Saturday, December 25, 2010

Another year shuffles out the door...

I am going to close this year with a straight and total c&p from Granny Herald. It is the op-ed from yesterday's paper and it says much that I have been striving to get others to realise over the past five years the probligo has infested the blogiverse.

Tracey Barnett has excelled herself -
Sometimes it can be difficult to find coverage of the really important stories.

Nobody likes getting played. But you get played every day. You start believing that the stories that get shoved up your nose just because they are noisy and new are the most important.

That's why for weeks one television breakfast show host's ridiculous comments wafted over our media landscape like nuclear waste while Nasa discovering the real likelihood of a new kind of life on other planets got buried in a feature. Pond scum that lives on arsenic isn't sexy. Go figure.

The truth is, we all lose when the big picture gets dumped for the newest snapshot. For every one valuable WikiLeaks story about free speech, the future of whistleblowers and international laws trying to tame the internet, the world will spit out 75 stories on Julian Assange's hair.

Yes, our priorities are whacked, but there's something worse - when the hunger of the daily news cycle actually leads us away from seeing the real story. Here is my year-end list of stories where my good press colleagues worldwide noticed the wrong one.

President Palin? I can see Armageddon from my house:
I don't care how many carcasses she drags home on her back to make elk-kebabs for her reality TV show, or who won mid-terms because of her glam-magic endorsement, Sarah Palin won't get the presidential nomination in 2012.

That is - if Republicans are sane. You betcha, "Mama Grizzly" still makes great copy. That's why she'll continue to get a dung heap of airhead time in the next 18 months. But her media-soak isn't a reflection of where the country's head turns.

Here's what to really watch: New polls show Palin would lose to Obama by a whopping 22 points. Her unfavourability ratings are climbing, not shrinking. Mainstream Republicans notice, big time.

When John McCain tacked right in 2008, folks ran toward the centre and found Obama there. Don't weigh Sarah Palin's influence next year by her obese number of media minutes. Keep your eye on the power of the middle.

The Google in China story wasn't about Google in China:
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the defence of Google after China allegedly hacked into dissident's emails earlier this year, the line we got was about human rights. It sounded pretty, but had nothing to do with the real story.

It just didn't smell right that Clinton would be so publicly damning now when China has been snooping on dissidents for years.

Then, just last month came a story you may have missed in this paper. A security report to the United States Congress said that China "hijacked" 15 per cent of the world's internet traffic for 18 minutes on April 8.

Yes, you read right - that's almost one-seventh of the entire world's internet traffic. For 18 minutes, 15 per cent of the world's internet destinations suddenly went through servers in China. A Chinese state-run firm has been accused of harvesting sensitive data from emails or implanting viruses in computers worldwide.

Surprise - these included information from the US Army, Navy, Marines, Nasa, as well as Microsoft, IBM and Yahoo. Nobody wants to talk about getting caught with their cyber fly unzipped. That's why this one has stayed quiet worldwide.

So next time you hear Hillary talk about human rights and the internet, follow the money - because the real wounded power players aren't talking.

Ignore Julian Assange's "sexual surprise":
You will never hear me defending rape of any description, no matter how many condom jokes burst forth from Sweden's bizarrely named "sexual surprise" charges pending for the WikiLeaks chief. If Assange is guilty of sexual assault, so be it.

But no matter how strange, self-righteous and Scarlet Pimpernell-esque Julian Assange may be, his story is a red herring to the gravitas of what's at stake here.

I believe this paper's editorial got it dead wrong when it wrote that this story is an "irritant" for Washington and that the release of this material "is not stuff that will change history". To say this story is about Washington or even Assange is missing the point.

It's been fascinating to watch world powers close in magnanimously on rogue operators, even if they are espousing their own principles. Governments, and soon big banks (watch Bank of America who are now in WikiLeaks' crosshairs for a major cable dump in January), are yelling about the need to shut down a new player who is playing exactly as they do.

For better or worse, I believe someday historians will point to WikiLeaks as being the real turning point of the first truly worldwide communication system changing the course of government transparency worldwide. The real question no one can yet answer is, in what direction?

Let me know what stories of 2010 you think should be added to the list. Here's to the endangered long view, that ever elusive boring bastard of news.

Beery Mary Christmas all.

Opo, here I COME!!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

My thanks to Metservice for the map. It is theirs and I have knicked it. Just this once.

For those who know weather maps this should need no explanation. The high off to the east there graced our shores for about two weeks. It goes nowhere fast.

So there are no prizes for guessing the weather for this Christmas.

One thing - it is NOT cold...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On the economics of the caring society...

This past week saw the release of the government's Budget Policy Statement; this is the first step toward the Budget for 2011 and sets out "where we are at present" and "things the government wants to do". That the statement carried "bad news" is not an understatement. A deficit was forecast for the current year. The bad news is that it is in fact considerably more then forecast, and greatly more than the previous years' actual deficit. Brian Gaynor has a summary here which gives a reasonable run-down of the salient points.
Finance Minister Bill English announced on Tuesday that the Crown's operating deficit before gains and losses (obegal) is now forecast to be $11.1 billion, or 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product, for the June 2011 year. This compares with the previous deficit forecast of $8.6 billion or 4.2 per cent of GDP.

The 5.5 per cent of GDP deficit compares with a similar deficit of 6.1 per cent for the 30 OECD countries but a number of points are worth noting:

New Zealand's projected deficit is not too far off the four "pigs", which are forecast to have the following budget deficits to GDP next year: Portugal 5.0 per cent, Ireland 9.5 per cent, Spain 6.3 per cent and Greece 7.6 per cent.

As he points out, things have not been that bad...
New Zealand had a great record throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s with 15 consecutive budget surpluses between 1993 and last year. Norway was the only OECD nation to have a better performance over the same period.

But as the saying goes, all good things must (will) come to an end. And so it is.

Gaynor lists the causes of "the end" thus -
The Crown's fiscal position has deteriorated since 2008 because of a number of initiatives including KiwiSaver, Working for Families, the indexation of benefit and this year's income tax cuts.

There have also been a number of one-off items, including the Canterbury earthquake and the leaky homes scheme, while tax revenue growth has slowed because of the weaker economy.

There are essentially two elements that give rise to the deterioration of NZ's financial position over the next 40 years. They parallel the difficulties being experienced in the PIGS economies; the increasing cost of age pensions and health care. There is a common factor in the two; the "aging population". Gaynor again -
The Treasury's long-term Crown revenue and expenditure figures are based on a number of assumptions, the most important of which are population demographics. Its main assumptions are:

The total number of individuals aged 65 and over will rise from 549,900 this year to 1.3483 million in 2050. As a percentage of the population, this age group will increase from 12.6 per cent to 24.5 per cent over the same period.

The number of individuals aged 90 and over will go from just 22,400 this year to 155,100 in 2050. This age group is expected to represent 2.8 per cent of the country's population in 2050 compared with 0.5 per cent at present.

Yep, include the ol' probligo in that demographic for sure.
The first expenditure line, which is New Zealand Superannuation, demonstrates the dramatic impact of the ageing population on Crown finances. NZ Superannuation is projected to cost $71.1 billion in 2050 compared with just $8.3 billion last year.

Most retirees claim that they are entitled to full Government superannuation because they paid taxes throughout their working lives but the big question is whether the country can afford this.

There will have to be a dramatic increase in the country's economic performance, and the Crown's taxation revenue, if the current superannuation scheme is to be maintained for all those aged 65 and over.

The next major expenditure item is health, which is projected to blow out from just $13.1 billion last year to a massive $95.1 billion in 2050.


The basic problem is that total government expenditure on superannuation and health is projected to escalate from just $21.4 billion last year to $166.2 billion in 2050, yet the working age population - those in the 25 to 64 age group - will only increase from 2.268 million to a projected 2.612 million over the same period.

In other words, each working person will have to pay annual tax of $63,600 in 2050 just to pay for superannuation and health, compared with tax of only $9400 this year to pay for the same two items.

And that is where I drop out of the demographic. It is not as if this is a "new" problem. It was foreseen when I first started work; it was the number one reason why I started contributing to personal superannuation savings almost immediately. But let's leave that debate there because there are some very sore points within.

It is at that point that dear old Garth George chips in. Now, to explain, George is one of those media commentators who would fit very nicely with the lifestyle and attitudes of the likes of TF Stern. Not that I expect TF will pass this way, let alone comment. Unlike TF, George is a sad, angry, and probably (I am guessing) lonely old codger.

Garth George picks up on that last (quite true) comment from Gaynor and uses it to beat his anti-abortion drum.
However, when it comes to the argument that the major problem with national super is the population increase in the number of people aged 65 and older, I want to vomit.

I wonder if it occurs to any of these doomsayers - invariably comfortably well-off folk in middle age and younger - that between April 24, 1974, and the end of last year, more than 409,000 potential New Zealanders have been slaughtered in the womb by state-paid abortionists - at the cost of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

I do not need to quote any further from his tirade.

