The Dim-Post

January 23, 2013

Respect!

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:35 am

John Armstrong on the Cabinet reshuffle:

John Key’s dramatic Cabinet reshuffle displays a streak of ruthlessness hitherto rarely seen in a New Zealand prime minister.

Key has displayed all the sentiment of a corporate restructurer. So ministers are given the chance to perform.

If they do not they are out. Simple as that.

Above all, what the reshuffle does is put the entire Cabinet on notice. National largely got away with last year’s catalogue of blunders and unwanted distractions without too much damage to its support in opinion polls.

Tracy Watkins at Fairfax:

No-one saw the brutal dumping of long-time Cabinet ministers Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley coming – least of all them.

The usual route out of Cabinet for underperforming ministers is a slow slide down the rankings and reassignment to lesser portfolios.

But Prime Minister John Key, a man once known as banking’s smiling assassin, refused to offer them even that fig leaf, giving them just a few hours’ notice of their fate.

Mr Key made no bones yesterday about the reason for his sense of urgency to bring fresh blood into Cabinet – he did not want to repeat the mistakes of his cautious predecessor Helen Clark, who failed to rejuvenate her lineup

People sometimes badmouth the PM’s comms team, but anyone who can sell a minor mid-term Cabinet reshuffle – in which an MP stood down less than a year ago for unethical behavior is reinstated, and an incompetent failure remains in charge of the education system – as an act of corporate-style ruthlessness that puts the Cabinet ‘on notice’, is a stone-cold genius.

Presumably National’s market research has found that people see Key as ‘too relaxed’, ‘not tough enough’, etc, and one of the government’s goals for 2013 is to address that perception. If I’m right then we won’t see the PM declaring he’s ‘comfortable’ or ‘relaxed’ about anything for the next few months.

January 22, 2013

Screen cap of the day, ironic region setting edition

Filed under: technology — danylmc @ 9:30 pm

Sent in by a reader; and sure, there are plenty of plausible reasons why the job search site for the NZ government is set to Australian Eastern Standard Time, but my favorite (not-that-unlikely) theory is that it’s been outsourced to an Aussie provider but staffed by ex-pat Kiwis.

Jobs crossing the ditch

Update: jobs.govt.nz HAS been outsourced to Australia! From the comments:

Extract of whois of jobs.govt.nz:
jobs.govt.nz IN A 210.193.133.120
120.133.193.210.in-addr.arpa IN PTR eyintra.recruitasp.com.au

Traceroute looks like Sydney. Therefore, outsourced.

Lucky outsourcer is RecruitASP, Privately held, 51-200 employees. No idea how many are kiwi expats.

Why Novopay is still broken and hard to fix

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:24 am

TVNZ reports:

Schools are bracing themselves for more problems with Novopay just days out from another education pay round.

With many new school staff joining the pay roll and some big issues showing up on pay reports, worries about Novopay’s competence are second only to schools’ concerns about their budgets.

At Mount Eden Normal School in Auckland, the balance available for spending on staff has swung from $10,000 in credit, to tens of thousands in debt.

When things go wrong with big software engineering projects, it’s often hard to explain to non-technical people why the damn thing is so hard to resolve. Why not just throw people and money at it? Hire more staff? Sack the managers and bring in someone competent, etc. The answer to those questions is Brooks’ Law.

Imagine that the Novopay system is a gigantic factory filled with tens of thousands of complex machines, all interlinked and interdependent on each other. Because that’s basically what it is, it’s just built in computer code instead of bricks and steel. If you make a small change to, say, the machine that calculates holiday pay, that change can have a massive impact on the entire factory. It could short out all the power. It could also have a very subtle impact that causes problems over the long term – like an error in calculating long service leave.

So if you have ten software engineers all fixing problems at once, they’re going to spend a lot of time talking to each other, and testing their changes to make sure they don’t cause problems in other parts of the system. And if you hire another ten engineers, all you’ve done is increase the amount of communication and testing that needs to be performed.

Software development companies know all of this stuff. It’s why they conduct extensive testing and often ship products months, or sometimes even years late. Because they’re aware that if they ship a faulty product something like the Novopay fiasco will happen. But Talent2 isn’t a software development company – they’re a recruitment company that decided to branch out into software development.

