Saturday, August 11, 2007

Books

My regular weekend ramble has been stymied by Firefox losing my session with all the tabs ready to go. Bugger.

So instead, let's do books. I'll say this first: I love 'em. Our apartment here is overrun with them, they pile up on shelves, on table, beside the bed; across, under and around my desk; around the kitchen, the bathroom and in every room but the switch cupboard. I like books, and but there's not one in any of those piles I could do without.

A while back I listed what (and whom) looms largest in my musical collection here at home, which has formed itself into similar piles, so perhaps it might be fun to do the same for the books that are stacked up around? Here goes then, ranked in descending order based on whom they're on or by (plays tend to overstate themselves a little--I've excluded Shakespeare since he'd tend to skew the results), which gives a reasonably fair summary of my enthusiasms:

Ayn Rand, 33; Frank Lloyd Wright, 31; Robert Heinlein, 31; Anthony Burgess, 31; Robert B. Parker, 27; Graham Greene, 22; Maria Montessori, 21; Wagner, 21; Dick Francis, 19; Aristotle, 14; Terence Rattigan, 14; FD Roosevelt, 14; Chekhov, 12; Len Deighton, 12; PJ O'Rourke, 10; Lee Child, 10; PG Wodehouse, 9; David Lodge, 9; Herman Wouk, 9; Leonard Read, 9; Ludwig von Mises, 8; Victor Hugo, 8; Umberto Eco, 8; Raymond Chandler, 8; Paul Johnson, 7; Phillip Roth, 7; Ibsen, 7; Lou Reed, 7; Gerald Seymour, 7; Oscar Wilde, 7; Mark Twain, 7; Rothbard, 7; Tibor Machan, 6; Hemingway, 6; Jefferson, 6; Martin Cruz Smith, 6; Mickey Spillane, 6; Bernard Levin, 5; Duke Ellington, 5; Dickens 5; Tom Wolfe, 5; GB Shaw, 5; Euripides, 5; Churchill, 5; Michelangelo, 5; Daniel Silva, 5; Dickens 5; Winnie the Pooh, 5; Sven Hassell, 5; Rodin, 4; Edward Cline, 4; Dostoyevsky, 4; Douglas Adams, 4; Thomas Sowell, 4; Frank G. Slaughter, 4; Richard Brautigan, 4; Aristophanes, 4; Aldous Huxley, 4; Rembrandt, 4; Vermeer, 4; Ken Follett, 4; Stephen Fry, 4; Brian Aldiss, 4 . . .

So how about you and your enthusiasms? What figures highly in the piles around your house?

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Beer O'Clock: Mild Ale

Your regular Friday afternoon Beer O'Clock post is contributed this week by a SOBA Stu.

Tonight I'm drinking something less bitter than normal because there's a bitter enough taste already in my mouth. On that, more later.

For now, I'm drinking a homebrewed mild ale--and it's tax free and tastes good! The style descriptions for the Beer Judge Certification Program describe a mild ale as "A light-flavored, malt-accented beer that is readily suited to drinking in quantity. Refreshing, yet flavorful." That sums it up aptly. So does the name "mild.

New Zealand's only commercial example of a mild ale is the excellent Mike's Mild Ale, from the White Cliff's brewery in Taranaki. It's a delicious dark beer from the provinces with subtle roasty flavours, only a hint of hops, and a well-deserved cult following. I reviewed this beer, here in May last year and after having a couple of bottles recently I still thoroughly recommend keeping an eye out for it in good bottle stores and supermarkets.

Mild ale, much like "Bitter" (it's more well-known cousin), has struggled to keep a foothold amongst last century's growing tide of pale lagers and pseudo-ales. Perhaps this is a reflection on their rather staid and unappealing names, or perhaps their working class histories--both were beers for people to drink in quantity, back in the day when working actually meant getting their hands dirty. Contrary to their cloth-capped image however, these are truly excellent examples of balance and flavoursome goodness; low-alcohol drinks of subtle style, almost forgotten, in a time where big is heavily promoted as best. Both styles are perfect after a hard day working around the house and looking after my two little boys.

On the subject of my two wee lads (both doing well, thanks for asking), my youngest boy, Ted, will be drinking with me tonight. He's drinking Nutricia's Karicare Gold Plus. Contrary to the panic on the streets of Canterbury, he's thriving on this "unsafe" formula (just as his big brother did). But thanks to a couple of do-gooding "concerned mothers" called Helen Stanley and Megan Bonny, I've had to purchase a a few months' formula is advance. Thankfully the mild ale I'm drinking is leaving no bitterer taste in my mouth, otherwise I'd possibly have a little more to say on the matter.

Slainte mhath, Stu

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"Let us alone!"

