Tuesday, 17 November 2009

LIBERTARIANZ SUS: The Trouble with Conservatives

Susan Ryder is not a conservative.  Just in case you were confused.

susanryder Winston Churchill is a man to quote. And of socialism, he said:

“(It) is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy; its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

I was never a socialist. The younger ones of my acquaintance tended to be painful in the extreme, bleating allegiance with the oppressed, suppressed and depressed while living rather comfortably in the greater scheme of things. They certainly had bugger all in common with the striking miners and black Africans with whom they were apparently soul-mates. Their tertiary educations were largely paid for by those of us at work, while the older graduates chose to ignore the irony of living in the (very) nice part of town while claiming psychological sisterhood with the state housing suburbs, into which they’d never set foot in a lifetime. I found the hypocrisy a hoot. Still do.

But their opposite numbers irritated me, too. I felt no kinship with people who were obsessed with minding others’ personal business. Opposing a gay couple from legally setting up house was just as loathsome and senseless as stopping a business from trading any day it pleased. As I saw it, the problem could always be sourced back to central control, no matter its political colour. The problem was the state flexing its iron muscles and telling people what to do.

Which brings me to a recent spat with a conservative.

I often visit Crusader Rabbit, a local blog featuring several conservative contributors who nonetheless acknowledge libertarian philosophy from time to time. It’s fair to say that there is some common ground, but every so often we markedly disagree. See what you make of this.

Towards the end of last month author “KG,” in a short post entitled ‘How cool is this!,’ reported the news that Oxford University was reserving two places for Australian Aboriginal students from next year, the scholarships being set up by the ‘Charlie Perkins Trust for Children and Students’ and funded by the Australian and British governments, together with mining giant Rio Tinto.

The interlude began with my brief comment that it would be “cooler” if two governments were not involved. That Rio Tinto could do as it pleased, but that I could never hail government involvement or taxpayers’ forced subsidisation of other children’s prestigious education as being either desirable or moral.

KG disagreed. Over the course of several exchanges, his argument can be summarised by the last words of his last post:

“Since the state will be involved, whatever we may think about it, I’d sooner applaud one microscopic example of it doing some good than indulge in hand-wringing about it on ideological grounds. Absolute consistency is a virtue of fools, in my humble opinion.”

Over the years I have been reading Crusader Rabbit, I recognise and accept that KG has had considerable experience with the Aboriginal community. It is clear that its parlous overall state is a subject dear to his heart, as is his constant opposition to the philosophy of socialism. And yet here he was, openly advocating socialism for a pet cause. In his defence, he noted that the public expense of two Aboriginal scholarships was insignificant relative to numerous other areas of wasteful government expenditure and that ideological opposition to something positive by comparison could be seen as “looking mean-spirited and negative.” Hold that thought.

A year ago I received some shocking news. My best friend’s sister has five children in their teens and early 20s. Last year, she and her husband learned that three of them were diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia. I’d never heard of it. When I learned about it, I was numb to the core.

Briefly, it’s an inherited disease that affects the nervous system as a result of degeneration of nerve tissue in the spinal chord. Symptoms range from increasing clumsiness and gait disturbance to speech problems, blindness, deafness and heart disease. Life expectancy is a pitiful 35 years, with nearly all ending their short lives in a wheelchair.

The couple concerned are in their late 40s. Short of a scientific breakthrough in the interim, over the next 20 years they will watch their children progressively suffer and die a horrible, premature death.

If I had my way, I’d donate as much money as I possibly could to both research into the disease and the affected couple directly, who are presently altering their home at great expense to accommodate the coming changes. Instead, I’m forced to annually hand over thousands of dollars to the IRD with which the government happily plays political games, after firstly keeping a heap for itself.

In Australia and the UK, the two race-based tertiary scholarships are just one more example of these political games. Just as I should be free to fund the causes of my choice, KG should be free to donate to his, with neither imposing upon the other. I cannot see how that is either negative or mean-spirited.