I guess the lesson here is that they call it software engineering for a reason. If you were building a real bricks n’ mortar factory you wouldn’t hire an HR company who’d never built anything before, and if half of the test subjects told you that a real factory wasn’t ready you wouldn’t ignore them and switch it on anyway. (I acknowledge that it’s possible Craig Foss and Hekia Parata would actually do both of those things.)

January 21, 2013

What (I think) Garth McVicar is trying to say

Filed under: crime,general idiocy — danylmc @ 11:25 am

As we all know:

Crime will rise if gay couples are allowed to marry, says the head of the country’s victim lobby group.

Sensible Sentencing Trust leader Garth McVicar has submitted to Parliament that changing the law to allow same-sex marriage will be yet another erosion of basic morals and values in society which have led to an escalation of child abuse, domestic violence, and an ever-increasing prison population.

“The marriage amendment bill will not benefit society at all and will ultimately have detremetal (sic) effect on crime at all levels,” the submission read.

This is part of a broader argument popular amongst US conservatives. It goes like this: take a look at a chart showing violent crime in the US since 1960.

vcrime500

So something happened in the 1960s to cause a staggering increase in violent crime, which then dropped sharply in the 1990s. The conservative argument is that the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s happened. People abandoned traditional values of family, religion, hard work, ect, and that caused society to crumble. It uncrumbled a bit in the 1990s, because of Reagan. Moreover, they’d argue that groups which have held onto these values are less prone to divorce, crime, and groups like minorities and poor whites who don’t uphold traditional values are poorer and cause many more social problems than people who are married, hard-working, religious etc. Gay marriage is not a traditional family value, hence legalising gay-marriage will lead to a crime wave.

There are plenty of alternative theories. The Superfreakonomics guys who think legalised abortion led to lower crime. The newest theory is that lead exposure is a causative factor in violent crime:

There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb).

Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans’ blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future. Another economist, Rick Nevin, has made the same argument for other nations.

I’d genuinely like to know what McVicar thinks of this theory, and if he’d be in favor of more stringent government regulation on the use of heavy metals in industry.

January 19, 2013

What an original idea

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 1:52 pm

From (naturally) The Herald:

Sir Owen Glenn has challenged New Zealanders “with the means, energy, ideas and determination” to set up a non-partisan council to lead the country’s economic revival.

Part of the “NZ Inc” idea is also to have a long-term mandate and planning parameters that don’t grind to a halt and change direction every three years. He argues New Zealand needs a sense of stability for planning and direction with a commitment from the country’s leaders to work as one.

Sir Owen has generously offered to chair it. Great – he can represent the New Zealand business community, and the rest of the council can consist of union leaders, academics, iwi leaders, environmentalists, senior civil servants and community workers. Everyone’s totally okay with an unelected, unaccountable group like that being put in charge of the economy, right?

January 18, 2013

Too big to fail

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:03 am

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key says Education Minister Hekia Parata will be safe in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, despite her troubles last year, because she is hugely talented and one of National’s best communicators.

I think the best way to read this is that we’re now paying $10-20k a month for a trusted political consultant who reports to the Prime Minister’s Office to do most of Parata’s job for her and make sure that Education is now a low risk, no surprises portfolio.

January 15, 2013

A brainfart on Freedom

Filed under: philosophy,Politics — danylmc @ 8:27 am

Some think-tank I’ve never heard of has ranked New Zealand as the ‘most free’ country in the world. DPF links to the report, and I was interested in the opening paragraph describing their approach:

In constructing this index, we use indicators that are as consistent as
possible with the concept of negative liberty: the absence of coercive
constraint on the individual. We do not attempt to measure positive
freedom, however desirable such may be, nor do we measure so-called
“claim freedoms,” which often become government-imposed attempts at
realizing positive freedoms (e.g., the “right” or freedom to a have job
or housing).2 As Isaiah Berlin, Friedrich Hayek, and others have noted,
calling other good or desirable things such as wealth “freedom” merely
causes confusion.3

Berlin did preclude wealth from his definition of positive liberties, and then spent much of his career walking back that statement. It was Berlin who coined the phrase ‘Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep,’ when critiquing the form of laissez faire capitalism this index celebrates, and in which New Zealand is an extreme international outlier.

The basic argument goes like this. There are two kinds of liberty. Negative liberty, in which you are free from coercion by the state or other external powers, and positive liberty in which you have autonomy over your own life. If you only count negative liberty as important, then a child born into poverty with a congenital illness and no access to health-care or education is more ‘free’ than a child born into a state with a taxpayer funded social welfare system, because the coercion involved in state taxation and redistribution compromises that child’s negative liberty.

