Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fantasy in Middle Earth

It looks like New Zealand has lost The Hobbit films. Sir Peter Jackson has said that Warner Brothers are coming to New Zealand next week to discuss moving the film production offshore. Sir Peter will remain as director but thousands of New Zealand actors, production staff and support contractors will not have the opportunity that the Lord of the Rings provided them in past years. Why? It is because of the greed and stupidity of the union, Actors Equity, and a few scurrilous troublemakers in the actors fraternity. They have bitten the hand that feeds them and now they are left to wonder why they won't have any work at all.

This is typical of the mentality of many New Zealanders. People in this country live in a political fantasy land. They seem to forget that money and jobs don't grow on trees. They adhere to the utopian, socialist notion that a benevolent government can provide for everyone. They aren't prepared to ask the question, who provides the benefits they expect the government to bestow on them? They aren't prepared to acknowledge the obvious - that it is always an entrepreneur like Peter Jackson (for that is exactly what he is) who ultimately creates all the wealth they consume.

It is not that these people are stupid - we could forgive them if they were. No, they know perfectly well that their beliefs are based on a fantasy that has never worked well anywhere in the world. That makes their views, and their sabotaging politics, all the more reprehensible. They are the same people who demand higher salaries for teachers without being prepared to link pay to performance, or who demand higher taxes to pay for ever more welfare handouts and more money for their pet social engineering projects like preserving the Maori language, without questioning whether such extortion is damaging to enterprise and jobs.

Unfortunately, such dishonesty is the stock in trade of a fair proportion of our elected representatives who give their fellow travellers want they want. Although in the case of some of the politicians, I think lack of intelligence is a valid excuse. That is the effect of a dishonest electoral system that puts half the seats in Parliament in the hands of party apparatchiks who appoint people they can control to party lists.

Unfortunately I don't think The Hobbit debacle will be a wake up call for these mediocre bludgers. They will continue to sell their brand of politics that says all anyone needs is a benevolent government (run by their friends, of course). And New Zealand will continue to get poorer as a result. I just hope they reflect for a moment on the damage they have done in this instance.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reflections on America

I have recently returned from three weeks in the United States of America, the longest continuous visit I have made to that country, and it has proved to be most enlightening.

America is both wonderful and awful, delightful and maddening, beautiful and ugly, full of charm and full of rudeness, wonderfully efficient and stupidly incompetent. It is, in short, the best and worst of all the world in one country.

We saw the most spectacular scenery of national parks that rivalled anything in New Zealand and glimpsed the back ends of the big cities that were worse than anything in South Auckland or Porirua East. We stayed in spacious accommodation with everything a traveller could need and in hotels where the service was worse than Basil Fawlty's. We enjoyed superb food and wine in great restaurants and found places where we could eat nothing but sugery doughnuts and greasy fries. We enjoyed the company of some of the most charming people we have met in our travels and were shouted at by arrogant officials who were incapable of understanding that their jobs were to serve the public.

And yet America was comfortably familiar, even to those of our group who had not been there before. At heart we share similar values and traditions, founded in a common European colonial history that has given us human rights, the rule of law and our democratic form of government. We are, of course, exposed to so much American culture every day.

But there are pronouced differences between us that have grown in recent years. Americans have always had a more defined sense of nationhood than we in New Zealand. They have always been very patriotic, although in the decades following World War 2 this was a proud, expansive form of patriotism - "look at us, haven't we done well!" Recently it has become a neurotic, defensive patriotism that manifests as jingoism and xenophobia.

America has turned into a nation of fear. People everywhere are scared and none more so than those who exercise authority. You can see it in the faces of the policemen, security guards and officials you encounter at the checkpoints and searches that greet you at the entrance to every public building or place where people congregate - we even had our bags scanned entering a food court in a Washington DC shopping mall. The fear and stress expresses itself in a complete lack of respect and courtesy by officials in their dealings with the public. This is a noticable change for people that were once renown for their courtesy and respect. There is none of the relaxed competence that you encounter from New Zealand public officials and service staff. The contrast was most noticeable when we re-entered New Zealand and passed through the friendly and efficient Customs and Biosecurity checks. In the United States, we encountered no one in a position of authority who went about their job with this relaxed confidence.

Americans we spoke to were bewildered by what their country has become. Certainly they do not like it, but they can see no way out of the locked cell they have created for themselves. As one local said, "Osama Bin Laden has won. If he set out to turn America into a nation of fear, he has achieved that." What is the point of being the most powerful nation on earth if its people cannot have lunch in a shopping mall without having to go through onerous security checks?

For the first time in a number of visits to America, I was glad I did not have to live there.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The It-Should-Be-Unlawful Commission

Geoffrey Palmer, the former university lecturer who was Prime Minister of New Zealand for all of about six weeks (which was all it took for his Cabinet colleagues to get sick of his endless, droning voice from the top of the table) and who is now ensconced in what we in New Zealand call a 'cushy job' as head of the Law Commission, wants to raise the age that people can legally buy alcohol from 18 to 20.

