Red Alert

Archive for December, 2011

Happy New Year everyone

Posted by on December 31st, 2011

Counting our blessings as we move into 2012.

It’s been a hard year for so many New Zealanders. But we are a plucky country.

There’s lots to be done this (next) year. Let’s take more care of each other. Life’s too short not to.

I’ve chosen three songs to mark the occasion. Happy New Year x

Addicted to Food

Posted by on December 30th, 2011

Perhaps it’s just because Christmas overeating is still heavy on my mind (and other body parts) but I’ve noticed there seems to have been a lot of discussion about causes of and suggested solutions to obesity over the last few days.

Waikato University scientist, Dr Pawel Olszewski suggests sugar and fat may produce changes in the brain which resemble the effects of addictive drugs. This may have a profound impact on the way governments, health practitioners and communities plan to combat the impact of the growing incidence of obesity.

We must be careful, though, not to directly equate sugar and fat, which our bodies need, to nicotine, alcohol, THC, amphetamines etc which we can quite happily do without:

Dr Olszewski says that while the brain responds to tasty foods in ways that have a lot in common with its reaction to drugs, he stresses there is a clear distinction between the complex mix of substances found in foods and a single compound such as morphine or nicotine. For this reason he describes over-eating patterns as “addictive-like”.

“We don’t want to send the message that if you’re eating a sandwich, that you’re consuming a drug. However palatable, high-sugar foods very often increase activity of the same brain circuits that are involved in the creation of the addictive state.

“So we believe this addictive-like behaviour stems from the effect that nutrients, in particular sugar and to some extent fat, have on the same set of brain areas that drive addiction.”

Tony Falkenstein, chief executive of Just Water International, made the connection and took it to a seemingly logical conclusion by suggesting a sugar tax. (Which, of course, would benefit his company).
This drew a thoughtful rebuttal from Dr Jim McVeagh at MacDoctor:

Immediately one can see the absolute pointlessness of a sugar tax. Potatoes, white bread, rice and pasta become sugar in the body as fast as pure cane sugar and nearly as fast as glucose powder. Taxing sugar is like sticking your finger in the dyke when the tsunami alarm has just gone off. And taxing carbohydrates in general is just adding a tax to nearly all food.

I’m inclined to agree that taxing sugar is pointless and taxing fat just becomes ridiculously complex as you attempt to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats.
As Jim McVeah says,

all that causes obesity is taking in more calories than you burn up.

So if an excise-type tax were to be used in an attempt to curb obesity, the only logical approach I can think of is for it to be based on calorie density. Extremely calorie dense foods tend to be those that we ought only to eat occasionally although I expect there will be exceptions. A similar  effect could be achieved by taking GST off  low-calorie density foods. Both approaches have flow-on consequences that would have to be thought through before suggesting that either is worth implementing.

Add to the mix research released from Ohio State University this week that shows the attachment between mothers and toddlers is linked with incidence of obesity and you quickly get the picture that obesity is not straight forward and solutions will be neither singular nor simple.

Obesity is a significant driver of the increasing cost of healthcare and therefore cannot be ignored. Developing prevention and treatment strategies is the responsibility of governments as much as it is the responsibility of parents, communities and individuals.

UK to review applicability of their FOI to ministerial communications

Posted by on December 30th, 2011

In New Zealand there is no doubt that emails or texts between, to or from Ministers even to and/or from private email addresses or phones are not protected from the OIA. The issue is to be considered in the UK after what some consider a surprise ruling there.

MPs are planning to consider whether freedom of information requests are being too widely granted, following a ruling that they should apply to private emails and even text messages between ministers.

The chairman of the public administration committee, Bernard Jenkin, is understood to be considering a select committee inquiry next year in the wake of the recent ruling by Christopher Graham, the information commissioner.

Graham ruled that information held in private email accounts by public authorities can be subject to FoI law if it relates to official business.

Filed under: #OpenLabourNZ

Need a croc when Sunday sleep disturbed ?

Posted by on December 29th, 2011

Doesn’t meet Clare’s serious discourse test but amusing nevertheless. The Guardian has a video:-

A giant saltwater crocodile named Elvis charged at an Australian reptile park worker before stealing his lawn mower.

Tim Faulkner, operations manager at the Australian Reptile Park, north of Sydney, was one of three workers tending to the lawn in Elvis’s enclosure on Wednesday when he heard the crocodile’s keeper, Billy Collett, let out a yelp. Faulkner looked up to see the 5m-long,500kg crocodile lunging out of its lagoon at Collett, who warded the creature off with his mower.