Berlin made the anti-utopian argument for ‘value-pluralism’, that is a society in which both types of freedom are recognized as important, but since they often conflict with each other we should constantly be compromising, negotiating and debating the extent of both our negative and positive freedoms.  The radical extremes on this axis are totalitarian states in which most individuals have no negative liberty, and oligarchic laissez-faire states in which the government only exists to protect property rights, in which few individuals have any degree of positive liberty. According to this report, New Zealand is closest to reaching that utopia, probably why we’re hemorrhaging  individuals to ‘less free’ countries.

January 14, 2013

Variation in Apricot

Filed under: art — danylmc @ 9:33 am

By popular request (no one actually requested it, as such, but I could sense you all wanted it), the artwork Variation in Apricot by Meg Gibbs, donated to Parliament by the National Caucus Wives in 1981, critiqued by Chris Finlayson in a recent Herald piece.

apricot

January 12, 2013

Trotter on Shearer. (Heh.)

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:30 am

Col Trotter has a column up at his site titled: Behind the Mask: Who’s Backing David Shearer and Why? in which he argues that Shearer is the front man for a neo-liberal cabal that has seized control of the Labour Party and plans to unleash a second Roger Douglas style policy era when they’re back in government:

Ideological mummery is also the key distinguishing feature of Shearer’s principal backers in the Labour Caucus. Phil Goff, Annette King and Trevor Mallard all dipped their paper cups into the neoliberal Kool-Aid in the 80s and none of them have ever publicly recanted (let alone repented) their supporting roles in Roger Douglas’s Economic Salvation Show. They no longer defend (at least not publicly) Rogernomics’ legacy, but behind their hands they dismiss its critics as “paleosocialists” who simply don’t understand how the world works.

My first huge problem with Trotter’s thesis is that these people ran Labour during the 2011 election, in which their policy platform was really very left-wing. I don’t think they promised to extend Working For Families to beneficiaries or introduce industry standards for wages and conditions because they thought it would be wildly popular, I think they promised to do them because they wanted to do them, and I think it’s impossible to reconcile that with a neo-liberal agenda.

My second problem is that I don’t see how it’s possible to launch a Douglas-Lange style reform in an MMP government, especially if your largest coalition partner is the Greens, who will simply withdraw confidence and send the country back to the polls.

Maybe Trotter’s right, and Shearer is a secret neo-liberal; my counter-theory behind the stumbling train-wreck that was Shearer in 2012 is that he’s a very inexperienced politician who spent his first year as opposition leader being advised by an imbecile. The threat to his leadership seems to have galvanized him: he now rehearses his lines with his staff – like any other politician – instead of trying to seem ‘natural’ (‘Let them see the real David Shearer’) and coming across like a babbling fool.

My concern about a Shearer-led government is less dramatic than Trotters’. It’s that many of the senior Labour Ministers will be the usual gang of loyalist idiots, that Shearer would be unable to manage Winston Peters (assuming New Zealand First is a part of the coalition), that Labour will wage an unrelenting covert campaign against any Green Ministers, and that the whole thing will see National sail back into office three years later.

January 10, 2013

The idiocy of ‘keeping your powder dry’

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:51 am

The Herald reports:

The Labour Party housing policy for first-home buyers has struck a chord despite the Government’s attempts to write it off as expensive and unrealistic.

Just over 70 per cent of the 500 respondents in the Herald-DigiPoll survey approved of Labour’s promise to enter the housing market to build 100,000 low-cost homes over the next 10 years.

Labour leader David Shearer enjoyed a end-of-year boost in the polls, and conventional wisdom attributed this to the tough way he dealt to David Cunliffe, because if you’re a prestigious political commentator the idea that there are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who have (a) never even heard of David Cunliffe but (b) desperately want to own their own home but can’t afford to enter the current market, is simply inconceivable. Anyway, the result is support for my crazy idea that opposition parties should spend time pointing out chronic problems that the government refuses to solve, and promise to solve them, and that people afflicted by those problems will then be disposed to vote for them.

(The one thing that mystifies me about Labour’s policy is that when I think affordable housing I think town-houses and other medium/high density options, but all the criticism has focused around costs of single homes on single sections, and I haven’t heard Labour rebut this. Maybe whoever developed the policy hasn’t explained it to their MPs properly?)

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