08 September 2011

Ask the people

Watching Back Benches last night, I was puzzled by Rahui Katene's view on the situation in Fiji.

"What's so great about democracy?" she asked fellow bencher Stuart Nash, as she made the case that democracy wasn't necessarily the right system for every nation, and we shouldn't try to impose it on Fiji as that would be bullying.

Katene did, however, think that the Fijians should be asked what they wanted. Presumably she thinks the whole adult population should be asked, and have an equal say. After all, if you only ask a limited segment, such as the group currently in charge or a specified ethnic group, then you're already prejudging how things should be run, which is what you want to avoid.

Perhaps Katene has in mind only a one-off consultation of the people, and thereafter they're stuck with whatever form of government and group of people they choose to run the place. But it would be an odd notion to value the view of the people only on a onetime basis, thereafter locking in whatever decision they made, even to later generations, no matter how the people they chose to lead them behaved. So more likely she has no objection to some kind of ongoing 'touching base' with the people she wants to consult.

So Katene wants some sort of repeated, universal consultation of the will of the people of Fiji in how their nation should be run, and who should run it.

While the operational details vary from case to case, there is a type of system that broadly fits what she's after.
It's called democracy.

16 July 2011

Twecon job

I took part in the second #twecon conference last Monday. The twitter-based conference was organised by Matthew Dentith, who has archived the 19 papers presented on his blog EPISTO.

In short, you have a maximum of six numbered tweets featuring the #twecon hash tag to make your point, or to make an artistic statement, or whatever. It’s very open.

It was a lot of fun, and I’ll take part again next time (there’s another to be organised later this year I believe). I also think having to make a coherent case in six 130-character entries is an interesting challenge and could be a useful discipline. (The 130 character figure is if you leave out the numbers and hash tag.)

I like the new rule, allowing for a non-numbered ‘appendix’ tweet. As long as the case is made cogently in the six tweet maximum I think one more tweet for references and background reading links is still in the spirit of the enterprise. Some of the #twecon papers are quite poetic, and the effect may in some cases be lessened if they had to be interrupted by tiny urls.

I enjoyed the Q&A aspect, but could only take part later in the day, because I cannot really contribute while I’m at work. Maybe #twecon could be held on a weekend or public holiday?

Anyway, here is my paper.

1 No agarrarse su lengua: A case for teaching second languages to children at an early age #twecon

2 Debatably, younger children more naturally learn language. Children who learn second languages more easily learn further languages #twecon

3 Language learning can seem intimidating to an adult, especially if we are too comfortable with the quasi-world language of English #twecon

4 We should teach children a second language as soon as possible or we are missing an opportunity. Some say it should not be forced #twecon

5 That’s a weak objection: at early ages most subjects are compulsory; we don’t say “only take PE if you want” #twecon

6 Te reo and/or a foreign language should be taught to children early. Then they will have the genuine choice to continue or not #twecon

Fellow tweconer stacefamily made the very good point that "NZ Sign Language should be on curriculum too. Useful throughout life".

22 May 2011

Apocalypse not now

If the end of the world did not defeat us, then...

05 May 2011

Easter Special


Belated Easter special.

I have finally written my first article for Poplitiko: Jesus Who.

Yes, it is about Jesus Christ and Doctor Who.

I hope to post moderately regularly there, now I'm under way. Pop culture writing is, er... safer than politics, now that I'm in the public service. (Not that I won't continue to post here.)


This is not an Easter song:

12 February 2011

Taxing the ideologue

This is a response to this blog post by property investment lawyer David Whitburn, which in turn was a response to a series of articles in the New Zealand Herald about the worth of a capital gains tax. (They start here, but it’s the second installment where you can read the argument in favour of a capital gains tax.)

I’ll say upfront that arguments such as those of Chye-Ching Huang and Craig Elliffe have put me in favour of the introduction of a capital gains tax. However, this post is not about the benefits of such a tax per se, but a criticism of Whitburn’s response.

Whitburn makes the early claim that Elliffe and Huang "were disappointingly emotive". Yet, Whitburn himself then goes on to make several statements that could be described as ‘emotive’ to say the least. For example:

- “Do we want to borrow several billions of dollars every year until 2016 and create a noose for the taxpayers now, our childrens’ and grandchildrens’ generations...”

- “The idea of a new tax really offends me. It smacks of arrogance and a neanderthal like ‘big Government is good’ mentality...”

And most laughably, he concludes with: “New Zealand needs a capital gains tax as much as we need the plague to strike us.” Yes, the original comment was in bold. But hey, let’s not get emotive.

