Quotulatiousness

September 23, 2014

“Rock star economy” leads to first majority government in New Zealand since 1996

Filed under: Economics, Pacific, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

Anthony Fensom reports on Saturday’s election results in New Zealand:

New Zealand’s “rock star economy” helped center-right Prime Minister John Key achieve a thumping election victory. But with major trading partner China slowing, are financial market celebrations premature?

The New Zealand dollar, government bonds, and stocks gained after Key’s National Party romped to power in Saturday’s poll, securing its third straight term and the nation’s first majority government since proportional representation was introduced in 1996.

Despite “dirty politics” claims and a late attempted campaign ambush by internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, the incumbent National Party won 61 of 121 parliamentary seats and 48.1 percent of the vote, the party’s best result since 1951.

In contrast, the main opposition left-leaning Labour Party, which pledged an expansion of government, secured only 24.7 percent of the vote for its worst performance since 1922. The Greens won 10 percent and New Zealand First 8.9 percent as pre-election predictions of a closer race proved false.

Key pledged to maintain strategic alliances with the Maori, ACT and United Future parties, which won four seats between them, further strengthening his parliamentary majority.

[...]

“Like [Australian Prime Minister] Abbott, Key as a new prime minister inherited a budget and an economy in deep trouble…Six years later, the budget is in surplus, unemployment at 5.6 percent is falling and the economy is growing so strongly the New Zealand Reserve Bank became the first among developed countries to raise interest rates to deter inflation,” noted the Australian Financial Review’s Jennifer Hewett.

“Not only did the Key government cut personal and corporate tax rates, it raised the goods and services tax to 15 percent while steadily reducing government spending over years of ‘zero budgets,’” wrote Hewett, who urged Abbott to “learn some sharp lessons” from Key’s electoral successes.

Key’s party has pledged to cut government debt to 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), reduce taxes “when there is room to do so” and create more jobs, aiming to undertake further labor and regulatory reforms as well as boosting the supply of housing.

July 17, 2014

Geddy Lee, wine fan

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:12

I don’t recall a lot of wine references in Rush songs, but perhaps I’m not listening hard enough: Geddy Lee is a huge wine fan and has a recent interview in Terroni Magazine (transcribed by Power Windows).

How long have you been collecting wine?

I was trying to think about that this morning actually, because I knew you’d ask me. I started collecting wine probably in the mid ’80s but not in a serious way. It wasn’t until the late ’80S that I got more serious about it.

I read that you built a modest cellar in your home but your collection quickly outgrew that one so you had to construct a second. Has your collection outgrown your cellar space or is it still hovering at around 5,000 bottles?

I don’t like to talk about how much wine I have [laughing] but I have surpassed that. I also spend a lot of time out of the country so I have wine in those places, too.

Was it love at first sip or was a taste for wine something that you acquired over time?

Well, what happened with me was when I was touring in the late ’70s, we were starting to get a little successful in America and promoters would always ask our manager, “What can I buy the guys and leave in their dressing room?” So Alex, my guitar player/partner, he was always into wine before I was so he would always say, “Great wine. Great Bordeaux.” So we would get these great bottles left for us. He would drink his and I would take all mine home because I wasn’t really fanatical About wine yet and I had a little wine fridge and I kept them safe and sound. At first I acquired a taste for Bordeaux but after many years of trying different wines, I discovered Burgundy and it changed my life, my palate and I completely crossed over to the other side-the pinot side.

[...]

I’ve read that you’re an avid traveler. Is sampling locally produced wine, if the country you’re in indeed produces it, import ant to you?

Yes it is. I’ll give you an example: last year my wife and I spent a month in New Zealand. And I’m not a big New World wine fan but seeing as we were going to be there for a month 1 thought, well you know, I should try. So every night I made it a project to try a different pinot noir. I came away from the country with about four or five New Zealand pinots that I absolutely love. It was good for me, helping to lose that French wine snobbishness that I happen to have. New Zealand makes, in my view, the best pinot noir outside of France.

Now bear with me here, but Louis Pasteur once said, “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” And Rush lyrics are famously philosophical. Any chance that you imbibe in wine to help fuel the writing process?

Absolutely not! [Laughing] I imbibe in wine to forget the writing process! I drink coffee to inspire the writing.

