We need facts on RDA strike

Stuff reports:

Negotiations to end junior doctors’ long hours have been labelled “an absolute farce” as a standoff with health boards continues.

About 3200 resident junior doctors across the country, including more than 100 in Palmerston North, walked off the job for 48 hours last week.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association (NZRDA) sat down with health board representatives on Wednesday this week in their first official discussions since the strike.

That was in protest against their long shifts, which can run up to 14 days in a row with a 30-hour weekend, or night shifts – working from about 11pm to 8am for seven days in a row.

The RDA say it is about hours while the DHBs say it is about pay. Sadly the media reporting of the dispute fails to provide impartial information such as what would be the cost to DHBs (and taxpayers) of the RDA claim.

The RDA say it is all about safety but this can’t be true as they are the union that agreed to these hours in the last pay negotiation. Why would they agree to hours that are unsafe?

The DHBs say that the RDA are asking for reduced hours, but no reduction in pay. If this is correct, then of course they won’t agree.

What I would like to see is independent analysis of the claims of each side, including what the cost of each side’s proposal is.

Lost 8 kgs in a month from “unhealthy” pies

Stuff reports:

A Christchurch man lost eight kilograms in a month living on pies and beer.

Julian Lee, a reporter for Newshub, became slimmer after four weeks pioneering the pie and pint diet.

Lee ate three to four pies (depending on meat content) every day. Once a week he was allowed to swap one pie for three beers.

When he stepped on the scales live on Wednesday’s Story, he found that he’d lost 8kg. On top of that, his blood pressure had dropped from an unhealthy to a normal level.

Lee modelled his diet on US nutrition professor Mark Haub, whose “convenience store diet” – Doritos, cereal and sugary snacks – made headlines back in 2010.

Like Haub, Lee was aiming to prove that it didn’t matter what you ate when trying to lose weight – what’s important is limiting your calorie intake.

This blows apart all the claims of the activists that some foods are “bad” and must be banned from tuck shops and the like.

It is your overall calorie intake that will determine if you gain or lose weight.

“It used to be that fat was the bad guy, then carbs were the bad guy, now sugar’s the bad guy. Some people, including myself, don’t have any idea about what’s what. I just wanted to prove that all it is is energy in, energy out when it comes to weight management.”

Yes, which is why sugar taxes are a nonsense when it comes to weight and obesity. They are just one source of calories.

At 1.83 metres tall, it is estimated Lee needs 2500 calories per day to maintain his body weight. On the pie and pint diet, his daily intake was 1600 calories.

Although Lee’s low calorie count seemed to be helping his body, he said the lack of nutrients wasn’t doing his mind any favours.

“Mentally I’m slowing down quite a bit. My body’s loving it but my mind’s really not loving it at all,” he said.

“I’m definitely getting scratchy, like grumpy, scratchy. I’ve taken a multi-vitamin every day, but it’s not enough.”

An all pie and beer diet is not a great idea in terms of overall vitamin intake. But purely for weight loss it shows that it is all about portion sizes.

Low nicotine cigarettes

The University of Auckland released:

Nicotine reduction, such as very low nicotine cigarettes, has huge benefits and few potential harms, according to a new study from the University of Auckland.

“Cigarette smoking continues to devastate the health and lives of smokers resulting in an urgent need to reduce smoking rates in New Zealand and many other regions of the world,”
says study co-author, Professor Chris Bullen who is director of the University’s National Institute for Health Innovation.

“One way to reduce smoking is to make it less addictive by greatly reducing how much nicotine is in the tobacco people smoke,” says Professor Bullen

Researchers from the University of Auckland and Universities of Pittsburgh and Minnesota in the USA, showed that reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes has the potential to produce huge benefits with minimal harm.

“The public health impact could be enormous and help New Zealand attain its Smokefree 2025 goal,” according to the study in the leading journal Tobacco Control.

It is the nicotine that is the addictive element of smoking, but not the nicotine that does the most harm.

Research into the potential of low nicotine cigarettes is a good thing. But if people are already smoking, they would be less likely to be satisfied I suspect with low nicotine cigarettes. Could be useful for those starting off smoking, but can you stop them getting higher nicotine cigarettes without a big rise in the black market?

