The Dim-Post

September 6, 2016

Why are cabbage leaves wrinkled

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:04 pm

One of the things I looked forward to about being a parent was answering questions about the world. What is the sun? Why is the sky blue, etc. And, I figured, even if I couldn’t answer my daughter’s questions I could look the answers up on the internet and then translate the explanations very lucidly.

This has hardly ever worked in practise. Today’s question: why are the leaves of a Savoy cabbage so wrinkled? ‘Uh . . . water retention?’ I guessed, before looking online and not finding an answer. Any botanists out there want to answer?

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Low Times

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:54 am

Via RNZ:

Speaking on Morning Report today, Mr Key admitted high immigration was putting a strain on the country’s infrastructure, but the government would continue to bring in large numbers to fill jobs.

He said this was partly because many employers could not get New Zealanders to work due to problems with drugs or work ethic.

“We bring in people to pick fruit under the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) scheme, and they come from the islands, and they do a fabulous job. And the government has been saying ‘well, OK, there are some unemployed people who live in the Hawke’s Bay, and so why can’t we get them to pick fruit’, and we have been trialling a domestic RSE scheme.

“But go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on.

I can understand why you’d want drug tests for forestry jobs, or other high risk industries – but why on earth would you drug test fruit-pickers? Is someone who smoked pot in the weekend really unqualified to pick apples? It seems like a totally pointless barrier to entry: the creation of a spurious problem, the solution to which – higher unemployment, higher welfare costs, higher immigration, increased infrastructure costs – can all be avoided by simply letting potheads pick some fruit.

As for people not turning up for work and having health problems, these seem like the completely predictable and widely predicted results of folding the sickness benefit into the unemployment benefit. Yeah, people with chronic illnesses are gonna have health issues. What Key seems to be saying here is that Paula Bennett’s extremely expensive welfare reforms have been a catastrophic failure.

September 5, 2016

Three predictions

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 12:09 pm

Via NewsHub:

Shane Jones is writing a book musing about how New Zealand should be run in one of the strongest signs yet his political comeback is on.

Sources have told Newshub that Jones has been mulling over the book’s contents and wants to use it as a “political reset button”.

The incarnation of ‘Jonesey the author’ comes amid growing speculation he will stand for New Zealand First at the next election.

The sources say that Jones has begun “doing the early mahi (work)” on the book’s outline while recovering from dengue fever contracted in Papua New Guinea during his role as the Government’s Pacific Ambassador.

Jones is clearly lining up the Whangarei seat that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants to take off National’s Shane Reti. He lives in nearby Kerikeri, but has strong links to Whangarei where Peters already has a strong presence.

Prediction 1 is that there will be no book. Prediction 2: if Jones stands for New Zealand First in Whangarei he will lose in a landslide. Prediction 3. Even if the first two predictions come true the gallery will continue to be gullible suckers for Jonesy.

The need for an aggregator

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:00 am

This Russell Brown post on the Herald and Stuff sites obscuring the actual journalism their companies generate by burying them under torrents of clickbait is very true. Someone told me recently that Paula Penfold and the other former 3D Investigates journalists had been doing good reporting for Fairfax, and it occurred to me that I have no way of finding this out other than random word-of-mouth. I don’t read the actual paper, don’t use Twitter and stopped going to Stuff years ago. And it then occurred to me that Matt Nippert and Kirsty Johnson (and probably some others) are probably still writing good stories at the Herald, but since I gave up on their site a few months back too, I don’t get to read them either. I basically just get my news from the RNZ site now, and the odd linked article on Facebook, because they’re the only sources that don’t spam me with reality TV nonsense and overseas crime stories with headlines and ledes disguised to look like local content.

What I could really use is an aggregator. Way back in the day Kiwiblog functioned as a political news aggregator, linking and excerpting pretty much every political story with DPF writing ‘An excellent Herald editorial’ at the top or ‘Indeed’ at the bottom of them. If I had world enough and time I’d set up a New Zealand journalism aggregator, and call it ‘Indeed’ in honour of those salad days. But I don’t. I’d be very grateful if someone else did though. Hell, I’d even log in to twitter to check it.

