The Dim-Post

June 30, 2009

Another juxtaposition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 3:16 pm

helen-lovejoy_largeThe Families Commission has a stated position in relation to the referendum, and as a Families Commissioner it makes sense for Christine Rankin to make sure that she does not contravene that line and speak out by campaigning in a way that would be inappropriate. Having said that, I would expect more from the Opposition. When National was in Opposition, we still cared about abused children and we did not spend our time playing political games. All those members care about is politics; they do not care about the abused kids of New Zealand.

John Key, Questions for Oral Answer. Hansard, 23rd June 2009

A team of social workers dedicated to child abuse prevention is included in jobs cuts confirmed this afternoon by the Social Development Ministry.

The Ministry – the Government’s largest with 9500 employees, including the Child, Youth and Family service – confirmed a total of 200 jobs will be cut from its ranks, Radio New Zealand reported.

Child, Youth and Family head Ray Smith said it was closing 12 administration service centres, and cutting a team of 18 child abuse education social workers, with a total of 80 jobs to go.

CYF workers face Social Development Ministry Axe. NZPA via Stuff. 30 June 2009.

Lady MacBeth:
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promis’d. Yet do I fear thy nature,
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.

MacBeth, Act I, Scene V.

The General in his Labyrinth

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 7:35 am

The Economist reports on the coup in Honduras:

THE scene was reminiscent of many in the 20th century, when military coups against democratic governments were sadly common across much of Latin America. At dawn on Sunday June 28th a group of soldiers barged into the residence of Manuel Zelaya, Honduras’s president, disarmed his guards, dragged him to an air base and flew him to exile in San José, Costa Rica. The army silenced the state television station, cut electricity supplies and the bus services in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and sent tanks and planes to patrol the city. “I was brutally taken out of my house and kidnapped by hooded soldiers who pointed high-calibre rifles at me,” said Mr Zelaya. “But until the next elections, I will continue to be the president of Honduras. Only the people can remove me.”

The toppling of Mr Zelaya took the region by surprise. Honduras, although small, poor and ravaged by corruption and violent gangs, has seemed a more solid democracy than, for example, neighbouring Guatemala. Mr Zelaya, a Liberal, alienated the leaders of the country’s main political parties last year by joining the leftist Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an alliance led by Venezuela’s populist president, Hugo Chávez. Yet Mr Zelaya’s policies have been only mildly social-democratic, such as an increase in the minimum wage.

The cause of Mr Zelaya’s downfall was his attempt to emulate Mr Chávez by organising a referendum to call a constituent assembly. He seemed to hope that this would enable him to remain in power, perhaps by changing the constitution to allow him to stand for a second term in an election due in November. This embroiled Mr Zelaya in a conflict of powers. The Congress and the courts both rejected the referendum.

One of the nice things about the end of the cold war is that civil disputes like those in Honduras and Iran play themselves out more or less internally – if these events happened back in the 1970’s or early 80’s then the US and the USSR would pick sides (more or less arbitrarily) pour guns and money into these countries and let them tear themselves apart for a decade or so. Obviously an anti-democratic coup is not great, but such events are now universally condemned. Twentyfive years ago Reagan would have been praising the new dictator of Honduras as a ‘founding father’.

Land of milk and money

Filed under: finance — danylmc @ 6:57 am

The Weekend Herald had a good article about the collapse of the Finance Companies and the effect on investors, angling the story around a nurse who lost her life savings:

The 62-year-old hospice nurse has had to sell her Nelson home to meet the mortgage payments on an Auckland apartment she bought through failed Blue Chip property investment scheme.

Ufton is just one of the thousands of investors who have lost money in the more than $6 billion collapse of the finance and investment industry.

Instead of looking forward to her retirement in three years, she is working longer hours to keep afloat and expecting to work until she is 70.

The retirement nest egg she hoped to have accumulated by now has been replaced with a mountain of debt after investments in Blue Chip, Bridgecorp, North South Finance and the ING Diversified Yield Fund turned into disasters.

“I wanted to be independent in my retirement,” Ufton says. “The best I can hope for [now] is a small, modest home and New Zealand super.”

The blogosphere being what it is, I guess a lot of people will just sneer at Ufton for failing to diversify her investments – but she was acting on the advice of a professional financial adviser who feels that his client has been unlucky but doesn’t appear to feel any guilt about wiping out her life savings.