The abstract of the article is:

Large reductions in nicotine content could dramatically reduce reinforcement from and dependence on cigarettes. In this article, we summarise the potential benefits of reducing nicotine in combusted tobacco and address some of the common concerns. We focus specifically on New Zealand because it may be ideally situated to implement such a policy.

The available data suggest that, in current smokers, very low nicotine content (VLNC) cigarettes decrease nicotine exposure, decrease cigarette dependence, reduce the number of cigarettes smoked per day and increase the likelihood of contemplating, making and succeeding at a quit attempt. New smokers would almost certainly be exposed to far less nicotine as a result of smoking VLNC cigarettes and, consequently, would probably be less likely to become chronic, dependent, smokers.

Many of the concerns about reducing nicotine including compensatory smoking, an exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms, the perception that VLNC cigarettes are less harmful, and the potential for a black market are either not supported by the available data, likely mitigated by other factors including the availability of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, or unlikely to offset the potential benefit to public health.

Although not all concerns have been addressed or can be a priori, the magnitude of the potential benefits and the growing evidence of relatively few potential harms should make nicotine reduction one of the centrepieces for discussion of how to rapidly advance tobacco control. Policies that aim to render the most toxic tobacco products less addictive could help New Zealand attain their goal of becoming smokefree by 2025.

I tend to think reduced harm products are part of the solution, rather than trying to ban smoking. Low nicotine products may well be part of that.

Prime Minister Paula

Newshub reports:

The keys to the country have been handed down the ranks – five places. On Thursday, Paula Bennett is Prime Minister.

She’s taken up the reins because John Key is in India, Bill English and Steven Joyce are across the ditch, and Gerry Brownlee is in Paris – meaning the Social Housing Minister is officially the acting Prime Minister.

“I am the acting Prime Minister for I think all of 24 hours. The boys are leaving it to me,” Ms Bennett told Newshub.

It’s the first time a woman has been in power since Helen Clark.

So what does one do with such power? Change all the laws? Settle in for a bubble bath at Premier House? A parade perhaps?

“Well I was told that a parade was a step too far,” Ms Bennett said. “But I was slightly tempted.”

In unrelated news, New Zealand signed a free trade agreement today with Botswana for tariff free leopard skins.

It’s been a long time since the power has fallen to number five – when former Health Minister Tony Ryall had a bit of fun with it. Inside sources told Newshub he apparently loved it so much so he even had cards printed which read: Hon Tony Ryall, Former Acting Prime Minister.

Actually I think they said “Acting Prime Minister 6 am to 9 pm, Friday xxx xxxx 2013”

NZ 1st in world for doing business

The World Bank has done its 2017 Doing Business report. It compares business regulation for domestic firms in 190 economies.

The top 10 are:

  1. New Zealand 87.01
  2. Singapore 85.05
  3. Denmark 84.87
  4. Hong Kong 84.21
  5. Korea 84.07
  6. Norway 82.82
  7. UK 82.74
  8. US 82.45
  9. Sweden 82.13
  10. Macedonia 81.74

The bottom five are:

  1. Somalia
  2. Eritrea
  3. Libya
  4. Venezuela
  5. South Sudan

NZ’s ranks on individual measures was:

  • Starting a business 1st
  • Dealing with construction permits 1st
  • Registering property 1st
  • Getting credit 1st
  • Protecting minority investors 1st
  • Paying taxes 11th
  • Enforcing contracts 13th
  • Getting electricity 34th
  • Resolving insolvency 34th
  • Trading across borders 55th

Some of this is down to specific laws, but a lot comes down to having made it easier to do more and more Government interaction online.

Former MPs travel perks

Stuff reports:

Former MPs and their spouses claimed over $700,000 in taxpayer-funded travel in the last year, with couples among the big spenders.

The Parliamentary Service’s 2015/16 annual report has revealed the latest figures for claims on international and domestic travel as part of a discontinued perk.

Former Speaker and Labour MP Sir Kerry Burke was the biggest spender among MPs, totting up $16,147 courtesy of the taxpayer.

He retired 26 years ago but still getting the benefit.

The perk was cut off around 15 years ago it only applies to MPs who were elected before 1999. This means eventually it will disappear. But it is aggravating to taxpayers to see former MPs get it.

