Thursday, July 31, 2003

He doesn't know

Glenn Condell on blogorrhoea asks what the difference is between the left and the right. His answer? Doubt...

Bucket of Fisk

Al-Jazeera accuses US of harassment in row over 'bias'
American agents are blamed for raid that became a massacre
American troops step up searches as death toll rises (mirror1, mirror2)
"I tell my wife I'm OK, but we all wonder who's next"

Israeli apartheid

The Israeli government has introduced a law to prevent Palestinians - and only Palestinians - from gaining Israeli citizenship through marriage. Those affected (and it will affect mostly Arab-Israelis) will be forced to either seperate or leave the country.

The parallels with South African apartheid, or the anti-miscegenation laws of the US South should be obvious.

NZ Herald: How MPs voted on the Death with Dignity Bill

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Voting for pain and suffering

Peter Brown's "death with dignity" bill has been voted down rather than sent to select committee.

Hopefully the voting records will be published so we can see who voted for pain and suffering...


ACT's position on foreshore claims is another stunning example of their hypocrisy. Their position on things like taxes and the RMA is that people have an absolute right to their own property. But here they are supporting the expropriation of land by legislative fiat. Maybe they should change their slogan to "property rights for everyone but brown people"?

Winding up race hatred

I see that DPF is complaining about Michael Cullen calling Bill English a "racist" - which is interesting, given that that's not what Cullen actually said. Even a cursory glance at the stories on Stuff or the Herald would show that Cullen's actual words were "winding up race hatred", which is something rather different. Rather than accusing English of being an ignorant bigot, Cullen is accusing him of exploiting ignorant bigots for political gain - and pointing out that the solution is going to have to be a bit more complicated than National's simplistic call to legislate the possible pre-existing property rights of Maori out of existence.

I have a lot of sympathy for National's position. Their beaches for all website says that:

It's the birthright of every New Zealander to go to the beach, to walk the coast, to throw a fishing line in the water - it's part of what it means to be a New Zealander.

Even though I'm not a beach person - I don't like the sun, I don't like the sand, and saltwater does bad things to my hair - I think that they're right. Free and public access to nature is part of what this country is all about; this is not a country where you can own the beach.

The fly in the egalitarian ointment is of course the Treaty. Under it, we have to recognise the pre-existing property rights of Maori to "their lands, villages and all their treasures" (those who want to ignore international law and use the English version will find that this clause is even stronger: "full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties"). The Maori Land Court has recognised that these lands and estates may include beaches and foreshores, and they seem to have a prima facie case... or at least they do if you think that there has been even one justified land claim under the Treaty.

And therein lies the true problem: there is a segment of New Zealand society which refuses to accept that the Treaty is relevant, or that any claim could possibly be justified (or that some might have been, once - for cases where we took land with guns and cannon - but these have all been settled and modern claims are baseless). And it's this segment - the old, white, "bloody Maori - how dare they!" bunch that were out in force in Nelson over the weekend - that National, ACT and United Future are trying to attract with their calls for legislation.

It's to the government's credit that they've since realised - after their initial panic promise of legislation - that things are a hell of a lot more complicated than that, and that simply denying that Maori have pre-existing property rights, as National and friends seem to be doing, is not going to be a lasting solution which leads to harmony.

About bloody time

According to a story in yesterday's Herald, the government is threatening to regulate the gas industry. As someone who works in that industry and has a passing familiarity with the issues in questions, my opinion is that its about bloody time.

Scoop has a speech from the chairman of NGC, which calls the planned regulation "unnecessary" because the industry is making "very significant progress" on regulating itself. This is pure bollocks - the gas industry has spectacularly failed to provide any sort of usable enforcement mechanism for its self-regulation scheme, making it completely toothless. They need a Leviathan, and if they can't provide one themselves, the government should provide it for them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

New Fisk

US Troops Turn Botched Saddam Raid Into A Massacre
What are Iraqis to make of this theatre of the macabre?

Another NZ blog

NZ newsgroup regular David Farrar (aka "DPF") is now established at KiwiBlog.

The US is taking hostages in Iraq

Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are being used to gather the intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." Such tactics are justified, he said, because, "It's an intelligence operation with detainees, and these people have info." They would have been released in due course, he added later.

