasingly, former political staffers who share the same elite background and Wellington-centric focus.

Of course parties need these Wellington-centric staffers. They know how things work. But notice how carefully National divides the roles of staffer and MP. With the exception of Paula Bennett – who was Murray McCully’s electorate secretary – I can’t think of any former staffers who are now National MPs (I guess there may be other exceptions). Generally their MPs are locals with some background of achievement who bring in the votes; the staffers are Wellington based professionals who know how government works. Labour’s caucus and candidate list is increasingly dominated by staffers. They tend to have degrees in political science, are extremely well connected and media-savvy and are well-thought of amongst their fellow elites – there’s just one problem: voters don’t vote for them.

Take Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, a Labour communications advisor who was given a high list position (although not high enough) and ran as a candidate in Tauranga, explaining that she grew up ‘further along State Highway One’ (SH1 does not run through, or near Tauranga). With Mahuta Coyle as a candidate Labour’s party vote in Tauranga was one of the worst in the entire country, declining by 33% (Labour’s nationwide decline was 20%).

Jordan endorses getting in touch with the voters, and Shearer’s said the same thing. Great. But Phil Goff spent a year ‘getting in touch with voters’ after the loss in 2008. The Labour team drove around the country in a bus singing songs and meeting with ‘real New Zealanders’ like, uh, Darren Hughes’ uncle. Goff then went back to Wellington and cheerfully went about promoting his own office staffers as electorate candidates, including Mahuta-Coyle.

December 23, 2011

Pathos alert

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 5:29 pm

Less weirdly, has any other urban centre gone through what Christchurch has, in the sense of being this seismically unstable for this long a period of time? Or is this a uniquely horrible experience?

Update: Apparently Sumatra still suffers from aftershocks since the 2005 quake.

December 20, 2011

It is not, actually, better to burn out than to fade away

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:40 am

There’s a nice example of the Pundit’s Fallacy over on Kiwiblog. DPF argues that for National to be re-elected in 2014 they need to be an activist, ‘reforming’ government ‘making tough decisions’, by which DPF means a far-right government:

National will need to confront some of the harder issues such as housing affordability, and will have to make calls on do we leave mineral wealth in the ground or not.

Basically, DPF feels that to get elected the government should adopt the values and policies of the ACT Party, which, not coincidentally, are David’s own values.

All the historical evidence suggests that following DFP’s advice would plunge the economy back into deep recession and make National unelectable for many, many years, so I doubt they will actually do this. But the immediate political environment makes it impossible. Currently the far-right vote is split, much of it is wasted. In much the same way the Tsarist secret police once set up dummy revolutionary parties to attract dissidents, National are rebuilding ACT to try and capture all those votes into a far-right party they exercise total control over.  They’re not going to want to compete with that party by implementing its policy agenda.

National needs to compete with Labour. Labour doesn’t have a problem with wasted votes in the left. They go to the Greens, who don’t scare the shit out of mainstream voters the way ACT does. Labour needs to (a) get out the vote amongst Maori and low income earners, which is about party organization and candidate selection, not political positioning, and (b) win votes off the Nats. So they’re free to occupy the centre. If the Nats lurch to the far right then they’re doomed.

December 19, 2011

The Labour list

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:54 pm

Max Weber famously described politics as ‘the strong and slow boring of hard boards.’ It’s one of my favourite quotes about politics and reflects, I think, the reality that political success comes down to hard work over a sustained period. To win an election you have to ‘win the day’, day in, day out, for weeks and months and years before the campaign even starts.

Over the past five years Labour have hardly ever ‘won the day’. You never looked at any conflict between Goff and Key and thought, ‘Goff looked good there.’ Instead there was a lot of bad strategy, super-short term tactics and conservatism all topped off with magical thinking: ‘The polls will narrow, somehow’, or ‘people will wake up and realise they hate John Key.’

So it’s refreshing to see the party’s new list and not see any obviously insane decisions. Shearer’s solved his Cunliffe problem, and his former rival is high on the list and – as many predicted – matched up against Steven Joyce. There are new faces on the front bench. Sure, they have to prove themselves, but that’s still better than the old guard who simply proved they’re rubbish in opposition.  Given some of the dire material Shearer and his team had to work with, this is an impressive outcome.