However I agree that you don’t retrospectively cancel something that was part of the terms and conditions of becoming an MP back then, and was in lieu of salary.

But why don’t we just buy the perk back and have it done with once and for all.

If it costs $700,000 a year and there are say 140 former MPs getting it, then that is an average $5,000 a year. So write them a cheque to compensate and then close the perk.

Hager on privacy

Nicky Hager writes:

This brings us back to the subject of privacy. It is awful if people wonder needlessly whether someone is reading their private email, or decides they’d better not be involved in politics, or generally shrinks down and limits who they are because of an unnecessary fear of surveillance. 

I have had my private e-mails read. They have twice appeared in books published by Nicky Hager.

I have considered quitting politics because of the fear of surveillance.

I’ve had spies put into my business to steal documents.

So pardon me if I have trouble reading the above without getting a bit angry.

Should we pay foster parents?

Danyl McL blogs:

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, that we don’t have volunteer police or teachers or doctors or nurses or prison wardens: these are all well paid professional roles. But if the state wants someone to raise a child from another dysfunctional family, something quite a lot more demanding than any of the jobs we pay people in the public service to do, and the success or failure of which has massive benefits and costs to society, then their labour is unpaid. Which means not many people want to do it. Which means we had CYFS, and now a ‘Vulnerable Children’s Ministry’ which is going to cost more than CYFS, which cost over a billion dollars a year to manage the foster system, which is a train wreck.

What would happen if you made foster parenting a profession and paid them 50,000/year? The cost would be $175 million/annum, a pretty small fraction of the cost of the current system, quite a lot of which could be scrapped. It would breach the convention that child raising has to be unpaid work though, which seems to be an important taboo in our society.

This is a debate worth happening. Foster parents at present basically get costs only which are:

  • Weekly care $204.46/week
  • Presents allowance $102.23/year
  • Clothing allowance $132.06/4 weeks

That comes to just under $12,500 a year.

I’d be more than happy to pay foster parents if it means we get more of them. I guess we need to worry about unexpected consequences such as people offering just for the money – but that should be manageable.

Game of Thrones Season 7 spoilers

For those who can’t wait (like me), a normally reliable source has posted major plot threads for Season 7.

Do not read over the break, if you do not want to read the spoilers.

I’ve grouped them together by character for easy reading.

Can’t wait for the season to air next year! Very very excited.

Continue reading »

Saudi Arabia re-elected to UN Human Rights Council

Middle East Eye reports:

This week, Saudi Arabia will be re-elected to the UN Human Right Council (HRC) for the fourth time, after another non-competitive election at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

While serving its third term on the council, Saudi Arabia blocked international inquiries into its human rights abuses, punished Saudi citizens who worked in collaboration with the HRC, and threatened to cut critical UN funding after being called out for violating children’s rights.

Worse, instead of incentivising the kingdom to institute reforms to curtail abuses and foster greater accountability, Saudi Arabia’s membership on the council appears to be having the opposite effect.

The number of executions in the kingdom has spiked dramatically since Saudi Arabia was last elected to the council – with 2015 marking the most brutal year in two decades with 157 executions and 2016 closing in with 124 executions as of the end of September.

Meanwhile, the country ignores visit requests from the HRC’s “special procedures” – independent human rights experts who undertake country visits and report back to the council. Currently, Saudi Arabia has seven outstanding visit requests, including requests from special rapporteurs appointed to conduct fact-finding inquiries related to torture, freedom of expression and opinion, and executions.

This is the same UN where they tut tut over the name of one of our ministries.

Here’s a summary of human rights in Saudi Arabia:

  • Torture by the state
  • rape victims lashed for adultery
  • Sentences of flogging up to 2,500 times
  • Imprisonment for changing religion
  • Women need permission of a man to travel abroad
  • Women not allowed to drive
  • Shia muslims ineligible for many government jobs
  • Illegal to practice any non Muslim religion in public
  • Trade unions banned, and political parties
  • Demonstrations are illegal
  • Capital punishment for homosexuality

A wonderful member of the UN Human Rights Council

Dom Post on Police and euthanasia

The Dom Post editorial:

Police raids on elderly people associated with the voluntary euthanasia movement are surprising and disturbing.