The tactic worked. On Friday, Hogg said, the lieutenant general appeared at the front gate of the U.S. base and surrendered.

This marks a new descent in the tactics of the US military in Iraq - and as Atrios has noted, it is against the Geneva Convention (the taking of hostages is specifically outlawed in Protocol 1, Article 75). But hey, the US doesn't commit war crimes, right?

Saturday, July 26, 2003

New Fisk

What Iraqis will think about the photos of Uday and Qusay

(The power of death in the Herald is a significantly different version, and may be two articles glommed together)

The descent of America

After September 11th, the US government set up a national "do not fly list", of people who weren't allowed on a plane because they might be terrorists. Now, the ACLU has discovered through a FOIA request that there is a second list of "selectees" who are targetted for searches at airports before being allowed to board an aircraft. Who is on this list? Activists, journalists, and opponents of the Bush regime...

This what the United States has come to: secret lists of political opponents targetted for harassment, with no oversight and no judicial review. Remind you of anywhere yet?

Friday, July 25, 2003

Telemarketing and positive liberty

It occurs to me that the second part of yesterday's freedom from telemarketers post - the bit about who is entitled to balance the interests of the conflicting selves - is a really good example of the difference between negative and positive liberty. It's also an excellent example for Alan Henderson of why "legal protection of property rights" is a positive rather than negative liberty.

First, definitions. Isaiah Berlin introduced the idea of negative and positive liberty in his landmark paper "Two Concepts of Liberty". Negative liberty is generally understood as freedom from outside interference; it's also related to questions of "what may I do". Positive liberty, OTOH, is generally characterised as "freedom to", and is related to the question of "who rules me", or who (or what) is qualified to make decisions on my behalf, and with concepts of the good life. Positive liberty is also related to questions of providing the means by which other liberties may be exercised... the rights to education, healthcare and basic welfare are positive liberties because they are seen as necessary to lead any decent human existence.

The basis behind a "do not call" list is that people have a right to privacy, or a right to their own time, uninterrupted by phone-spam. However, absent some form of legal protection, that right means nothing - people can violate it at will, with no comeback. In order for the right to be meaningful and useful, it needs some form of legal protection to enforce it and allow those who violate it to be punished. Hence, a "do not call" list.

The same argument applies to private property rights, which Henderson characterises in terms of freedom from theft. Absent a stable legal environment which both enables proof of ownership (via titles, deeds, receipts and what have you) and punishes thieves, your "freedom from theft" is worth precisely nothing. Again, the legal environment is what makes it meaningful and useful - which is why the Cato institute pays attention to it when handing out points on its freedom index.

(The same argument applies to sound money and a (negative) freedom from fraud, BTW - though Crooked Timber has a few things to say on this as well...)

More on telemarketing

Tyler Cowen has posted a followup to his telemarketing post, the core of which is this:

I still think many people on the list are afraid they will get calls, respond, and buy something. Frankly I am not convinced by all of you who say "I don't want this stuff." Sure, you don't, but what about the market as a whole?

Well, what about it? The fact that the market as a whole "wants" to receive unsolicited calls doesn't mean that any individual who is part of that market wants to receive them. To think otherwise is to commit the fallacy of division. There's also an inconsistency with the usual Libertarian argument against taxation (in which individuals cannot morally be forced to pay taxes even if society as a whole wants to), but given that most Libertarians are only interested in drugs, guns and taxes, that's hardly surprising.

Thursday, July 24, 2003


According to Kiwipete in a comment on NZPundit, I have an agenda.

Since I'm not too sure what I'm doing here, maybe he should spell it out for me?

(Oh, yeah, to address Craig's post: I guess this shows how much your worldview depends on what you read. The folks at NZPundit prefer to get their news from Murdoch; I get mine from quality British media. For analysis of the situation in Iraq, I also turn to Steve Gilliard's posts at Daily Kos. No doubt Craig will shortly be coming up with amusing little nicknames for any of these news sources which are currently lacking one).

Burned books: I smell a rat

Part II of Dr Fudge's suppressed article.

