Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Exasperation coming on.

I have a lot of respect for the wisdom of Sir Bob Jones that he shares with us via his column in the herald. No, wait, that's a lie. I've got sod all.

The market will solve everything. That's this week's broken record message. In this case he's telling us that the market will take care of Auckland's housing crises. The government (local and national I presume) should butt out and let that holy of holies take care of everything. Seriously, has the man learnt nothing from the past 30 years. The market can be an efficient tool at times and it shouldn't be done away with completely.

It's not some bloody wondrous fix-everything type tool though. Like any system, it has it's own biases. For one thing, the market tends to follow the money. It doesn't really like to pay to much attention to the poor until such point in time as the poor, collectively, have enough money to make large investments worthwhile. So as much as Jones fantasises otherwise, the market is not going to step in and offer the poor better housing, there's not profit in it because, funnily enough, the poor have sod all money.

Of course, he could be imagining that the market will step in and build large numbers of expensive houses which flood the supply chain and bring the current medium value housing into affordability for the poor. That relies on more housing being built than our current growth rate requires. Eventually, we may be able to do that. It's going to take a long, long time though and in the meantime, the low and medium income earners just have to suck it.
Market systems indisputably produce the best outcomes but inherent in them is volatility, failing which they're not functioning properly. We need to recognise that and have less infantile handwringing when balances swing one way, confident that in the course of time they'll be self-correcting.
This is the bit that gets me. Let the market sort it out he says. Have confidence that any imbalances will be self correcting. 1) They not always self correcting and 2) that infantile hand-wringing? That's because it's it's actual people living in poverty, not just some bankers bottom line that is coping with that volatility.

What an arse.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Well that's ... encouraging

I suspect I'll be reading stuff.co.nz a little more in days to come. Not that I'm enthralled with their reporting mind. It's more of an ... organisational thing. They have apparently just hired a chap called Harkanwal “Kamal” Singh, who, to be honest, I wouldn't know from a bar of soap. The capacity in which he has been hired though is "Data Journalist".

 There is a large amount of data floating around our world at the moment. And even though much of it might be technically accessible, very little is actually accessible by the general public. Primarily because of the sheer volume. I'm reasonably conversant with how to navigate large amounts of data but I have neither the time, nor the background to be able to ask the right questions. There has been for a while now, a small but noticeable movement in some journalism circles towards extracting stories from the large amounts of data that is available. Data driven journalists have even been putting together guides to help get more journalists trawling through the data.

Needless to say, I'm a large fan of the idea. In years to come I hope it becomes a core part of journalism - extracting what we need to know from bodies of data that the rest of us have neither the time nor the skill to navigate. The fact that there are people paying attention to this sort of thing gives me hope. Just as I suspect that the little burst of disappointment that comes along almost every time I read a story in our media that use statistics in anyway comes from how badly it is currently done.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

See the link?

I saw this yesterday. Bill English, our Minister of Finance warning farmers that if we get the higher frequency of droughts and extreme weather that NIWA are suggesting we might get as a result of climate change.

Colour me surprised. Climate change might have an economic impact? It was pointed out on twitter this afternoon by @georgedarroch that some time ago, when our Minister of Finance was in opposition, he mounted both a tractor on the steps of parliament and an effective campaign against a proposed tax of 85c per year per cow that was meant to fund research into reducing emissions. Emissions that fuel climate change. The same climate change that is likely to lead to greater levels of extreme weather, to the extent that the government  probably won't be able to support farmers which is going to lead to farmers losing their livelihoods.
Bruce Wills, national president of Federated Farmers, said the industry had been dealing with wildly fluctuating weather for many years. 
Well that's lucky Bruce, because your industry is going to get a lot more practice at it. It's not necessarily the fault of all farmers - I have no doubt there are a decent chunk who have considered climate change a threat for some time. If I were a farmer though. I'd be a little pissed at those who represent the farmers, those that for some years have been amongst those who have resisted change.