Apropos of my earlier post on the Regulatory Responsibility Bill, here's a great story that would be worth retelling to someone on the Select Committee considering the bill. The story of a king and that king's adviser who asked industrialists what the king could do to make the kingdom wealthier: one legendary industrialist gave the only viable answer: "Let us alone!" Since the king's adviser only wanted to fatten them up before scalping them (he's famous for explaining that, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing”) that wasn't what he wanted to hear. But it was true.

It is a true story, and it's the origin of the term "laissez faire"--and it's a story these parliamentarians should be told loud and clear.

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Libertarian-lite?

If John Key's core philosophy is Labour-Lite (if indeed he can be said to have anything resembling a "core philosophy"), then as NBR suggests "core Act ... philosophy" is "libertarian-lite." Or should be.

Interesting analogy, no? National's recent strategy is to outflank Labour on the left. Meanwhile NBR suggests ACT's latest policy (Hide's Regulatory Responsibility Bill) is at least heading north.

Progress? Perhaps. At best the Bill will remove some of Nanny's constraints on liberty and prosperity and just getting your day's work done. And if nothing else, the Select Committee hearing on the Bill offers you the opportunity to front up to parliamentarians and explain to them why everything is their fault. But be quick. As Lindsay Mitchell explains,
"Unfortunately submissions close [today], BUT your written submission needn't be lengthy. Make sure you indicate you want to speak directly to the committee and save the bulk of your story for that occasion. The members will all say they have read your submission and expect to hear something different or additional anyway (my experience) plus it is a chance for them to ask you questions.

Again, I cannot stress what a rare opportunity to do something about unwelcome and unwieldy government intervention this is. Don't waste it. A little bit of time spent now could save you bucketloads in the future.
The Cut Red Tape website has details on how to make a quick submission.

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"Less is more."

"Less is more." Do you think when architect Mies van der Rohe came up with that now much-used expression he was thinking of the Teeny Tiny Bikini competition? I like to think so.

And don't go complaining about those little scraps of cloth the contestants are almost wearing: they make the link Safe For Work. Enjoy.

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Where, oh where, has Hone gone?

The good news is that Hone Harawira has gone AWOL out the back of Bourke.

The bad news is that rumours that "a dingo's got our Hone" are unfortunately exaggerated. The bastard's coming back.

Bugger.

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Don't miss out: this week's best at Not PC

Just so you don't miss any of this week's gems, here's the most popular posts here at Not PC this week:

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Storer House, California, 1923 - Frank Lloyd Wright

One of Wright's Californian 'textile block' houses, inspired in part by Mayan ruins . . .

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Health, wealth and good sense.

Makes perfect sense to me:
Vegetarians and fish-eaters are being offered reduced-price life insurance through a scheme launched today by a not-for-profit insurance business...

The firm said vegetarians should pay less for the cover, which pays out in the event of the policyholder's death, because they were less likely to suffer from a range of chronic illnesses, including some cancers.... Managing director, Elaine Fairfax, said: "The risk of vegetarians suffering from some cancers is reduced by up to 40% and from heart disease by up to 30%, but despite this they have to pay the same life insurance premiums as meat eaters.

"We believe this is unfair and the life insurance industry needs to acknowledge the fact that being a vegetarian can have a very positive impact on life expectancy and reduce premiums accordingly."
I feel healthier just thinking about it. I've always maintained that meat stunts your growth. ;^)

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Nats and Greens and RMA

Nick Smith and the Greens need each other: Nick Smith needs the Greens in order to give him credentials as a human being someone who is going to "gut" the RMA (as Greens leader Russel Norman so fatuously claims); the Greens need Nick Smith in order to keep peddling their nonsense that gutting the damn thing would be a bad thing, and that the economy and the environment are somehow at odds.

The fatuousness of that last claim can be seen simply by observing that it is the world's wealthier nations that are the cleanest, and the world's economic basket cases that are enmired both in poverty and environmental squalor. Wealth buys environmental goods; poverty buys squalor. That's a lesson Russel and his colleagues need to learn.

Another lesson they need to learn is that Nick Smith has no intention of gutting the RMA, more's the pity. They could have learned that by reading my own fisking of Smith's pitiful performance at last weekend's National conference. Perhaps I can recommend it to them now?

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Cactus is wrong

Cactus Kate uses this snippet from the Sydney Morning Herald to make a point:
"In 2003-04, 77 per cent of households had one or more spare bedrooms and nearly all (97 per cent) of couple-only households had one or more spare bedrooms. At least 85 per cent of solo dwellers also had empty bedrooms in their homes. The figures show that many Australians are renting or paying off mortgages on houses that are too roomy for their needs".
This proves her notion, she claims, that there is no problem with housing affordability--the problem she argues is not that houses are unaffordable because of land regulation and zoning, but simply that whiney people have eyes bigger than their incomes.

Well, talk about avoiding the evidence.