“Before we knew it, the croc had the mower above his head,” Faulkner said. “He got his jaws around the top of the mower and picked it up and took it underwater with him.”

The workers quickly left the enclosure. Elvis, meanwhile, showed no signs of relinquishing his new toy and sat guarding it closely all morning.

Filed under: humour

Re-thinking Red Alert

Posted by on December 29th, 2011

As signalled in a previous post, I’m having a bit of a re-think about Red Alert. In particular, how to build on its strengths and address some of the issues that have arisen in the last couple of years.

In the last term of parliament, Red Alert was a bit of an experiment in how NZ Labour politicians could communicate directly with the public and have some honest conversations about policy, issues of the day and expound our thoughts in general.

It was a bit ad hoc, which was largely a strength as the blog is pretty widely acknowledged as being real and honest. The voices on Red Alert are MPs. They aren’t paid staff. That should continue.

However, there’s always room for improvement and here’s a few preliminary thoughts from me. I welcome your constructive  input.

I’ve been given a new portfolio called Open Government, perhaps a first for any major political party as a formal portfolio. I’ve been doing a bit of research  and will write a piece in the next couple of weeks about the portfolio, its importance and what it can achieve. It’s unusual to have an opposition portfolio which doesn’t match up to a Government Ministry.  It should be noted that the National Government is most unlikely to actively promote open government, despite Bill English doing some good work in pushing for more open data in the public sector. Red Alert will be a vehicle for demonstrating how a Labour Government would promote Open Government.

Red Alert is no longer an experiment. It’s now part of the fabric of political discourse in this country. It may have also changed things a bit. I’d like to see Red Alert and Labour’s strong presence generally in social media become more focussed. As I see it our purpose is two-fold.

First, to continue to engage in direct conversation with New Zealanders about our thoughts and ideas. Second, for the medium to be a tool to build campaigns.

I’d like to see us concentrate more on the second. It will require more effort to work collaboratively across the political spectrum with those we can work with. It requires building more skills. And tolerance of differences.

However, there are some challenges. The biggest, as I see it, is  those who would deliberately use underhand and hostile tactics  to undermine attempts to demonstrate open-ness and a different way of engaging with New Zealanders. Red Alert’s tolerance will not extend to them.

Honest debate and disagreement is one thing. It’s an important part of democracy. Personal attacks, abuse and pack behaviours designed to destroy new voices and new ideas and a different way of engaging are another.

Red Alert is a vehicle for Labour’s caucus to communicate directly with New Zealanders. We know and welcome the scrutiny and sometimes criticism from the mainstream media. We also welcome the engagement with bloggers and commentators in the new media environment provided by the internet.

I believe that there should be consistency with new media  in the rules and protocols applied to mainstream media. Red Alert is just one of those new mediums. We are not journalists. Nor should we ever presume to be. But we have responsibilities in how we communicate. And we can show an example.

The voices on Red Alert are of elected politicians. People who believe that the only way to make change happen is to make it happen. I believe that that if politicians are seen to do things differently, then New Zealanders can begin to have more faith in us.

It’s worth considering that around a third of eligible New Zealanders didn’t vote in the last election. For any party. That’s something we should all be grappling with.

Mike Williams on the election

Posted by on December 28th, 2011

Mike Williams blogs on Pundit with the conclusion that we have to do a better job promoting Shearer than we did for Goff.

Can’t disagree with that.

My public disagreement with some of the logic has to wait twenty years, the retirement of colleagues and/or WWIII.

Just do it

Posted by on December 27th, 2011

I meant to write about this a few days ago.

US comedian Louis CK (I hadn’t heard of him, but he seems pretty popular) decided to produce a good version of his latest live show and make it available online for $5.

Nek Minnit (well 12 days later) he made $1 million.

The Age reported today:

Comedian Louis CK has proved a point: People are willing to pay a reasonable amount of money for DRM-free content from a performer they love, even though it would be trivial for them to pirate the same content for free.

Twelve days ago, Louis CK decided to skip the distribution, DRM, ads and everything else that goes into marketing and sale of a video, and simply offer the video of his latest performance on his website for $US5.

It took four days for Louis to earn $US200,000, and another 8 days to earn a whopping $US1 million.

It  blows out the water the view that content has to be locked up with laws to enforce it because too many people will only steal it. In fact people will pay money to get access to new content. If the price is right and the product is what they want.