July 16, 2014

New Zealand is considering breaking new legal ground in rape cases

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:36

And by “breaking new legal ground” I mean “beginning with a presumption of guilt” in all rape cases:

Fundamental pillars of the criminal justice system may be eroded whichever party wins the election this year, as both National’s and Labour’s proposals would look into changing the right to silence or the presumption of innocence in rape cases.

Both major parties claim the current system is not upholding justice for victims, and are looking at changes that would effectively make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions.

National wants to explore allowing a judge or jury to see an accused’s refusal to give evidence in a negative light, while Labour wants to shift the burden of proof of consent from the alleged victim to the accused.

Auckland University law professor Warren Brookbanks said both policies challenged two fundamental principles: the right to silence, and the presumption of innocence, which are both protected in the Bill of Rights Act.

New Zealand needs a third political alternative, as both of these parties are proposing to take away fundamental rights in pursuit of a higher conviction rate. Taking away the right to silence is bad, but getting rid of the presumption of innocence is equally bad:

Labour’s justice spokesman Andrew Little did not think the party’s proposal would lead to more innocent people being convicted.

“I don’t see why. You’re assuming that there is a propensity to lay false complaints. There is no evidence pointing to that.”

He said eroding the right to silence went too far, but Justice Minister Judith Collins said the same of Labour’s proposal.

“The presumption of innocence is fundamental to our justice system and our society. Requiring an accused person to prove their innocence would undoubtedly result in many injustices and wrongful convictions.”

A quick Google search for “false accusations in rape cases” turned up 4.3 million hits. Even the Wikipedia page on the subject (and Wikipedia editors tend to be pro-victim rather than pro-police) say that between 2% and 8% of all rape accusations are false. New Zealand’s “initiatives” in this area seem bound to create more injustice for the accused than improved justice for victims.

June 25, 2014

“The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Europe, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

Britain’s NHS came in for rave reviews in a recent study that compared healthcare systems in several European countries and the Anglosphere. There was, as John Kay points out, only one minor flaw in the way the measurements were weighted:

“NHS is the world’s best healthcare system” was a headline last week in The Guardian newspaper. However, six paragraphs in, the authors observed: “The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive.” Further investigation was clearly required.

The newspaper was reporting a survey of health provision by the US-based Commonwealth Fund in 11 advanced countries: seven European states, the US and Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The findings use measures of service quality, mainly derived from judgments by patients. The effectiveness of care is judged by the intensity of preventive activity – whether necessary tests are carried out, whether doctors advise on a healthy lifestyle – and the reliability of management of chronic conditions.

The safety of care is judged by the frequency of medical mistakes, and the incidence of hospital-induced infection. Good care is patient-centred and timely, with necessary treatment easily accessible. The survey also reports measures of efficiency, or more often inefficiency – how great is the burden of medical administration, how much unnecessary use is made of emergency services, how reliably test results reach medical professionals.

The UK’s National Health Service is at or close to the top on almost all these indicators, and its health spending per head is the second lowest in the survey. The US system scores badly on everything except preventive care, and US medical costs are off the scale when compared with other countries.

The problem, however, is that when it comes to keeping you alive, the World Health Organisation puts Britain tenth out of 11; only the US is worse. If your objective is to live a healthy life, go to France. Medical outcomes are judged by reference to three measures: avoidable mortality, infant mortality, and healthy life expectancy at age 60. And the NHS does not do well on these metrics.

June 21, 2014

New Zealand’s Defense Capability Plan

Filed under: Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:05

At The Diplomat, Ankit Panda reports on the recent Defense Capability Plan (DCP) released by the New Zealand government:

The DCP emphasizes enhancing the NZDF’s “proficiency at joint operations and growing its combat, combat support and combat service support capabilities.” The shortest term goal for the NZDF as explained in the DCF is to achieve Joint Taskforce Capability by 2015. In the medium term, by 2020, the NZDF will focus on enhancing its combat capability. According to the DCP, the NZDF will be charged with:

  • defending New Zealand’s sovereignty;
  • discharging [New Zealand’s] obligations as an effective ally of Australia;
  • contributing to and, where necessary, leading peace and security operations in the South Pacific;
  • making a credible contribution in support of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • protecting New Zealand’s wider interests by contributing to international peace and security, and the international rule of law;
  • contributing to whole of Government efforts to monitor the international strategic environment; and
  • being prepared to respond to sudden shifts and other disjunctions in the strategic environment.