I think it’s very admirable that the Herald has continued to cover the finance company collapse and subsequent fall out especially since this has failed to gain traction as a political issue – the Commerce Commission belatedly begins regulating financial advisers some time next year (I’m sure they’re quaking in their boots) but I don’t think there’s been any legislative or regulatory reaction to the finance companies themselves.

I guess the National Party finds it ideologically embarrassing that financiers operating in an admirably deregulated, highly competitive market managed to steal and/or destroy such a massive chunk of the nation’s private wealth, and (presumably) Labour is equally embarrassed that the transfer of billions of dollars from the middle and working class to a tiny handful of centi-millionaires happened under their watch (for the second time in a generation).

Politically the finance companies still seem like low hanging fruit though – it seems like an issue Peter Dunne could do something with, on the basis that he’s supposed to be a centrist that stands up for decent middle class New Zealanders, and it also seems like a pretty good platform for the Green Party – surely their notion of social justice extends to not having your life savings stolen while the Commerce Commission does nothing about it?

June 29, 2009

Good journalism o’ the day

Filed under: crime — danylmc @ 12:48 pm

The Herald on Sunday has a profile/obituary of gang leader Mossie Hines:

Hines died of cancer alone in a prison cell, aged 55, early this month. For 30 years, he had ruled the Nomads, and for 20 of those years the gang terrorised a small western sliver of the North Island just above Wellington.

Caught between the Tararua Ranges and the Tasman Sea, Horowhenua suffered under gangs like few other parts of the country.

There, he liked to be known as The Godfather, but his reach was greater. At its height, the Nomads stretched across the North Island into Tokoroa and further north. His roots were Black Power, his brother William “Bird” Hines is a senior Head Hunters member in Auckland.


For years, the Nomads were believed to be a key link in running drugs from Auckland to Wellington. At the tangi, said one: “Almost every gang in the country was there.”

It was their homage to a man who was legend among his peers, and who was behind the nightmares of many in Horowhenua.

The day of the funeral, the infighting began. Hines’ stepson was shot in the leg, a house was torched, a gun brandished, a beating delivered.

The young and old are fighting for control – though it is doubtful the Nomads can even exist after their leader’s death.

Reassuring to know that when Hines was building up his gang our domestic intelligence agencies were busy keeping a close eye on Sue Bradford and Keith Locke. I wonder if the SIS even knew (or cared) who Hines was.

Farrah Fawcett and Ayn Rand

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


Why did Rand say she was so determined to see you in the role of Dagny Taggart, the female heroine in Atlas Shrugged?

I don’t remember if Ayn’s letter specifically mentioned Charlie’s Angels, but I do remember it saying that she was a fan of my work. A few months later, when we finally spoke on the phone (actually she did most of the speaking and I did most of the listening), she said she never missed an episode of the show. I remember being surprised and flattered by that. I mean, here was this literary genius praising Angels. After all, the show was never popular with critics who dismissed it as “Jiggle TV.” But Ayn saw something that the critics didn’t, something that I didn’t see either (at least not until many years later): She described the show as a “triumph of concept and casting.” Ayn said that while Angels was uniquely American, it was also the exception to American television in that it was the only show to capture true “romanticism”—it intentionally depicted the world not as it was, but as it should be. Aaron Spelling was probably the only other person to see Angels that way, although he referred to it as “comfort television.”

June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson

Filed under: movies — danylmc @ 8:22 am

I don’t really have much to say about Michael Jackson, other than that I quite like Smooth Criminal and Human Nature and a couple of the tracks off Off the Wall and Thriller – but that duet he did with Paul McCartney has to go down as one of the worst songs of all time. It seems a bit odd that the world’s ‘King of Pop’ only made two or three good albums, the last of which was released over twenty years ago.

I was trying to explain the significance of 1980s Michael Jackson to some of the students in my lab yesterday – to them he was just a creepy guy who looked like an asian woman and released the odd terrible album – and I told them to imagine how famous Britney Spears was in the heyday of her mega-stardom and then imagine how much bigger she’d have been if she had any kind of talent and released good songs. I’m not sure they got it though – popular music is now so fragmented and niche oriented, with most commercial music relentlessly targeted at teenagers and despised by everyone else that it’s hard to imagine the kind of cultural consensus there was in the 80’s and earlier about people like Michael Jackson (or Prince, or Madonna, or even U2).

