The Dim-Post

March 26, 2015

One hopefully last pre-election thought on Northland

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:45 pm

One of the odd things about this campaign has been Steven Joyce’s super-prominent role in it. John Key has been out of the country for most of the by-election and Joyce has stepped in and filled the vacuum, evidently deciding that his candidate wasn’t up to the task.

Which was an odd call. A by-election run on local issues is a weird time for a party strategist from outside the electorate to step out of the shadows and make it really pointedly evident that his candidate is a total puppet. It’s a decision that – I think – has nothing to do with strategy and everything to do with psychology. It must be frustrating for Joyce to keep winning election campaigns and then have Key receive all the credit. This time, Joyce must have thought, I’ll make them see that I’m the mastermind who delivers the victories. Which is fine if that’s what he does on Saturday, but if they lose then Joyce’s rather self-indulgent decision to become the face of the campaign will be one of the reasons behind the defeat.

Chart of the day, second thoughts edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:50 am

Here’s the tracking poll updated for the first time since the election.


  • I’ve switched off bias-correction because it wasn’t a very good predictor of the actual outcome in 2014.
  • Labour have almost won back the support they lost by putting Cunliffe in charge
  • New Zealand First outperformed the polls during the last two general elections. The theory is that his demographic of older voters votes in a greater proportion than the general population.
  • What does that mean for Northland? Possibly nothing because the majority of people voting for him won’t be traditional New Zealand First voters. But it makes me less certain of a National win. They’re a long way behind in the polls and people who vote for Peters do turn out. I’m a lot less certain.

The Clarkson paradox

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:59 am

I think the celebrity bloke is a modern phenomenon. Jeremy Clarkson will go down as being the canonical version, but we have/had Paul Holmes, Paul Henry, Mike Hosking etc, all pretty much the same template: conservative bigoted multi-millionaires closely allied with the establishment who are, paradoxically, beloved by the general public as mavericks and rebels speaking truth to power by insulting – or, in Clarkson’s case actually beating up – people who are powerless.

March 25, 2015

More on political messaging and advertising

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 2:20 pm

My theory about National’s messaging in the preceding post isn’t a general theory of why National is popular. There are several drivers behind that: their success at fundraising, their very impressive organisational skills, Key’s personal qualities, Labour sucking for almost ten years now. It’s an explanation as to why their messaging makes so little sense and is often in total contradiction of the known facts (cf Key claiming that a loss in Northland would see the death of the South Korean free-trade deal) the theory being that, like advertising it’s about engaging people on an emotional level, not a rational one.

Some people in the comments to the previous post say that this buys into Bombers ‘sleepy Hobbits and stupid sheeple love National’ rhetoric. I don’t think people are stupid. But they often lack perfect information and advertising is often about exploiting that in ways that deliberately confuse them and draw them towards choices that favor the advertiser.

Consider painkillers. There are shelves full of them in the supermarkets, and they generally fall into two classes: name brand (Nurofen, Panadol) and generics. These products contain the exact same active ingredients (ibuprofen, paracetamol) and the generics are roughly half the price of the name brand, but most consumers buy the name brand.

Is that because those consumers are stupid? I don’t think so. It’s because people just aren’t that informed about the pharmacology of analgesics, and when they’re walking down the aisle and see a wall of different products they see Panadol and associate it with words like ‘trusted and effective’ (the exact same phrases National uses to describe its management of the economy) recalled by years of half-glimpsed ads. There is no rational argument name-brand companies can make for you to buy their products. (And you shouldn’t!) so the messaging is either emotive (trusted, effective) or disinformation (some name brand products claim to treat sinus pain, others back pain or migraines, they are all the same identical product).

People can find out about the qualities of generic painkillers. The box is right there on the shelf, so there is ‘balance’ in that sense. But the majority of people aren’t that engaged. They have other things to do with their lives other than inform themselves on active ingredients of painkillers – and that’s true, I think, of most political issues. How many voters really care about state housing, to the degree that if they hear Bill English droning on about how he’s being sensible and prudent and fixing the housing market they’ll go out and educate themselves to find out whether he’s telling the truth?