Louis CK posted a blog saying he would keep just $220,000 from his $1m.

He said:

So I’m breaking the million into four pieces.

the first 250k is going to pay back what the special cost to produce and the website to build.

The second 250k is going back to my staff and the people who work for me on the special and on my show. I’m giving them a big fat bonus.

The third 280k is going to a few different charities. They are listed below in case you’d like to donate to them also. Some of these i learned about through friends, some were recomended through twitter.

That leaves me with 220k for myself. Some of that will pay my rent and will care for my children. The rest I will do terrible, horrible things with and none of that is any of your business. In any case, to me, 220k is enough out of a million.

I had a quick look at Louis CK’s stuff. Here is is a clip on Youtube (not the $5 version). Pretty out there, but worth paying for. I think the business model is pretty obvious. It’s just a pity that he had to spend the money himself upfront to develop the tools to distribute his work.

Imagine if that technology was readily available to artists for a small fee. Imagine if the New Zealand tech industry was encouraged to go for it.

Another point to end on. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the technology used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale.

Companies such as Amazon, AOL, Apple Inc., the BBC, Microsoft and Sony use digital rights management. In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in the United States to impose criminal penalties on those who make available technologies whose primary purpose and function is to circumvent content protection technologies.[1] The use of digital rights management is controversial. Corporations claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control[2] or ensure continued revenue streams.[3] Those opposed to DRM argue that there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition.[4] Proponents argue that digital locks should be considered necessary to prevent intellectual property from being stolen, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen.

I thought it was interesting that I learnt about Louis CK’s online  business endeavours through twitter via the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott who tweeted:

“The comedian (is) providing lessons in the future of digital rights management”.

Prescience from the head of Australia’s public broadcaster. It would be good to have a bit more debate about it here.

MPs for the Diaspora ?

Posted by on December 26th, 2011

Kiwis abroad get to vote if the visit home. They are on the roll at their last permanent address in NZ. Some countries have special MPs to represent the diaspora – France is to have eleven.

Not a system I favour – but interesting nevertheless.

Now, after decades of promises dating back to François Mitterrand, France wants to position itself as a model of expat rights, giving the 2.5 million French people abroad their own MPs for the first time. French officials have sliced the world into 11 constituencies, which will next year give France far-flung politicians including an MP for the US and Canada and an MP for north and east Africa. With the second biggest diplomatic network of embassies and consulates in the world after the US, France now joins a small group of European countries, including Italy, which allows its diaspora to choose its own expat MPs.

Christmas songs #5

Posted by on December 24th, 2011

Acknowledge the previous song. Hard to beat. But Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks are a formidable duo. And it is Silent Night.

Happy Christmas everyone. Am rethinking Red Alert a bit. Will post some thoughts next week.


Filed under: music

Christmas Song #4-THE best Christmas Song

Posted by on December 24th, 2011

I know I said it last year as well, (and thanks to Clare who has held off putting up so I could), but there is nothing that says Christmas to me more than a drunken, somewhat off-key rendition of Fairytale of New York. There is sadness at Kirsty MacColl’s death which was just before Christmas a decade or so ago, but in many ways that just adds to pathos of this track.

For me it makes me think of Christmas Eves in Dunedin in my late teens and early 20s. Belting this out with friends before making the call on whether a candlelight service was really a good idea in the circumstances.

So this is for all my friends who I don’t see or talk to often enough- especially Alex, who can actually sing this and sound like Shane McGowan, in tune. Happy Christmas one and all.

Christmas songs #3

Posted by on December 23rd, 2011

By special request and it’s worth it. Paul Kelly: How to make gravy

Hat tip: rat

Filed under: music

Christmas songs #2

Posted by on December 23rd, 2011

This one’s a bit nicer than the last. I love the Cranberries. Like the song too.

Filed under: music

Christmas songs

Posted by on December 23rd, 2011

Well it is Christmas. And as we did it last year, I thought a few songs wouldn’t go amiss.
I’ve got a few odd ones. The first is Jim Morrison’s version of Jingle Bells. I am a serious Doors fan. First time I’ve ever heard this though. Suggestions welcome.

PS: think my eyesight needs checking. It’s a copy, but does sound liike JM

Filed under: music

Christchurch in our hearts

Posted by on December 23rd, 2011

Couldn’t believe it when I felt the quake in Dunedin half an hour ago. Immediately knew Christchurch would be worse affected.

It’s a 5.8 magnitude, 8 kms deep.