I wonder if it has occurred to George that if those 409,000 "potential New Zealanders" were alive in 20 years time (when the last of them might have been starting work) there would likely be 200,000 more in the unemployment lines; 60,000 on permanent benefits as permanently hospitalised adults, or enjoying the free board and lodging of HMTK (I doubt that ER will be still going in 30 years...); the rest having departed for greener pastures in Australia and further afield.

To make matters worse, he completely ignores the fact that adding 400,000 to the total population used for the Treasury numbers (quoted by Gaynor) reduces the taxation load from $63K to $55K. That assumes that all of those 400,000 people will be in full employment; an unlikely prospect.

As I said, Garth George is a sad, angry old man. He is also well past his use-by date.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the topic of minimal whatevers...

I had an email from a very good friend concerning my passing comments back here on minimalist photography. He was kind enough to include a photograph of his own that I would count as being a worthy example.

His communication had the effect of twisting the probligo's tail just a bit. Out of that I have taken yet another run around the traps of the various webpages that google throws up. The exercise has done nothing to change my mind about my original comments. I think I am beginning to get an idea of why that might be so.

I have an image that is similar to that of my friend's; it is misty, it is of a set of mooring poles in the Tamaki estuary at the end of Waipuna Rd. The mist was thick enough that the bridge (an enormous concrete thing)behind is invisible despite being no more than a couple of hundred metres away. I have others that would "qualify"; such as a liquidamber tree seed pod against a brilliantly clear blue sky. (Both are candidates for competition at the club next year). I have posted another example here. That is an idea that is on my list of works in progress; I think it has potential.

The point of difference between much of what I see on the 'Net on the subject, and what I and others (my good friend for example) see as "minimalist" includes one very major factor. It is not difficult to separate subject from background in a photograph; there are a number of different ways of achieving that specific objective.

A very large number of the examples I have seen - and I include in this category my own and my friend's examples - are based upon atmospheric conditions such as mist and/or very long exposure times to get that separation. The second of my examples does not use the "monochrome effect" that comes from low light low contrast scenes but from the opposite; using uniform colour as the "separator".

When you start digging into the "how to" pages though, a somewhat different aspect comes to the fore. Rather than doing the work of separation "in the camera" - working the image and components to achieve the effect of isolation - the process changes to the use of image file processors to "dodge and burn" the required effects.

Now I know that makes no difference between digital and film examples and the comparison (highlighted intentionally with "dodge and burn") between the two is entirely valid.

I still think that the challenge of photography is not just in the capture of the image, but in making the image directly what the taker is seeing. In other words, what the camera retains is the image; it should need no further "processing" to convey its reality to another person. I read someone saying "that if an image requires explanation then it is not a good photograph".

I agree that is a very fine hair to split.

Post -

To return to the topic of labels, I try and take images that interest me. Difficult or snapshot is not the point. The photo at Waipuna was hand-held, 1/80 exposure. That does not make me, nor do I want to be, a photographer who is a "minimalist".

Monday, December 13, 2010

And the Blubberman spouts again...

The blubberman has an on-going lovehate relationship with Auckland's Mayor Len Brown.

His latest series of expostulations centres on "dishonesty" surrounding the use of a trust to keep the identity of donors to Browns "war-chest" secret. It is a technique used by virtually every prospective politician in this country.

So to illustrate we have the Blubberman quoting at length from the Dom Post and Herald.

Included in the Herald article was this -
Former Auckland City Mayor John Banks, who came second with 171,542 votes (behind Mr Brown's 237,487), declared $948,937 in donations and $554,958 spending in the last three months of his marathon campaign.

There is no mention of this in the Blubberman rant.

Then again today, with the news that the Casino made donations to the Brown campaign the following from the Herald article has been ommitted -
Mr Brown's financial returns include a contribution of $15,000 from the company among total donations to his cause of $581,900.

SkyCity said yesterday it made an identical campaign contribution to former Auckland City Mayor John Banks - who lost the Super City leadership race despite having $948,937 at his disposal - although it did not show up as a donor in his returns.

Now if the Blubberman were so honestly in pursuit of political dishonesty as he makes out, why does this latter fact not make a far greater raruraru than the former? At least Brown is honest about where his money came from to the extent that the casino donation is acknowledged. Banksie on the other hand...?

Too selective, blubberman, too selective by half.


It seems, from a comment made by the man himself, that because Banks lost the election there is no point in chasing what the blubberman sees as a dead horse. I very much beg to differ on that.

He also makes the point that if Banks were Mayor, and was "as dishonest as Brown" the he (the blubberman) would be on his case.

That to me is a cop-out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Climategate - the science is not settled...

The blubberman (well, he calls himself "Whaleoil" so...), and a great range of other right whingers (by my count the first 60 at least of the sites picked up by Google on the topic if you put 'NASA Bounoua "Forrest Hill"' as the search) have picked up on a recent paper from NASA. You can find the NASA summary of the article here.

In the Blubberman's case, he has lighted his confirmation bias on an article from The Register. So, nothing original there, I guess.

But not only is the Blubberman selective in what he has clipped from The Register article, The Register itself has been equally selective in its extract from the NASA synopsis of the Bounoua and Hill paper.

As a direct instance, the following paras have been omitted completely, with the last para quoted below pointing out the limitations of the research to date.

The cooling effect would be -0.3 degrees Celsius (C) (-0.5 Fahrenheit (F)) globally and -0.6 degrees C (-1.1 F) over land, compared to simulations where the feedback was not included, said Lahouari Bounoua, of Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Bounoua is lead author on a paper detailing the results that will be published Dec. 7 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Without the negative feedback included, the model found a warming of 1.94 degrees C globally when carbon dioxide was doubled.

Bounoua stressed that while the model's results showed a negative feedback, it is not a strong enough response to alter the global warming trend that is expected. In fact, the present work is an example of how, over time, scientists will create more sophisticated models that will chip away at the uncertainty range of climate change and allow more accurate projections of future climate

So, Blubberman, your usual half truths and truthiness huh!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

All about labels...

Karl du Fresne writes about “A ruinous and oppressive ideology” to which I have commented that what he is really speaking of is the appellation and interpretation of labels.

If he is going to get too righteous about that comment, there is another – totally independent but equally contentious in its own community – example that I have come across in recent times; though the debate has been going for many years in the past.

Those who puddle around in the morass that I call my virtual home might have realised that I have a passing interest in photography. That interest has strengthened to the extent that I have resolved to join (re-join, as I am a past member) the local camera club. I originally joined in order to learn how to take better photos, how to see better images. I was successful to the extent that I did learn enough to earn (as a lower caste animal) recognition for a number of my attempts at fame and winning in the process a couple of the Club annual awards. Yes, I was a very small fish floating around in a very small puddle, but I did get a request to submit a portfolio of three images to the North Shore Salon and a specific request to include one photograph taken at the Auckland Commonwealth Games.

How does this come through to the debate about labels? Well, that starts with a question I was asked recently, “What kind of photographer are you?” My immediate response was “A not very good beginner.”. The intention behind the question was in fact to apply a label; portrait, landscape, abstract… there is a great long list to choose from.

The debate that I tripped over came from a comment concerning an image I had posted up on the net recently. It is a photo of the end of a twig, on which there is a drop of water (it was raining) and in that drop was lensing a branch from another tree. One comment (received by email) admired it as an abstract, an excellent “minimalist” image. That comment tweaked the interest; not because I want the label, I abhor them. It was an idea that had crossed my mind in the past and I was interested enough to see what others were doing…

After three days of searching around the ‘net I can report.

“Minimalist” photography is a category that does have some very worthwhile work. There are some very expert photographers included in the producers, the artists, of those images and I can admire their expertise and vision.

There is also a huge quantity of images, sincerely and seriously presented as “minimalist” work. In my opinion, the label in fact covers no more than a range of work from reasonable, landscape, still life and other generalised categories to the “almost offal”.

In general there is a similarity between the best; they are usually monochrome, with just enough to outline the subject. An instance – submitted to one debate in jest – was a white image titled “Golden Gate Bridge in fog”. Yes, I can image-ine the Golden Gate Bridge right there… That image gave rise to a side-debate about “photography in the absence of light”.

And that, I think, is a good point at which to return to Mr du Frene’s comments.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Pike River - Conclusion

This week's Listener has a really good wash-up of the mine disaster. OK, so that is my confirmation bias talking I will admit. It comprises a sseries of articles including -

Bill Munden, ex Strongman miner and one of the first down after that explosion. He describes conditions which pretty much support my thoughts.

David Faikert, "mine safety expert", who supports my contention that any survivors of the initial blast would have succumed to CO "soon after".

My "gas outburst" idea is thought likely.