June 25, 2009

Picture of the Day

Filed under: painting — danylmc @ 9:24 pm

Ghost of a Flea. Tempera panel with gold on mahogony. William Blake, circa 1819. Held in the Tate Gallery Millbank.

Blake’s friend John Varley was an astrologer; the two men attended a seance together and Varley provides a description of the appearance of the Ghost:

As I was anxious to make the most correct investigation in my power, of the truth of these visions, on hearing of this spiritual apparition of a Flea, I asked him if he could draw for me the resemblance of what he saw: he instantly said, ‘I see him now before me.’ I therefore gave him paper and a pencil with which he drew the portrait… I felt convinced by his mode of proceeding, that he had a real image before him, for he left off, and began on another part of the paper, to make a separate drawing of the mouth of the Flea, which the spirit having opened, he was prevented from proceeding with the first sketch, till he had closed it

Goff interrupted

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 4:32 pm

DPF links to a Weekend Herald interview with Phil Goff, bafflingly conducted by the newspaper’s TV reviewer instead of someone on the political desk. The article is so poorly written it is virtually incomprehensible:

We were in his electorate office and I mentioned the Ranfurly Veterans’ Home just up the road, because I know he pops in all the time to say hello. So it was my fault, but he said, “I grew up on Warren Ave [around the corner] and it was just a dirt road … The last survivors of the Boer War and a lot of the World War I vets were there then …”


Having raised the home, I’m really not being rude about his reminiscences, but I know better than to let him go on with them.

One thing he is known for is giving horribly long answers to questions, even to questions that haven’t been asked. There is an old joke about him in the Radio New Zealand newsroom which goes like this: Phil Goff has never missed a deadline. “Ha, ha, I haven’t heard that one. I’ve always fronted up to media.”

He has always been tremendously good at what he calls “staying relentlessly on message”. At one point he says “now, where was I?” and I say “that’s not like you, Phil, to lose track”.

“I’m trying to escape from elements of being too on track.” And how successful has that been? “I’m joking,” he said, but he shouldn’t have been.

It it goes on like this. David somehow managed to wade through all this inane gibberish and has advice for Goff, much of which I think is very sound:

If Goff wants to become PM one day, he should do the following:

  1. Do a series of puff pieces in the women’s mags etc. Have us learn more about Phil Goff. Do some extended interviews with the weekly newspapers.
  2. Dampen down the negative tactics. The handling of the Choudary allegations was clumsy at best.  Labour is far too focused on “beltway” issues and not issues that matter to voters.
  3. Start outlining what Goff believes in, and how it differs from both Helen Clark and John Key.  This will not be without risk but is necessary.
  4. Do a reshuffle within 12 months and promote some of the Class of 2008 to more senior positions, and go into the next election with a shadow cabinet that doesn’t look like the one thrown out three years earlier.

As I said before, Goff at the moment is a enigma. And people don’t vote for enigmas. Being a competent Foreign and Trade Minister doesn’t impress a lot of voters. They want to know more than that.

I suspect that Labour’s brain trust are plotting some kind of Orewaesque speech early next year and plan to ‘launch’ Goff as a product then. Of course these are the same wunderkind who gave us the Labour 2008 campaign, so it could be their plan is to give Goff a helmet and a spade, send him down a mineshaft and tell him to tunnel his way to victory in ’11.

More damning I think, than the lack of knowledge about Goff, or even his low polling is the lack of vandalism on his Wikipedia page. We will know Phil Goff has arrived as a political leader when his wiki page goes into protected mode.

Hell’va juxtaposition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 3:39 pm

First this:

Education Minister Anne Tolley says there is no more money to fund extra places in polytechnics during the recession.

Between 6000 and 8000 students would be turned away because of the Government cap on places in the following year, Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) New Zealand executive director Dave Guerin told Radio New Zealand this morning.

“We will have institutions closing their doors in the second semester,” he said.

Then this:

Thousands of beneficiaries could soon be flipping burgers under a deal between Work and Income and McDonald’s.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett revealed the agreement during a select committee meeting at Parliament yesterday. The agreement will provide up to 7000 unemployed for the fast-food chain’s restaurant expansion plans over the next five years.

I don’t actually think it’s a bad idea to put long term unemployed to work flipping burgers, but it would be a disaster to have people who could be actively seeking work stuck serving french fries instead of looking for a real job. And many of those people trying to sign up to polytech are going to be recently unemployed who want to train or upskill, their polytech course represents an investment – sticking them on the dole is simply lost money, even if it costs slightly less in the short term. As for sending people to McDonalds instead of retraining them – wasn’t this supposed to be a government that was ambitious for New Zealand?