Conspiracy theory of the day and other observations

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:55 am
  • Why is National so desperate to win Northland – even at the cost of making themselves look like fools – when they can stitch up Peter Dunne’s vote and pass pretty much everything? Here’s my totally unsubstantiated theory. When they talked to Dunne after the election his price for confidence and supply was a nice diplomatic posting somewhere at the end of the term. Which means (a) The government would lose its majority sometime in 2017 and need either New Zealand First or the Maori Party to pass legislation and (b) Dunne would retire as an MP and the rotten borough of Ohariu would become a normal electorate seat, which is a net loss for National.
  • David Fisher has a column about the timing of his latest Snowden story in light of the Prime Miinister’s allegations that it was calculated to coincide with his trip to South Korea.
  • Chris Trotter writes about ‘post-modern’ politics in Russia and New Zealand and advances a theory I’ve heard from a few people now, that National’s messaging is deliberately confusing; that by disorientating the public with self-contradictory ideas and arguments they’re practising a form of ‘avant-garde’ politics, with the result that the public turn off and stop listening to negative news stories about the government, repulsed by the incomprehensibility of it all.
  • It’s a fun theory. And it’s true that most of what comes out of the Beehive at the moment makes literally no sense (today they’re solving the housing crisis by selling state houses to property developers because it’s ‘what the public wants’). But I think it’s because this government speaks the language of advertising rather than avant-garde art. An ad for Coke or laundry detergent makes no sense on a rational level. (The product is consumed by sedentary fat people – why are they showing slender beautiful people playing beach volleyball?) But, like ads, National’s communications products are (a) data driven based on extensive research and (b) aren’t targeted at people who pay close attention and subject them to reasoned analysis. They’re pitched at an emotive non-rational level for people who are half-listening while driving, or half-watching the news while they get the kids ready for bed. The logical integrity of the arguments don’t matter because they’re just delivery mechanisms for key phrases that by-pass logic and trigger emotional reactions to political events.

March 24, 2015

Chart of the day, relaxed edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:51 am


March 23, 2015

Spies for the boys

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:19 am

Today’s Snowden revelation:

Our spies monitored email and internet traffic about international diplomats vying for the job of director-general of the World Trade Organisation – a job for which National Government Trade Minister Tim Groser was competing.

The spying operation was active in 2013 and called the “WTO Project” by New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), according to a top secret document obtained by the Herald and United States news site The Intercept.

The operation involved covert surveillance of candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Jordan, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and South Korea.

The ‘realist’ response to this is: well, duh. Spying on foreign politicians for diplomatic and trade purposes is what intelligence agencies do, and the GCSB is an intelligence agency.

The problem with this is that the GCSB is a very controversial agency. It’s been caught breaking the law. It’s oversight is near non-existent, and its been granted several expansions of its powers on the grounds that we should just trust it, because they’re trustworthy people and they keep the public safe. But, yet again we find it engaged in dubious activities that have nothing whatsoever to do with public safety.

In fact, none of the revelations we’ve heard about this agency have anything to do with security – even though that’s the justification for this agency’s existence! That could be because Hager and the Herald are cherry-picking stories to make the GCSB look bad. Or because they’re being responsible, and not publishing stories that might jeopardise ongoing operations, yadda yadda yadda. But I suspect it’s because there aren’t any.

This story also illustrates (a) why we’re members of FIVE EYES. It gives our politicians, diplomats and spies the ability to spy on anyone in the world! (b) How our elites conflate the interest of New Zealand with their own personal and career objectives. We spent a ton of taxpayer money trying to get Groser his dream job, and it was always on the basis that it would be ‘good for New Zealand’ in a nebulous way that was never actually explained, just accepted and repeated by establishment commentators. So breaching diplomatic conventions and spying on his political rivals in a bunch of friendly trading partners to get him a top job was also ‘good for New Zealand’, somehow, and justified on that vague basis. And (c) it didn’t actually work. Groser is still our Trade Minister and we’re still paying for his epic minibar bills.

The activities of this agency aren’t secret because of ‘security’. They’re secret because they’re not justifiable to the public. This agency has cost about half a billion dollars over the last ten years, which would be fine if we had dire security threats and they were protecting us from them. But that’s not what’s happening. The half a billion dollars funds intelligence operations against Tuvalu, Kiribati, Antarctic research scientists, anti-corruption campaigners in the Solomons and the Trade Minister’s career rivals.

March 20, 2015

Grim up Northland

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:20 am

It’s already been a hell of a by-election, and it sounds like it might get even fiercer up there but I still think National will win. If you’re watching the TV news then the by-election looks like a train-wreck for National, but – just as in 2014 – the real election is happening off-screen

National will have a database profiling almost every voter in the electorate. In the next eight days every ‘Highly Likely’ National voter in Northland will get a call from a party volunteer or Curia staffer reminding them that the government’s majority is under threat, and advising them of where their closest advance-voting booth is. Scores of volunteers and young Nats will be mini-bused up from Auckland. They’ll door-knock possible soft-New Zealand First voters and repeat scripts that have been focus-grouped to induce anxiety and doubt about Winston Peters and New Zealand First among key demographics. They’ll be staffing booths in malls and canvasing pedestrians in town centers. They’ll mail out personalised leaflets to harder-to-reach rural voters. Peters is a good campaigner but he can’t compete with that. Short of any unforeseen catastrophe, National will win.