It seems Geoffrey and his band of fellow-travellers on the It-Should-Be-Unlawful Commission think that young New Zealanders who are old enough to be held responsible for serious crimes such as murder, to vote, to drive a car (and an aircraft), to fight in a war, to marry, to have sexual relations, to buy a house, to start a business, and to do every other damned thing an adult New Zealander can do, are too young to purchase a bottle of wine.

All this because these wowsers think excessive drinking by young people is an enormous threat to decent society. Actually, I think they they are targeting the wrong demographic. I think it is old farts like Geoffrey who are causing the most damage to society, whether they are drinking alcohol or not. Geoffrey and his band of arrogant, we-know-what-is-best-for-you fools are damaging society through their ill-conceived paternalistic plethora of laws that interfere in every aspect of New Zealanders' lives. The endless raft of petty legislation these fools propose is, in my opinion, largely the cause of New Zealand's social and economic ills.

The worst of it is that the It-Should-Be-Unlawful Commission is undemocratic. Successive governments seem to feel obliged to enact the recommendations of this group of know-it-alls without wider consultation and without canvassing ideas from other quarters. The arrogant presumption of Geoffrey and his cabal that their recommendations will translate straight to legislation is clear from the fact that they include draft legislation in their recommendations.

It is time to abolish the Law Commission. They are a blight on our democracy and a far greater threat to our society than all the drunks put together.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Children on flights

The controversy that has erupted about New Zealand member of parliament Charles Chauvel telling a child on an airline flight to shut up reminds me of an incident related to me by a mother who is a cousin of mine.

This woman and her child, an 8 year old boy, were flying from London to New York. Now this child is something of a handful. Her mother admits he a little ADHD but the correct diagnosis is probably Aspergers. Anyway, he is difficult to control at the best of times, let alone when he is confined to a small airline seat for six hours.

I'm not sure exactly what the child did, but the passengers complained so fiercely about his behaviour that the cabin staff asked the mother if they could administer a sedative. The mother refused (she is one of those new-age, liberal, "my child needs to fully express himself" natural remedy type of mothers, which is probably half the reason the child was so unreasonable to begin with) and eventually the child's behaviour was reported to the pilot.

The situation got to the point where the pilot threatened to turn the aircraft around and return to Heathrow if the mother did not allow the child to be sedated. Eventually, she acquiesced and the flight continued on its way. At the time I found the mother's account of the incident hilarious (after all, it is not every child that can provoke a response normally reserved for hijackers) but I'm sure the other passengers on the flight did not.

Putting up with badly behaved children and their irresponsible parents is one of the banes of airline travel. Last time I flew from New Zealand to London we had to put up with a child who screamed pretty much continuously for the whole journey. The entire passenger cabin groaned audibly when we saw the child and his parents re-embark after the transit stopover in Los Angeles, with everyone sharing the common hope that their journey had ended there.

As a parent myself, I'm not sure what the answer is but compulsory sedation is not a bad option. I don't know much about Charles Chauvel as he seems to be one of the least visible members of our parliament, but I can only sympathise with his actions in respect of the misbehaving child.

Monday, March 15, 2010

So what about TV1 and TV2?

The Government has announced it intends turning TVNZ7 into a public service channel leaving TV1 and TV2 to pursue fully commercial ends. Leaving aside the relative merits and political arguments for this move, the change raises an obvious question that broadcasting minister Coleman has failed to address: why would the taxpayer continue to own TV1 and TV2?

If these two channels are to be wholly commercial, the taxpayer has no business or interest in owning them. Presumably the only reason for continuing to own them is political - i.e. the Marxist ideal of the state owning the means of production - and given that the National Government is not meant to be Marxist (at least last time I checked with their manifesto), surely they have an obligation to sell these channels.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cyclist nomination for Darwin Awards

I ride a scooter to work regularly and I take my bicycle into the city centre on occasions so I am aware of the challenges for those on two wheels using city streets. But today I am going to have a rant about cyclists that are so stupid they should be nominated for the Darwin Awards. Let me tell you about one such idiot.

Yesterday when I was driving my car through the city I came to a 'T" intersection. There was a pedestrian crossing at the threshold of the intersection and I stop to let someone cross. I needed to turn left immediately after the crossing so I had my left indicator flashing. A line of cars formed behind me while we waited for the elderly lady to cross. When she had made it to the other side, I started to execute my left turn. At that moment, a cyclist screeched to a halt on the inside of my car, narrowly missing my passenger door. He then had the audacity to loudly scream abuse at me. Naturally, not being a reticent sort, I gave as good as I got, pointing out to him:

1) He had illegally overtaken on the left (we drive on the left in New Zealand) on a single carriageway road.

2) He had illegally overtaken on a pedestrian crossing.

3) I had been indicating a left turn.

4) Due to the line of traffic behind me and the curvature of the road, there was no way I could have seen him in my rear view mirrors.

This idiot is an example of why cyclists are involved in so many accidents with cars. They think the road rules do not apply to them. They assume drivers can see and avoid them even when they are (illegally) where they shouldn't be. They have the arrogance to assume they are always in the right and that motorists are always in the wrong. In short, they take no responsibility for their own safety. This evening I am going to see Richard Dawkins speak - probably the greatest advocate of Darwinian science in the world - and that made me think about this breed of cyclist in Darwinian terms. They are excellent examples of natural selection in action because their early deaths will ensure their genes are removed from the pool before they can pass them on.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A bit rich coming from her...

