The Dim-Post

April 5, 2014

Brief thoughts on the Kindle

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 8:23 am

I bought a Kindle Paperwhite2 a couple of months ago. Not because I desperately wanted a superior technology to read books with – plain old paper books always seemed fine to me – but because I had too many of the damn things and didn’t have anywhere to put new ones.

  • I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience of reading on the eBook. The screen is not back-lit, so it doesn’t strain my eyes. I can read in full sunlight. It’s lighter than most books. I never lose what page I’m on, and there are fewer words on any given page so I never spend time finding my place. I think I’m a convert.
  • But the big impact has been on the way I buy books. Previously I’d find myself in a bookstore, see a couple of books I wanted and buy them, but depending on the book I only had about a 50% chance of reading them. I’d put ‘em on my bedside table and finish what I was currently reading, and maybe I’d read one of those books next – but maybe something way more interesting would come along, and those two books would sit on the table for a while until they were purged in a spring-clean and relegated to a bookshelf in the spare room. I like to think I’ve read ~60% of all the books I own but that might be optimistic.
  • The Kindle changes that, because I don’t need to ‘stock up’ anymore. Buying a new book and having it delivered only takes about thirty seconds, so when I buy a new book its on the basis that I’ve finished what I was reading and I’m going to move onto the next one right now. The eBooks themselves are marginally cheaper but the real saving is that I don’t impulse buy.
  • Which – if my behavior is normal – is probably bad news for the publishing industry.

 

April 2, 2014

On popularity

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:38 pm

Simon Wilson at Metro writes:

It’s a political truism that when you’re up you’re up, so none of your stumbles knock you off your feet. And when you’re down, every little misstep takes you closer to your grave. Prime Minister John Key is so up, he’s dancing on air. How did this happen?

I blame his critics — his political opponents especially, but also independent commentators. As spectacular mis­judgments go, it’s hard to think of anything greater than the nature of their complaints, especially in the early years of his leadership. He was, they said repeatedly, gauchely inept in his speech patterns and his vocabulary, embarrassingly off kilter in his sense of humour, insultingly dismissive of real concerns about various policies.

The result was profound. Key connected to a whole range of New Zealanders who did not see the world the same way as those critics. Their mockery both reinforced his popularity and discredited the people who engaged in it. And, perhaps because the critics did not change their line of attack, that discrediting came to define them.

It has been clear for at least five years now that when Key is mocked, a large part of the electorate reads the very existence of the ridicule as further evidence that he is the right guy for us and the jokers are irrelevant fools. Labour, in particular, while obviously having had its own problems finding the right leader, has added immeasurably to its malaise by misreading the nature of Key’s popularity.

Key’s breakout, unprecedented levels of popularity are part of the conventional wisdom of New Zealand politics so I decided to look at the data and see if it was a real thing. Here’s a graph showing the Preferred Prime Minister ratings from the TVNZ and TV3 polls for the first 62 weeks of both John Key and Helen Clark’s tenures as PM. For Clark this takes us from late 1999 to April 2005, and for Key it takes us from late 2008 until April 2014, ie right now.

clarkkeypopularity

Key was very popular in his first term, especially compared to Clark and I think his performance here would compare very well compared to any western leader after the Global Financial Crisis. But second term Key – which starts at week 36, pretty much tracks along with second term Clark. He’s a bit more popular but not amazingly so, and not – I think – to a degree that he can’t be criticised because the public love him so much they’ll turn on any of his critics.

The other thing Wilson touches on, and that I’ve seen other people discussing around the traps is the discrepancy between the public’s evident reaction to Cunliffe’s trust and the Oravida scandal. Cunliffe and Labour have dropped in popularity while National has gone up, even though the Oravida issue seemed like a more serious offense. What’s up with that?

Wilson thinks this has to do with Key’s popularity, and other people attribute it to a biased media or an ignorant public. The mistake many politics junkies make here is that they regard Key and Cunliffe as approximate equals. One leads National, the other Labour. Shouldn’t they get equal treatment in the eyes of the public?

But if you’re a member of the non-politics-obsessed public then – I think – you see them very differently. Key has been running the country for almost six years and seems pretty good at it and Cunliffe is this guy you’ve never heard of who wants Key’s job, but the very first thing you heard about him is that he had some kinda dodgy secret trust and wasn’t straight-up about his first policy launch. It’s a bit like having an old friend and a total stranger dressed in a pirate costume both turn up at your house and ask to borrow your car. Who are you going to give the keys to?