What’s interesting is that National has to work this hard to hold one of their safest seats. There’s a mixture of factors in play. The reason for Sabin’s resignation. Winston Peters’ political skills. The poor quality of the National candidate. But one of National’s main problems, I think, is that when they’re fighting against Peters and New Zealand First they’re fighting themselves. Winston Peters is, famously, a protege of Robert Muldoon, and his party is based on Muldoon’s legacy of populist, dirigiste conservatismNational is a big party and thus a ‘broad church’ but it was – for about twenty years – dominated by free market economic liberals, partly as a reaction against the economic disaster that Muldoonism inflicted on the country.

But in the last six years National has undergone a dramatic transformation. They’re no longer ‘economic liberals’ in any meaningful sense. (Although they probably still think they are, much as aging ex-hippies with property portfolios and luxury cars might still consider themselves anti-establishment rebels. People like to cling onto idealistic conceptions of themselves long after any attempt at living up to the ideal has gone.) National is no longer a party of economic or individual freedom – they’re a populist conservative party of economic intervention, mostly indifferent to or openly hostile towards individual freedoms. Their points of difference with New Zealand First are so trivial they’re reduced to running around Northland warning provincial voters that a Peters win might jeopardise a free trade deal with South Korea. That’s the big policy gap between Muldoon’s disciple and the modern National Party.

I don’t know what the long term political consequences of National’s shift means. Muldoonism was very popular even when it bought the country to the brink of economic collapse because it was a form of government exclusively devoted to maintaining its own grip on power. To paraphrase Citizen Kane: It’s no big thing to win elections – if all you want to do in government is win elections.

Two excerpts from the IPCA report into the Roastbusters

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:04 am

The full report is here:


Got that? The police logic goes: ‘The complainants claim that they didn’t consent, but we can’t charge these guys with sexual assault because we can’t prove that there wasn’t consent. And we can’t change them with sex with an underage person because we assume that the sex was consensual.’

Here’s what’s amazing. The officers making these decisions were detectives in the Child Protection Unit. They’re a special team trained to ‘exclusively focus’ on child abuse and they either did not understand the law around the age of consent or deliberately misinterpreted it.

The IPCA also notes, with a weary sigh:


The processes within the police for dealing with this category of crime referred to in the IPCA report sound pretty good. The problem, as they note, is that the police didn’t bother to follow any of them. Seven different complainants came forward and named same same three attackers, which is supposed to trigger something called a ‘Mass Allegation Investigation’ to address serial abuse by the same offenders or groups of offenders. Instead the police just looked at each case on an individual basis, decided it wasn’t worth prosecuting – because they didn’t understand the damn law – and then went around assuring each other that none of the victims wanted to lay a complaint – which was false – and that officers had talked to the boys and their parents, which none of them ever actually bothered to do.

At least two of the senior detectives overseeing these cases – Officer C and Officer E – appear to be incompetent. Both of them still have their jobs. And that’s really the key issue here. Police can blandly say they accept criticisms and recommendations and apologise to victims, etc, but if they don’t sack incompetent officers specifically identified as being the cause of this debacle then none of it means anything.

March 13, 2015

Shaw up the Greens

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 3:38 pm

My friend James – last seen on this blog demagoguing it up at the Te Aro Meet the Candidates event – has entered the Green Party leadership contest. I’ll be helping him with his campaign so will possibly not be the most impartial commentator on the race.

The data-based argument for James’ leadership is basically the chart below. He wasn’t an MP when he ran in Wellington Central last year yet more people there voted Green than any other electorate in the country. The Greens need to grow their vote if they’re going to break out of their marginal position in Parliament, and James can do that. Some of the other candidates in the race have (many) more years of Parliamentary experience than him – but the Greens already have a very experienced co-leader in Metiria Turei. The strength of the co-leader model is that new co-leaders can be, well, new and invigorate the caucus (which is what happened when Russel Norman came in).


The way the leadership contest works is that there will be branch/electorate Green Party meetings before the AGM. Those meetings will direct their delegates on how to vote, which they do by ranking candidates in order of preference. So if you’re a member of the party and you want to be involved in the leadership process, go to the local meeting and make your case.

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