The DCP sets out some of New Zealand’s longer term procurement concerns. The country will have to replace its aging C-130H and Boeing 757 fleets “in the early 2020s.” Additionally, ANZAC frigates and the highly versatile P-3K2 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft “will also reach the end of their service life in the 2020s.”

The DCP can be read here.

June 16, 2014

QotD: New Zealand in 1954 – a “fake utopia”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Monowai cast off just two days after the then still-secret Castle Bravo H-bomb was detonated at Bikini Atoll. They docked in Auckland on March 5 after an uneventful passage of four days. Their stateroom had been uncomfortably cramped, but at least the ship was clean. Not as much as could be said for the hotel in Auckland — and the food they were given all during their stay in New Zealand.

They arranged a tour of the countryside as fast as possible, running into a snarl of red tape and incredible union featherbedding that gave his professional Democrat’s conscience twinges. They endured several days in Auckland, over a weekend buttoned up tighter than even Sydney — “Australian closing hours are inconvenient, but New Zealand closing hours are more in the nature of paralysis” — before they were able to book a tour of North Island — a beautiful place. Waitono, their first stop, did a great deal to take the taste of Auckland out of their mouths. The Glowworm Grotto fascinated them.

Otherwise, the trip itself was moderately grim. In the thermal geyser country of Wairakei and Rotorua, a guide, displaying all the characteristics of petty bureaucrats everywhere, disparaged Yellowstone’s geyser field and Robert had enough. For a moment he lost his temper and sense of discretion enough to point out the facts and drew down the guide’s righteously arrogant — and factually wrong — wrath.

Of New Zealand in 1954, he said it was a place, “where no one goes hungry, but where life is dreary and comfortless beyond belief, save for the pleasures of good climate and magnificent countryside”. Worst of all, it was grim because of the very features that had made him most hopeful for it — the British pattern of socialism, the overpowering, oppressive, death grip of the unions stifled all spirit of progress, all incentive to better the thousands of petty, daily inconveniences this often truculent, beaten-down people burdened themselves with as much as their visitors. “New Zealand is a fake utopia,” Heinlein concluded, “a semi-socialism which does not work and which does not have anything like the degree of civil liberty we have. In my opinion, it stinks.”

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

June 5, 2014

Living in a post-Snowden world, under the gaze of the Five Eyes

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:12

It’s been a year since the name Edward Snowden became known to the world, and it’s been a bumpy ride since then, as we found out that the tinfoil-hat-wearing anti-government conspiracy theorists were, if anything, under-estimating the actual level of organized, secret government surveillance. At The Register, Duncan Campbell takes us inside the “FIVE-EYED VAMPIRE SQUID of the internet”, the five-way intelligence-sharing partnership of US/UK/Canada/Australia/New Zealand:

One year after The Guardian opened up the trove of top secret American and British documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) sysadmin Edward J Snowden, the world of data security and personal information safety has been turned on its head.

Everything about the safety of the internet as a common communication medium has been shown to be broken. As with the banking disasters of 2008, the crisis and damage created — not by Snowden and his helpers, but by the unregulated and unrestrained conduct the leaked documents have exposed — will last for years if not decades.

Compounding the problem is the covert network of subornment and control that agencies and collaborators working with the NSA are now revealed to have created in communications and computer security organisations and companies around the globe.

The NSA’s explicit objective is to weaken the security of the entire physical fabric of the net. One of its declared goals is to “shape the worldwide commercial cryptography market to make it more tractable to advanced cryptanalytic capabilities being developed by the NSA”, according to top secret documents provided by Snowden.

Profiling the global machinations of merchant bank Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone in 2009, journalist Matt Taibbi famously characterized them as operating “everywhere … a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

The NSA, with its English-speaking “Five Eyes” partners (the relevant agencies of the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) and a hitherto unknown secret network of corporate and government partners, has been revealed to be a similar creature. The Snowden documents chart communications funnels, taps, probes, “collection systems” and malware “implants” everywhere, jammed into data networks and tapped into cables or onto satellites.