So are suggestions that police officers are staking out meetings, taking down number plates, and paying such people a visit to probe them on their intentions.

It’s true that the police are charged with upholding the law, and that the law bans assisted suicide, as well as the importation of drugs commonly used to achieve it. But the police also make decisions all the time about how to divide their time and resources.

They have only recently committed to attending all burglaries, for instance, even though they solve only a fraction of them. Community police stations have been phased back. In 2014/2015, there were nearly half a million fewer drink-drive tests than the year before.

In that straitened environment, it is especially odd that the police are running an operation, codenamed “Painter”, that targets elderly people concerned about the end of their lives.

Even if the police had endless resources, it would still be a troubling investigation. The thought of officers interrogating octogenarians seeking to make decisions about their own lives is an unwelcome one.

Fears of intimidation are rightly at the heart of objections to legalising euthanasia. But here the situation might be reversed – it is not hard to imagine elderly people feeling harassed by officers.

I agree. Setting up a fake checkpoint to gather information on who attended a meeting is inappropriate.

Campaigners such as the late Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales have eloquently argued for a change, and, equally, the courts have rightly cautioned that any such reform must be made by Parliament.

Whatever comes of this debate, there is a right way to police the laws around euthanasia: with discretion and humanity. Not all crimes are the same. A terminally-ill person in great pain who wishes to shorten their life is wishing for something that is leagues away from most of what we classify as criminal: acts of theft and violence and the like.

Most people understand this. There is considerable public support for allowing euthanasia in certain circumstances, and even more sympathy for those who find themselves wanting it.

The police are at the sharp end of the law, and they will always face tricky cases. Some really ought to provoke an urgent response – those with any hint of pressure or intimidation, of course, but also those involving people who are actively distributing the tools used for euthanasia. Such people mock the law and can reasonably be penalised.

Extending such scrutiny, however, to every person who considers their options for the end of their life is an illiberal and heavy-handed act.

The police should pause and reconsider their approach.

I hope they do.

Government sceptical of WBO fight funding

Stuff reports:

The Joseph Parker world heavyweight boxing bout is borderline for government funding, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says.

Good to see the Government sceptical.

Labour spokesman Trevor Mallard has questioned its worth to New Zealand and Joyce on Tuesday highlighted the hurdles it would have to meet.

“It’s probably on the border for a number of reasons, but we’ll have a look at it – they’ve put an application in and we treat every application fairly,” Joyce said.

“Some of the questions would be, what’s the opportunity to promote New Zealand, and the sort of leverage of New Zealand, and it’s just a short time fame in that respect? It could be tricky.”

There would also need to be a clear understanding whether it was going to happen anyway, with or without the funding support, and whether it was planned to be a profit-making event.

“We don’t generally support events that are already profitable.”

He said the promoters had submitted a budget which officials would look at.

There was no express upper limit for how much the fund would pay out, although there was a budgeted amount each year and it was well allocated for the next year or two, “so there isn’t a huge amount sitting there at the moment”. 

Dean Lonergan of Duco Events told Radio Live they needed a “significant seven-figure amount” to make the fight happen.

I’d be appalled if the Government gave over a million dollars to the promoters. This is a massively commercial sport.

Joyce said the idea of the fund was to develop and encourage the development of things that would not otherwise happen in New Zealand.

“So for example we have supported bids to bring the Rugby League World Cup here and … the Fifa under-20 (football) as well as domestic events” including the Winter Games, golf and large regional events.

But it did not fund All Blacks tests because there was a clear understanding they would happen regardless.

I can see the case for funding certain events, being:

  • Having them in NZ will bring a huge influx of tourists coming for the event. I don’t see this happening for a boxing match.
  • Having them in NZ will result in a huge amount of publicity for NZ as a destination, increasing tourism. This might apply if occurring somewhere scenic, but this is an indoor match.
  • Having them in NZ will be a huge boost to that sport in NZ, such as FIFA Under 20s.

I see pretty much no case at all for funding the event except it would allow NZers to attend a heavyweight boxing match in person, rather than on television. I don’t see that as a case for taxpayer funding.

Lonergan said earlier on Tuesday that he felt the major events fund was set up “purposely to help an event like this”.

“This is a major event, it’s a historic event for New Zealand, and it might not otherwise happen here.