The problem is, of course, that we currently don’t have that individual choice. But here’s a thought for those conservatives who rightly tear socialism to shreds except when they agree with it. Two wrongs do not, and never will, make a right, no matter the issue. There is nothing virtuous in playing political games, particularly in crucial industries such as health and education. On the other hand, absolute consistency in upholding a principle is a virtue. To do otherwise is frankly hypocritical.

Winston Churchill would get it.

* * Susan Ryder’s regular column will be irregular for a few weeks. Hey, we’re all allowed a life, you know! * *

Edward Woodward (1930-2009): “Shoot straight, you bastards”

Fans of Edward Woodward’s performances in work like Callan, Wicker Man and Breaker Morant will be sad to learn news of his death at 79.

R.I.P. Edward. “Shoot straight, you bastards.  Don’t make a mess of it.”

[Hat tip The Occasional]

That’s a “responsible” $100 billion burden, thank you [update 3]

NickTheDick The Not Evil Just Wrong blog awards New Zealand’s Environment Minister Nick Smith the Oxymoron Promise of the Day prize today for talking “responsibility” while imposing a $100 billion burden on taxpayers by 2050.

Not sure if that’s a prize-winning Oxymoron or award-winning chutzpah. Either way it’s par for the course for the topsy-turvy world of global warming politics, where facts are less important than faith.

So as world leaders quietly accept that signing a global warming deal at Copenhagen is a bust, which rather removes the so-called reason fr urgency in passing Smith’s Emissions Trading Scam, it’s time to ask two questions:

  1. 'Who Are The Deniers Now? since “All evidence rejects hypothesis that human CO2 is causing warming.”
  2. Why are NZ taxpayers taking on the $100 billion responsibility of fixing a non-problem?

UPDATE: That’s $100 billion plus a swathe of the Conservation Estate to Establishment Maori to shut them up, and to by the votes of the Maori Party.

UPDATE 2: Speculation abounds that the non-inclusion of the Harawiras’ Ngapuhi iwi in the bribe deal  is the real reason for all the talk behind Hone’s disgruntlement with the Maori Party.

UPDATE 3: Spotted by Gooner:

“’Look, who knows what the price of carbon will be tomorrow, next week or in twenty years time. We just don't know.’

“John Key, on Newstalk ZB yesterday morning, whose party is introducing a price cap on carbon.”

And from the same interview, talking about Treasury’s estimates:

"They are wrong. They can't tell what the deficit will be in December so how do they know what carbon prices will be in 2030 or 2040?"

Good House – Claude Megson


NZ House and Garden magazine just featured this 1969 Megson house for Roy & Sue Good on their website.  The commentary starts provocatively:

    “Today’s building code would never stretch to accommodate the ideas of renowned architect Claude Megson. Some might say that’s a blessing but others would argue it is genius lost.”

I would be one of those others.


That’s not to say Claude’s ideas always worked out precisely as he hoped – one of his clients once told me that “Claude always floated about six inched off the ground” – but as the son of a builder he was always grounded in what could be done, and it allowed him to understand what should be done.




Designed in 1969 for an artist and his landscaping wife, this house at Waiatarua in West Auckland is on just  0.4 hectares of land overlooking the city.lgeg1621

     “Heart rimu ceilings and floors make the home warm and hospitable. The exterior is clad in vertical board-and-batten cedar and there’s a long-run steel roof. It ticked all the boxes for family living, with a separate cubby hole for the couple’s three children to play in and a world outside the windows to explore.
    “Tucked into a lush landscape, the home enjoys supreme privacy, with no need for fences between the neighbouring properties. The kids roamed the bush as if it was one big park, their only complaint that there was no dairy handy.”


Read the whole article by Claire McCall here.

[Cross-posted at the Claude Megson Blog. Photos by Patrick Reynolds]


Monday, 16 November 2009

LEAKY HOMES, Part 2: What’s going on inside your walls?

“Q: What’s your cladding for? 
A: It’s to protect your building paper.”
- Old builders’ joke

THERE’S AS MANY MISCONCEPTIONS OUT THERE about what makes houses leak as there are so-called “experts” willing to take your money to find them.