A couple of things to note here. The proposed research wouldn't have, on it's own, prevented the increased climate variability that we're seeing. Even in 2003, there probably wasn't much we could have done to stop what is happening today. We could very well have made an impact on what will be happening in 2050. Blew that one. There is however, such a thing as getting your own house in order before going to the world at large to demand action. New Zealand has stood up and taken unpopular issues onto the world stage before, we could have done it again.

And I'm sure I rattled on about this before, but treating nature as part of the infrastructure of our economy is essential. To continually externalise the cost and assume that nature will sit there remaining unchanged is foolishness in the extreme. Nature is not just part of our economy, it is the base upon which it all rest. Without water in our dams electricity is not made, without rain on the fields, we have no dairy industry, if we fish with no regard for the oceans, we end up with no fishing industry. If you dig up more coal to power greater levels of industry, you release more carbon into the atmosphere, which is seriously, not going to help.

Friday, March 8, 2013


There's a movie coming out shortly, called Enders Game. It's based on a superb book,  a classic sci-fi novel by a chap called Orson Scott Card. It probably helped that I first read it when I was probably about 12. So I'm a little nervous about the movie. I regard the book being mostly about the psychology and the appalling situations that the main character (Ender) is put in. I'm not sure how that's going to translate to the big screen.

I might not go see it on the big screen though. When an author becomes outspoken on social issues (in a non literary capacity) it can become hard to separate your idea of them from their work. For example, over the past few years, I've not found the Dilbert cartoons to be particularly funny. Ever since I found out exactly what sort of anti science, rabid climate change denier type knob that the author Scott Adams is.

It's an odd thing this association. Emma Hart was talking about it yesterday - the idea that with art, it shouldn't matter how horrid the artists was, the piece of art itself remains beautiful, if it was beautiful to begin with etc. With writing though, Emma suggests, and I think I agree that it's different. I don't say this because it should be, I say this because this is what I have found to be the case for me.

Enders Game was and remains for me, a great book. I've read several of Card's other books, none of which have been as good. I'm moderately confident that they aren't as good because I can recall reading some of them before I found out a couple of years ago, what a major asshat Card is. I knew fairly early on he was a Mormon. That didn't bother me to much. Being a complete homophobe and  fully on board with the idea of overthrowing governments that legalize gay marriage - that bothers me.
 " Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down"
"Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary. "
Maybe his personal views shouldn't bother me and I should look on the movie as a piece of art detached from Card. I don't seem to be able to though. And as Emma points out, some of the money this movie makes is going to find it's way back to Card and support him in his endeavours. As a result of his stated views on gays and gay marriage there are, understandably I think, a large number of people who are not particularly fond of Card. A significant number of those people are geeks - by virtue of the fact that Card's audience prior to his activism was primarily sci-fi fans.

Then a short while ago, it was revealed that DC had retained the services of Mr Card to write a special edition of Superman. This news was not taken ... well, by many people. Having a hero who is meant to uphold the idea of a land free of hate (amongst other things) written by a writer so obviously full of it is disturbing. There were/are petitions calling on DC to not publish Cards story. The artist booked to draw Cards story withdrew.  There's even mutterings that the studio putting out Enders Game is getting a little nervous about fronting Card at various sci-fi conventions as part of the promotions for the movie.

Some have suggested that this is an abrogation of Card's right to free speech. You should all know where I stand on that particularly facile argument - the right to free speech does not guarantee a platform, it should only ensure that no governmental authority is able to censure what you. Besides, it works both ways. Claiming that protests against someone should stop because they violate that persons free speech are pretty much calling for the free speech of the protesters to be quashed. DC deciding not to publish the comic written by Card would DC listening to their customers who don't want to support a venture that supports Card and in turn supports his activism against either themselves or their friends and families. I really don't see anything wrong with that.