“It is going to happen, but it mightn’t happen in New Zealand now because of the situation. As I’ve said, there’s a 70 to 80 per cent chance it will go to the United States now unless we can sort something out very quickly.

Beware when people say you need to decide quickly.

e-cigarettes and weight loss

Stuff reports:

Vaping is being touted as the latest weapon in the battle of the bulge, with researchers claiming it could stave off food cravings.

Massey University research suggests that former smokers gain an average of 4.7 kilograms in the 12 months after quitting.

“Vaping’s use of e-liquids with food flavours, along with the mouth-feel and aroma of the vapour, could play a role in helping people to eat less,” Professor Bernhard Breier, Massey’s chair in human nutrition, said.

“If there is a chance that flavoured vaping could help even a small proportion of people reduce the diabetes, cardiovascular and cancer risks associated with excess weight, the population health gains would be significant.”

Breir co-authored a paper published in the international journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research on Wednesday, which reviewed existing studies on vaping and weight control.

Would be interesting to see more research in this area, but I’d be cautious about promoting vaping as a weight loss tool.

Vaping or e-cigarettes are a great substitute for tobacco, and there are massive health benefits for smokers to switch to vaping.

But you get even more health benefits by not smoking at all. Of course many smokers are addicted to nicotine and can’t easily stop smoking – hence why e-cigarettes are a good way to feed the nicotine addiction but cut the health impact by 95%.

An Otago University health expert agreed, saying effective advertising restrictions, calorie reductions and junk food controls would be more effective tools in weight management. 

“If you have got a fat person that says, if I get rid of smoking I’m going to be even fatter … well maybe e-cigarettes can help them,” Jim Mann, professor in human nutrition and medicine at Otago said.

“But to use e-cigarettes as a method of weight control – I would be very dubious about that, because we don’t know much about e-cigarettes.”

“Smoking is worse than obesity. If you have to get rid of one, you get rid of the smoking.”

I agree that if it is a choice between obesity and smoking, you get rid of the smoking.

The best option is not to smoke at all. If that isn’t possible then e-cigarettes are way way better than smoking.

Dreamworld accidents

Stuff reports:

A fatal accident at Dreamworld on Australia’s Gold Coast, which is believed to have claimed the life of a New Zealander and three other people, comes after a series of incidents at the park over the past two decades.

Since 1995, Dreamworld has had at least five incidents where rides malfunctioned or had to be temporarily closed down. Some of these incidents left visitors injured or stranded.

The most recent incident unfolded six months ago, when a man almost drowned when he fell from the Rocky Hollow Log Ride.

I went to Dreamworld in the 1980s. We were queued up for one of the rides. The surfboard one that swivels everywhere when suddenly there was a huge cracking noise and a piece of gear of the ride went flying off it, halting the ride in mid flight. It took 15 minutes or so to restart and as we were young and foolish we stayed in queue for the ride and went on it once they had reattached the part.

With hindsight it is not a good sign the parts of the ride come flying off in mid flight.

I’m not sure what is an acceptable incident rate for theme parks, but Dreamworld seems to be too high. And the four deaths this week will have been preventable. No one should die in a theme park unless from a heart attack.

Turnbull now polling worse than Abbott

News.com.au reports:

MALCOLM Turnbull’s popularity has sunk to a new low, as Labor chalked up its third successive Newspoll lead.

The latest Newspoll, taken for The Australian, shows voter satisfaction with the prime minister has dropped to 29 per cent — lower than Tony Abbott’s measure of 30 per cent when he was toppled as leader last year.

I doubt Turnbull will see out the end of 2017. Starting to feel unsure if he will even make the beginning of it!

Dim Post on why Marxism failed

Danyl McL writes:

Thirdly, it turns out that if you have a capitalist economy – even a very basic one like Tsarist Russia – and you take away the market and put the workers in charge of the means of production (and execute anyone trading on the black market) then instead of transforming itself into a utopia because of the scientific laws of history and the malleability of human nature, the entire economy collapses, and people in cities end up eating their own children to stay alive, and everyone who can still walk rises up and joins the capitalist counter-revolutionaries trying to overthrow you.

We are now seeing this occur in Venezuela – as it has in pretty much every other country that has tried this.