There are whiney people all over the place; they're everywhere--in every city of the world--but as Demographia's worldwide housing survey shows, housing is not unaffordable in every city of the world, but only in those cities which planners have zoned to hell and back. Cities like most most of those in Australia and New Zealand, which the Demographia survey puts into the "seriously unaffordable" category. (Auckland, for example, ranks as more unaffordable than world cities such as Atlanta, Houston, Boston, Dublin and Melbourne, and more unaffordable even that London's outer suburbs, and New Zealand is rated the fourth most unaffordable housing market, ahead of both the UK and the US. Figures here [pdf].)

Sure, there's plenty of whiney people with four-bedroom tastes and a two-room shoebox income both here elsewhere, but the problem with land regulation as it's presently set up both here and in Australia is that within the 'urban fences' that planners have thrown up around our cities, building four-bedroom houses is effectively what most urban district plans mainly require.

Outside of the CBD (where apartments are permitted), erecting anything in a residential zone other than the four-bedroom norm-- something that is perhaps more innovative or more suited to what people actually need--is just far too difficult and far too time consuming, which is precisely why there are so many many Australians and New Zealanders who are renting or paying off mortgages on houses that are too roomy for their needs: because the market is being restricted by zoning regulations to delivering what the planners make possible rather than what the market wants.

The evidence is clear enough: that runaway regulation is feeding runaway housing costs; that so-called sustainable cities are unaffordable cities; that sprawl is good, but regulation is not; that 'smart growth' is not green; that NZ housing affordability is in crisis, and the dream of home ownership is now just that: a dream. The fact is that the average house in one of NZ's major cities costs from 6.5 to 6.9 times the average income in that city whereas in cities like Houston, Atlanta, Quebec, Dallas and Ottawa it is less than 3.0.

Blaming NZers for complaining about that is somewhat missing the point, don't you think.

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A question for this morning

Q: Am I the only one who gets heartily sick of politics being reported as a sporting contest rather than by an analysis of what is actually being said and done to us?

Mini road-trip

No blogging yesterday because I was on a bit of a mini road-trip. Here's some of the evidence:

Bonus points for anyone who can identify the car.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pavilion, St Alcuin Montessori Nature Campus


Part of an ongoing research project into Montessori education and architecture by architect Victor Sidy, now the dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Child abuse: "Not my problem, not my fault."

Child abuse, says Blair at Mulholland Drive is "not my problem, not my fault." A very good piece.
If I hear the word WE again with regard to the Nia Glassie debacle, I am going to stick some people in a clothes dryer myself.

Take your royal WE and piss off. I have never abused a child. I have never hit a child. I have never stood by and allowed anyone to beat up on the innocent and defenceless. I did not cause you to act like a monster and beat a toddler to death. That would have been, oh, there's a word for it... YOU! To quote Johnny Rotten, there's a problem, but the problem is YOU.
So what you gonna do?

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US presidential candidates quiz

The 2Decide website has a quick quiz for you to rank US presidential candidates' platforms against what yours might be, giving scores out of a possible 125 [Hat tip Richard]. Here's my tally below, showing there's no one with whom I agree more than about one-quarter of the time. Based on this alone you'd have to say I'd be staying home on voting day. How 'bout you?

Rudy Giuliani (R) 33
John McCain (R) 32
Duncan Hunter (R) 18
Tommy Thompson (R) 12
Sam Brownback (R) 12
Mike Gravel (D) 7
Tom Tancredo (R) 3
Ron Paul (R) 2
Bill Richardson (D) -3
John Cox (R) -5
Huckabee (R) -8
Mitt Romney (R) -12
Dennis Kucinich (D) -13
Barrack Obama (D) -22
John Edwards (D) -23
Chris Dodd (D) -28
Hillary Clinton (D) -33
Joe Biden (D) -33

UPDATE: Oops, you have to be careful about answering some of the questions since not all are set up as you might think. I've updated my scores to reflect a run through that more closely reflects my views.

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"Walking does more than driving to cause global warming..."

Another paean today to the Law of Unintended Consequences, or as I've said it before: It Ain't Easy Being Green. The gentleman saying it here today is Dominic Kennedy who noted in last week's Times that "Walking does more than driving to cause global warming, a leading environmentalist has calculated." How 'bout that! Here's the argument behind the calculation:
Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.

The sums were done by Chris Goodall, campaigning author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, [described by New Scientist as "the definitive guide to reducing your carbon footprint"] based on the greenhouse gases created by intensive beef production. "Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles adds about 0.9 kg of CO2 to the atmosphere," he said, a calculation based on the Government's official fuel emission figures. "If you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories. You'd need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving.

"The troubling fact is that taking a lot of exercise and then eating a bit more food is not good for the global atmosphere. Eating less and driving to save energy would be better."