The main thrust of it seems to be that the committee of investigation set up by the university to look into Joel Hayward's thesis was one-sided and biased, and the subsequent endorsement of it by the history department a rubber-stamp by people who didn't want to offend the university. It's obviously highly critical - which may be why the university didn't want it published - but the more I look at it, the more I smell a rat. Googling around shows that Fudge has been at Canterbury since 19951, which means he was probably involved in the very events he is reporting on. Needless to say, this puts a substantially different cast on things. Instead of "PC university suppresses truth-seeking academic", the whole thing - the article and its suppression - is part of one of those bitchy little intra-departmental fights which is so common in academia.

That doesn't make the article's suppression any better of course - criticism of university authorities is also covered by academic freedom - but with the way academic egos work, it makes the university's excuse of fearing a libel suit substantially more plausible. I guess the university didn't feel that it was necessary to mention that any such suit was likely to be brought by one of its own staff...

Of course, all of this is pure speculation - but if any of you readers down there at Canterbury want to fill me in on the details, please drop me a line.

1 There's a throwaway reference in this article, at the end of the ninth paragraph. Canterbury's departmental bios are rather uninformative, unfortunately.

New Fisk

Guerrilla war in Iraq is out of control
Americans fail to disclose all attacks on troops in Iraq

Why Uday and Qusay didn't matter

NZPundit equates not thinking the death of Saddam's sons is a big deal with not caring about their crimes - which is par for the course over there. Since he obviously didn't get the point of my post, I'll spell it out for him.

Saddam's reign over Iraq is over; it ended four months ago when the US took Baghdad. Neither he nor his sons are relevant to the situation anymore - sure, they're still around, but contrary to the myth propagated by the Americans, the Iraqis aren't resisting the occupation because they want Saddam back. Quite the contrary - if the US withdraws and Saddam pops up again, he'll be strung up quicker than Mussolini. No, the Iraqis are resisting because they want to control their own destiny, rather than be dictated to by a foreign occupier.

Proof? Just look at what happened in Iraq when the news was announced. After a brief celebration, they went right back to killing Americans. And that is why killing Uday and Qusay makes no difference.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

It took them long enough to notice: According to the Guardian, Britian is now a client state.

And more

The ugly truth of America's Camp Cropper, a story to shame us all

New Fisk

His sons are dead but Saddam lives

Burned books

The Fate of Joel Hayward in New Zealand Hands: From Holocaust Historian to Holocaust?.

Courtesy of the Herald. I guess I'm not the only person who thinks that information people want to suppress should be widely disseminated.

Interestingly, the University is now saying that they feared a libel suit... I guess the Herald isn't worried, or else it's just a bogus post-facto excuse.

Had Enough?

Well, someone has - of Winston.

(Image stolen from Scoop)

Freedom from telemarketers

Via CalPundit: Tyler Cowen of The Volokh Conspiracy has this to say about telemarketing "do not call" lists:

Take those people who have put themselves on the list. Do they really not want to be called? Maybe they are afraid that they really like being called. That they will buy things. That they will be impulsive.

Arguably those people have a rational controlling self, and an impulsive buying self, to borrow some language from Thomas Schelling. Why should we assume that the rational controlling self is the only one who counts (do you really want a life devoid of spontaneity?)? Why should our government be in the business of altering this balance in one direction or the other? Isn't the market a better mechanism for balancing the interests of the conflicting selves?

The thing he seems to be ignoring is that the government doesn't go around arbitrarily forcing people to put themselves on the do-not-call list; it's their decision. They may make that decision on exactly the basis Cowen suggests above - "I may buy something if called, so I will remove the temptation" - or they may simply not want obnoxious pricks trying to ram a sale down their throat during dinnertime. Either way, it's their choice, no matter what the reason.

Though this does raise the interesting question of who exactly is entitled to "balance the interests of the conflicting selves". Some breeds of Rationalist have held that a rational State is entitled to do this, in order to free its citizens from their irrational desires and false consciousness and help them achive true freedom (in other words, they know what you "truely" want, and if you claim not to want it, you're simply deluded - the danger implicit in this attitude has been pointed out by Berlin). Liberals, OTOH, have traditonally been very suspicious of anyone who claims that any outside agency is entitled to overrule the choices of individuals in this fashion - respect for individual freedom demands that we respect people's irrational or impulsive decisions as much as their rational ones, as both are an expression of who they are (at least if you're a Compatibalist about free will). Libertarians have traditionally been in the liberal camp, at least with regard to one particular outside agency (the State). I guess the difference between Cowen and myself is that I think that "the market" is as much of an outside agency as the State is.