The new leader also got good coverage in the weekend papers – giving out names of his buddies to various journalists who then pretended they’d ‘dug into his past’. Another thousand-or-so days like these and things’ll be looking pretty good in 2014.

December 17, 2011

RIP Hitchens

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 8:56 am

I haven’t read as many of his books as everyone else seems to have. I thought he was brilliant and fiery and witty and polemical, but when intellectuals and polemicists really counted – after 9/11 – he was swept along with the tide of anti-muslim terrorist hysteria. He was wrong on the great issue of the day: the invasion of Iraq – and he was so stridently, sneeringly, viciously wrong that his vanity never allowed him to walk it back. He spent a huge amount of time, energy and words railing against the existential threat of ‘Islamofascism’ when it turned out the great threat to the hegemony of the west was our own financial system.

He wrote some interesting, funny stuff – especially about religion. But he spent his youth being wrong about Marxist-Leninsm and his middle years being wrong about the War on Terror, and because he was also wrong about the health effects of smoking – brilliantly, cleverly, polemically witty, railing furiously against the ‘anti-smoking fascists’, but still completely wrong – he didn’t get an old age to be right or wrong about anything in.

December 16, 2011

Ominous

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:26 am

Stuff reports:

An embittered David Cunliffe is refusing to rule out quitting Parliament altogether as leader David Shearer moves to finalise his front bench.

It is understood Mr Cunliffe has been offered a front bench seat and a senior portfolio but has balked at his proposed ranking.

Labour has been allocated eight front bench seats in the new Parliament and it is likely Mr Cunliffe has been offered either the sixth, seventh or eighth slot.

The top places are likely to be taken by Mr Shearer, deputy Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, finance spokesman David Parker, Shane Jones and Clayton Cosgrove with the remaining two slots open to Mr Cunliffe and his running mate, Nanaia Mahuta, or possibly Ruth Dyson or Maryan Street.

This isn’t a happy start to Shearer’s administration. He could be a great leader, and Grant Robertson could also be a formidable Deputy – but right now, Cunliffe is Labour’s most capable MP by a pretty huge margin. If the party is going to be re-unified and effective at holding the government to account then he needs a high profile roll. Trying to slot him below Shane Jones and Clayton Cosgrove – presumably with something like foreign affairs, to keep him out of the country for the next three years – is a real clumsy way for the new leadership team to kick things off.

December 14, 2011

Watch it alone. Gloriously alone

Filed under: tv — danylmc @ 3:25 pm

Via NotPC:

I’ve just been told that over the Xmas break Stratos will be screening the Best of Perigo!, 6 favourite episodes of the Perigo! show re-screened, starting with Lindsay’s interview with the dear, departed Roger Kerr this Thursday at 8.00pm on Stratos, Sky 89, and ending with his Ayn Rand Special—about which he said, “This is it for me … I couldn’t be prouder.”

These are the shows, in the order they’ll go out:

1 – Roger Kerr
2 – Muriel Newman
3 – Don Brash 2
4 – The Mad Butcher
5 – Deborah Coddington
6 – The Ayn Rand Special

Another contest

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:07 am

Sitting on the bus and thinking about the Labour leadership change, it occurred to me that right about now, Labour strategist John Pagani will be sending the new leadership team an unsolicited email filled with the worst strategic advice since the First World War. And I thought about writing a satirical version of that email – that would, doubtless, only be a pale imitation of the reality, with lines like:

Pivot to ineligible voters! If we pitch our policies at criminals, preschoolers and the clinically insane we take the enemy and the media by surprise.

Or

If we embrace asset-sales and mining in national parks we occupy the middle ground, somehow.

Then it occurred to me that the Shelley Bridgeman contest was the funniest thing on the blog for ages. So let’s try it again. Ssubmit some John Pagani style advice – it should be an act of obvious political suicide delivered with absolute confidence – and I’ll write a hybrid letter.

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