Mr Goodall, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford West & Abingdon, is the latest serious thinker to turn popular myths about the environment on their head.

Catching a diesel train is now twice as polluting as travelling by car for an average family, the Rail Safety and Standards Board admitted recently. Paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic because of the extra energy needed to manufacture and transport them, the Government says.

Fresh research published in New Scientist last month suggested that 1kg of meat cost the Earth 36kg in global warming gases. The figure was based on Japanese methods of industrial beef
production but Mr Goodall says that farming techniques are similar throughout the West [although obviously not all the west].

What if, instead of beef, the walker drank a glass of milk? The average person would need to drink 420ml - three quarters of a pint - to recover the calories used in the walk. Modern dairy
farming emits the equivalent of 1.2kg of CO2 to produce the milk, still more pollution than the car journey.

Cattle farming is notorious for its perceived damage to the environment, based on what scientists politely call "methane production" from cows. The gas, released during the digestive
process, is 21 times more harmful than CO2 . Organic beef is the most damaging because organic cattle emit more methane.

Michael O'Leary, boss of the budget airline Ryanair, has been widely derided after he was reported to have said that global warming could be solved by massacring the world's cattle. "The
way he is running around telling people they should shoot cows," Lawrence Hunt, head of Silverjet, another budget airline, told the Commons Environmental Audit Committee. "I do not think you can really have debates with somebody with that mentality."

But according to Mr Goodall, Mr O'Leary may have a point. "Food is more important [to Britain's greenhouse emissions] than aircraft but there is no publicity," he said. "Associated British Foods isn't being questioned by MPs about energy.

"We need to become accustomed to the idea that our food production systems are equally damaging. As the man from Ryanair says, cows generate more emissions than aircraft. Unfortunately, perhaps, he is right. Of course, this doesn't mean we should always choose to use air or car travel instead of walking. It means we need urgently to work out how to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of our foodstuffs."

Simply cutting out beef, or even meat, however, would be too modest a change. The food industry is estimated to be responsible for a sixth of an individual's carbon emissions, and Britain may be the worst culprit.
Interesting stuff, no? Kennedy finishes up with a grab bag of eco-myths that he takes to with relish:
  • Traditional nappies are as bad as disposables, a study by the Environment Agency found. While throwaway nappies make up 0.1 per cent of landfill waste, the cloth variety are a waste of energy, clean water and detergent.
  • Paper bags cause more global warming than plastic. They need much more space to store so require extra energy to transport them from manufacturers to shops.
  • Diesel trains in rural Britain are more polluting than 4x4 vehicles. Douglas Alexander, when Transport Secretary, said: “If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter [train], it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive.”
  • Burning wood for fuel is better for the environment than recycling it, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs discovered.
  • Organic dairy cows are worse for the climate. They produce less milk so their methane emissions per litre are higher.
  • Someone who installs a “green” lightbulb undoes a year’s worth of energy-saving by buying two bags of imported veg, as so much carbon is wasted flying the food to Britain.
  • Trees, regarded as shields against global warming because they absorb carbon, were found by German scientists to be major producers of methane, a much more harmful greenhouse gas.
The moral of the story? It's not easy appeasing Gaia. Or trying to.

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'The Westerner,' by Badger Clark, 1947

My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.

They built high towns on their old log sills,
Where the great, slow rivers gleamed,
But with new, live rock from the savage hills
I’ll build as they only dreamed.
The smoke scarce dies where the trail camp lies,
Till rails glint down the pass;
The desert springs into fruit and wheat
And I lay the stones of a solid street
Over yesterday’s untrod grass.

I waste no thought on my neighbor’s birth
Or the way he makes his prayer.
I grant him a white man’s room on earth
If his game is only square.
While he plays it straight I’ll call him mate;
If he cheats I drop him flat.
Old class and rank are a worn-out lie,
For all clean men are as good as I,
And a king is only that.

I dream no dreams of a nursemaid State
That will spoon me out my food.
A stout heart sings in the fray with fate
And the shock and sweat are good.
From noon to noon all the earthly boon
That I ask my God to spare
Is a little daily bread in store,
With the room to fight the strong for more,
And the weak shall get their share.

The sunrise plains are a tender haze
And the sunset seas are gray,
But I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
Over me and the big today.
What good to me is a vague “maybe”
Or a mournful “might have been,”
For the sun wheels swift from morn to morn
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

When more patients is a good thing

Flicking recently through the list of members of the Kebyar Network, an organisation promoting organic architecture, I stumbled across the website of an architect who specialises in designing medical clinics and hospital emergency rooms. His website boasted that his company's emergency rooms have proven more successful in attracting customers than any others.