And so the list goes on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pikes River Mine Disaster

Ok, it is time to stop pissing in other peoples’ pockets and make my position very clear on the Pikes River Mine disaster.

No, I am not going to pull my punches. It is, and has been from day one, a disaster. It is NOT a disaster because of anyone’s incompetence, however much other people might like to make it so. There are aspects of the handling by police, mine company, et al that I question, but I think that I can see a rationale for the approach taken. It has as much to do with empathy for the families involved than it does the perceptions of the wider public. It has as much to do with the probable situation and conditions in the mine as it does the safety of any rescue team (or individual for that matter.
I wrote the following comment in response to one particularly vociferous gent by the name of Bammbamm whose qualification to speak includes “years of service in mining” and also (implied) several science degrees.
Like so many others, including Wishart, you forget about the few hundreds of a second when the explosion occurs.
So, seeing you have such vast knowledge of the situation - you have said yourself, you have many years mining experience - and of the science involved you could perhaps give us all a brief exposition on what happens, and the effects on the human body.
Information like the air temperature, the time for that atmosphere to cool, the effects of compression and decompression, the likelihood of injury resulting from both debris and bodily impact would all be greatly appreciated.
My uneducated guesses -
Temperature reached - in excess of 1000C for perhaps 0.5 sec.
Time to cool - depends upon decompression rate. Boyles Law and all that. Could be as long as 2 secs.
Effects of compression - broken eardrums, burst eyeballs, extensive internal bleeding, ruptured liver, ruptured spleen... extent dependant upon intensity of compression.
Effects of decompression - eyeballs lost, eardrums, collapsed lungs, gas oedemas... extent dependant upon intensity
Likelihood of injury from debris and bodily impact -
Effects - could very probably be fatal.
Then you can start considering CO and CO2 effects if you want...
That was the basis of my early assessment of the miners' chances.

It is well-meaning idiots like this Bammbamm character who boil my blood. Most significant perhaps is his choice of handle – a stone-age baby cartoon character whose response to external stimuli was to either cry or destroy with a stone axe. Appropriate and well said.

The real questions in my mind are –

First, should the mining company et al have been more honest about the chances of the 29 still in the mine? The converse to that is that the ol’ probligo is again being far too pessimistic; that glass is bloody near empty!

My feeling and analysis is based solely upon seeing open air videos of BLEVEs. There are plenty of them on the ‘net. The application of what you might see there to the mine disaster depends upon; the quantity of methane involved in the mine explosion; how quickly it came out of the rock face; how far down the mine that cloud had travelled before ignition; how long the discharge of methane continued after ignition; whether the explosion also blew the coal face off; and how much of the explosion was caused by dust ignition.

Second, the talk of “survivability” is not a crock, but the chances are extremely remote to even worse. The debate centres on the presence of features such as breathing gear, safety adits, oxygen bottles (actually forbidden) and other well-meant mis-information. The crux here is that the most likely cause of ignition is human activity. Someone drops something, trips and dislodges a rock, or even a drill being blown out of a hole by escaping gas and the whole lot goes. But the real point is that the gas has to be there, in quantity, considerable quantity, to make a blast of this magnitude. Given that the mine company knows that OSHA and Police have their microscopes at the ready it is quite unlikely that their reports that the mine was clear of methane at the end of the previous shift (less than 45 minutes before the explosion?) were false. To me, that points to the likely explosive ejection of a large quantity of methane from a drill hole or cut. Does that happen? Don’t know for sure but I think we will find out.
This might help answer that question -
For the purpose of discussion in this chapter, gas emissions associated with geologic features are divided into two categories. The first includes subtle emission events that are often associated with various geologic features or anomalies. These emissions are often not easily detected without instrumentation, but may lead to hazardous accumulations of methane if not remedied. The second category includes large-scale, easily recognizable emission events such as blowers or outbursts that potentially have immediate and often catastrophic consequences. Documented methods to recognize and remedy both types of hazards have been established worldwide and are discussed here.

Although not generally considered to be hazards in domestic mines at present, both outbursts and blowers historically have occurred in certain U.S. mining districts [Darton 1915; Campoli et al. 1985]. The two features are mainly distinguished by their duration of occurrence. Outbursts are sudden, often violent expulsions of large quantities of gas, usually methane, and are generally associated with the ejection of great quantities of coal or other rock material. Blowers, on the other hand, historically have been viewed as the release of large quantities of gas, but over an extended time period of months or even years. Also, blowers are not associated with the expulsion of coal or rock material. A subset of blowers is methane bleeders, which also continually emit gas, but at lower rates and generally for shorter timeframes.

Based on past observations, outbursts and blowers are often associated with tectonically disturbed and faulted strata where gassy coals are mined at considerable depth. Thus, mine planners who are aware of such conditions should give some thought to the possibility that they will be extracting coal under conditions that have produced outbursts and blowers in other mining districts.

Hmm, there perhaps is a lesson missed by Pike River. I would need to check if Strongman was a methane explosion; it may well have been in which case there might perhaps have been a need for better planning at Pike River.


Yes, I watched the 5:30 news report on TV1 last night. NOW I think that the company is being more honest. The chances have (as I outlined above) been pretty damned bleak since 5 minutes after the explosion.

To wind this up, here is the rest of what I started writing yesterday morning –

Look at it this way. It would take me (very unfit and middle-aged as I am) at least 20 minutes to walk the 2 km to the “face”. After seeing the plan of the mine for the first time last night I consider that an “area” rather than specific position. Uneven ground, and all of the other barriers of the mine being taken into account.

A man can die from CO gas in three minutes.

It took two hours (?) to get the first rescue crews to the mine. They jump off the trucks and run straight into the mine. On the assumption that there is no residual fire, no methane, no CO (they can NOT carry oxygen – it would be one of the most dangerous substances in a mine) they gallop up the tunnel to find -

An explosion of the magnitude of this one is going to remove all, I repeat ALL of the oxygen from the immediate vicinity. That is one of the primary causes of CO generation – partial combustion due to low oxygen levels. So, a guy who was 100m “upstream” from the explosion would find a portion of the fireball travelling in his direction; low oxygen levels as a result, increasing CO levels as the air cools and sucks back from the explosion centre. He has “oxygen” from a regenerator that lasts perhaps 2 hours. That is how I read the earlier reports.

- all of the miners died in the explosion, or the following two hours from asphyxiation

Friday, November 12, 2010

There is something wrong - right twice in a week?

I wrote on the Search and Surveillance Bill just on a week ago.

Quite gratifying to read the Editorial in this morning's NZHerald -
New Zealanders stand to lose some hard-won freedoms under a bill moving largely under the radar through Parliament.

The Search and Surveillance Bill will remove an important civil liberty and expand state liberties for authorities ranging from the police to the Department of Internal Affairs.

The right to silence will fall to a new coercive power, the examination order, forcing people alleged to have knowledge of fraud or organised crime to talk to the police.

Another innovation, the production order, allows police to demand that innocent individuals or organisations hand over materials that might or might not relate to an offence carrying penalties of five or seven years' minimum jail.

Failure to comply would automatically attract a penalty of up to $40,000 or imprisonment.

And the bill gives authorities an invitation to force the news media to reveal confidential sources, threatening the public airing of some of the country's most important, and uncomfortable, news stories.


There is a danger that the media's right to protect confidential sources - a privilege recognised in the Evidence Act 2006 and qualified only by a judge's decision that public interest might outweigh confidentiality - will be subverted by police access to examination and production orders.

Search warrants cannot make individuals talk. Once any agency has new powers it inevitably deploys them to save itself time or scrutiny.

That matters for the public. Important revelations of wrongdoing by criminals, business or political leaders and, crucially, investigating authorities themselves are invariably from confidential sources.

News is, by one definition, something that someone, somewhere, does not want made public.

It is not just the removal of the right to silence. It goes well beyond the removal of media confidentiality.

Also included are the right to use information obtained in a search to initiate other prosecutions against people not directly involved in the initial investigation. The allowance of "fortuitous evidence" or "fortuitous discovery" is open to obvious misuse.

There is also the right to search on suspicion and without warrant any person "associated" with a serious crime. That could mean individual investors in SCF being tapped, simply because they had invested in a failed investment company. "Fortuitous discovery" of totally unrelated evidence resulting from that tapping could be used for related charges.

Among all of this there is no protection given to the innocent if the Police, SFO, Dog Police, Drug Police or Thought Police use their powers in error, or in breach of what little would remain of personal rights of the individual.

To fully understand this Bill, we need to go back to its origins. There is no question in my mind it is the child of the Police's complete fuck-up of the Ruatoria raids, the inability of the SFO to effectively decode investment scams (despite already having some of the powers contained in the SAS Bill), the Kahui case ...

This Bill is a grotesque mistake. If this government wants to survive the next election it must withdraw the Bill immediately and bury it deep enough in Karori Cemetery that it never sees the light of day again. Anyone wanting election in 2011 must have the repeal of this Act (if it does survive and get passed) as its first priority.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A quiet reflection and retrospective...