Next, he moves on to claim that Elliffe and Huang have apparently “forgotten that New Zealand’s mountain of debt is mainly not government (or sovereign) debt. In fact New Zealand is an outstanding performer globally when compared to most other countries" ... “As a country we are in the safe dark grey zone with Government debt at (considerably) less than 30% of GDP.”

Okay, so we don’t need a capital gains tax, because the public debt is not a big problem. Yet strangely, as soon as Whitburn has finished reassuring us that we don’t need capital gains tax or any other increase in public revenue – because public debt is low, we’re safe – he then comes up with a number of suggestions to cut public spending - some of them quite drastic. For example: “Don’t let people leave NZ until they have paid off their student loan.”

What could justify this kind of action, along with the other 15 suggestions he makes to cut government spending? The problem with our public debt, that's what. You know: that low, safe level of public debt.

[Some minor edits have been made to the following points.]

So what other arguments does he make against a Elliffe and Huang? None. That one inconsistent, misdirected point about public debt was it. He addresses none of the benefits they discussed; he addresses nothing else in their case at all.

There are many other suggestions he raised in regard to spending cuts that I diagree with (cuts to education spending, disposing of MMP), but will limit myself to a few more quick points. Whitburn asks: “Do we want to run the risk of more good Kiwis going overseas?” Well apparently, David, you consider a ban on people leaving the country a viable option, so why worry?

He says he does not approve of increasing government income by raising taxes. Yet, one of his suggestions is to raise tax. “Raise the tax on cigarettes so they cost at least $25 per packet (that will stop a great number of smokers and therefore save a lot of money on our pressured healthcare system)”. He claims he doesn’t like a Big Government mentality, and is in favour of individual liberties and personal freedom. Raising the tax on cigarettes is a move often criticised as “Big Government” or “nanny state”.

I do agree with some of what Whitburn suggests. We need, at some point, to raise the age at which the universal pension becomes available, or otherwise address the cost of the system. And I think a 4-year electoral cycle is worth considering.

Also, I’m not against increasing taxes on cigarettes. Then again, I’m not saying that the introduction of a tax is an arrogant compromise of my personal freedom.

I prefer the stance of libertarians over Whitburn’s stale conservatism. I still disagree with them, but at least they’re more consistent. Whitburn will have a lot of people largely agreeing with his position. The problem is that they don't even realise their own ideological myopia.

11 February 2011

Brian Edwards vs the Sun

...day Star Times.

Okay, lame joke aside, I just want to have a quick word about the idiotic decision by the Sunday Star Times to threaten defamation action against Brian Edwards.

Here is the Edwards post that summaries the situation.

I am against our defamation law as it stands, but even if I were not, I think this case amounts to little more than intellectually feeble reasoning and, frankly, bullying, on the part of the Sunday Star Times' editor and the journalist cited as the other client, Jonathan Marshall. This will clearly end up being a counter-productive threat (in part due to the Steisand effect), if it isn't already. If the SST and Marshall were advised to take this step, they received some very bad advice. Maybe they should sue.

Anyway, I just wanted to vent that, and show some support for Edwards' stance on this issue.

02 January 2011

2011 Review

Two days in: So far, so good.

What have I done in the first two days? I've enjoyed Wellington's fairly decent weather and got a lot of washing done. And some drinking.

I've had fun checking out some of the 150-plus* Low Powered FM radio stations available in Wellington. (Yes, that's the sort of thing I do for fun.) That's over one hundred & fifty in Wellington alone (including Kapiti etc). That doesn't even count the standard power stations like National Radio or Active, or any AM frequency stations like Access Radio. I was quite surprised.
[*Edit: Okay, not all of those are currently active, but there are a lot of smaller stations around, some of which are quite interesting.]

I finished Vladimir Nabokov's Despair. Good book. (I wonder if the original Russian title, Otchayanie, has slightly different connotations than the English equivalent?)

I read Charles Reece's Best 11 Films of 2010. I always enjoy his efforts at getting many non-standard publicity posters for the films. Such as...

EDIT: sorry, image not working any longer. This was it.

I got into part 3 of Y: The Last Man - 'One Small Step'.

And I caught up on the latest Natalie Tran Vlogs.

That's not too bad for two days of the new year.


For the next little while at least, I'll be posting all "pop culture" related stuff (such as film reviews and commentary) over at Poplitiko. Where I am inclined to comment on something other than pop culture, it'll be here. Plus I'll post links to Poplitiko just in case.


Merry new year.