I was struck by that. Struck by the contrast with how a designer of hospitals in New Zealand or the UK would promote themselves. Struck by the contrast in incentives between 'public' and private medicine. When this guy is hired by profit-making businesses to design their emergency rooms, his clients actually want him to attract more people inside. In their view, attracting more customers is a good thing, since more customers equals greater profits, and and increased ability to treat even more patients.

Such are the incentives in private medicine.

By contrast, when the government builds emergency rooms, more people are a nuisance. More patients equals an increasing strain on limited resources. More people in the emergency room is a problem.

Such are the disincentives in state-run medicine.

Where increased custom in the private emergency rooms designed by my colleague is a good thing -- it's an opportunity for growth and profit -- increased custom in the state's die-while-you-wait health system is a problem that's so bad on Auckland's North Shore it's being ameliorated by using ambulances instead of hospital beds to take up the shortfall, even as a man who was throwing up blood had to wait a whole three hours to get simply get to the hospital because the ambulance were busy and hospital was already full.

Welcome to socialist medicine.

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Put RWC dates in your Outlook calendar

Rugby fans, rugby widows and people who want to know which afternoons in September and October they can drink in public quietly (and when they should perhaps stay home) should head immediately to Michael Gregg's blog and download a file of the entire Rugby World Cup schedule for your Microsoft Outlook calendar. As the man says, "This may be the most important download you undertake this year." Instructions:
1. Download the worldcup.hol file from Michael's blog and double click.
2. Click "open."
3. Click the box next to the title "Rugby World Cup."
4. Click "ok."

And that's it. All the dates and times for ALL the rugby world cup games will now be in your calendar. Magic.

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Key on housing affordability and elsewhere

The headline paragraph from John Key's conference speech yesterday appears in his introduction:
Why have we given up our weekend to gather here in Auckland? I'll give you one reason. We're sick of Labour telling us what to do. We're sick of being told how to bring up our kids, what to put in school lunchboxes, and that we have to microchip our dogs. We're sick of being told off for buying houses and for eating pies.

But it's more than that. We are also here because we believe in the principles of the National Party. We believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility. We believe the government should underpin our society but not dominate it...
All very good ... and if only we could believe he means a word of it. How, for example, does this follow from that?
So, after careful deliberation, we announced our target of cutting New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by the year 2050.
How on earth does shackling and shutting down industry reflect a belief in individual freedom and individual responsibility? And why do the headline tax cuts -- one of the few policies on which National and Labour do differ -- why do these only arrive in 2010, three years from now? If the Nats believe "the government should underpin our society but not dominate it," then why not give us our own money back ASAP, not on some sort of never-never plan.

There were headline announcements on improving housing affordability that constitute more policy than we've seen from Key so far:

Mr Key signalled a National-led government would improve housing affordability by embarking on a programme of personal tax cuts, changing the building regulatory regime, keeping interest rates lower, reforming development rules to free up land, and allowing state house dwellers to buy their homes.
All very promising if the reality matched the headlines, so just how do these headline announcements hold up? Let's hear:
International surveys rank New Zealand as having the second worst housing affordability problem in the world. Auckland is one of the 25 least affordable cities on the planet. But it's not just a problem in Auckland. You can buy a condo on the Miami waterfront for less than the price of the latest beachfront apartment on the Kapiti Coast... Onerous rules and requirements have made land more expensive and building on that land more expensive. Meanwhile, we're running out of people who are able to build houses in the first place. As a result of all this, there are not enough houses being built to replace the old ones and to keep up with population growth.
This is all too sadly true, so what's John Boy's solution? He announced a "four-point plan":
No, 1... We will lower personal income taxes, which will ease the burden of mortgage repayments, and will also help people who are saving for a house deposit.
Very good, but waiting until 2010 won't help them soon enough.
No 2. We will take the legislative actions required to ensure there is an increased supply of suitable land available to build houses on. Difficulties with the Resource Management Act, and disagreements between various arms of local government, too often slow the release of land. This drives up its price and the cost of its development.
The most important legislative action that is required to ensure there is an increased supply of suitable land available on which to build houses is to remove the RMA, or at least to remove from the RMA and the LGA the powers for council planners to zone private land, and the power to set urban walls around New Zealand towns and cities. However, since details are few and far between (and those details bear little relevance to what's needed here), I'm not sure that's genuinely on offer, and anything less will just be window dressing. As always with politicians the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.

Continuing Key's four-point plan however sees the same nannying from Key that he complains about in his introduction:
Any changes we make to streamline and speed up the process of zoning or land release will require developers to build on that land within a reasonable timeframe. This will prevent the land-banking that is currently choking off the supply of land.
Forcing developers to build on their own land when it's not economic to do so is hardly consistent either with National's supposed principles of individual freedom and individual responsibility, -- with the principle that government underpins our society without dominating it -- or even with good economic sense. It's just dumb.