This changes nothing

So Uday and Qusay Hussein are dead. Woo-hoo. Big deal. I guess its important if you're keeping score (and I expect Bush will make another disgusting, smirking speech to count coup), but it's been clear for some time that Saddam and his sons are no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq. The Iraqis aren't resisting the Americans because they're loyal to Saddam - they're doing it because they want their country back. And killing the ousted tyrant or his flunkies isn't going to change that one iota.

Update: As usual, Steve Gilliard on Daily Kos puts it better than me:

OK, let's say we get Saddam as well. What happens next? Do Iraqis jump up and down and stop killing Americans? Or do they ask why we're still there once the threat's been eliminated.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

"Book burning" at Canterbury

What the hell is going on at Canterbury? According to Stuff and the Herald, they pulled the entire run of their in-house journal History Now, sacked the editor, and had their very own book burning. Why? Because said issue contained an article about Joel Hayward, and the effects of the scandal surrounding his Masters thesis on his subsequent career.

Now, Hayward may be a dirty little holocaust-denier, and the whole episode deeply embarassing to the university, but a university is supposed to be a place where academics can freely question revered wisdom and gore sacred cows without suffering the same fate as Galileo. The decision to recall the journal and suppress this article is about as far from the principle of academic freedom as you can get, and I hope that the censorious little fascists responsible suffer for it. Realistically though, the worst that will happen is that Canterbury may have some trouble attracting quality staff over the next few years. [Sigh]

I guess the best we can hope for is for the suppressed articles to turn up on the internet somewhere, so we can read them, and see what all the fuss was about.

You can tell a man by the company he keeps

Berlusconi and Bush

I guess who this is a condemnation of depends on whether you like stupid with your evil.

National Caucus Votes To Suspend Williamson

Please continue your petty bickering - we find it most amusing.

Monday, July 21, 2003

The joys of a federal system

One of the joys of a federal system is that power is distributed. So, for example, if the President won't sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and implement policies to limit carbon emissions, state governors will do it themselves. New England and northeastern governors are establishing their own carbon dioxide "cap and trade" regimes, promoting energy efficiency, setting quotas for alternative energy sources, and generally implementing Kyoto-friendly policies from below, against the wishes of the president. And the best bit? Most of those governors are republicans...

Sunday, July 20, 2003

The question Blair didn't want to be asked

"Have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister? Are you going to resign?"

Kudos to the reporter who hit him with this in Tokyo. It cut right to the point: a public servant is dead because Blair's team callously sacrificed him like a pawn in an attempt to stave off public criticism and discredit the BBC. Blair does have blood on his hands, and everybody knows it; the only question is who he's going to try and dump the blame on. Though actually, there's no question at all - his allies are already trying to pin it on the BBC...

US undermining another international treaty

Not content with "unsigning" the Rome Treaty on the ICC, withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, and undermining Kyoto, the US is now setting its sights on the Montreal Protocol.

The Montreal Protocol is one of the more successful international environmental agreements. It's been responsible for the phasing out of ozone-reducing chemicals in much of the world, giving the ozone layer a chance to recover and preventing untold cases of cataracts and skin cancer. But now the US is trying to wreck it by pushing for special exemptions so it can continue to pollute while others cannot. Why? Because its cheaper, of course!

Why does anybody bother to sign treaties with the United States anymore? It's clear that, under Bush, the US no longer stands by its word. It will happily sign a treaty, then renege on it six months (or sixteen years) later; "unsign" treaties with no withdrawl cluase; or simply reinterpret things so the US can continue to do whatever the hell it wants (at the same time demanding that others stick to what they originally signed up for). With a "partner" like this, why even bother with an agreement in the first place?

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Holy Shit

The body of Dr Peter Kelly - the man fingered by the British Government as the BBC's source for claims that Downing Street "sexed up" the Dodgy Dossier - has been found near his home in Oxfordshire.

Tony Blair's response? "People should not jump to conclusions". That's because the obvious conclusion - that the government's efforts to finger Kelly and divert blame for their lies had ruined his career and driven him to suicide - is deeply damaging to Blair. "Government drives scientist to suicide to secure re-election" is a headline that even Alastair Campbell won't be able to spin his way out of.