The revolution endured, through a combination of extreme ruthlessness, dumb luck and the ineptitude of their enemies and also, humiliatingly, by bringing back an attenuated form of capitalism. It took them a long time to work out an alternative economic system that didn’t involve either capitalism or keeping the population in a state of abject terror by just randomly murdering people or imprisoning and enslaving them for life, en-masse. They got there though, by the 1950s. And the form of communism they wound up with was very materialistic: very consumerist, focused on high economic growth at the cost of extraordinary environmental destruction. Actual communism was all the things the left dislikes about late capitalism, in other words, except it didn’t work as well as capitalism.

Marxist intellectuals in the west didn’t put that much effort into trying to figure out how to make Communism work. For most the assumption was that it did work, because science, and that reports of famine in the Ukraine were obviously western propaganda. So they carried on critiquing capitalism, applying a Marxist analysis to whatever was intellectually fashionable in the west.

Spot on.

When psychoanalysis was in vogue, the theory was capitalism caused alienation and schizophrenia: the traditional family became the agent through which capitalist production repressed the revolutionary desires of the child. When people became interested in colonialism, then Marxists decided that colonialism was caused by capitalism. Now racism, patriarchy and climate change are caused by capitalism. (It’s an endlessly repeated trope on the left that capitalism, with its assumption of infinite growth is the driver of climate change, without discussing why non capitalist economies won’t also seek growth and drive it with greenhouse gas pollution. And why won’t the powerful head of the People’s Coal Miners Union have all the climate change scientists imprisoned or executed as traitors?). Whatever people are upset about is caused by capitalism, and the solution to all our problems is to get rid of capitalism.

The Jeremy Corbyns of this world always see capitalism and especially Western capitalism as to blame.

When the failure of actual Communism became horribly apparent Marxist intellectuals comforted themselves that the revolution wasn’t supposed to happen in places like Russia and China. It was supposed to happen in developed capitalist economies, like their own, so they went on critiquing capitalism. There have been recent socialist revolutions in proper capitalist countries like Venezuela. That would have been a good time for Marxist theorists to go prove their theories correct. Did Venezuelans become less racist? Did patriarchy disappear? Did Venezuela’s policy of paying for their socialist state by selling lakes of oil to capitalist countries address the issue of climate change? But with the exception of hand-waving about droughts and capitalist sabotage, there is near total silence on the left about Venezuela. We don’t talk about Venezuela.

An inconvenient truth.

Instead of envisioning capitalism as a totalising system responsible for everything that annoys you, the removal of which will instantly solve all our problems, I think it’s more useful to see it as a series of kludges that allow complex, high population technological nation-states to function and interact with each other. A kludge is a term-of-art in engineering, especially software engineering: it describes an improvised, inelegant and inefficient solution to a problem. Over time, complex engineered systems tend to accumulate kludges, all creating unforeseen consequences that then proliferate more kludges, which all become interdependent on each other. They create lots of problems, but if you get rid of them then the entire system collapses – just like capitalist countries do when you get rid of capitalism.

Fixing kludges can be really hard. You need to have a deep understanding of the system you’re working with, and come up with realistic improvements, and make them work, and then move on to the next one.

This is basically the day to day work of Government policy making – fixing kludges.

I recently read a book about the history of cancer. For much of the 20th century, the most brilliant physicians and doctors in the world struggled to find cures for cancer. They didn’t really understand what was causing the disease – they thought it radiated out from the centre of the body in a spiral pattern – but they knew that sometimes surgery cured tumours, and sometimes chemotherapy cured tumours, or at least caused them to remiss. The culture of the profession drove them towards more and more radical solutions. Radical surgery, radical chemotherapy. They stopped paying attention to statisticians and molecular biologists, who were telling them that they’re weren’t actually curing anyone, and that cancer didn’t function the way they thought it did. Weren’t they the most brilliant physicians in the world? How could they all be wrong?

But they were.   The big lesson there is that a large groups of brilliant people all trying to do the right thing can all be completely wrong, for many decades, and cause incredible suffering and harm, while basically wasting their lives. It seems to me that something similar has happened to left-wing intellectual theory, especially the radical left. That it’s taken a very wrong turn somewhere, and a lot of very brilliant people have been studying, teaching and writing nonsense, for a long time now and that they’re in a deep state of epistemic closure about this, because no one likes to think they’ve been wrong about almost everything. Especially people who fetishise intelligence, like surgeons, or left-wing intellectuals.