What currently chokes off the supply of land is not tardy developers, it's zoning, zoning restrictions and the council-mandated erection of urban zoning walls around cities. I want to hear from the Nats how these are going to be removed, not that hard-pressed developers (who will need to become less hard-pressed if houses are to become more affordable) are to become even more hard-pressed under a National Government. Sheesh! But let's continue:
No 3. A high legislative priority for National will be amending the Building Act to pull back the red tape and instead drive quality through greater commercial accountability.

Labour's new Building Act has added enormous costs and delays for builders and councils. Development and building levies have tripled under Labour. Quite simply, these costs are making houses unnecessarily expensive for the average Kiwi family.
"Amending the Building Act to pull back the red tape and instead drive quality through greater commercial accountability" would be good for everyone if Key's lot could do it -- and it's encouraging that Key's lot recognise that quality is driven better and more effectively by commercial accountability than it is by regulation and controls -- but it's not at all encouraging that this is the same lot that brought in the Building Act that started all the problems that house builders and home-owners now face, and without any details (and the knowledge of the complications involved in amending the Building Act) this promise at this stage is just so many empty words.

So what's next? What's next is actually very good:

No 4. We will allow Housing New Zealand tenants who want to purchase the house they live in, to do so.
That's very good. That's very, very good. When Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives allowed sitting council house tenants to buy at a heavy discount the houses in which they lived it was enormously popular (indeed, her "right-to-buy housing revolution" as it was dubbed was the first enormously popular thing her Conservative Government had done) and enormously successful, and there's no reason it wouldn't be both successful and popular here.

In the UK after introduction of Thatcher's 1980 Housing Act, home ownership grew from 55 % of the population in 1980 to 64 % in 1987; by the time Margaret Thatcher left office in 1990 it was 67 %. That's a huge jump, and it inspired a huge change in fortunes, and in expectations.

With "right-to-buy" Thatcher wanted to create a social revolution, and she did. Bby 1995 2.1 million working class tenants had become members of the "property-owning democracy," changing Britain and these people's lives for the better. This is one thing I'm very pleased that the Nats have learned from the Tories (albeit twenty-seven years late), and very pleased to see Key's Pink Tories even talking about privatisation . . . any privatisation at all. I'm very pleased too to see this:
Alongside this four-point plan, National is also going to increase trades-training opportunities so New Zealand has more skilled people to build and develop new houses. This will start with our trades-in-schools programme, and will include boosting apprenticeship training. New Zealand has faced a critical shortage of builders, plumbers and electricians for far too long.
Also very good. Without detail it's impossible to know if it's possible to increase trades-training opportunities, and without the will to face down the education mandarins it's impossible to make a dent in a promise like this, but seeing a commitment to do so is fantastic, albeit nearly twenty years late.
And, yes, as Nick Smith told Conference yesterday, we will reform the Resource Management Act.
Oh, really? Forgive my scepticism. This is the chap whose mentor Simon Upton introduced the Resource Management Act, who administered it without change for five years, and who ever since has proposed amendments that he himself has described as "window dressing." (I'll look at Smith's speech later today.)

I can't help thinking that in fact National's real plan for housing affordability is to make nice sounds, while waiting for a market correction. I'll wait to see more detail before I change my mind about that.

And perhaps temper any enthusiasm you might have at Key's great introduction by reading the speech's conclusion, where the same old platitudes emerge:
...when you leave here today, and as you prepare for next year's election, never forget what you are fighting for. You are fighting for tomorrow. For the chance to shape tomorrow. For the chance to make a difference and to leave behind a better New Zealand.

Because it's time. It's time for confidence. It's time for optimism.
It's time once again, it seems, for platitudes and for wheeling out Jenny Shipley's speech writer. But at least for once their was some meat. For once.

UPDATE: It's important to clarify that date of 2010, which is when John Key himself told The Press that any National tax cuts would happen. From Thursday's Press:
Hopes of early personal tax cuts under a National government have been dashed, with leader John Key saying they probably will not start until 2010.

National has promised tax cuts in its first Budget if it wins power, and Key said yesterday that meant tax cuts from April 1 the following year.

That opens the door for Labour to promise to cut taxes earlier in Finance Minister Michael Cullen's next Budget, which would see cuts start from April 2009.

[...]

Key suggested yesterday, before his first annual party conference as leader this weekend, that an early Budget was not on his agenda at this stage.

Asked if that meant a tax cut in April 2010, he said: "Yes, that's right. It could be that sort of distance away, notwithstanding any changes we might make.

"We have always argued about phased-in tax cuts, not a big-bang approach."
Over to you, John Boy apologists.

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Fisking Nick Smith's conference speech: "Gutting"? What gutting?