(I'm just waiting for some right-wing wingnut to blame the French for this...)

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Rob O'Neill has a rather brutal fisking of the US Declaration of Independence in light of the US's current behaviour. Read it and weep.

New Fisk

What Israel does to Palestine, we are doing to Iraq

Getting the message across

On Face to Face tonight, John Banks presented his answer to the problem of reviving the National Party: all they have to do is enunciate their policies clearly to the public. Make it clear what the party stands for, and say it in small words so we idiots can understand.

This solution is commonly espoused by soul-searching National supporters. There's just one problem though: the public knows perfectly well what National stands for - we suffered through it for nine years, after all - and its the main reason for disliking them. Offering more of the same isn't going to make it any more palatable.

You'd have thought that two resounding election defeats would have got the message across, but no. You just have to shout louder, and eventually everyone will come around...

Civil Unions

The government's plan to extend legal rights to gay couples via civil unions is getting the expected result. United Future is spitting tacks again, but as with the previous fight over the care of children bill, they're irrelevant - the Greens have already said they're in favour, so it's as good as a done deal.

I'm pleased to see the government moving ahead on this. As far as I'm concerned, it's a human rights issue, pure and simple. A segment of our community is being denied legal recognition of their relationships, and therefore rights that most of us take for granted (like being able to visit your partner in hospital). Whether its called "marriage" or not isn't so important; what's important is that the package of rights associated with marriage is extended to those who want them but can't (at the moment) have them.

The side effect - that this completely seperates that package of rights from marriage, and effectively makes "marriage" a traditionalist's term for a secular civil union - is icing on the cake :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Busy, busy, busy

I've been busy, so posting has been light. I know I've got a lot to blog about, and hopefully I'll get on to it soon.

Shredding the US Constitution

Two weeks ago, the other half of the blogosphere made a lot of noise in celebration of American freedoms on Independence Day. I wonder how much noise they'll make about this?

Basically, the US government is ignoring the rulings of its own courts. Worse, they're doing it specifically to deny a criminal defendant facing a possible death penalty access to a government-held witness with exculpatory evidence. So much for fair trials, so much for the rule of law, and so much for the Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

I've always admired the strong protections afforded criminal defendants in the US courts. I guess they're just another victim of the "War on Terror".

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Today's must read

20 Lies About the War.

Falsehoods ranging from exaggeration to plain untruth were used to make the case for war. More lies are being used in the aftermath.

A backwards step

The newly formed Belgian coalition government has confirmed that it intends to repeal Belgium's controversial "universal jurisdiction" law.

This is a step backwards in the fight to hold governments - all governments - accountable for their actions. The very idea of "crimes against humanity" is based on the principle that some things are wrong, whether or not they are against the domestic laws of the local jurisdiction (or indeed, approved of by the government of that jurisdiction). In other words, it rests on a principle of universal jurisdiction. While Belgium's law didn't do much, it did put the fear of god into certain politicians that if they set foot in Europe, they would be held accountable for what they had done (or at least be forced to justify it). And judging by the fear the Sharons, Kissingers and Bushes of the world reacted with, they were afraid they wouldn't be able to.

Fortunately we still have the ICC, but it can only deal with crimes commited in signatory nations, and only after June this year. Those who commited crimes against humanity before then - Sharon, Kissinger and Castro, among others - get off scott free.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

New Fisk

US Leans On Belgians to Spare Sharon From Trial.

Update: You can get it here too.


Yes, Mike and I are reading the same book: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's an alternate history, exploring a world where Europe was wiped out by the Black Death, and the Chinese, Japanese and Arabs inherit the earth.

I only started on it yesterday, but so far it seems interesting enough. Timurlane's mongols ride through the Moravian gate, and find the place... dead. I was wondering what Robinson would do without a landscape to write about (something readers of his Mars trilogy or Antartica will understand), but at the moment he's doing a great job of evoking the emptiness and desolation of a whole continent which has just died.

It'll be interesting to see what he does with it; maybe one of us will blog a review when we're finished.

Today on Crooked Timber

An analysis of the philosophical incoherance of the Cato Institute's index of economic freedom. In particular, they point out that two of the Institute's five categories (legal protection of property rights and "sound money") are positive rather than negative liberties - things the government provides so you can actually use your freedom - and that this reduces the whole index to measuring "what rich people need to enjoy their money".