This reminds me of a post I did some years ago asking what were the things that the left and the right got disastrously wrong post WWII?

For the right I would say tolerance of apartheid South Africa and opposing welfare states.

For the left I would say socialism/communism and unilateral disarmament

Light rail costs blows out 250% in NSW!

The SMH reports:

The cost of Mike Baird’s signature public transport promise for western Sydney has ballooned to more than $3.5 billion – $2.5 billion above what has been budgeted, secret government documents show.

So the original cost was one billion dollars – the same as costed for light rail in Wellington. A few politicians reckon they can get it done in fact for half that – $500 million. While in NSW the costs of the proposed light rail there have increased from $1 billion to $3.5 billion.

Ratepayers have been warned.

Separate documents, meanwhile, show the project will deliver questionable benefits. If a project’s benefit cost ratio is less than one, a project is expected to deliver less benefit than cost.

A business case dated May 2015 shows a maximum benefit cost ratio for light rail lines around Parramatta of 0.73.

An addendum dated July 2015 reports range benefit cost ratios from 0.66 if only transport benefits are included, potentially rising to 1.06 if “wider economic benefits” are included.

That is better than Wellington where the BCR is 0.05 on a bad day and 0.10 on a good day!

Did the FBI sell out?

Gregg Jarrett of Fox News writes:

As evidence mounts that the Director of the FBI subverted justice, damaged the reputation of the Bureau and squandered the support of his agents, calls for his resignation will surely escalate. 

Can there be any confidence in his future judgments and decisions, as long as he continues to preside over the once-venerated Federal Bureau of Investigation?

That is the plight James Comey now faces in light of the exclusive story published by foxnews.com in which a person closely involved in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails revealed that career FBI agents and attorneys who dedicated themselves to the year-long probe unanimously believed she should have been criminally charged. 

If correct, this is huge as Comey said everyone believed she should not be charged.

A second source, a high-ranking FBI official, confirmed the crux of his colleague’s stunning revelation.  He said that while it may not have been a unanimous belief, the vast majority felt Clinton should be prosecuted.  Stripping her of her security clearance was unanimous, he explained. 

So unanimous that she should be stripped of her security clearance and a majority that she should have been charged.

In my column on July 5th, the day Comey announced he would not recommend to the Attorney General that Clinton be criminally prosecuted, I argued that Comey’s decision made no legal sense.  I recited the language of the relevant statute… and compared it to Comey’s own words describing Clinton’s conduct.  They were nearly identical. 

I wrote then how Comey exhibited an astonishing ignorance of the law.  He laid out a case of gross negligence constituting a crime, defined it with the words “extremely careless” and then promptly proceeded to ignore the law.  

This had has little media attention. No wonder faith in media is so low.

Encouraging Americans to vote


A group of ex NZ advertising creatives have launched Dear America 2016 to encourage Americans to vote as the outcome of the election is so important to the world. They do not advocate who to vote for, just that Americans vote.


Will be interesting to see what the turnout is.

IOD on artificial intelligence

The Institute of Directors (and Chapman Tripp) has published a report looking at the opportunities and challenges for NZ of artificial intelligence.

The report raises 15 key questions:

Prosperity and wellbeing

1. How can we use AI to build our competitive advantage in key industries?
2. Is New Zealand investing enough in AI development?
3. How do we ensure the benefits of AI are broadly shared across our economy and society?

Jobs and the economy

4. What industries will be most disrupted by AI?
5. What impact will AI have on our economy as some jobs are replaced by AI-driven automation?
6. How do we encourage new jobs and industries that AI may promote?
7. How does our education system need to evolve to address the changes AI will bring?

Legal and policy issues

8. Should decisions made by AI systems be attributed to their creators?
9. Should AI systems be recognised in law as legal persons?
10. Are New Zealand’s regulatory and legislative processes adaptive enough to respond to and encourage innovations in AI?

Privacy and ethics

11. What does privacy mean to New Zealanders in an AI world?
12. What ethical challenges will the widespread use of AI raise?
13. Do we have the right frameworks to protect data and make sure it can be used most effectively by AI systems?
14. What controls and limitations should be placed on AI technologies?
15. Is New Zealand doing enough to keep ahead?