I have to say that GWB’s acknowledgement of the distinct lack of WMD’s in Iraq has a sad feeling of ennui to it; a tired feeling of “better late than never” is completely overwhelmed by the fact that he truly believed the lie. I must add my personal acknowledgement that there is no joy – on my part at least – in knowing that along with a great many others I was right all along.

The saddest aspect to the whole sorry saga is that the success of the “Bush lie” remains. And, for the comfort of those who might be thinking I am about to deny the Holocaust I explain.

The “Bush lie” is not that 9/11 never happened, nor any of the far fanciful conspiracy theories that have sprung up around and since those tragic events. The “Bush lie” swings far more on the conflation of statism, realpolitik, and religious zealotry on the part of the few.

“Statism”, at least the context in which I prefer the term –
“… the ideology of statism that holds that Sovereignty is vested not in the people but in the national state, and that all individuals and associations exist only to enhance the power, the prestige, and the well-being of the state. The concept of statism, which is seen as synonymous with the concept of nation, and corporatism repudiates individualism and exalts the nation as an organic body headed by the Supreme Leader and nurtured by unity, force, and discipline.[4]

This first part of the conflation stems from, and clearly explains; the actions of al Qaeda; the actions taken by the US against Afghanistan and Iraq specifically (and militarily). The justifications, outcomes and consequences of all are not at issue but are now matters of history. What is critical is the confusion (of and by) the individual – such as Saddam, bin Laden, Bush and Cheney – with Nation.
“A usually expansionist national policy having as its sole principle advancement of the national interest.”
“Governmental policies based on hard, practical considerations rather than on moral or idealistic concerns. Realpolitik is German for “the politics of reality” and is often applied to the policies of nations that consider only their own interests in dealing with other countries.”

The combination and confusion of statism and realpolitik is understandable, especially on the part of the US as these are the foundation stones of their modern Republic. Yeah, I know that will get into the noses of quite a few from the US right but please remember, as your blood pressure rises, that that statism is exactly what you are trying to fight against.

Realpolitik comes from, rather than leads to, the opportunities presented by events. There is no question that 9/11 was seen as a prime opportunity to gain considerable advantage in the national interests of the US, quite apart from the social and national impact of the attack. Those opportunities were seen as providing potential solutions to a number of perceived and quite intractable problems looming in the not too distant future. Similarly, the political motives of binLaden and al Qaeda were aimed at consolidation and confirmation of their statism by the creation of their realpolitik.

If you detect a subtle nuance here you are not wrong. The difference between the two comes from the motives of those involved. On the US side the actions and motives of individuals were undoubtably intended as for the national good. For alQaeda’s part, the motives and actions of individuals were as equally intended for personal reasons as for the good of their “State”.

It is that point which raises the third colour in the blend. I can remember very clearly the very first, short, statement made by GWB after 9/11. I can remember the very visible wince from Cheyney as Bush stated the US’s intention to proceed with a “crusade against terrorism”, corrected part way through the phrase to “war on terrorism”. The Freudian slip of “crusade” for “war” has to be accepted as unintentional. That it slipped into the line indicates that its use had likely been discussed prior and discarded as being the wrong word to use. The religious connotation did not fit.

The implied “US-Judeo-Christianity versus Islam” would immediately become a religious war. The consequence would be to exclude many, if not all, Middle Eastern states as potential allies. On the other side, the Bush slip was exactly what alQaeda wanted. It was their intention from the beginning to make 9/11 the beginning of “the greatest ever jihad against Islam’s greatest ever enemy”. The accidental and momentary slip of the tongue was more than they could have hoped for. That the intended enemy was Israel rather than the US became forgotten from the instant the first aircraft hit.

I can not be certain, and I doubt that Bush’s memoir will cover the point, whether the intensity of the religious reaction in the US to 9/11 was intended. It best remains as an “unintended consequence”; one which had only beneficial impact for those in power in the US; one which focussed public attention on “the enemy” of Islam; and a consequence which again was entirely what alQaeda had hoped for. It is this part of the “Bush lie” that remains. It is evidenced – mostly on the right to far right – as an intense and enduring fear and hatred of ALL Islam. In saying that, I realise that it is an over-simplification because it is also strongly evident to the left as well in that part of US which strongly supports Israel. That section is not Jewish, nor Israeli. There is a strong nationalist religious element to the support of Israel in realpolitik and the American electorate.

I started with the statement that the success of the “Bush lie” still remains. It is not a lie that was spoken, nor perhaps even intended by GWB himself. I have consistently put the “Bush lie” in quotes because it is not a conscious untruth, an intended misleading. It is a consequence of a whole society (intentionally? I do not think so) taking the fact, the statism, the realpolitik, and the religious zealotry as one.

On the other side, bin Laden (if he is still alive) and alQaeda have succeeded probably beyond their wildest dreams in provoking the US people into that conflation. Their success in that regard has not reached, nor suaded, more than a very few of the people of Islam. To that extent they have failed.

They have however created a “State” which carries their power. It has no boundaries. It has no recognition as a formal “State” for that reason. It needs neither of those. They have also created a realpolitik which will have a large influence on the actions of other nations into the future. The reason for alQaeda is enough to ensure its continuance into the immediate future. The very great danger in the longer term will be realised if the realpolitik of the alQaeda jihad becomes the norm of Islam. It will become so if the mirror image of the west’s conflation (statism/realpolitik/religion) can be created from the actions of western states against Islam through alQaeda.

Allah willing it shall not.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Memo Robyn Malcolm...

Something to remember when "negotiating" your next contract with a movie mogul...

The value of your labour is set by the market. To find out what that might be worth, ask for the moon and see what you are actually offered.

It is an approach which is commended to all those who wish to earn their living in the arts.

If you, or any other budding actor, wants security there might be better ways of achieving that objective. The problem is that in these enlightened times not even working for the State will give you the security you want.

How is about taking your chances like everyone else?

Memo to all those who bitch and howl...

... about over-regulation and over-legislation by the State, and the loss of freedoms. So here y'go to all those Brer Wabbits out there. Get stuck in to this piece of State sponsored removal of the individual's right to privacy and justice and I will walk every step with you.

I never thought I would see the day that I was on the same side as the Greens. It shows the dangers of the word "never".

The House has before it at the present time an extremely pernicious and dangerous piece of legislation. It has been floating in and out of the House since 2008. The initial Bill lapsed at the end of the Labour Government and it was re-written for current consideration and introduced last year. The current debate is summarised here.
People being investigated by police over serious fraud-related offences or gang crimes will no longer have the right to remain silent, under a Government bill.

And refusing to give information on a gang murder or fraud-related extortion, could earn a jail sentence of up to one year.

The Search and Surveillance Bill was reported back to Parliament yesterday with significant changes, after an outcry over the sweeping powers it would have given to up to 70 Government agencies.

But Parliament's justice and electoral committee has kept provisions overriding the right to silence, and giving police, Customs and Internal Affairs the right to break into homes to bug and secretly film suspects.

But the agencies can use these powers only if they are investigating offences punishable by prison terms of seven years or more, or for particular Arms Act offences.

Ahh, that might be what the government wants us to hear. My immediate reaction is a very long, and cynical "Ahhhhhhhh... Yeah.......... Right."

The official summary of the Bill says -
The aim of this Bill is to implement " ... the Government's decisions on the legislative reform of search and surveillance powers", based on the Law Commission's report, "Search and Surveillance Powers" (NZLC R97) [1] .

A Bill entitled "Search and Surveillance Powers Bill" (the former Bill) was introduced in the previous Parliament on 17 September 2008 and was described in Bills Digest No 1679. In respect of that Bill, the Order of the day for first reading was discharged on 02 July 2009.

The Search and Surveillance Bill (this Bill), which is the subject of this Bills Digest, was introduced on 02 July 2009 and awaits its First Reading.

The former Bill is the basis of this Bill and this Bills Digest (which should be read with Bills Digest No 1679 ) describes the major differences between them.

Main Provisions
Warrantless road block
The Bill provides that the power to establish a road block for the purpose of arresting suspected offenders and those unlawfully at large may be utilised in relation to any person suspected of having committed a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment, and the power may be utilised in relation to persons subject to an arrest warrant, except where that warrant has been issued under Part 3 of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 (Part 2, Subparts 9 and 10, Clauses 27-30).

"Windfall evidence" relevant to other offences may be admissible
The Bill provides that windfall evidence is lawfully obtained where an enforcement officer is obtains that evidence while lawfully undertaking surveillance using a surveillance device and where that enforcement officer could otherwise have obtained a surveillance device warrant in relation to such windfall evidence.

