May 28, 2009
Eddie at The Standard tells me something I didn’t know – that Mark Thomas is Melissa Lee’s campaign manager.
Thomas is best known as the ruthlessly double-crossed National Party candidate for Wellington Central back in 1996, as documented in the movie Campaign, and I believe he’s fought valiant but doomed battles for National in various safe Labour seats subsequent to that. Eddie claims that Thomas was the parties first openly gay candidate but I don’t think this is true. In Campaign Thomas was questioned about his sexuality and had a kind of mini-emotional breakdown on camera, the gist of which seemed to be an anguished denial.
I know Thomas slightly – he is the friend of a friend – and he seemed suspiciously left-wing to me; he was always reading books about Nelson Mandela or Gandhi, and one Christmas in London he got into a huge argument with my crazy, brilliant right-wing merchant banker flatmate about Anita Roddick, so his life-long and seemingly unreciprocated loyalty to the National Party appears a bit weird.
If you haven’t seen Campaign I highly recommend it; the director Tony Sutorius gets some killer footage, including the scene in which Thomas recieves the phone call in which he learns Bolger has endorsed ACT candidate Richard Prebble in his electorate. I think it’s one of the best documentaries ever made in New Zealand. Anthony Hubbard reviewed it back in 1999:
Sutorius, a 28-year-old documentary film-maker, has captured similar intimate moments with Labour’s Alick Shaw, Alliance candidate Danna Glendinning, and then Wellington Central MP, United’s Pauline Gardiner. The only major candidate to bar him access was Prebble.
Prebble’s party workers, however, were generous with their time and their talk. Some will regret it. Following a successful rally on the Wellington wharf, a group of activists are chortling together.
That was three times better than I expected,” says one. “That’s how the Nazis must have felt at Nuremberg,” says another.
Shaw, a former restaurateur with fly-away hair and a salty tongue, proves a volatile candidate. “Jesus, I just don’t understand these f—ing people,” he says, sitting in his car and snarling at a headline on the front page. The media are rarely popular during elections.
On another occasion Shaw sits glumly on a sofa, his hair fluffed and a cigarette writhing in his mouth. “Today’s not one of the good days,” he says. Actually, he sighs, the last week hasn’t been very good either.
Some scenes are cameos of exhaustion and despair. Glendining’s campaign is doomed: all that work, she says, and she knows where its headed. “I’ve got to put things in place to stop the pain that is going to be there. I just know what it will be like,” she says, trying to choke off the tears. “You’ve got to say you’re wonderful, because you can’t admit to the other candidates you’re in the depths of despair.” She weeps: the phone rings. “How are you?” she says brightly, her glassy politician’s voice blurred with tears.
I may also know Tony Sutorius slightly, at least I went to Plimmerton School with someone of the same name. Far as I can tell, Campaign is the only film he has ever made, which is a bit odd. New Zealand is not overly blessed with talented directors and if someone gets one good movie under their belt they’re usually set for life.
May 27, 2009
‘Nor is it to be thought that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substances walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones where Their seal is engraven, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Ia! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.
H P Lovecraft
Left Wing Danyl: Corporations that sell high-fat and high sugar products are getting rich by selling people slow acting poisons. And they’re deliberately marketing these toxic food substitutes at children! Shouldn’t we at least pass laws to protect minors from these products? After all, we don’t let them buy cigerettes or alcohol.
Libertarian Danyl: Well that’s your answer to everything isn’t it? Just pass another law, take away a little bit more of our freedom, expand the power of the state. Charge people more taxes so you can furthur limit their choices. People should be free to eat whatever kind of food they want. We have enough problems with the nanny state in this country without politicians telling us what we can and can’t eat for dinner.
Economist Danyl: Hang on a minute there – I agree that people should be allowed to choose what foods to eat – but you have to admit that products like soft drinks and potato chips have massive negative externalities. They contribute to chronic illness like diabetes and heart disease and those have a cost to the public health system that other people end up paying for through their taxes.
Libertarian Danyl: Tax is theft!
Left Wing Danyl: Tax is the price you pay for living in a civilised society.
Libertarian Danyl: Civilised? Ha! To quote Ron Paul . . .
Moderate Danyl: Oh shut up, idiot. So Economist Danyl, are you saying there should be an excise on junk food?
Economist Danyl: Why not? That’s what we do with other products that have negative externalities, like tobacco and alcohol.
Left Wing Danyl: The problem there is that obesity is closely correlated with poverty. A tax on junk food would be a highly regressive tax.
Economist Danyl: Then poor people will act like rational maximisers and respond to the changing conditions of the market by switching to cheaper, healthier options.