Here’s my point. It’s supposed to be hard to change the government. Now, Key is not magical. He’s not unbeatable. Clark almost lost the 2005 election on popularity ratings only marginally lower than his. But the public doesn’t have to give the opposition leader the benefit of the doubt. They don’t have to listen to him. If they’re given the choice between a known quantity who has been running the country for six years and some new guy who seems kind of bumbling and untrustworthy then that’s an incredibly easy choice and people are making it.

April 1, 2014

Why are MSM poll stories bivariate?

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:57 am

Lots of discussion around the blogosophere about polling yesterday. One thing that struck me is that political bloggers like to present polls as time-series data going back to before the last election while the mainstream media outlets that pay for all this data present them as cross-sectional, and generally only compare them to the previous poll that they conducted. Why is that? In my experience people like to be able to look at ‘the big picture’ and see the trends. TVNZ (for example) has conducted fourteen polls since the 2011 election. They’ve spent a load of money on them: why not throw that all up on the screen instead of just comparing the new poll to the one before it?

March 31, 2014

Updated poll chart and various observations

Filed under: Politics,polls — danylmc @ 8:55 am

Bias corrected aggregated poll of polls below. Non-bias corrected graph here.

nzpolls20140330bc

Safe to say that Cunliffe isn’t working out as Labour leader. He’s losing voters to National and he’s also trending down in the preferred Prime Minister rating.

Not shown, but ACT are on 0.5%. Their new leader Jamie Whyte was on Q & A this morning debating climate change with Russel Norman. We’ve heard a lot (mostly from the New Zealand Herald) about how Whyte is an intellectual giant who will rebuild ACT and restore it to its future glory. Based on his performance during the live debate I predict that ACT under his leadership will not reach 1% and he will not be elected as an MP.

National has a tricky decision to make regarding the Conservative Party. The bias-corrected poll has them on 2.9%. That’s three or four MPs IF National throws them an electorate seat. But if they do that then they might lose some voters to the Conservatives and a whole lot of center-voters might panic and switch to Labour, New Zealand First or the Greens.

I wonder what David Shearer thinks when he looks at the gap between National and Labour since the election? At the time I thought ditching Shearer was the right thing to do, but its starting to look like it was a horrible, horrible mistake.

March 28, 2014

Two point five points

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:41 am

Big discussion in the comments section of the last post about whether Kim Dotcom’s ownership of a signed copy of Mein Kampf is a legitimate story or just a right-wing smear. Someone linked to this comment at The Standard, which is fairly representative:

I am of East European Jewish descent and have visited Auschwitz to pay my respects to the victims of the Holocaust, where I don’t mind admitting that I felt incredibly angry and wept openly for the innocent men, women and children who had been murdered there.

Having said that, I see nothing sinister in Kim Dotcom merely OWNING a historically significant signed copy of Mein Kamph, particularly given that he’s a WWII history buff. I don’t think it’s fair to judge him without any real evidence, and I am far more disturbed by this shameless smear campaign by Cameron Slater and TV3 reporter Brook Sabin, son of National MP Mike Sabin. Hmmm, coincidence much? It might sound creepy or suspect to some, but that doesn’t make it so. I’m far more concerned about this increasingly authoritarian and sinister government in power than I am about Dotcom, they are starting to resemble the REAL NAZIS more and more every day with their attacks on the poor (working poor and unemployed poor) and sickness beneficiaries!

It’s impossible to attach any kind of universal meaning to possession of a mere OBJECT like a book, because we all view objects in the world very differently to each other, based on our cultural norms and personal values. Some see objects as being sacred, some think objects are an extension of our own identity, some see objects as ostentatious markers of wealth and privilege, some see objects merely as a collection of atoms and electrons signifying nothing

First point: this whole ‘I’m not offended by this so what’s the big deal?’ routine is identical to the one you hear from old white guys complaining about political correctness. ‘I’m not offended by Paul Henry, so what’s the big deal?’ And you’re free not to be offended by a political figure who owns Nazi memorabilia, just as old conservative white guys are free to not be offended by words like ‘nigger’ or ‘retard’, or whatever Henry says on any given day but the fact is that huge sections of the population are offended by all of these things and when someone is founding a political party there’s public interest in knowing that they hold values that many voters find revolting.