September 3, 2016

The absence of gossip

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:40 am

I have no idea what’s happened in Andrew Little’s office, or why his Chief of Staff has stepped down. I haven’t even heard plausible rumours. But I keep reading these takes in which McCarten shifting back to Auckland is somehow ‘good news for Labour’ or ‘a smart strategic move’. It is neither of these things. Being without a Chief of Staff AND a Communications Director less than a year from the start of an election campaign is not smart, or strategic, it is a catastrophically bad position for a political party to be in: a harbinger of doom.

Those senior staffer positions are stressful. People burn out, or get fed up, or just want to do something else with their lives. But the Opposition Leader’s Chief of Staff is in line to become the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, who is one of the most powerful people in the country. It is a position a professional political operative willingly step downs from about as frequently as an Opposition Leader willingly steps down, ie pretty much never.

September 2, 2016

Politics, Weiner and Gossip

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:13 am

One of the many odd stories coming out of US politics recently has been yet another scandal involving disgraced former US Congress member Anthony Weiner, this one prompting his wife to leave him. There’s a documentary about Weiner, called Weiner, and it’s marketed as a comedy. After all, it’s got dick-pics, and a guy called ‘Weiner’ – what’s not to laugh at? But the movie is actually very depressing: a close-up look at a guy who seems to have everything, and an amazing future ahead of him, but who seems compelled to repeatedly engage in a form of self-destructive behavior that also humiliates and traumatises everyone close to him.

The movie takes a very critical view of the media obsession with Weiner’s scandal, showing us a prurient mainstream media obsessed with sex and personality issues, instead of ‘the real issues’. Weiner rails against this. ‘What does his private life matter?’ he demands. ‘What about the real issues? What about the middle-class?’ It’s an argument you hear a lot in politics, especially on the left, although the insistence on ‘the real issues’ gets suspended when, say, the Prime Minister gets caught annoying waitresses. But most of the time the focus is on policy, values – like the evils of the endlessly versatile neoliberalism – and ‘the real issues’.

There’s a very credible theory in evolutionary psychology that the main advantage that the evolution of language conferred on early humans was not communication when hunting, or the formation of elaborate plans, but rather the development of gossip. ‘Gossip is a peer-to-peer information sharing network’ as the academics put it, and it allowed humans to form much larger communities if they exchanged information about people’s strengths and weaknesses: who is good and bad to work with, who you might want to mate with, who to stay away from; who your leaders should be. If it’s true then it puts all this emphasis on policy and values over personality and scandal in a very different light. If we’re basically hard-wired to privilege gossip about politicians over other forms of information – and I don’t think that’s a bad way to make decisions about leaders at all; it’s certainly far more sensible for low information voters than trying to figure out the truth and substance behind policy debates – then trying to win on policy or ‘the real issues’ is just completely futile, especially if the gossip is malign.

Because there’s good kinds of gossip. There were a bunch of stories the other day about John Key washing his car, and it generated contemptuous groans from the online left. But if you’re someone who isn’t obsessed with politics, seeing the head of government making fun of himself, washing his car, spending time with his son – these are, y’know, likable things to most people. If I think my way through most of our crop of successful politicians its not hard to think of the stories they want to tell about themselves. Bill English is a gruff farmer. Paula Bennett is a feisty westie. Judith Collins is Crusher. Winston Peters is a wily old fox who keeps ’em honest. Andrew Little’s lack of popularity has been a topic of discussion recently, and I have no idea of how he wants to be seen in a positive light. What does he want people to say about him? Right now he’s just a grim, irritable man rasping away on my TV or radio all the time. People inside left-wing political parties gossip constantly about MPs and leaders and staffers and candidates and office-holders, and pretty much everyone else, and even though they’re consumed by gossip, they seem weirdly oblivious to its significance.

August 29, 2016

Why I don’t fear the robot apocalypse

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:45 am

Being in Christchurch made me realise how reliant I am on Google Maps whenever I’m out of the tiny patch of Wellington I’m familiar with. Maps doesn’t really work in Christrchurch – every time I tried to use it the application lead me to a giant construction site or into the middle of a vast, empty temporary carpark the size of a city block and then told me ‘You have arrived at your destination.’