The best summary of the arguments against supporting either the Superman comic or the movie are here, read them. I won't be buying the comic - not that I would have anyway, but I don't think I'll go see the movie either. The total proportion of my money making it's way back to card would be small. I'm just not comfortable with any of it getting back to him.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Where is the good news?

A better question would be, why does only bad news sell. An even better question would be does only bad news sell?I'm not going to argue against the need for bad news, we need to know when public servants or politicians are lying*. We need to be aware of trends in the greater world - i.e. climate change. The good news always seems to be fluffy and borderline meaningless. Or about sports. So the things that take the headlines are primarily bad things.

One possibility that is trotted out often enough is that it's the bad news that sells. And it obviously does. The counterpart to that argument though is that good news doesn't sell. I've been watching a cooking programme called River Cottage - this particular series of River Cottage is all vegetarian. An observation was made that there was and had only ever been only one vegetarian dish on the main menu because that's what the market wanted. Which immediately raised a logical fallacy type flag in head, how do you know that's what the market wants if that's all you've ever offered them?

The things that take the headlines are generally speaking either bad or sports related. Could we not offer the number 2 or 3 spot to some well thought out, well reported good news. I'll even offer a jumping off point :

 Not news in and off itself maybe, but we had William Shatner talking to one of the astronauts on the space station recently. How about an ongoing theme through our media for a couple of weeks about space exploration and the plans currently being made to bring asteroids into moon orbit so as to be able to mine them? Something for the public to be inspired by?

It occurs to me, as I write this that  the primary problem with reporting good news, might very well be that it's more expensive that reporting bad news. Bad news happens right in front of your face. Good news has to be sought out. And it requires retaining well trained and specialised journalists.
I will admit there is a possibility that there is good news in the news - a lot of it science related, which I don't see as good news because it's so poorly reported.
It also occurs to me that I may have made a related argument once before with respect to the need for grandiose projects. Things to inspire people, to get them talking. We still need to talk about all the bad stuff, it'd be nice though to have some larger, positive themes running through our public discourse.

*No, politicians do not lie all the time. Some of them are devoted to some pretty stupid, fundamentally detached from reality type policies, but I don't doubt that large numbers of our current National government are in politics because they think they are doing the right thing - reality be damned.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Withholding judgement

There's a new bar in Kingsland opening shortly. I find it sad that my first reaction to a new business in the area is to deadpan a completely unenthusiastic "oh yay". There's a certain amount of me being a snob in that reaction. There's also a large chunk of not being able to get excited by the same old things being trotted out as new and "cool".
Kingsland already has several bars. A couple of them are even pleasant places to hang out. Which is good. What I'm going to grump about is the beer.  We already have a large Monteiths bar and a large Macs bar. Which is Lion and DB taken care of. One of the smaller bars - the Portland Public House has a few decent brews in bottles but all their taps are taken by Monteiths beers.

So when this latest bar started being put together I was quietly hopeful in a cross my fingers and close my eyes really really tight kind of way. It looks like a nice place inside and it adds another sunny courtyard to Kingsland. There's lots of nice places and sunny courtyards in Kingsland already though. What I was really hoping for was some good beer - preferably on tap. not relying on the big breweries is not an impossible business model - Galbraiths have been doing it for years, Golden Dawn has been serving good (Hallertau) beer on tap for years now and O'Carrols in Vulcan Lane has so much good beer being served on tap that I can quite happily dither for several minutes whilst trying to decide what to drink.

My hopes have not completely died but they've at least taken a severe beating and are on their way to the emergency room. Walking past yesterday afternoon I see the new bar, Citizen Park being stocked. Couldn't see what beer was going on the taps, but the sun umbrellas in the courtyard ... Heineken. [deadpan]oh yay[/deadpan]. Same old, same old. Still, one must withhold judgement- the possibility of good beer* being served alongside the horrid stuff is still there. Fingers back to being crossed ... ow.

*For the record, Moa is good beer, but I hope this doesn't come in - it's marketed, in my opinion, by wankers, for wankers, not something I particularly want to support.