Issue 8 is very interesting. Who is responsible for decisions made by artificial intelligence systems?

A fascinating report.

Pirate Party leads the polls in Iceland

The Washington Post reports:

The party that could be on the cusp of winning Iceland’s national elections on Saturday didn’t exist four years ago.

Its members are a collection of anarchists, hackers, libertarians and Web geeks. It sets policy through online polls – and thinks the government should do the same. It wants to make Iceland “a Switzerland of bits,” free of digital snooping. It has offered Edward Snowden a new place to call home.

And then there’s the name: In this land of Vikings, the Pirate Party may soon be king.

The rise of the Pirates – from radical fringe to focal point of Icelandic politics – has astonished even the party’s founder, a poet, Web programmer and former WikiLeaks activist.

“No way,” said 49-year-old Birgitta Jónsdóttir when asked whether she could have envisioned her party governing the country so soon after its launch. …

The populist spirit was revved up once again this past spring when the leak of the Panama Papers revealed an offshore company owned by the prime minister’s wife that staked a claim to Iceland’s collapsed banks. The perceived conflict of interest brought thousands of protesters to the streets, a crowd that, as a share of the overall population, was equal to as many as 21 million people in the United States.

With protests building, the prime minister quit and new elections were called. But the public’s cynicism about a political system long steered by an insider clique only deepened.

“The distrust that had long been germinating has now exploded. The Pirates are riding on that wave,” said Ragnheithur Kristjánsdóttir, a political history professor at the University of Iceland. “We’ve had new parties before, and then they’ve faded. What’s surprising is that they’re maintaining their momentum.”

The Pirates, part of an international movement of the same name, are not the only ones seizing on the country’s discontented political spirit. Several new parties have surged and could well set Iceland’s direction for the next four years. Meanwhile, parties that have traded power in Iceland for decades are bumping along in polls at historic lows.

It will be interesting to see how they go, if they do get to form Government.

The latest poll has the following:

  1. Pirates 22.6%
  2. Independence (libertarian) 21.1%
  3. Left-Green 18.6%
  4. Progressive (centre right) 9.1%
  5. Viðreisn (pro free trade) 8.8%
  6. Social Democratic Alliance (centre left) 6.5%
  7. Bright Future (liberal, centre) 6.0%

The Pirate Party has said they wouldn’t do a coalition with the Independence or Progressive parties so it may be Pirates, left-green and Social Democrats.

Economic downturn for assassins

News.com.au reports:

ACE and Sheila* are a married couple who say they are tasked with killing drug users and drug dealers as part of the Philippine President’s war on drugs.

The couple claim their death squad receives up to $100 per kill from the police, and with four children to support they say it’s the only way they can make that sort of money.

That’s doesn’t seem much for being an assassin. My first thought is that the professional assassins need a union to try and lobby Government to stop the new amateur assassins undercutting their pay. It’s like taxis vs Uber.

But maybe $100 is a lot. It is around 5,000 pesos. That is around a month’s salary for a cleaner. Would you kill someone in NZ for say $3,000? I would have thought

A teacher can earn 15,000 pesos a month so that pays more than a kill per fortnight.

When we get the identification, we study it for a day, then the thing is that the job should be done within three days’ time. You should finish the hit within three days. So as soon as we get the identification we study it, then next day, we get moving. Generally by gun. If we get close to the person, or we spot them, and when we get the chance, we shoot them.

We don’t just shoot them once. We don’t leave them with just one shot. We make sure they’re dead. When we get the chance, we put the card with the word “pusher” on them.

Because the media picks it up when the card is on the target. We put the card so it attracts the media, and that’s our proof to our boss that the job is done.

I think our group has done a quarter of the 2800 killings. And the rest have been done by the other groups.

This goes against old fashioned supply and demand. The Government wants 100,000 drug dealers and users killed so this has massively increased demand for killers and assassins. With demand so high, you’d think prices for killers would have increased, but instead it has seen a flood of cheap labour into the market, depressing the equilibrium price for a killing.

I guess a factor is that these killings are state sanctioned so the normal risk premium for being caught by the Police has disappeared.