In particular the Bill provides that " ... if, in the course of carrying out activities authorised by a surveillance device warrant or while lawfully using a surveillance device in relation to an offence, a person obtains any evidential material in relation to an offence:

" ... that is not the offence in respect of which the warrant was issued or in respect of which the surveillance device was lawfully put into use, as the case requires; but

" ... in respect of which a surveillance device warrant could have been issued or a surveillance device could have been lawfully used"

That evidence " ... is not inadmissible in criminal proceedings by reason only that the surveillance device warrant that authorised the activity that obtained the material was issued in respect of a different offence or, as the case requires, that the material was obtained from the use of a surveillance device that was put into use in respect of a different offence" (Part 3, Clause 51).

Stopping vehicles for the purpose of search
The former Bill authorised police officers to stop a vehicle where a power to search the vehicle existed.

This Bill provides a similar power for enforcement officers to stop a vehicle for the purposes of search, together with an offence relating to failing to stop when required to do so by an enforcement officer in circumstances where the defendant knew or ought reasonably to have known that the person exercising the requirement to stop was an enforcement officer (Part 4, Clauses 117 and 169).

New Zealand Defence Force
The Bill provides that its provisions do not apply to New Zealand Defence Force personnel, except where they are exercising functions and powers pursuant to Acts to which the Bill applies (Part 3, Clause 80).

Personal appearance of a search warrant applicant before the issuing officer
The Bill changes the criteria for exempting personal appearances before, or oral communication with, the issuing officer to require that:

the issuing officer is satisfied that the question of whether the search warrant should be issued can properly be determined on the basis of any written communication by the applicant (including all the matters listed in Clause 96(1)-(3)); and

the information required by Clause 96(1)-(3) has been supplied to the issuing officer; and

the issuing officer is satisfied that there is no need to ask any questions of, or seek any further information from, the applicant (Part 4, Clause 98(4); Clause 96(1)-(3)).

Assistance in searches of a person
The Bill changes the special rules about searching persons to provide that an enforcement officer may, if he or she considers that either or both of the following are in the interests of the person to be searched, request:

the assistance of a medical practitioner or nurse;

the assistance of a parent, guardian, or other person for the time being responsible for the day-to-day care of the person to be searched (Part 4, Clause 120(1)(f)).

The Bill also provides that if the search is to be a strip search, the enforcement officer may request the assistance of another enforcement officer who is;

authorised under any other enactment to conduct strip searches; and

of the same sex as the person to be searched (Part 4, Clause 120(1)(g)).

Penalty levels
This Bill changes the penalty levels from the former Bill in the following ways.

Failing to comply with an examination order
In the case of an individual the former Bill provided penalties of, in the case of an individual, imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding $15,000 or both and, for a body corporate, a fine not exceeding $40,000. This Bill provides, for individuals, the single penalty of imprisonment for up to one year. The penalty for a body corporate is unchanged (Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 165).

Failing to comply with an production order
There is no change in this penalty; in the case of an individual, a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year.; in the case of a body corporate, a maximum fine of $40,000 (Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 166).

False application for examination order, production order, search warrant, surveillance device warrant, or residual warrant
In the former Bill, the penalty was for a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years. In this Bill the penalty is for a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year (Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 167).

Leaving search location in breach of direction
There is no change in this penalty: imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months ((Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 168).

Failing to stop or failing to comply with directions in relation to search of a vehicle
This offence carried a penalty under the former Bill of a fine not exceeding $1,000. This Bill provides that the penalty may only be a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months (Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 169).

Failing to carry out obligations in respect of computer searches
Under the former Bill this offence carried a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding $2,000, or both. This Bill provides for only one penalty: a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months (Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 170).

Disclosing information acquired through the exercise of a search or surveillance power
The former Bill provided only a penalty, in the case of an individual, of a fine not exceeding $10,000 and, in the case of a body corporate, of a fine not exceeding $50,000. In this Bill the penalty in the case of an individual, is to be only a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months and, in the case of a body corporate, a fine not exceeding $100,000 (Part 4, Subpart 8, Clause 171).

Amendments, repeals, and miscellaneous provisions
The former Bill and this Bill amend search and seizure powers that are used for law enforcement purposes in the following Acts: Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997; Animal Products Act 1999; Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act 1981; Antarctica (Environmental Protection) Act 1994; Aviation Crimes Act 1972; Boxing and Wrestling Act 1981; Civil Aviation Act 1990; Conservation Act 1987; Customs and Excise Act 1996; Dog Control Act 1996; Electoral Act 1993; Electoral Finance Act 2007; Extradition Act 1999; Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993; Financial Transactions Reporting Act 1996; Food Act 1981; Gambling Act 2003; Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996; Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003; Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2004; Human Tissue Act 2008; Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007; International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act 2000; International War Crimes Tribunals Act 1995; Land Transport Act 1998; Local Government Act 2002; Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978; Marine Reserves Act 1971; Maritime Security Act 2004; Maritime Transport Act 1994; Motor Vehicle Sales Act 2003; National Parks Act 1980; Overseas Investment Act 2005; Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996; Petroleum Demand Restraint Act 1981; Prostitution Reform Act 2003; Radiation Protection Act 1965; Radiocommunications Act 1989; Reserves Act 1977; Resource Management Act 1991; Sale of Liquor Act 1989; Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989; Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007; Wild Animal Control Act 1977; Wildlife Act 1953; and Wine Act 2003.

This Bill also amends the search and seizure powers used for law enforcement purposes in fifteen additional Acts which are as follows: Animal Welfare Act 1999; Biosecurity Act 1993; Children, Young persons and Their families Act 1989; Commodity Levies Act 1990; Dairy Industry Restructuring Act 2001; Driftnet Prohibition Act 1991; Employment Relations Act 2000; Fisheries Act 1996; Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992; Major Events management Act 2007; Meat Board Act 2004; Pork Industry Board Act 1997; Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989; Social Security Act 1964; and the Tax Administration Act 1994 (Part 5, Subparts 1-4, Clauses 175-284; Schedule to the Bill).

In the former Bill, the Electoral Act 1993 and the Electoral Finance Act 2007 were to be amended in respect of the search and seizure powers that are used for law enforcement purposes in those Acts. Those Acts are not so amended by this Bill.

This Bill also amends ten Acts in relation to their search and seizure powers (and related provisions) used for regulatory purposes. These ten Acts are: Anti-Personnel Mines Prohibition Act 1998; Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1996; Commerce Act 1986; Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003; Electricity Act 1992; Fair Trading Act 1986; Forests Act 1949; Gas Act 1992; International Energy Agreement Act 1976; and Weights and Measures Act 1987 (Part 5, Subpart 2, Clauses 285-294).

Copyright: © NZ Parliamentary Library, 2009
Except for educational purposes permitted under the Copyright Act 1994, no part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, other than by Members of Parliament in the course of their official duties, without the consent of the Parliamentary Librarian, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.This document may also be available through commercial online services and may be viewed and reproduced in accordance with the conditions applicable to those services.

1.Search and Surveillance Bill, 2009 No 45-1, Explanatory note, General policy statement, p. 1.

Well, quite frankly this is far too important for anyone to be concerned about the strictures of copyright. I reproduce the entirety, unedited in any way, and with full acknowledgement of its source, because it deserves to be noised abroad.

This is what the Government is DOING.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Things that make you go "Hmmmm"...

Snipped from the heading of a google search...

Oh, click on the image to get it to a reasonable size.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On matters of free speech... and letters to Editors

Its funny (peculiar) sometimes how things pan out in life. The letter I sent to SST was published (with some fairly injudicious editing. At least I can thank my lucky stars that they published it without (as TFS is always complaining) leaving out all of the sense of it. They did remove the “potty jockey” crack I had at Michael Laws. All in all it was about a half of what I had originally writ.

And therein lies the funny. Printed in small red letters above my contribution (as printed in SST) were the words “Winning Words”. Now if you look down to the end of the letters space you find a little note to the effect that you may win a ball-pen… It is now Friday and I haven’t yet seen it.

Not, you understand, because it is coveted; far from it as at work I use a very simple slim ball-pen refill (no cover or cap), a practice which stops me from walking out the door with it in my pocket and stops anyone else from knicking it off of my desk. I also have a very nice “special” at home which includes a wood barrel and cap turned by a very good friend and given me for my 60th. The wood is swamp kauri, reputedly (from the certificate Len gave me) aged at 6,500 BPE. Was there a hint there, old Len? It is a thing of beauty indeed and thus far unused. That might change when I renew my Will in a few weeks’ time. I also have (somewhere in the laboratory) a very expensive Scheaffer (like this one) fountain pen. Last time I used it (to sign my Marriage Certificate and the Register) I needed an ink cartridge for it and I ended up refilling the old empty with ordinary cheap ink.

I am wondering if the Subbie who re-wrote my contribution has claimed the pen as his own in return for the work he put in to get my letter published.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Henry the ninth... again... for the last time...