Says Nick Smith at the weekend's National Party conference:
The problem is that while Helen Clark is chanting 'sustainability' like a Hare Krishna her Government's laws and departments are making it harder than ever to advance renewable energy projects.
An amusing soundbite, but perhaps the chief problem here is that while Helen Clark is chanting 'sustainability' like a Hare Krishna seeking electoral nirvana, Nick Smith is chanting the self-same incantation like a catholic trying to buy electoral indulgence.

What's different between them is only the colour of their robes.

The real problem is both of them. The problem with Nick is that he's still to acknowledge that "the Government's laws and departments that are making it harder than ever to advance renewable energy projects" (or any energy projects at all) were put in place by Nick's mentor Simon Upton, and kept in place by Nick without amendment when he was Minister.

He knows that. He hopes you've forgotten.

So it's impossible to take his criticisms seriously. Or him. His criticisms are valid, but there's nothing he's got that's going to make any difference at all.
The Dobson hydro project on the West Coast was blocked by her Minister of Conservation, Chris Carter. Project Aqua was killed off by Minister Marian Hobbs and then local MP David Parker. The Wairau Hydro Scheme in Marlborough, granted consent last month after a tiresomely long 18-month hearing process, has now been appealed to the Environment Court by none other than the Department of Conservation."
All too true, and all too sad, but what's even sadder is that nothing Nick proposes would make a difference. Nothing in Nick's plan to "simplify and streamline" the RMA will make a blind bit of difference to any of the problems he identifies.

Wouldn't you call that dishonest?

Russel Norman makes headlines by claiming that Nick wants to "gut" the RMA. Frog Blog says he wants to "subsidise urban sprawl." Neither are true. Smith, you'll recall, is on record as wanting to "soften" National's environmental message, and even that would be too bold a description for what Smith proposes here and elsewhere. "Window dressing" would be more accurate, and too kind.

Smith claims that as minister he will "streamline and simplify" the RMA, or at least that's what the headline says. But what's needed to fix all the ills he cites in energy production, in tranport, in aquaculture and with housing affordability is not "streamlining and simplifying" the RMA, but actually gutting it, as Russel so erroneously claims is on the table; what's really needed is not softening, tinkering or simplifying (even if it were true) but putting a stake right through the heart of the RMA, burying it for good, and starting again with a property-rights based common law system that protects both the environment and property owners.

But that's not on offer.

What is on offer is Smith's plan to streamline and simplify that's so crucial to so many other policy proposals from the Pink Tories, not least in Key's four-point plan to improve housing affordability. What is the plan? Says Smith, "There are three broad themes that make up National’s proposals." Remember as the read these "broad themes" that the National Party is, in Smith's own words, "a pro-market, pro-enterprise party that hates bureaucracy and stifling red tape."
Firstly, the Act needs greater central government direction. It is the most devolved environmental statute in the world resulting in every Council having to reinvent the wheel. We propose setting up to 20 national environmental goals to clearly guide decision makers on what needs to be achieved and will measure progress towards them. That is also why we are keen on an Environmental Protection Authority.
Greater central government direction. An Environmental Protection Authority. Does that sound like less bureaucracy and less stifling red tape? Is he stupid, or does he think we are? What's next?
Secondly, National wants greater use of price signals, markets and better recognition of property rights.
Well, that would be good, wouldn't it. But what does this mean to Smith? It means "in areas like water permits, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen discharges, we favour cap-and-trade systems over bureaucratic systems of allocation." To Smith, "greater use of price signals, markets and better recognition of property rights" looks like just another form of bureaucratic rationing. Frightening, isn't it. No mention of securing the property rights of land owners, or even of placing property rights at the heart of the RMA. No mention at all, and no chance of it ever happening under a Smith-led environment ministry. To Smith, "property rights" means that bureaucrats can take your land or strip the value from your land by bureaucratic fiat, and you might be able to receive some "compensation." That's the gist of his third "theme":
We also want to improve the compensation mechanisms in the Public Works Act. We want to make explicit that landowners must be consulted over rules affecting their land and believe a net conservation benefit approach would get better environmental outcomes. We want less litigation and more science in decision-making. We propose refocusing the legal aid fund and putting the money into more technical support and into mediation services.
Explain that gibberish if you can (and try to explain to someone like The Castle's Daryl Kerrigan that compensation for their property is tantamount to protecting their property rights).

So much for the "themes"; what about the details? How, if at all, will he go about "simplifying and streamlining the processes of the Act to reduce the delays, uncertainties and costs."