(Needless to say, it's also a big "oops" for people who normally claim that the only real liberties are negative ones, and that positive liberty is the gateway to tyranny.)

US 'needs help in Iraq'

According to the US Senate, that is. They've unanimously passed a motion asking Bush to consider asking the UN and NATO for help in "rebuilding" Iraq. There's just one problem: NATO and the UN aren't offering.

There's some enduring fantasy among Americans that all they have to do is ask, and the rest of the world will step forward and bail them out. They're wrong. After the way they shat all over the UN and international community in the leadup to this war, the rest of the world is quite willing to hang them out to dry. They are not going to sacrifice their soldiers so that American boys can be home by christmas. The US made its bed, and now it gets to sleep in it.

But it is entertaining to see that Donald Rumsfeld just doesn't get it.

(Hmm. Looking back, this seems to be becoming a recurring rant of mine...)

Friday, July 11, 2003

Publicity money can't buy

The dispute between the White House in Auckland and The White House has made the BBC.

So, what are the Americans going to do anyway - bomb the place?

Thursday, July 10, 2003

A great day for open government in the UK

The British government has blocked its own ombudsman from investigating ministerial conflicts of interest on the grounds that it would be "prejudicial to the safety of the state or otherwise contrary to the public interest". So much for "open government".

Still, it begs the question of exactly what they're trying to hide. Time for the British media to do some serious digging, methinks...

You've all read this already, but...

"Senior UK Whitehall sources" believe that Iraqi WMDs are 'unlikely to be found'. Why not? Because they were "hidden or destroyed by Saddam Hussein before the war". In other words, there was no imminent threat. Another nail in Tony Blair's coffin - let's hope there's not too many more to go.

As for Bush, he's fortunate that no-one in America reads the UK papers, otherwise they'd be asking him some pretty tough questions right about now.

Why I don't like corporate welfare

NZPols is taking me to task over my recent comments on corporate welfare for foreign film-makers. Her argument is that this is a a good move for New Zealand; that attracting big films here will not only create jobs, but bring in tax revenue from those jobs, and from secondary and onflow spending. Or, as Rohan Quinby puts it on Scoop:

it seems that after years of ideological confusion, many on the left in New Zealand have forgotten what social democracy is all about. An incentive programme is an example of using the power of the state to deliver economic benefit for your country.

Have I forgotten what social democracy is all about? I don't think so. I still think it's about helping the poor, rather than wealthy multinational corporations.

It's not that I'm opposed to economic incentives per se (I'm no market purist); I object chiefly to the recipient in this case. Jim Anderton's "jobs machine" supports local companies and (ideally) helps them to grow - it's aim is to build something of lasting value to the New Zealand economy, that will stay here and produce benefits for decades to come. The film industry package, OTOH, isn't growing anything. It produces no infrastructure, no lasting investment. The model is that the film-makers come, utilise our subsidised, low-wage, non-unionised, scenic backlot, and fuck off overseas again, leaving nothing but a few stories for the women's magazines and a bunch of people looking for the next job. It's basically strip-mining.

It's also, as I said in my original post, a mug's game. The film industry is as close as you can get to a factory on a barge. By offering subsidies, we're exposing ourself to being played off against other jurisdictions to extract even more money - with the fate of all those production crew (and would-be extras) to apply as blackmail. This is not a game we should be playing - it's as simple as that.

(In other words, we should only give incentives to companies that aren't mobile enough to threaten to up and leave to extract a better deal :)

Or maybe I'm just sore 'cos I'm the only guy in the country who didn't get to be an extra in Lord of the Rings.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

New Blog

Today's new blog, Crooked Timber seems to be an agglomeration of people I've never heard of; CalPundit calls it "the lefty answer to the Volokh Conspiracy"... which I guess makes sense if you read the aforementioned blog...

Anyway, it looks good. Today's interesting post: goring some Libertarian sacred cows.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Restaurant Review: Chow

More of a snide comment than a review, but here goes: Chow is a concept restaurant - the concept is selling an entree for the price of a main, and making you buy two of them. Sure, the food is good, but not that good. Except for the baked chocolate mousse with vanilla bean icecream I had for dessert - that was worth every penny.