Another of those missives that the ol' probligo shoots off to get lost in the ether. This time to Sunday Star Times in response to idiot (without the savant) columnist and correspondents...

Your correspondents John Foote and Peter Foreman as well as potty-jockey Laws are all quite correct. Paul Henry does have freedom of speech; as do they; and I hope so too do I.

There is a point to which Foreman got oh so close, and which the other two missed completely.

Other people have rights as well and those rights may impinge quite directly upon the application of the right to freedom of speech.

The first and most obvious is that freedom to speak does not of itself guarantee that the voice will be held. To guarantee that their voice is heard, anyone can buy the resources - by way of advertisement for example - to achieve the objective.

Foote, Foreman, and I, all have the right to being heard at the whim of the Editor of SST. Whether my voice will be heard at the same level as the other two will depend upon the mood of those who make the selection for publication.

The point made by Foreman in his seemingly curious parallel with a Maori golf tournament is in fact the crux of the matter, except that he chooses to misinterpret it to prove racial discrimination instead of the right of organisers to set the terms and conditions of the tournament.

This is truly the point that applies to both Laws and Henry. Both have a voice greater than the normal joe. They are paid - quite handsomely it seems - to present "their news". The relationship between "their voice" and the media carrying it - TVNZ or SST - is governed by the application of the employers' editorial policies, the terms of their individual contracts, and their own consciences. There is no doubt that if either were to act – to broadcast opinion – in a way which affected their employers' ability to pay the bills then there would be serious discussions between policy setters, editorial staff and their employee.

In exactly the way that the organisers of a Maori Golf Tournament can determine the rules and eligibility for competition, TVNZ or SST can determine whose voice is heard; TVNZ and SST can determine, at the very least limit, what is said through their publication.

Henry stepped outside of TVNZ's limits. He lost his job as a result.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Education 102...

"The modern world has removed all barriers to education; there are no longer the class and craft divisions; there is an almost infinite increase in the complexity and depth of the knowledge required to “survive”.The removal of those barriers has created challenges which are still not resolved; they are not unique to NZ; they are the foundation of this debate; they are the “who gets what, why, and how much” of education in this modern world."

As a first illustration of the complexity of the debate, those challenges can not be simply resolved. What ever approach is taken, the words "Bill of Rights Act" spring immediately to mind.

Very simplistically, as soon as "Bill of Rights" gets injected the answer to the "who" becomes obvious. It has to be "ALL" people have the right to education.

And now I have to confess to one of the probligo's worst kept secrets - I have an issue with that "Right", as it applies to education. The personal issue is largely irrational, and is largely based on ignorance.

When we start considering the "who" of education the balance (in my mind at least) has to pick up the Right on one side and Benefit on the other. I have mentioned several times the family we had living next door whose third son was very severely disabled both physically and mentally. As was his Right, he was mainstreamed at school until his death at the age of 14. There is no question in my mind that the benefit gained would have been minimal., To be honest with myself I must lie alongside of that, the fact that I (at the very least) have no objective measure for the judgement. That personal issue aside, the "who" gets benefit of education has to be universal.

The same approach can be taken to the "...what, why, and how much...". The effect of the Bill of Rights (indirectly) is that all should have - at the very least - access to the same level and standard of education. That right applies (my issue above) to all, irrespective of ability, and prospective and expected benefit. I want to stress that "benefit" in this context is in two parts. There is the personal benefit with the prospect of higher future earnings as reward for the skills attained and applied. There is the benefit to society from having continuing qualified people where required and with skills appropriate to the time.

At that point too we start running into the same qualifications that I applied above; there has to be objective and supportable measures to support judgement of ability and benefit. That is a topic of its own to which I shall return. It will be important at that time to remember these contexts as well as others that arise.

For the moment, the universality of access to education leads to another decision point. There is a second balance that must be met. It is the balance between benefit and cost. The benefit side of that we will meet again as I said in the previous paragraphs. The decision that needs to be made is where the cost of education shifts from society to individual.

As a matter of tradition, that change occurred at the end of secondary education and the start of tertiary education. To state that as a matter of "fact" is somewhat misleading as it has become a bit of a moveable feast. Time was when the social funding of universities was comparatively minimal, with correspondingly high fees. Access to university qualification was by means of personal wealth or scholarship. A second level, "poor mans" tertiary qualification was provided through the technical colleges. They provided a bridge for professional qualifications and advanced technical qualifications. The third level, the trade qualification was provided by employers through bonded apprenticeships, combining on the job training with block courses from the technical colleges.

Summarising those -

  • Degree and professional qualifications - Personally funded, at facilities provided from societal funding.

  • Professional qualifications and advanced trade qualifications - Personally funded and/or employer sponsored, at facilities provided from societal funding.

  • Basic trade qualifications - Training provided by certificated employers at no cost to employee. Bonded employees (hence low wage offset to employer).

In more recent times, the bridge between secondary and tertiary education has been changing particularly in terms of the sharing of the cost between society and individual.

For a time in the 1960's the share was shifted very much in favour of the student, the cost being borne in large part by society. The consequence was the appearance of what became known as "the professional student"; people who attended university for a good number of years emerging eventually with qualifications of little use, or in some notable cases after effective expulsion, none at all.

Societal reaction to that "over funding" resulted in the balance being moved in the opposite direction; increasing the personal liability for funding through increased tuition fees. As this shift progressed, other means of encouraging higher education were sought resulting in the introduction of student loans; the subsequent societal monkeying with the basic premise of "user pays"; further shifts in the balance between personal and social cost; pressure for "living allowances" to counter the loss of traditional seasonal employment for students...

The picture that the reader should be getting by now is of a complex rather than simple model of education provision. That was exactly my intention as many of the perceived problems with education these days are in fact consequences rather than causes.

Illustrating that point is relatively simple.

Society's measure of "potential benefit" has been imposed through testing of scholastic achievement at various stages along the path from fundamentals to eventual qualification. The potential of each individual has been (in theory at least) assessed at three critical points -

  • At the end of primary education. This to ensure that pupils (in theory at least) entering the secondary level had the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, a reasonable level of general knowledge, and the ability to learn.

  • At the end of compulsory education. This is set at age 15, which corresponds (roughly) with the 5th form year. School Certificate was seen to have the fundamental flaw of having half those sitting the examination fail. Actual examination results were scaled in order to achieve this consequence. There was a second failing in the process in that the examination was not compulsory. As a result, a significant number of students were leaving school without any assessment of their ability.

    Those successful in that School Certificate examination "earned the right" to a subsequent year of free secondary education at the end of which came another, similar, examination of attainment; again with the 50% fail cut-off. This time the examination was for University Entrance; success giving a student the right to undertake a university education. At the same level, and after a further year of study there were public scholarships awarded to the highest achievers.

  • The third critical qualification comes at the completion of tertiary education; at whichever level that might have been undertaken.

The other side of "potential benefit", the trade-off, is the expectations of the student. Whether "free" education or expensive, there is the need for the system to provide the quality that should, that must, be expected by the student (or his parents).

The qualification must be valid evidence of knowledge and ability. There must be acceptance of the quality of the qualification when presented to an employer. The validity and applicability of the qualification to employment should - in theory at least - have an impact on the value of that person as an employee. That is the relatively simple mechanism by which the student gains benefit from the endeavour of attaining the qualification.

That, as I see it, is the general cycle of economic benefit that comes from an effective education system.

  • Society provides a basic education to all free and as of right.

  • Society gains the benefit of having people with skills that are appropriate and of value.

  • People with skills and qualifications command a higher price than those without.

That economic cycle is relatively simplistic as it ignores external (to society) pressures and pricing. So if one wishes to add complexity at this level, one can examine the pricing pressures resulting from the usual supply and demand mechanisms for skills and/or qualification. This is evidenced in a wide range of different problems faced within NZ at the moment; the general shortage of junior doctors with incomes in Australia and elsewhere considerably higher than in NZ; the difficulty of persuading those doctors who do remain in NZ to shift out of the major centres (where incomes are higher) into provincial and rural centres; the difficulty of obtaining qualified senior medical staff to provide public health services at a cost acceptable to society. It is not just a case of restricted supply. The barriers are necessarily high. The cost of obtaining suitable qualifications is likewise necessarily high. The return offered from outside is higher than can be sustained internally.

At this point I should not have to specifically point out the underlying over-simplification of Karl du Fresne's rant about the current negotiation of teachers salaries.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the system when a central Auckland college has to advertise a position for six months before getting an applicant. What is even worse is when the only applicant turns out to not have adequate knowledge to provide the level of teaching required. This is not to argue that society should yield totally to the wage demands of teaching unions. What is essential is that society is aware of the connection between the economic returns to graduates and the value of the education that they provide to society.