First of all, all houses leak.  Always have.  It’s all about pressure: apply a high wind outside and you get high pressure.  Close all your doors and windows and on the inside you get low pressure.  If that reminds you of a vacuum cleaner, then it should. It’s pressure differences like this that make your vacuum cleaner work – and when the wind and pressure difference around your house are high enough, your weatherproofing systems are going to suck.

There’s nothing much you can do about that.

bayNo house would survive under water – that seems pretty obvious.  Even if it’s painted yellow, a house is not a submarine. Unlike a submarine, which is built with hermetic seals, then all houses no matter how they’re built are going to let water in behind the “outside skin” – which is what we call “the cladding.”  The point is to make sure the water does no damage while it’s in there, and it gets out just as soon as it can.

dd For decades - nay, for centuries - most houses managed to do that pretty well.  A decade ago in New Zealand we were building “mock Tudor homes” with modern materials, and they leaked.  Yet five centuries ago they were building real Tudor houses (like that one on the right there) with branches and twigs over which was daubed a mixture of clay and sand and dung. Yes, dung. They called it “wattle and daub,” and surprisingly enough it didn’t leak, or at least didn’t cause major problems when it did. 

110263519_full And houses built here in New Zealand at the turn of the century with stucco over asphalt-impregnated paper – houses like that next one on the right -- they didn’t leak either, or at least didn’t cause major problems when they did.  Yet last decade we were building “modern stucco” houses, and they did.

So what happened? For years we had no major problems, so what changed down in our neck of the woods that all of a sudden changed things? That’s the big question, isn’t it.  What changed in the physical structure of your outside walls that caused water to get in and not to get out – and to cause real damage while it was there?

Well first of all, it wasn’t deregulation that caused all this.  I talked about that last Thursday.  But  quite a lot did change that  required bigger changes, but those changes never happened.

There’s probably some rule that someone can quote about this.  Change one thing in a whole system, and other things can change to take account of that.  Change everything in a system, and it takes some time to settle down – or to notice the ill effects of what just happened.  In the early nineties, almost everything changed inside your outside walls, but other things never changed to allow for them.  Something in particular. You’ve heard all the buzzwords: dry-frame, no eaves, Harditex, cavities stuffed with insulation, failing cladding systems, moisture content, stachybotrys . . .   Let me see if I can explain simply what these all mean, and what caused the problem – and why no-one’s talking about it.

Weatherboard-Timber_Window SO LET’S TAKE A LOOK at a typical outside wall – or at least a wall as you would have found it freshly built about ten to fifteen years ago. And to make it more interesting, let’s do it with a chain saw.

Let’s say you’re outside in your garden with your chain saw in hand, and you’re casting an eye over your house.  Look up, and you’ll see the eaves – the part of the roof that hangs over the walls. Some of the houses that leak don’t have these, but just as many that do, do.

Now turn the saw on, and take a cut through your house’s outside wall. The first thing to feel the saw is the cladding.  Depending on your house this might be any one of weatherboard, plywood, corrugated iron, brick or concrete block (which are going to cause major problems with your chain saw), or plaster or textured coating on fibre-cement board (which were what caused most of the problems with leaks).

Solid Plaster wall frm NZS 3604-1990Cut through your cladding, and the second thing to feel your saw is your building paper, which sits behind the cladding. Remember: your cladding isn’t a a hermetically sealed skin. Your cladding sits out in the high pressure zone, and sitting behind it in the protected lower-pressure zone is your building paper – which for decades was the plain black bitumen-impregnated kraft-based building paper that everyone knew and loved. And contrary to popular, and even “expert” opinion, it’s your building paper that’s always been your major line of defence when it comes to weatherproofing.  Your building paper is supposed to allow condensation out of the house, and stop any water that gets through the cladding going into the house  – and until ten to fifteen years ago it was doing that job damn well.

And don’t discount the amount of water getting through the cladding either: when it’s high wind and high pressure  outside your walls, and low pressure inside, then you’re going to get water behind your cladding.  Always have, always will. But install your building paper right, with proper laps and flashings in the right place, and you’ll make sure it doesn’t get inside your walls, and it gets away before it causes damage.