Secondly, if history had been a little different, there hadn’t been a raid on Kim Dotcom’s mansion and he’d gone on giving huge cash donations to John Banks and the ACT Party and it came out that this right-wing donor owned a signed copy of Mein Kampf and appeared in public wearing an SS helmet, I kind of doubt there would be this huge outcry from the left about how it was a smear story, and that owning Nazi memorabilia wasn’t such a big deal. On the contrary, most of the very same people widening their eyes and asking with bewilderment ‘What’s the big deal about owning a book signed by Adolf Hitler? A book is just a bunch of sub-atomic particles!’ would be clawing at the air and screaming with outrage about the Nazi take-over of New Zealand politics.

Point fifthly, I really really hate it when people say ‘Hmmm’ or ‘Ummm’ in a comment.

March 27, 2014

Dotcom’s struggle

Filed under: history,Politics — danylmc @ 9:34 am

Via the Herald: 

On the eve of his Internet Party launch, Kim Dotcom has admitted owning a rare copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

The Internet Party launches its online push for members today, but in an interview with 3 News last night, the German internet entrepreneur said he had bought a rare signed copy of Hitler’s autobiography at an auction four years ago.

A spokesman for Mr Dotcom told the Herald the Megaupload founder, who is fighting a US bid to extradite him on internet piracy charges, decided to go public over the book before his adversaries did.

“That’s where it’s been coming from by and large. It didn’t take a lot of rocket science as it were what the general thrust of these things were. It’s something that we thought we should front-foot.”

Cameron Slater and David Farrar both blogged not-so-cryptic hints (‘What sort of person buys a copy of Mein Kampf?’) about this a few weeks ago which in retrospect was rather foolish since it tipped Dotcom off and let him get the story out when he wanted instead of during the election campaign or the Banks trial.

This stuff comes from Dotcom’s ex-bodyguard, presumably, who was recently slapped with a gag-order preventing him from speaking to media about his time in the Coatsville mansion. Obviously that doesn’t stop him from giving stories to the media on background or as an anonymous source. I’ve always thought the Internet Party was a daft idea and going into an election campaign with the founder’s former personal aide leaking stories against him make it look even more doomed.

Slater has more allegations here. You never know with him but it all sounds pretty unlikely: if there was a Nazi flag hanging up in Dotcom’s mansion when the police raided I’m pretty sure we would have heard about it before now.

Meanwhile Mickey Savage at The Standard calls the story a ‘distraction’ writing: ‘I can’t help but think that our main stream media and blogosphere are being manipulated by some pretty skilled operatives.’

I don’t know if you’d call Cameron Slater a ‘skilled operator.’ His handling of the Len Brown story turned a resignation-level scandal into a media witch-hunt focused on Slater’s family and their connections with the Palino mayoral campaign, and the Prime Minister is currently in Europe, where he met with Obama and initiated a free-trade deal. As far as National is concerned right now, any story that isn’t making the Prime Minister look like an international statesman in an election year is an unwanted distraction.

Finally, there’s a famous Stephen King story called Apt Pupil about a young boy who gets obsessed with the Nazis, and in it one of the characters comments that many people have a ‘dark fascination’ for that period of history, which is detached from any kind of ideology or values. Having a fetish for this kind of paraphernalia doesn’t make someone a Nazi but it does make them pretty creepy.

March 25, 2014

Mana/Dotcom Huge Pros and Huge Cons

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:15 am

Via Adam Bennett at the Herald:

Discussions over a potential alliance with Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party will continue this week, a Mana Party source confirmed yesterday.

Mr Dotcom says Hone Harawira’s Mana is one of several parties he is talking to about forming an alliance to contest the election.

He also claims he is talking to a number of MPs in electorate seats about working with his party.

Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar yesterday said there was no firm proposal on the table for the two groups to work together. “Mana has to have their internal discussions.”

However, the Herald understands the two parties will continue talks this week over the proposal, which is already causing divisions.

For:

  • The most likely scenario for Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party was that it would cost a huge amount of money and effort, draw votes from other left-wing parties, fail to reach the 5% threshold meaning those votes were wasted, and so help keep the National Party in power. To prevent that outcome Dotcom promised that he’d withdraw from the ballot box if the polling indicated such an outcome, which must have made the whole endeavour look like a waste of money and time. Partnering with an electorate MP minimises that risk.
  • Hone Harawira is nominally a leader of a political party – because that secures him more funding and a higher salary – but for the past three years he’s been an electorate MP with almost no Parliamentary presence and no national profile. Now he’s about to try and fight an election campaign, and Matt McCarten, the guy who would have been a key player in managing that campaign has just taken a senior role with the Labour Party. Dotcom will provide Harawira with the resources to fight a national campaign.