At the same level, there is something fundamentally wrong with society when a measurable portion of the population can regard education as a waste of time and effort. For this group, holding qualification at any level provides no benefit; employment levels are low to begin with, in some instances unemployment can be as high as 30%; incomes are never far from minimum wage irrespective of qualification; there are proven instances where higher income can be obtained from unemployment benefits than from paid employment. What that indicates more than anything else is that the demand for that occupation or class of employee is swamped by the available supply.

But to return to the topic of teachers after that little wander into the wilderness -

The current qualification requirements for teachers are that they be degree qualified; in the case of secondary teachers two university degrees are of benefit, one in Education and the other in the specialty that person wishes to teach.

The present societal attitudes to graduate qualification - this returns to the balance between public and private funding of university qualifications - has resulted in the situation where all graduates start their working life with a government mortgage on their income. The size of that mortgage varies; the highest are in medicine and dentistry, the lower in commerce and some science disciplines.

If we consider at the same time the difference in return paid in NZ compared with Australia for example - a difference sometimes stated as being in excess of 100% - the obvious and inevitable consequence of the current policies is a goodly number of NZ graduates exporting themselves, leaving behind shortages of well qualified people in critical professional occulations and the accumulated mortgage held by society on their prospective income.

"Lose - lose" as they say.

And remember, as you mull that point over, some of those graduates being exported are well qualified potential teachers that NZ needs in its secondary schools. Their first year's income under NZ teaching scales (for two degrees) would be no more than some $45,000.

I work with senior clerks, no qualifications other than experiance, doing fairly routine office work, with no responsibility for controlling 30 or so unruly teenagers, who are paid as much as that.

All of which takes us full cycle on du Fresnes' rant against teachers and the negotiation of their payscales.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Education 101...

Karl Du Fresne raised the topic of “education vouchers” in the course of presenting his views on the current state of wage negotiations between teachers and the state. That started an interesting (for me at least) debate with another of his readers and it is in the spirit of that debate that I wish to present my thinking on these matters educational.

The first point that I need to make is (and I am as guilty of this as the next) is that by taking any of the elements of education in isolation the debate immediately becomes very simplistic and ignores the inter-relationship between the various factors – and factions.

Second, I also need to clarify my “position” on the subject. Both my parents were teachers, in rural service, in the 1950’s through 70’s. My secondary education was at Taipa DHS and Kaitaia College. I am a “retired” accountant with (obviously) tertiary qualifications. So given that background I do tend to focus on the difficulties of education in rural and low socio-economic communities. I have two (now adult) children, one of whom is university qualified and the other not. (As a matter of interest, the latter earns more than the former). I am also fortunate to have two very good friends, now retired, who taught and were Department Heads at one of Auckland’s larger “low –decile” colleges. A good part of the more recent “experience” is based upon their experience as well as my own as a parent guiding my two children through their secondary and tertiary education.

Third, I am going to try very hard to not appear to advocate for any particular group. So, if I point to salary as one of the major hurdles in obtaining suitably qualified teachers I am stating that as a “fact” rather than to support teachers in their current negotiations. As it happens this is a consequence rather than problem – it is the result of the comparative riches available to NZers in other countries; be they teachers, doctors or accountants. No amount of control or payment is going to resolve exodus resulting from the far greater buying power of Australia, US, Canada, Japan, China and the European countries where NZ teachers and graduates generally are held in very high regard.

Karl du Fresne, after a seven paragraph opening rant on the history of government versus labour unions finally got to the nitty with this opening –

All of which brings us to the two teachers’ unions, the NZEI and the PPTA, both of which just happen to be locked in disputes with the government right now: the NZEI over national standards and the PPTA over salary and conditions claims.

There is something depressingly familiar about all this. As the power of the old blue-collar unions has faded, so the militancy of the teacher unions has increased. It has become almost a cliché to describe them as the boilermakers and freezing workers of the new millennium. In fact I see from my files that as long ago as 1995, I wrote an editorial about the PPTA headlined Militants of the nineties.

In that Evening Post editorial I wrote: “As employees of the system, teachers have every right to be consulted on changes. They are entitled within reason to oppose moves which they believe are not in the best interests of pupils, and when all else fails they have the same legal right as any other group of employees to take industrial action. But they misuse their strength – and test the country’s patience – when they consistently use their organisational muscle to frustrate, defy and stonewall the legitimate policies of an elected government.”

I also wrote that teachers had misled themselves into believing that they were the sole guardians and arbiters of all that was correct in education. “They have deluded themselves into thinking, in effect, that they have proprietorial rights over the education system when in fact they are merely its servants.”

After further, and comparatively unproductive, ranting along those lines he gets to this -

And if previous government-union showdowns are any guide, a resounding defeat for the PPTA would leave the union weakened and demoralised, clearing the decks for a slew of potentially beneficial education reforms that have previously been put in the too-hard basket for fear of teacher resistance.

A few that come to mind are education vouchers, which would enable parents to “buy” their children’s education at the school of their choice; performance-based pay, which would reward and incentivise good teachers and strip away the protection enjoyed by non-performers; bulk funding, which would shift power from the central bureaucracy to school boards; and an end to the perverse Labour-imposed system of zoning, which locks the poor into mediocre schools and creates exclusive zones of privilege (as reflected in stratospheric real estate prices) around sought-after ones.

None of these proposals are radical. They seem that way only because the teacher unions have opposed them so vehemently, knowing that the national union structure – the source of their power and control – would probably start to unravel if they were adopted.

For some quite puzzling reason he then spends the last two paras negating the whole of his prior argument -

Good, hard-working teachers deserve far more honour and recognition than they get under the present structure, which supports and protects poor performers under the guise of “collegiality”.

Is it an anti-union rant, then? No. I believe strongly in unions and have held office in one myself. What I object to is the abuse of union power. The teacher unions exert far more control over the education system than is healthy or democratic. They do it only because they have been able to bully successive governments into letting them. But the time has come for the education of our children (and grandchildren, in my case) to be liberated from their grasp.

The first sentence under that last c&p is in many respects the crux. The first sentiment I agree with 100%. That is the truth.

What follows, once again, is the consequence of over-simplification –
…which supports and protects poor performers under the guise of “collegiality”.

The pity is that it is also one of the first fundamentals in the debate.

I want to close this first part by taking a wider view of education. It is not, as Karl states, that teacher unions have taken control of the education system, or that they might even want to do this. It is not, as I have seen recently opined in the press, that teachers are engaged in a covert action to instil socialism into the sub-conscious of their students.

There is another factor which has to be explored and overcome. It centres on the relationship between the education system and the community. It is the fundamental behind the what, by whom, and why of education. It has nothing whatsoever to do with labour union power, who runs the education system, the involvement of government, or whether education vouchers will solve the perceived difficulties of “education”.

For education to succeed, we (our society) all need to be very clear on all of the following.

  • The definition of “education”.

  • The objectives education is required to attain.

  • The distribution of education as a public good.

Back in the good old days – Neolithic or thereabouts – education was very simple. You either learned how to get and provide food and shelter or you perished. Simple and elegant.

More recently, education as we think of it was limited to the privileged few; nobility and religieuse. Outside of these groups education would have perhaps come from craft apprenticeship or direct learning; most often provided by parents and wider family.

The modern world has removed all barriers to education; there are no longer the class and craft divisions; there is an almost infinite increase in the complexity and depth of the knowledge required to “survive”.

The removal of those barriers has created challenges which are still not resolved; they are not unique to NZ; they are the foundation of this debate; they are the “who gets what, why, and how much” of education in this modern world.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Rampaging idiocy posing as television presentation...

The following is the text of a letter I have sent to the Editor of old Granny Herald.

No, I do not expect that it will be published.


He has apologised? Any apology from that man has the dignity and worth of the seven year old who knows that in better times he would have been facing a goodly walloping from the old man, but that now he might get a couple of hours peace and quiet in his bedroom.

There is no apology that he can offer, to Sir Anand, to New Zealand, or to anyone else, that would satisfactorily make up for his current sins.

If he wishes to do penance perhaps he could consider crawling naked across the Northern Motorway in the 5 p.m. rush hour tonight.

Alternatively, to just leave the country permanently might be sufficient apology.


This is why it was writ...

On TVNZ's Breakfast yesterday Henry suggested Sir Anand's successor should look and sound more like a New Zealander.

Henry made the comments while questioning Prime Minister John Key.

"Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time ... Are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?"

Mr Key seemed taken aback and said that Sir Anand was a New Zealander.
I am sincerely sorry if I seemed disrespectful to him (Sir Anand), that was not what I intended and I certainly didn't intend to sound racist.

It was wrong for me to ask the questions that I did."

Henry said Sir Anand's background was far more "dignified" than his own.

"Most people think that I am British but the truth is much, much worse than that, like the Governor-General I was born in New Zealand but, however, I am at least half what they colloquially call in Europe a gippo (gypsy).

"So let me make it quite clear I will never apologise for causing outrage, however, I will, and do apologise for causing real hurt and upset to anyone, no matter what their background, who works to make this country a better country.