May 12, 2014

New Zealand 4K timelapse

Filed under: Environment, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:58

Published on 26 Apr 2014

Part I/IV of a timelapse series through the always changing landscapes of New Zealand. Shot over 4 month, travelling through amazing landscapes, sleeping under the stars, hiking on mountains and exploring remote roads. Locations in this video where at Fjordland NP, Mount Cook NP and Arthurs Pass NP, Mavora Lakes and Lake Ohau.

H/T to Roger Henry who said “A nice bit of promo work for NZ. [...] A little bit Arthur Clarkish in a couple of spots.”

March 11, 2014

New Zealand considering changing the national flag

Filed under: Pacific — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:51

The current PM’s choice would be the silver fern on a black field, which is the symbol used by the national sports teams, especially the All Blacks:

New Zealand flag 320pxNew Zealand is to hold a referendum on whether to change the national flag, Prime Minister John Key has announced.

Mr Key, who on Monday called an election for 20 September, said the vote would be held within three years.

The current flag shows the Southern Cross constellation and includes the Union Jack – the UK’s national flag – in one corner.

Mr Key said the flag represented a period of history from which New Zealand had moved on.

“It’s my belief… that the design of the New Zealand flag symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed,” he said in a speech at Victoria University.

New Zealand All Black Silver Fern flag 324px“The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom.”

“I am proposing that we take one more step in the evolution of modern New Zealand by acknowledging our independence through a new flag.”

Mr Key said that he liked the silver fern — popularised by national teams including the All Blacks — as an option, saying efforts by New Zealand’s athletes gave “the silver fern on a black background a distinctive and uniquely New Zealand identity”.

January 28, 2014

New Zealand primary school descends into anarchy by “ripping up the schoolyard rules”

Filed under: Liberty, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:45

In a breathtaking display of anarchy, an Aukland primary school got rid of all their playground rules and let the little savages do whatever they wanted. As you’d expect, the results were catastrophic and the kids will need to undergo therapy for the wanton violence they unleashed. Well, no, not really:

Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.”

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play.

However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

J.D. Tuccille hails the rise of spontaneous order:

Youth is a relatively low-risk time to test your limits and discover what hurts and what doesn’t. Kids are practically rubber, so when they fall down off a bike or out of a tree, it may be a jolt, but it’s unlikely to do permanent damage. The lessons they learn about what’s fun and what’s painful can be retained for later in life when the stakes are higher. I know that I gained a relatively low-cost understanding of the world wandering the streets unescorted as an eight-year-old than I would have if I’d been “protected” from the world around me, and I suspect the same is true of most kids everywhere.

And, of course, kids get to burn off a lot more steam when they play free than they do when adults ban tag and running. Those rules are imposed by adults who live in fear that children will damage their little selves, but that leaves the tots chock full of unreleased energy and uncertain of the limits of their worlds — limits they’ll have to discover when they’re older and the consequences can be more severe (or else they won’t discover at all as they internalize the fear in which they’ve been marinated).

November 10, 2013

QotD: The New Zealand rugby team

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:27

There is a saying that you do not beat New Zealand — you just get more points than them at the final whistle.

Tim Worstall, “About next week’s rugby”, TimWorstall.com, 2013-11-10

August 29, 2013

New Zealand bans (most) software patents

Filed under: Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:27

Hurrah for New Zealand:

A major new patent bill, passed in a 117-4 vote by New Zealand’s Parliament after five years of debate, has banned software patents.

The relevant clause of the patent bill actually states that a computer program is “not an invention.” Some have suggested that was a way to get around the wording of the TRIPS intellectual property treaty, which requires patents to be “available for any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology.”

Processes will still be patentable if the computer program is merely a way of implementing a patentable process. But patent claims that cover computer programs “as such” will not be allowed.

It seems there will be some leeway for computer programs directly tied to improved hardware. The bill includes the example of a better washing machine. Even if the improvements are implemented with a computer program, “the actual contribution is a new and improved way of operating a washing machine that gets clothes cleaner and uses less electricity,” so a patent could be awarded.

July 27, 2013

The brief, glorious career of the libertarian sheep

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:15

An amusing tale in Modern Farmer:

Shrek the sheep 1

Take a moment to drink in the glory of Shrek the Sheep. Shrek really, really, really did not like getting his hair cut. So for six years, this New Zealand libertarian managed to avoid spring shearings by hiding in a cave.