Sarcastic Danyl: Right, the way they have with tobacco?
Realist Danyl: There are also huge political barriers to an excise – the food companies aren’t just going to lie back and let you devalue their product. They’ll claim that the science around obesity and nutrition is ‘deeply disputed’, that there is real controversy over whether or not french fries are bad for you . . .
Moderate Danyl: Okay, so regulation of food might be too complicated . . .
Libertarian Danyl: Hallelujah.
Moderate Danyl: How about encouraging exercise?
Libertarian Danyl: How about laws governing bed time?
Selfish Danyl: No wait, I think that’s a good idea. The government could subsidise my gym membership!
Realist Danyl: Sponsored exercise programs have repeatedly failed every time they’ve been trialed. The only people who benefit are those already using a gym, who tend to be disproportionately wealthy. Besides which, obesity is about diet not exercise – the best the gym will do is prevent you from gaining more weight.
Selfish Danyl: I don’t think that’s true – the science around obesity and weight loss is deeply disputed . . .
Moderate Danyl: What about before our wedding? We lost twenty kgs in a couple of months.
Realist Danyl: We were running for two hours almost every morning – that’s not very practical for most people. And we put most of the weight back on when we stopped. You have to change your diet, tubby.
Left Wing Danyl: So what? There’s no solution? It’s hopeless?
Moderate Danyl: Thatcher once said that the problem with being middle class is that you understand everyone’s point of view but have none of your own.
Left Wing Danyl: You’re quoting Thatcher now? What kind of bourgeoisie sell out are you? You’ve changed, man. You used to be so cool.
Realist Danyl: No you didn’t.
I think that the government/Green Party initiative to insulate New Zealand’s housing stock is brilliant both in a general sense in that it will knock tens of billions of dollars off our public health bill over time and in a personal sense in that I’ve recently bought a 1920’s villa and the place is like a fucking deep freeze.
And that’s the mystery. Why have people have been living in this house for 80 to 90 years with no insulation and no proper heating? And why is almost every house in New Zealand like that? I guess it seems normal until you spend a few years living overseas and realise that the rest of the developed world spends winter in relative comfort inside insulated, centrally heated homes.
May 26, 2009
The government is introducing ‘anti-boy racer‘ bills to Parliament today:
The Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill and Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill introduced today would give police, courts and local authorities greater powers to tackle street racing.
Prime Minister John Key said he made no apologies for the harsh consequences of the bills.
“This Government and the public have run out of patience with illegal street racers.
“As a last resort some people’s vehicles could be crushed.”
Police Minister Judith Collins said people who have three street racing related offences within four years could see their cars crushed.
“Every new offence will now bring them closer to the crusher. That is the message that we would like them to get.”
The main goal of the legislation (assuming it gets passed) seems to be the generation of positive media coverage for Judith Collins, ideally prime time news stories in which she is seen crushing cars and then delivering a piece to camera. Less importantly it will provide an additional revenue stream for her departments by allowing Police to confiscate cars belonging to people with overdue fines and then auction them off.
I predict that the number of cars crushed subsequent to Collins’ staged media event will be tiny, possibly even zero, and that ‘boy racers’ will also be a small proportion of the people who have their cars confiscated and sold.
You might remember the article I linked to a couple of days ago about a New York Times economist about to default on his mortgage, although chances are that you don’t, because of the thousands (possibly millions!) of people who read this blog only 63 of you clicked on the link. For shame.
Edmund Andrews announced that he was publishing a book about his experience, advance copies were sent out and Andrews recieved rave reviews for his candour and insight, with one economist writing:
Through his reporting, Andrews definitively makes the case that Wall Street’s insatiable hunger for mortgages of any quality — in fact, the worse the better! — that could be bundled up into securities and then resold, provided the critical incentive encouraging the subprime mortgage sector to explode to such huge dimensions. As individuals, we do not deserve all the blame for living beyond our means — we were encouraged to do so and seduced into doing so by a host of characters, from Alan Greenspan to the biggest Wall Street bankers to the incorrigible telemarketers who never stopped calling.
But Andrews reputation for candour took quite a beating last week when Megan McArdle, a blogger at The Atlantic revealed that Andrews wife was a serial bankrupt, a detail he ommitted from the book. McArdle has Andrew’s response and her response to Andrews response up at her blog.She concludes:
I think this matters because the story Andrews told was basically about the subprime crisis, and the book casts him as a sort of everyman, lured in by cheap credit and a likeable scoundrel of a mortgage broker. That may be what happened to many, or most people in the mortgage crisis–but the back to back bankruptcies strongly suggest that this is not what happened to Andrews. That said, I think the story told with the bankruptcies included would still be a story well worth telling.