Even worse

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:18 am

I spent the weekend in Christchurch at the (excellent) Word festival, and someone reminded me of poetry – although technically song lyrics – even worse than McGongall’s:

I don’t want to see a ghost
It’s a sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
And watch the evening news

– Life, Des’Ree

August 26, 2016

National Poetry Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:33 pm

I discussed this celebration with friends at lunch and somehow none of them had heard of 19th Century Scottish poet William Topaz McGongall, widely celebrated as the worst poet of all time: he seems roughly cognate to Tommy Wiseau. Here is the first verse of his masterpiece The Tay Bridge Disaster

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time

August 25, 2016

Electrons!

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:49 am

Earlier this year Key is said to have asked his Ministers to come up with some new policy ideas, to deflect the criticism that they were a tired, exhausted, intellectually bankrupt government spinning its wheels and going nowhere. Maggie Barry’s ‘Predator Free New Zealand’ stunt was one. And now here’s Hekia Parata:

School-age students will be able to enrol in an accredited online learning provider instead of attending school, under new Government legislation.

The move has dismayed the primary school teachers’ union who say education is about learning to work and play with other children.

The radical change will see any registered school, tertiary provider such as a polytechnic or an approved body corporate be able to apply to be a “community of online learning” (COOL).

Any student of compulsory schooling age will be able to enrol in a COOL – and that provider will determine whether students will need to physically attend for all or some of the school day.

The Ministry of Education says this requirement may depend on the type of COOL.

There’s a scene in HBO’s Silicon Valley where an engineer is trying to explain his product to a group of ordinary people. He asks them, ‘What’d you have for breakfast today?’ Scrambled eggs,’ someone replies. ‘Scrambled eggs!’ he repeats, thrilled to finally be communicating his idea. ‘And what’s in the eggs? Electrons! Right? And we all know how electrons exist in orbitals. Multivalent states? No?

The idea of COOLs has been around in the tertiary sector for a LONG time now – although there they’re called MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and I think it’s based on this type of reductive thinking. Universities (and now, schools) are really expensive. Huge capital investments. Huge staff costs. Huge overheads. But what do people do at these universities? Well, they learn. What do they learn? Information. And how do you transmit information? Electrons! So there is obviously no reason why those electrons can’t be transmitted digitally at super-low cost instead of via expensive lecture theaters and classrooms and lecturers. Right? No?

I was at a seminar on how MOOCs were going to ‘massively disrupt’ the entire tertiary education system over ‘the next twelve to eighteen months’ (this was back in, I think, 2006) and a computer scientist in the audience made a point that stuck with me. ‘If there was a killer app that was going to disrupt lecture and classroom based teaching you’d think it would have been the invention of Movable Type, back in the 15th Century. That drastically lowered the cost of information transfer. For the first time in history people could read a book at a lesser cost than attending a lecture. And yet the four hundred years since then people are spending more and more of their lives in lecture and classroom based teaching. Why is that?’

The guy giving the seminar did not know, and seemed amused at the sight of all these university staffers trying to justify their existence. Didn’t we see that the digital technology meant our entire sector was going to be wiped out in a matter of months? Why were we so blind? It’s still there, though, and the reason for that is that these institutions add value to the electrons they deliver in ways that online solutions don’t.

There are various theories about what the value-add is for tertiary institutes, but for schools an additional and critical value-add is that they function as child care. Obviously the teaching and socialisation is really important, but providing a safe place for kids to go while their parents work is a huge part of the package. Who is looking after kids who are studying at home through a COOL? What happens to the grades of COOL kids who study online instead of in the school environment? If they’re at home for part of the day and at school for others, how do they travel in between outside of normal commuting times? I think Parata would say it was too early to ask those questions. Actually she’d say something like, ‘We will work towards delivering robust partnership solutions going forwards.’ But these are really basic questions that should probably be answered before we spend money on this policy.

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