By the time he was found in 2004, his owners couldn’t even tell he was a sheep. “He looked like some biblical creature,” John Perriam told the BBC. Or, to quote a member of Modern Farmer‘s editorial team, “Someone help that sheep, he is being eaten by some kind of dirty monster.”

When Shrek was eventually sheared (because man always triumphs over sheep), there was enough wool to produce 20 men’s suits. Just an abnormal, excessive, downright insane amount of wool. Which led us to some basic questions: If a sheep is left unshorn, will its wool grow forever? Is that healthy? Is this a glitch in the (wooly) fabric of evolution?

Shrek the sheep 2

That’s Shrek mid-shearing, and not very happy about it. This is a fairly old story, as Shrek died a couple of years ago.

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

December 6, 2012

NZ court allows Kim Dotcom to sue for illegal spying

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

This could get interesting quickly:

Details of the top secret international spy agency ring known as Echelon will have to be produced after a new judgment in the Kim Dotcom case.

The internet tycoon was also cleared to pursue a case for damages against the police and the Government Communications Security Bureau in a judgment which has opened the Government’s handling of the criminal copyright case for its harshest criticism yet.

[. . .]

Chief high court judge Helen Winkelmann said the GCSB would have to “confirm all entities” to which it gave information sourced through its illegal interception of Dotcom’s communications.

She said her order included “members of Echelon/Five Eyes, including any United States authority”. The Echelon network is an international intelligence network to which New Zealand and the United States are members, along with Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The judgment also recorded Dotcom’s suspicions he had been spied on at least six weeks before the GCSB admitted to doing so, and sought details as to whether others had been swept up in the illegal operation.

Update: Moved the video below the fold to stop it auto-playing any time someone visited the blog main page.

(more…)

September 18, 2012

Canada ranks fifth in the world for economic freedom

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:19

The annual Fraser Institute report on world economic freedom may confirm what a lot of Canadians have been noticing: we’re now much more free than our American friends, at least by the measurements tracked in this series of rankings (PDF):

  • In the chain-linked index, average economic freedom rose from 5.30 (out of 10) in
    1980 to 6.88 in 2007. It then fell for two consecutive years, resulting in a score of
    6.79 in 2009 but has risen slightly to 6.83 in 2010, the most recent year available.
    It appears that responses to the economic crisis have reduced economic freedom
    in the short term and perhaps prosperity over the long term, but the upward
    movement this year is encouraging.
  • In this year’s index, Hong Kong retains the highest rating for economic freedom,
    8.90 out of 10. The other top 10 nations are: Singapore, 8.69; New Zealand, 8.36;
    Switzerland, 8.24; Australia, 7.97; Canada, 7.97; Bahrain, 7.94; Mauritius, 7.90;
    Finland, 7.88; and Chile, 7.84.
  • The rankings (and scores) of other large economies in this year’s index are the United
    Kingdom, 12th (7.75); the United States, 18th (7.69); Japan, 20th (7.64); Germany,
    31st (7.52); France, 47th (7.32); Italy, 83rd (6.77); Mexico, 91st, (6.66); Russia, 95th
    (6.56); Brazil, 105th (6.37); China, 107th (6.35); and India, 111th (6.26).
  • The scores of the bottom ten nations in this year’s index are: Venezuela, 4.07;
    Myanmar, 4.29; Zimbabwe, 4.35; Republic of the Congo, 4.86; Angola, 5.12;
    Democratic Republic of the Congo, 5.18; Guinea-Bissau, 5.23; Algeria, 5.34; Chad,
    5.41; and, tied for 10th worst, Mozambique and Burundi, 5.45.
  • The United States, long considered the standard bearer for economic freedom
    among large industrial nations, has experienced a substantial decline in economic
    freedom during the past decade. From 1980 to 2000, the United States was generally
    rated the third freest economy in the world, ranking behind only Hong Kong and
    Singapore. After increasing steadily during the period from 1980 to 2000, the chainlinked
    EFW rating of the United States fell from 8.65 in 2000 to 8.21 in 2005 and
    7.70 in 2010. The chain-linked ranking of the United States has fallen precipitously
    from second in 2000 to eighth in 2005 and 19th in 2010 (unadjusted ranking of 18th).
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