Seems to me that one of the obvious things to do at the job summit would have been to anticipate the rise in unemployment, ask the public and private sectors what skillsets they’re currently short of and budget some money into extra training facilities for those jobs. Why not use the recession as an opportunity to train up some more nurses, cops and software engineers? With an estimated 60,000 additional unemployed projected there’s a pretty big talent pool to draw from.

My other free idea to anyone who might be listening is a ‘See New Zealand First’ tourism campaign to boost the domestic market; the recession means it’s a pretty good time to be travelling in this country, all the hotels have discounts and the tramping tracks aren’t full of Germans. It would be much better for the economy if people spent their spare cash here instead of pissing it away in Australia or one of the Pacific Islands.

June 24, 2009

Key confident Gandalf will save economy

Filed under: Politics,satire,Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:19 pm

Gandalf is rumoured to have clashed with Finance Minister Bill English over the validity of the Efficient Market Hypothesis

Responding to attacks by opposition MPs in the Labour Party about poor economic performance and rising unemployment the Prime Minister today insisted that the New Zealand economy was seeing ‘green shoots’ and that he was confident robust tourism numbers, a strong export market and the wisdom and magical powers of Gandalf the Grey would return New Zealand to a position of strong economic growth in the second half of 2009.

‘I have complete confidence in both the people of New Zealand and Gandalf,’ Key announced this morning while speaking to a meeting of manufacturers and industrialists in Onehunga. ‘And while normally members of the Istari do not intervene in human affairs they may do so in certain desperate circumstances.’

‘If the need is there Gandalf can and will take a more direct role, as we saw during the Battle of Five Armies and the assault on the Necromancer’s stronghold in Dol Guldur and I believe he will do so again given our current debt to GDP ratio.’

The Prime Minister took questions from the press after his speech but refused to give details on when Gandalf would intervene, saying ‘I do not wish to gainsay the Grey wizard but economic fundamentals such as unemployment, a stagnant property market and private borrowing levels are clearly dire enough to warrant his personal involvement.’

Labour were quick to criticise the Prime Minister’s plan with Labour finance spokesperson David Cunliffe casting doubts on Gandalf’s fiscal experience and credibility on financial matters, although he was quick to distance himself from Green Party leader Russel Norman who has repeatedly alleged that Gandalf is only a character in a book and does not actually exist.

‘It is the position of the Labour Party that Gandalf is not qualified to take a direct role in setting macro-economic policy, however we have the greatest respect for him on a personal level and condemn the Green Party’s baseless slurs against the hero of  Helm’s Deep. We call upon Dr Norman and the Prime Minister to apologise to Gandalf for involving him in such petty political gameplaying.’

Key dismissed the opposition attacks, saying, ‘if Labour had not run down our economy through overtaxation and overspending then they would not have put Gandalf in this difficult position.’

Key has responded cautiously to suggestions that the wise yet mysterious wizard might send him personally on an epic quest.

‘I’m not sure how that would work with my responsibilities as Prime Minister, nor do I accept that any member of the Council of the Wise has authority to send me on a quest,’ Key said, before acknowledging that both Thorin and Aragorn effectively served under Gandalf during the Journey to the Lonely Mountain and the War of the Ring, respectively. ‘To that I would say that my position is somewhat different to Strider’s since neither he or Thorin were functioning as heads of government during their time with Gandalf.’

In response to further questioning the Prime Minister refined his position, saying. ‘Look, if directly called upon to embark on an adventure I would probably go. You have to look at the specifics. If I were to be accompanied by Gandalf himself and any high elves then probably, yes, but if it was going to just be some dwarves and a bunch of hobbits then that would not be a high priority quest for me.’ ‘

Key would not be drawn on any specific actions he hoped Gandalf would take.

‘Obviously any help on Gandalf’s part would be appreciated but if the Great Eagles were involved  – possibly by somehow lowering our currency value to strengthen an export led recovery – then that would be ideal. Gwaihir and the Eagles are awesome. Failing that Gandalf could use Narya, his Ring of Power to promote job growth without contributing to an inflationary wage increase. Not many people know Gandalf himself is a ring-bearer.’

Gandalf could not be reached for comment.

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