Against:

  • Lots of people have already pointed this out, but Mana is supposed to be the party of the dispossessed and downtrodden. A merger with a party bankrolled by the guy who lives in the largest mansion in the country will be hard to swallow for an awful lot of Mana Party activists. I still don’t know who Kim Dotcom’s potential voters are but chances are that they dislike Hone Harawira, because a majority of voters do. I guess both parties are going into this with the fantasy that 1% of the vote plus 1% of the vote will give them 2%, thus an extra MP. But if the merger costs each party more than 50% of their potential voters because the complementary party is anathema to them then they’ll go backwards.

If you’re an adviser to Kim Dotcom or Harawira then a merger must look awful attractive, because it’ll make your life a whole lot easier. But voters don’t vote for parties on their track-record of making life easier for their MPs and staffers.

March 20, 2014

Big trouble in little nest

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:23 am

Good grief:

The under-fire trust that runs the kohanga reo network is refusing to identify which of its board members got a $50,000 off-the-books koha payment.

The refusal places Education Minister Hekia Parata in a tight spot – her officials have said the person should be identified.

The payment was one of a cluster of issues identified in the EY (Ernst & Young) report into Te Kohanga Reo National Trust. The report did not deal with the allegations which sparked the inquiry – they were ruled out of bounds.

But the $50,000 payment was inside the review’s limited remit and it was identified among a number of credit card and koha rule breaches. The problems were singled out in a briefing note from the Ministry of Education to Ms Parata.

Early childhood education general manager Karl Le Quesne said the trust “was required to disclose this payment in their 2012 annual report”.

Ms Parata’s office did not return calls to say whether she backed her officials’ view.

But the trust’s spokesman, Derek Fox, said the trust would not reveal which of its board members got the payment.

He said it was a payment to a board member who had worked “well above the call of duty” on its successful claim to the Waitangi Tribunal.

“It wasn’t a related party transaction – it was a koha,” said Mr Fox.

If the Trust had a board member who was, say, a senior lawyer who invested a huge amount of time on a Waitangi Tribunal claim then a $50,000 koha doesn’t seem inappropriate. The problem here is there’s no way for the public to know if this was money well earned or the board defrauding the taxpayer. And given everything else that’s been going on at Te Pataka Ohanga we’d be suckers to take Mr Fox’s word that everything is above board. Via the Fairfax gallery office:

The Serious Fraud Office has been asked to investigate allegations of misspending by the commercial arm of kohanga reo, less than 25 hours after Education Minister Hekia Parata put her credibility on the line by promising taxpayers there had been no impropriety.

In a humiliating U-turn yesterday, Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced the SFO had been asked to investigate after a trustee from the Kohanga Reo National Trust passed on “fresh allegations” of misspending involving subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO).

The development followed a shambolic press conference late on Tuesday evening in which Parata said she was satisfied no public money had been spent inappropriately, despite allegations that TPO general manager Lynda Tawhiwhirangi used her work credit card to buy a wedding dress, an $800 Trelise Cooper dress, a 21st birthday gift, and make a $1000 cash withdrawal as koha for a tangi she did not attend.

Parata said a report commissioned from accountants Ernst & Young had cleared both the trust and Te Pataka Ohanga, but she subsequently admitted they never looked into the allegations surrounding Tawhiwhirangi because that was outside its terms of reference.

She said the Government could not investigate those allegations because TPO received “no public monies” – but by yesterday she had done an about-face and referred the matters to the SFO.

TPO is wholly owned by the trust, which receives $92 million in taxpayer funding annually. TPO’s funding comes from kohanga reo, which uses money paid to it by the Ministry of Education to buy services such as insurance from TPO.

Parata stuck to the line yesterday that TPO was a private company and how it spent its money was not something the Government should be involved in.

I’ve always sort-of wondered if there’s an element of bigotry in all of the criticism directed at Hekia Parata. Is she incompetent? Or does she just attract scrutiny and criticism because she’s a successful Maori woman? Well her handling of the Kohanga Reo trust issue has cleared that up nicely: she is totally incompetent. A political naif hiding behind incomprehensible jargon, just like Fox hides behind the principles of Kaupapa Maori that he’s doing so much damage to.

