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.