I’ve texted everyone I can think of in Chch. Am getting responses, but phone lines jammed. I know people are scared. All New Zealanders are with you. Kia kaha

Update: three big shakes, reportedly 5.8, 5.3 and 5.8. The third big quake has been upgraded to a 6.0. Hope thats as bad as it gets. 26,000 people in eastern suburbs without power. This will have disrupted Xmas for so many families. Will be more ongoing issues for people rebuilding their lives. New Zalanders can and should open their homes and arms to support you through these times. Our great strengths lie in our ability to deal with adversity.

Great site for a wet summer’s day

Posted by on December 22nd, 2011

Not that I hope there are many.  Papers Past looks great.  H/t John Pagani.

I found this in two minutes. Opposing Mallards playing cricket in Jan 1869. One got 11 wickets in the match – but made two ducks.

Filed under: internet

Caption contest

Posted by on December 21st, 2011


Be (fairly) kind

The Leader of the Opposition

Posted by on December 21st, 2011

Here is David Shearer’s address in reply speech. It’s pretty good I reckon. John Key’s response is pretty lame. He ‘s resorted to attacking us all personally.

Doesn’t bode well for how this National Government intends to perform.

In contrast, David Shearer’s speech had gravitas.

Hager on the election

Posted by on December 18th, 2011

I don’t always agree with Nicky Hager. But he is always worth reading :-

The news declared that the National Party had had a ‘historic’ election victory on Saturday but, if that was true, National Party people would be looking happier. The reality is much more complicated

Here’s the bullet-point version, to begin:

National won about the same number of votes it did three years ago (it got a higher percentage of the total vote owing to falling voter turnout)
National has an almost unmanageably thin majority in Parliament; party insiders are not at all happy
Winston Peters is back as a fly in the National Party’s ointment, in a large part because John Key and Steven Joyce mucked up over the Epsom tea party
MMP is here to stay, meaning governments need to win a real majority and not just a high single party vote
50% of voters voted against National, despite its popular leader
Many National votes were won because of its apparently easy-going and centrist leader, not because people necessarily support its policies
Well over 50% of the public opposes key National Party policies such as privatisation (‘asset sales’)
The ACT Party, National’s most important coalition partner, died on election night
There are signs that National has passed the high point of its popularity and will now start to decline
There are signs that National leader John Key has passed the high point of his popularity and will now start to decline.
The coming three years will be the playing out of these things. It is going to be very different to National’s first three years in government.

Read the whole article here on Pundit.

Taxpayers and electricity users to subsidise the rich…..

Posted by on December 16th, 2011

So John Key has decided hat there will be a loyalty bonus for Kiwis who hold their privatised SoE shares for a period of time.

I’ve been around politics for a while and capital markets for even longer. And I know a subsidy when I see one.

The loyalty bonus will be paid for through a discounting of the market value of the shares. So the people with the wealth to buy shares (not a high percentage) get them cheaper than they would otherwise be worth. So who pays for that. Either power users if it is an internal company arrangement or more likely taxpayers who end up getting less for the shares than they would otherwise be worth.

Bit like Keys tax cuts really. Wealth transfer from most kiwis to the rich. But then that is why Key is in politics.

There are too many Ministers

Posted by on December 15th, 2011

Read the caveat on this page. This post won’t endear me to colleagues on either side of the House.

New Zealand has a ridiculous number of Ministers for a country our size.

It had got slightly worse under MMP but this government has taken it beyond absurd with 80% of the non National confidence and supply partner members bought off with a Ministerial post, and the final one on a promise of getting one during the term.

I spent three years as a whip which included cabinet committee experience in the 1980s and the nine years as a Minister in the Clark government.

I saw lots of weak, and some frankly useless Ministers. Most, but not all, were in the second half of the rankings. They often caused more work than they added value. There was an enormous amount of time wasted explaining what was either obvious or buried in papers that if they had been read hadn’t been understood.

Quiet discussion has confirmed it is no different in the Key government and was also the case under Bolger.

Consultation time seems to be multiplicative based on the number of Ministers with a stake in an issue. Minor points brought up by a department and easily dealt with or to by a Minister with a broad view become cause célèbre for someone run by their department or with nothing better to do.

I think we don’t need more than ten or a dozen Ministers. They should all be in Cabinet. And to trial talent we should use three or four Under Secretaries who report directly to the relevant Minister.

Having a smaller number of Ministers ensures decisions are well enough thought through to get caucus agreement on merit not on obligation because of position.

Saves bauble money but more importantly is much more efficient.