March 17, 2014

New Zealand First and the Greens

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 3:31 pm

Bryce Edwards has an overview of the two ‘secondary parties’, New Zealand First and the Greens, and the status of their relationship with Labour, and I think a lot of the stuff he’s linking to is absurd. To wit:

Speculation continues about whether Peters is more likely to go into coalition with National or Labour. There are many good arguments for both prospects. But there are increasing signs that Peters might smartly position his party to operate on the ‘cross benches’, where arguably he may have much more power. By essentially holding a minority government to ransom, a party on the cross benches could have major influence over legislation on a day-by-day basis.

This is something Matthew Hooton has argued could happen: ‘Mr Peters’ greatest driver is to be at the centre of events. The best way for him to achieve that in 2014 is to stay outside the government, offering no one confidence and supply. That would enable Mr Key’s government to limp on but without Mr Peters having to take responsibility for its decisions. Even more attractive, whenever he was so inclined, he could engage on an issue, putting himself on centre stage. To pass a Budget, the government would either have to negotiate with him for months in advance or – more likely – have to present it to Parliament with no surety of passage. Dramatic concessions could then be demanded in exchange for NZ First’s votes. No doubt it would all end in tears but it would be a rollicking three years. Mr Peters would love it. He could then retire to the north, go fishing and have a good laugh with his mates’

I don’t know if Hooton believes any of this or not. But Peters is very predictable. He wants a senior Cabinet role and corresponding dignity and salary. The chances of him sitting on the cross-benches and depriving himself of these prizes is zero. If he’s kingmaker after the election he’ll go into coalition with National because a National-New Zealand First government affords him higher status than a Labour-Greens-New Zealand First government. Although obviously his ability to enter into a coalition with Labour will give him leverage when negotiating the terms of his deal with National.

Also:

With the relevance of New Zealand First apparently increasing, it appears as if the Greens are correspondingly decreasing in relevance. This is partly due to the Greens faring poorly in recent opinion polls, but also because they appear to have no leverage over Labour to ensure they are included in any potential Labour-led Government after 20 September.

Labour now appears to be tilting more towards NZ First, and away from the Greens.

There’s no doubt that Labour would love to be in coalition with New Zealand First and not the Green Party. The problem is they’re at least 200,000 votes short of making that happen, and trending down, and Labour/NZ First need to win those votes from either National or the Green Party and not from each other. The chances of that happening aren’t zero but they’re pretty close. Problematically for Labour, 42% of their 2011 voters want to see a Labour-Greens government, while only 25% want to see a Labour-New Zealand First government (numbers sourced from the NZES). So Shane Jones’ attacks on the Greens might be enormously satisfying to Labour’s MPs who view the Greens as a bunch of loathsome hippies who are stealing their votes, but is more likely to damage the party’s support among their actual voters.

The most probable post-election scenario today is a National-New Zealand First government. If there’s a Labour government – somehow – it will involve the Greens.

March 14, 2014

Collins’ policy record

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:36 am

Judith Collins has been under fire this week and part of the Prime Minister’s defense of his MP has been her amazing prior performance as a Minister. And I think there’s something to that. Collins was one of the most media-genic Police and Corrections Ministers we’ve ever had. Crushing cars of boy-racers. Using shipping containers to house prisoners. Smoking bans in prisons. Rolling out tasers to police. National’s extraordinary first-term long media honeymoon was partly down to Collins and her tough-on crime rhetoric and daft but camera-friendly policy solutions.

But for the last three years Collins has been Minister of Justice. And if you look back through the news archives she’s been a pretty crappy Justice Minister.

  • She caved on implementing the Law Commission’s recommendations on alcohol reform when the liquor industry lobbied the government.
  • She’s being sued by David Bain for a judicial review of her botched handling of the Binnie report into his compensation.
  • She ditched the MMP review claiming that the parties couldn’t reach consensus on it because she refused to negotiate with any of the other parties.
  • She’s refused to consider a pardon in the Teina Pora case despite very convincing evidence of his innocence.

And its hard to find any positives to balance any of that out. She wants police to wear cameras which is a good idea, I guess.

Collins’ rival for the post-Key National leadership is Steven Joyce, who is also struggling. Novopay still isn’t fixed. The Sky City convention center is still a toxic disaster. None of the surveys for minerals or oil or gas ever find anything, and that’s Joyce’s one big plan to fix our economy. But at least he’s doing stuff even if none of it works out. Collins’ reputation as a tough super-Minister seems like a relic of her governments’ first term with nothing in her subsequent performance as Justice Minister to substantiate it.

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