"So in that spirit I apologise unreservedly to Sir Anand and his family, he is a very distinguished man I am a gippo television presenter."

You want a sword to fall on? I got one. And it is blunt.


Latest addition to this sorry story is that the offender (offensive offender) has been suspended until 18 October without pay.

That only leaves the question -

"Suspended by which portion of his anatomy?"

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Spring is sprung...

Al the bourgeouis philistine had a couple of quite colourful Fall shots from round his place.
About a couple months back yt had to act as chaffeur to SWMBO when she had a cataract op. Went for a walk around some of the local streets during the couple of hours she was in theatre and found a tree absolutely overflowing with silvereyes.

I have no idea what the tree is; it is large, deciduous and smothered with these pink flowers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On being hypocritical ...

Just down the road from us, about 5 minutes by car or 25 minutes on foot, is a Presbyterian church.

This one is notable for the fact that it originally resided some distance from its present location. I also consider it somewhat notable for its advertising. So it was two weeks ago when I drove past, in a somewhat foul humour and saw their latest offering. Regrettably, I missed getting a photo (no, you do not need to know why) of the sign in question but it rang a very loud bell when I saw it.

It read -
God does not discriminate.

Religions do.

Now think about that for a moment. If you can not pick where I am about to go, then perhaps take a few minuites out to read the opening pages of the Gita (as a purely independent source) which says at some length what St Columba's has condensed to two lines.

I had the minor misfortune to trip over this wally who would (very likely) agree with the sentiment of the sign. Just as long, you understand, that it applies solely to Islam. I suspect that there would be quite a number of past visitors to these pages who would agree with the patriotism (and that is both nation and religion patriotism to which I refer) of the gent from Chowan River.

Pointing out the application of St Columba's general statement to the opposite would be totally futile.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On the disappearance of...

... the (often difficult to understand and appreciate) Chinese commentors.

They might be peddling unwanted wares. That was not difficult to detect. They might have been incomprehensible.

The question is, WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?

Is this a policy being imposed by Google, on their own behalf? Or at the persistent request of their clientele?

Or is the result of their acquiescence to pressure from the Chinese authorities who desire that their community be sheltered from the excesses of Capitalism; or whatever the current bugbear might be.

A loud BOOOOOO!! from the probligo if the latter is the case.

On Diplomacy - 2

When I first started sketching out this series of ideas back in June, I resolved that I would try very hard not to drag the US into the debate; at least not until toward the end. I am trying hard to maintain that resolution.

O'Brien introduced me to the uncertainties of diplomacy and the risks involved with taking position between parties internationally.

One of the very first instances he gave was the formulation of the "nuclear-free" foreign policy of the Lange Labour government. He ran through the immediate consequences of that policy; it ended with NZ being excluded from active participation with the US in the ANZUS Treaty.

I am not going to follow that line (directly), because O'Brien also spent considerable time examining the "other consequences"; both the immediate and long term results.

Among those immediate consequences (and likely primary factor in the position that the US took) was a fear that other, more strategically important, nations might follow NZ's example. That particular result does not seem to have appeared.

What did happen was a fundamental shift in the way NZ was seen by the ROW; one of the direct results was NZ's election as a Member of the UN Security Council, followed by a year as the Presidential appointee of the Council. Not surprisingly, O'Brien makes little of this period for the simple reason that he was the individual nominated and appointed; and the native NZ humility kicks in to turn attention away from his personal role.

From that point, there is little question that, while NZ's voice is small in global terms it is heard still with considerable respect by most nations.

The point here is that NZ took a considerable risk in diplomatic terms with the creation and formulation of its anti-nuclear foreign policy. Had it been set up with an individual target (such as the US) then NZ's place at the international table would have been totally denigrated. The risk of that happening with the global exclusion was large enough. We were and are fortunate indeed that the considered shift toward a more neutral stance was accepted as an honest and brave move rather than being a popularist dart from the US into the inevitable backwaters.

It goes further though. One of the reasons for the success of the anti-nuclear policy on the world stage is that it very rapidly became a pillar of NZ domestic politics and foreign policy for both of the major parties. It was not until Don Brash tried leading the National Party against the (longstanding) Clark Labour government that the policy came into serious question. The consequence for Brash's electoral chances against Clark (which were already slim) became impossible once the idea that the anti-nuclear policy would be "gone by lunchtime" became public. Much as he might like to snuggle up to the US, the jonkey has not as yet had to consider the way that the anti-nuclear policy might be used to ingratiate favour from the US. The reverse has been true; the Brash promise was heard and with the installation of the jonkey government (which is much of the same political colour) the scent of olive branches has been carried right across the Pacific.

But, at that point the government (of any nation, globally, generally) has to recognise not only does foreign policy make for external risks there are also internal risks associated with any change in external relations. These risks might result from; negotiating a FTA with China; negotiating a FTA with US; taking part in the invasion of other nations; getting into extreme and unsupportable debt; the list goes on...

The principle of risk, and the corollary of risk-taking, in foreign relationships and policies - diplomacy - is clear. That it is an art, not science.

It is important to realise that the risks, and the uncertainties are as much internal as they are external. Brash learned that with "gone by lunchtime". He was, along with the chances of the Nats overtaking Clark's Labour government in the next six years.

It is this aspect, of controlling "internal risk", that formed a backbone in my earlier series of thoughts on propaganda; the direction of the society to a particular line of thought and action which has the effect of reducing the internal risks associated with a change in foreign direction. In the case of NZ and the anti-nuclear policy the input came from the electorate, the society, in the form of strident and vociferous protest to US nuclear naval vessels and to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

It is the internal risk that leads to much of the outrageous rhetoric in fora such as the UN Genral Assembly; and it is a practice not limited to the likes of Chavez and Ahmedinejad. Both of those "orators" are addressing those they govern in addition to those in the room; to confirm their power to those who support, to reinforce the fears in those who oppose. If I limit the forum to the UNGA, it can be detected in the words and actions of Colin Powell after 9/11, the shoe-banging of Khruschev, the over-long haranguing by Chavez, the spite and outright duplicity of Mugabe...

Ahmedinejad and over-reaction...

Be clear on one thing. I have even less time for Ahmedinejad than I had for GWShrub and his cohorts. With that perspective clear, I can continue.

Ahmedinejad uses fora such as the UN General Assembly in exactly the same way as America's uber-right uses Fox and the internet. That gives rise to the first difficulty. He has to try and cram as much condensed invective and hatred into his annual 15 minutes of fame.

For that reason, Ahmedinejad's criticism of the difference in public America's attitude between the stoning of a woman in Iran for adultery, and the State-sponsored murder in America of a woman arranged the death of her husband gets lost.

Had Ahmedinejad concentrated on just that one difference in attitude he might well have had far fewer delegations walk out on his speech.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On neo-wowsers - an open letter to Karl du Fresne

Mr du Fresne,

As it is Friday, my copy of the Listener has been retrieved from its hiding place on top of the fridge giving me the opportunity to read your article.

I am not going to disagree with you in any way. In fact I am somewhat disappointed that you left out what might be seen as possible solutions to the complaints of the neo-wowsers.

We agree that the "booze problem" exists, driven as you have said by the neo-wowsers whose consumption of alchohol is limited to that tablespoon of brandy in the Christmas pud; nothing more than that. Oh, that and perhaps the occasional wetting of the lips with the communion wine.

As I see it, there are two problems to be resolved.

The first is the consequence of lowering the drinking age. What to do about that? It might be interesting to see how many of the neo-wowsers suddenly picked up "NO YOU DON'T" signs if it were proposed to reinstate age 20. Oh, and at that point I cannot help but wonder how many of the neo-wowser camp would support the reduction of the alchohol level for driving from .08 to .05 ...

The second is like so many of these social problems. It is the few, the bottom 5% or perhaps 10%, whose excesses will spoil the enjoyment of a good pinot (gris or noir) with a meal out, or in for that matter
So, rather than wailing in the wind about the neo-wowsers spoiling our fun we should give them some real suggestions on how to handle the problem; that basement 10%.

My first reaction is to keep it cheap. It is totally apparent that trying to prevent them from driving is a lost cause. Fines and other monetary penalties likewise have become a badge of pride rather than approbrium. Providing drinking drivers with free board and lodging for a week, ten days or a few hours would cost too much. Besides, I (and I suspect a large number of others) might appreciate the opportunity to voice our displeasure in person and on their person.
If you dig back to the time of Dickens there was a common punishment for a wide range of social misdemeanours perhaps or not including public drunkenness.

I can but wonder how many recidivist drunks and driving louts there would be around town after a spell of a couple hours - or days for the very worst - in the town stocks. Rotten tomatos, very mouldy fruit, very smelly eggs... it could even end with a wash-down under a firehose. User pays? Bring it on!! Fifty cents for a bag of three eggs... or bring your own.