(Monsoon Poon, which I've also been dragged to recently, is also a concept restaurant. Their concept is "hey, we're trendy and cool, give us money". So trendy and cool in fact that they will make you wait for an hour and a half just to prove it, then screw up your order...)

Sniping from the sidelines

The argument on those other blogs over the Supreme Court continues, with excellent posts on both sides. KiwiPundit responds to the charge that he supports the retention of the Privy Council simply because their decisions accord more closely with his ideological biases with the following:

The notion that we should be free to act as we please unless the law says otherwise, is not connected with any particular ideology that I am aware of. Neither is the notion that government should treat us fairly and equitably, unless the law says otherwise.

NZPols has her own reply to this, but I think there's a much simpler one - namely to say "Bollocks; they're just part of an ideology that most of us agree with".

(This seems to be a similar sort of blindness to that suffered by certain Fundamentalist Christians. They're not religious; they just believe in the truth...)

In a more serious vein, freedom, fairness and equity are perfect examples of what philosophers call "hooray-words" - words which attract emotive agreement (and which consequently tend to be fought over in arguments such as this). Unfortunately, while everyone (well, most people) will go "freedom, fairness, equity, hooray!", the words mean very different things to different people. We need only consider Isaiah Berlin's distinction between positive and negative liberty, or the very different conceptions of fairness expressed by Rawls, Nozick and Aristotle to see this.

KiwiPundit's claim that his position isn't simply one of ideological preference is only credible if we don't look at it too closely. But I suspect that if he is forced to spell out exactly what he means by the hooray-words he's using, the ideological underpinnings of his preferences will become clear...

Sunday, July 06, 2003

The Python Strikes

Ex-Python Terry Jones has an interesting take on the row between the BBC and Tony Blair...

American "Justice"

The prisoner is kept isolated from the world. He is not allowed to speak with anyone, even a lawyer. He is interrogated frequently, possibly with violence. If he still refuses to give his interrogators the answers they want to hear, he is given a stark choice: confess, or face execution.

A scene from the Spanish Inquisition, Stalinist Russia, or some tinpot dictatorship like Burma? No - it's what is happening today at Guantanamo, where detainess are being told to confess or die. And with the way the rules for military tribunals have been stacked, a guilty verdict is guaranteed...

Face it people, the US has become a monster. But the sad thing is, there's nothing we civilised people can do about it, except hope they regain their sanity soon.

Destiny New Zealand

Ho-hum. The Christians launch another political party in response to the immorality of modern society. This time it's the Pentecostals, and their idea of "immorality" includes not just the expected prostitution and homosexuality, but also women in the top political jobs. Which is a fine indicator of how relevant and widespread their position is...

Thanks to our 5% threshhold, I doubt they have a chance (or rather I doubt that they and United Future have a chance) - which is why the threshhold needs to be lowered. Even the Christian parties deserve Parliamentary representation.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Irony, part II

The Guardian has an excellent Independence Day article: The tyranny of George II. A celebration of all things American, plus some comments such as this:

There is a certain irony that today the American empire is celebrating an essentially anti-imperialist event.

Those who are still in denial that America is an empire might not see it that way, but I'm sure they'd still laugh at the idea of Glaxo-Smith-Kline-Belgium.

New Fisk

How 'liberation' has brought anarchy to Kabul, and now history is repeated in Baghdad

Supreme Court Debate

Two excellent posts on this issue in the last few days: KiwiPundit lays out his position, and NZPols responds. As a non-lawyer who isn't ideologically wedded to either party in the republican debate, I'm really not fussed either way. What does piss me off however is the way National, ACT and others are using this debate to explicitly politicise the issue of judicial appointments. By saying "we can't have a Supreme Court because Labour would get to pick all the judges", they're undermining the very tradition (of a nonpolitical, independent judiciary) they claim to be protecting. It invites the public to view judges as political actors, and parties to respond to that view when appointing judges. Like ACT's views on gun control, this is another example of imported US politics we can do without.

(Of course, National, ACT etc could claim that they're exposing the dirty little secret behind our supposedly "nonpolitical" judiciary - but then I'd expect them to be presenting actual evidence of a real and systematic bias in appointments, rather than simply trying to smear the government with allegations that it might take place in the future.)