Let me detail some of our proposals for simplifying the Act:
1. We propose to limit the definition of environment to natural and physical resources so as to avoid vexatious arguments over trade competition and where the Taniwha might live.
A small change. A very, very small change that without a substantive change to section 5 of the RMA is all but meaningless.
2. We propose to reduce the number of consent categories from the current five to three, so it is not nearly so complicated.
The number of consent categories were increased so as to make consent applications easier; reducing them is going to make applications harder, not easier.
3. We propose fixing the vague Treaty clause by removing the broad reference to it’s principles [sic] that nobody understands and be quite specific about the consultation requirements with iwi.
"Fixing" would be good, if we could be certain that "fixing" meant removing. Nothing less will do.
4. We propose reducing the number of plans. We note with interest that Northland has adopted a ‘one plan’ policy integrating its Regional and three District Plans into one, and we are exploring applying it nationwide. Eighty-five plans for a country of four million people is excessive.
Irrelevant window dressing.
5. We propose integrating the RMA properly with the Historic Places, Forests, Building and Fisheries Acts, so applicants are not confronted by multiple hurdles.

And just as irrelevant is this last point. Taken together then Smith's five points are a mixture of irrelevant, meaningless, hopeless and more damaging, much like himself really. What about his next five points, which he promises will "streamline the Act:

1. It is a waste of everyone’s time to go through years of double process of a consent hearing and then the Environment Court. That’s why we back the direct referral of major applications straight to the Environment Court.
Small and worthwhile, but hardly a king hit to bureaucracy and red tape.
2. It is wrong that Ministers can veto the process as we saw with the 13-year debacle over the Whangamata Marina. That veto will go under National and decisions will be left with the Environment Court.
A long overdue change, and helpful to those few projects that the minister reviews, but irrelevant to ninety-nine-point-nine percent of resource consent proposals that linger for months or even years, and no help at all in reducing the thirteen years it took for the Whangamata Marina application to even get to the minister's desk. In other words, more window dressing.
3. There should be a penalty when Councils ignore the 20-day timeline for resource consents. Councils charge penalties when the ratepayer is late, as with rates. If it is good enough for the goose, it is good enough for the gander.
This is something that sounds good but will deliver the opposite of the intended result. Councils are already adept at asking pathetic and irrelevant questions to extend that nominal twenty-day limit they have for considering resource consent applications; making "a late consent a free consent" won't make consents arrive any earlier, or save anyone any money: instead applicants will simply be assailed with even more stupid and irrelevant questions to justify those processing applications "stopping the clock" than they do now. And although it's hard to image how much more stupid some of those questions can get, it's clear enough that the stupid questions will increase under Smith's stupid proposal. That he wants to hang his hat on this is a sign of how little he really understands the Kafka-esque problems with making and receiving Resource Consent applications.
4. There should be limits on requests for more information. An applicant should be able to require that a consent be processed, albeit they run the risk of being rejected. They at least then have the option of appealing to the Environment Court.
Few applicants that I know of want to got to the Environment Court at all, as most council planners are aware. As an empty threat, this one is much emptier than most.
5. The Court should have the power to require security for costs, a power taken away by Labour. If an application or objection is weak and likely to involve a costs order, this discretionary power of the Court helps get rid of the vexatious and frivolous.
An improvement perhaps, if only a minor improvement, but given the irrational, unpredictable and (as I described it) Kafka-esque nature of Resource Consent law, no rational submitter on (for example) an overbearing District Plan or on council zoning abuses is going to be risking their houses to stand up against the council, and none is likely to be either solvent or active for very long.

So that's it. This is what Smith calls "streamlining and simplifying" the RMA. This is what Russel Norman calls "gutting" the RMA. This is what Key, in his own speech, says is going to "ensure there is an increased supply of suitable land available to build houses on."

They're all wrong. This is pathetic and ineffective window dressing. Nearly twenty years after its introduction the Resource Management Act continues to destroy wealth creation and savage New Zealander's property rights and home-ownership aspirations, and this pathetic soft-shelled excuse for a human being has yet to learn to identify the solution: a stake through its heart.

If he really believes that his pathetic, weak-kneed ten-point plan is anything other than hopeless drivel, then he's even worse than I ever took him for. No wonder Lindsay Perigo calls him a man with a tongue so forked you could hug a tree with it.

NB: You're not going to find serious environmental reform by thumbing through the bland promises of the mainstream parties. Look out soon for the release of Libertarianz' seven-point plan to begin the deregulation of the environment. That's something that, if implemented, really would recognise individual freedom and personal responsibility, and kickstart a genuine environmental revolution for the better.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Oops! Your slip is showing.

Audrey Young on John Boy's conference speech this morning:
11:45: Yikes! As blunders go, it doesn't get much worse than the one John Key just made in his first speech to the National Party conference as party leader. "
Under a Labour Government I lead, child abusers will be severely punished."
G-Man on the nature of Freudian Slips:
A far higher authority on psych recently defined a Freudian slip thus:
"Now a Freudian slip is where you say something you didn’t mean to, because of your subconscious mind. The example given is when you call your wife by your mistress’ name."
---Quite!
'Nuff said.UPDATE: DS tells me he's always liked this definition for Freudian Slip: "Saying one thing when you mean your mother".