Theresa Gattung says about Telecom salaries, "Now that I'm long gone I, with the rest of the country, wonder about the propriety of a company making half the annual profits it did a few years ago but paying its executives considerably higher salaries."

My God, that takes some gall. This is the lady who all but destroyed Telecom, who (according to one analyst) lost more value for Telecom shareholders every day she was CEO than her own inflated annual salary. The same lady who failed to read the very obvious political and economic trends that were driving the call for unbundling of services and increased investment in broadband. The same lady whose idea of business strategy was to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to yet another ill-advised Australian purchase and to an online shopping mall ten years after online shopping malls failed worldwide. At least the current management team is responding (albeit slowly and inadequately) to the political and market winds of change that she, Canute-like, ignored.

This lady was New Zealand's least successful CEO in terms of value lost and she should be ashamed to show herself in print or in the news media ever again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

But what do you expect from TVNZ?

Some folks are getting terribly upset that Television New Zealand, the state-owned company that runs the two leading network channels in this country, saw fit to bump Prime Minister John Key from their primetime current affairs show, Close Up, in favour of a former rugby player who was involved in what can only be described as a rather trivial sexual harassment matter involving a 15 year old girl. Prime Minister Key had just announced his Government's major economic and taxation policies for the next few years but TVNZ decided that this wasn't nearly as important as the former rugby player's peccadillos.

I'm actually blase quite about this. That's because I have long since given up watching TVNZ's news and current affairs, having decided that their coverage of news events is comparable to that of the joke publications News of the World in the UK and National Enquirer in the USA. The only thing that disappoints me is that the viewing public of this country still expects anything better from TVNZ.

It is high time the Government split up and sold TVNZ. Why the taxpayer needs to own and fund a commercial television company, I do not know. But to own an enterprise with as poor standards as this one, well, that is just ridiculous. It's like the British Government owning the News of the World or the US Government owning the National Enquirer.

Let's get rid of these crappy television channels and, while we're at it, sell Radio New Zealand as well. The latter specialises in talkback for the so-called liberal intelligentsia and runs a Soviet-style station that plays wall-to-wall strident orchestral music. The NZ taxpayers shouldn't own this rubbish either.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's the Politicians Who are Overpaid

Phil Goff (remember him - he's the leader of the NZ Labour Party) wants to restrict senior public servants' salaries to the same level as the Prime Minister. Why for pity's sake? What's so special about the PM's salary and why should he be the highest paid public servant?

Actually, I think it's the politicians who are overpaid. I like the old system that prevailed until Victorian times in England where MPs didn't get paid at all. This meant that only people of means would stand for Parliament - and that usually meant people who had been successful at some other vocation before entering politics. The problem with our current crop of politicians it that many of them, especially in the previous Labour-Greens Government, have never had to earn a living doing something productive in their whole lives. That means they have no idea how most people go about earning their living or how wealth is created. They think that money grows on trees and that they have a God-given right to spend it profligately on whatever they see fit.

Political involvement should be truly a public service and if it was I think we would have a much better experienced and qualified group of MPs in Parliament. Paying them zilch, or at least a very small stipend, would rid us of the politicians who are only there because it pays more than the dole.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Zealanders and manners

Today, at the risk of appearing to be a bit fuddy duddy, I'm going to vent my spleen on a particularly annoying trait of my fellow countrymen - their appalling lack of manners.

New Zealand men in particular appear completely incapable of showing any level of common courtesy. I belong to a city gym. Like most city gyms it gets pretty crowded in the changing rooms at peak hours. A couple of years ago I began to notice that other men in the changing room were incapable of saying the simple words "excuse me" when they needed to get past you to get into their locker. Often they will simply push past without saying anything. Sometimes they will grunt, expecting you to interpret that as "I need to get past you and into my locker." If they say anything at all, is usually "sorry". I'm not sure what they are apologising for -- perhaps they are saying sorry on behalf of the gym owners or the architects or whoever else was responsible for the cramped design of the changing rooms. But they never, ever, say "excuse me". New Zealand men, and many New Zealand woman, appear not to have the words "excuse me" in their vocabulary.

The same behaviour happens on city footpaths, in restaurants and cafes, at sports events and at any other location where large numbers of New Zealanders congregate.

I have heard people say that the French are rude. However, on my last trip to Paris I noticed that whenever French people are in a crowded place, you always hear a continual chorus of "excusez-moi" as they move past. I began noticing the lack of similar courtesy from New Zealanders upon my return home.

We are known as friendly people but I have also heard foreigners describe New Zealanders as 'standoffish'. Perhaps that is a polite way for foreigners to say we are rude.

I do not know what it is that makes New Zealanders so resistant to saying "excuse me". It may be that New Zealand men regard the expression as effete and unmasculine, and perhaps New Zealand women think they are exempt from displaying courtesy because they are women.

It is time New Zealanders adopted the manners the rest of the world takes for granted. Our lack of common courtesy is not an attractive trait.