Regardless, I think NZPols has the knockdown counter for allegations of political bias. Those alleging bias are implicitly claiming that judges are political. But:

once it is accepted that judges are not simply impartial arbiters, but are in fact engaged in making 'political' decisions, it follows that those decisions should reflect the desires of the people that are affected by them, not those of judges sitting in another country. The judges appointed to our highest appellate court should be broadly acceptable to those across the poltical spectrum, but that political spectrum should be New Zealand's, not Britain's.

Hmmm. Turns out the chief argument against a local Supreme Court is actually an argument for it.


Today in the US Americans will be celebrating their Independence Day. Much reference will be made to the fact that their nation was explicitly founded on the basis of universal human rights - those immortal lines that "all men are created equal... endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights". Yet mere days before, their President decided that six men accused of terrorism will be tried in a kangaroo court, without the strong protections that America is justifiably revered for. Secret trials, with no right to select your own defence, no right against self incrimination, no right even to see the evidence presented against you, and the US military acting as judge, jury, and executioner. The rules of evidence would make Torquemada envious, and there are no appeals to an independent court.

I guess this is why irony is dead in America; because otherwise people would be suffering from overload at the sight of the "beacon of human rights and freedom" behaving like a shittly little tinpot dictatorship.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Who's on the wacky-baccy?

Peter Dunne, judging by this press release.

There's something about Nandor which drives people like Dunne mad and makes them froth at the mouth like rabid dogs. And that's precisely why I want him in Parliament.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Fair enough

ACT, National and New Zealand First have initiated a petition calling for a referendum on the government's planned replacement of the Privy Council by a New Zealand Supreme Court. They'll need 310,000 signatures, so if you feel strongly about the issue, hunt them down and sign it.

Update: KiwiPundit thinks this isn't such a good idea. I agree that the question is rather questionable ("Should the Privy Council be replaced by a New Zealand Supreme Court" would be better), and that yes, the government can always ignore it. OTOH, the clarity of the question (no messy chain of "or"s here) should make it harder for the government to do so if it gets a large vote against.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Whither National?

Via NZPundit: Jon Johansson's column in the Herald today suggests that National merge with ACT. I say "go for it, guys!" It will simply reinforce the perception that National stands for a return to 90's-style market fundamentalism, making them pretty much unelectable.

If National ever wants to broaden its appeal beyond the 5% of NBR-reading wankers who would benefit from such policies, it will have to return to the political centr. Until it does so, it will continue to languish in opposition - it's as simple as that.

Immigration changes

Well, the government has managed to ram its immigration changes through Parliament under urgency, before anybody had a serious chance to object. Which was precisely the point, I suspect. The changes are manifestly unfair in the way that they've slammed the door in the face of thousands of prospective migrants part-way through the process, but it's worse than that. We've now moved from a relatively open system to an opaque one where decisions are made essentially in secret by immigration officials, with no right of review. Worse, the certainty formerly enjoyed by prospective migrants - "if you have this many points, you can live here" - has vanished. The new ranking system means that whether you're let in or not will essentially depend on who else has applied this month, and the number of points "required" will fluctuate depending on how many people they're "inviting". And they expect employers to make firm job offers when they can't even be sure their prospective employee will be able to show up for the job?

All in all, a retrograde step, and not a day when we can be proud to be New Zealanders.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Why aren't we going to the UN?

National leader Bill English has accused the government of hypocrisy for not seeking a UN mandate for intervening in the Solomons. But according to the Herald this morning, we've already asked the UN for help - twice:

[The intervention] follows two unsuccessful appeals to the UN for intervention last year, and growing alarm in the region at the collapse of law and order and the inability of the islands' elected leaders to govern.

Why were the UN attempts unsuccessful? Because the big players on the security council didn't care, and were more focused on Iraq than helping a small nation in need. The UN's strength is also its weakness: it can only act on things the international community really cares about.

(I'm not sure that a UN mandate is actually necessary anyway, given that intervention has been invited by the Solomons' government, and there's no question of that government's legitimacy. But it would have been nice, if only so that the Pacific region didn't have to bear the burden alone)

In the absence of a UN mandate, we've still pursued a multilateral path, by seeking the cooperation of the South Pacific Forum. And given the overwhelming support from them (and the fact that half are actively contributing to the mission), I think we can feel secure that we're acting in accordance with the will of the region.