Andrews claims to be upset by the intrusion into his private life and that of his wife, so aside from being interesting in of itself I think this debate is germaine to l’affair Christine Rankin: if Andrews book was about almost anything else I think his wife, her past marriages and her financial mistakes should be off limits, just as Rankin’s should be if she’d been appointed to almost any other public service position other than the Families Commission.
May 25, 2009
Colin Espiner blogs about the dubious role the international ratings agencies play in the drafting of the budget:
The Government has admitted that English has had discussions with the ratings agencies over what it needs to do to avoid a credit downgrade from the current AA-negative watch rating.
And on Friday, it also admitted that English would give a presentation to Standard and Poor’s about the content of the Budget, along with people from the Treasury.
Now, I do have a slight problem with that. Why are Treasury and English telling a London-based ratings agency what is in the Budget before we know – and before his own caucus knows?
And exactly how much say has Standard and Poor’s had in the writing of the Budget? Because it’s pretty clear it’s been designed to stave off a credit downgrade. Therefore, there must have been a few nods and winks about what would be acceptable.
I’m not sure that this is a case of the ratings agencies pushing us around, which is where Colin ends up. I think that the government is trying to create a narrative around the budget in which it is considered a ‘success’ if it lets us avoid a downgrade from the ratings agencies; so it’s only sensible for the government to consult the agencies during the drafting stage to make sure things play out according to plan. I also wonder if we’re being shock doctrined to some extent and that the spectre of a ratings downgrade is going to let English and Key justify a whole lot of spending cuts that they know will be deeply unpopular on the basis that they’ve saved us from the horrors of a Moody’s downgrade.
There’s a sick irony to this situation; the nation is threatened with a downgrade because of falling revenues due to the financial crisis – which the ratings agencies played a key role in bringing about. Because companies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor gave AAA ratings to collateralized debt obligations for subprime mortgages, investors bought trillions of dollars of them and they subsequently turned out to be worthless. They also gave AAA ratings to Iceland’s kamikaze banks and hedge funds. So it’s pretty fucking daft for us to be in the position where we’re seeking the blessing of the clowns who helped kick off this whole crisis in the first place.
I don’t have much to say about the amalgamation of the Auckland councils because I don’t live there and I find it hard to care about anything that doesn’t directly affect me. It’s just the way I’m wired.
I did notice that Russel Norman wrote a guest post about the issue on Public Address and titled it ‘Grand Theft Auckland’, which I liked because I’m a Grand Theft Auto fan, but also because I think they have the best branding of any contemporary franchise via their highly distinctive graphic art (see example on right). Seems to me that this would be pretty easy to mash up and that a ‘Grand Theft Auckland’ negative campaign against the Super-City could have a lot of fun showing cartoon versions of Hide as a Russian Mobster, Key as a mafia don, Banks as a pimp and so on.
More generally, I think the Super-City represents a huge risk politically. The National Government will shortly ‘own’ Auckland in a political sense and if they fuck it up and antagonise the region then they lose the next election. And Key has put a huge amount of responsibility in Rodney Hide’s hands and hitched his little wagon to the ACT leader’s star in a way that will be difficult to walk back.
I am very conservative when it comes to large scale reform – I think that change should be incremental and carefully managed. I realise that sometimes bold, sweeping changes lead to great things but in my experience that kind of vision needs to be wed to very detailed planning and careful execution – National are rushing ahead at great speed and going out of their way to avoid any kind of oversight or review processes. I don’t think the SuperCity itself is a bad idea in theory, but the way they’re going about it means it will probably become a pretty terrible reality.
May 24, 2009
I only saw a bit of Q & A on my way out the door (I catch brief glimpses so you don’t have to). They had Hone Harawira discussing the Hikoi and related issues around the super-city. Harawira made the same mistake as Pita Sharples in his recent interview and failed to make a convincing case for proper Maori representation in Auckland: the reason for Maori seats is nothing to do with fairness or representation or the morality of race-based voting; Pacific Island voters should not get their own race-based seats, nor should Chinese or Indian voters for the simple reason that none of them are signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, while Maori are.
I think that members of the Maori Party understand this so well that they assume everyone else does too, so they feel they need to manufacture additional arguments without making the first most basic one, that their right to equal representation and partnership is guaranteed in the Treaty. I think they’re massively overestimating public awareness of these issues, when they’re speaking to a general audience they need to get right back to basics.
I switched off and went to Bikram half way through the show – did I miss anything?