So let’s keep on cutting, and if we do we’re now going to start cutting into the walls themselves.  Your walls are made up of vertical sticks of timber (“studs”) between which are nailed some horizontal sticks (“nogs”), to both of which you nail your cladding and staple your building paper, and between which you generally stuff insulation to keep you warm.  If you keep cutting you’ll eventually get through this space (it’s only four inches wide) and your chain saw’s going to be cutting through the gibboard lining and into your house’s best room.  Careful you don’t damage your sideboard.

SO THAT’S YOUR BASIC WALL, which now looks pretty messy after it’s had a chain saw going through it. 

Now in the early nineties there were big changes from inside-to-out of that wall, changes that had nothing to do with “deregulation” (which is pretty much just the catch-cry of the cringingly ignorant) but which between them caused a “perfect storm” inside your wall – and I hang my head in shame at using that phrase, but it’s the perfect description for what happens when a whole bunch of things come together to cause an $11.5 billion problem.

Let’s look at all the changes.

1. Working from the neck up?
We share the stud-frame technology I’ve described here only with North America and with parts of Scandinavia, and our own methods are largely unique to us. So it’s moderately unusual, and for the most part the skills for it need to be learned here.  That’s one point.

paper Here’s another. A timber-frame building is a ‘thought-built’ building. To build a timber-frame house successfully knowledge, skill and understanding are needed; constructing them properly requires that the builder work from the neck up – thinking as he installs flashings and building paper and other piece of weatherproofing kit; thinking about water paths, load paths and the like. About where water will be coming from, and where it’s going to go. 

Sadly, many of the current crop of builders can’t do that much (even those “master builders” with walls full of certificates) because what they learned at their schools wasn’t always what they needed to learn. The complete story of the failure of New Zealand’s apprenticeship system is still to be told, but the body of knowledge that was once widely shared and passed on through the apprenticeship system, and on site by informal ‘mentors,’ has broken down.

Here’s another point. A timber-frame building is a ‘thought-built’ building, and most of the current crop of architectural detailers never learned how to. Some of the early examples and highest-profile cases of leaky homes, such as the 97-apartment Eden Two complex in Auckland or the 44-unit Marion Square Project in Wellington, were designed by registered architects (architects who won awards for them) but were detailed by young architecture graduates trained in schools that know next to nothing about construction technology; and they  were put together by “master builders” who didn’t know much better. The results are predictable.

imageHere’s just one example of a particular problem at Eden Two: Un-tanalised dryframe timber was specified and installed in exterior cantilevered decks. The deck timbers you see in the picture at left, the bearers, were cantilevered out to support the decks. To stop water ingress to the balcony framing, building paper should have been taken over the top of the decks’ parapets and lapped under the building paper of the main structure. It wasn’t. But even so, if they bearers had been tanalised, these important structural members could still have survived. But they weren’t tanalised. They were dryframe.

The graduate architects simply read off their tables what they needed to do, the master builders erected what they had to do, the council’s inspectors okayed all that was done . . . and no-one, not on any of the ninety-seven units erected, ever looked at either the improperly installed building paper or the untreated bearers and said “That’s not right.”

The beams were specified by registered architects, installed by master builders, and inspected in accordance with the Building Act, yet no-one at any stage noticed the difficulty (and nor do they note the difficulty now when people say requiring architects to be registered and builders to licensed is going to solve similar problems in the future). The problem was not one of ‘insufficient regulation’: the problem was that each person who was party to these decisions was either untrained, uninformed, or simply unwilling to stand up and point out the problem.

2. Timber not worth the name
The studs inside your wall changed.  Since the fifties your studs have mostly been built from plantation radiata pine, but two things changed recently to change what that meant.

First of all, for many years the radiata pine was always treated with boric acid, mostly to protect against insects like borer, but it turned out that “poking the borax” also protected against rot.

Second of all, while the pine used to be cut from trees that had taken longer to grow, more recent faster-growing timber turned out to have bigger “cells,” which means less strength, and more prone to rot.  An ideal time, then, to introduce “dryframe” untreated timber in your outside walls.  Or not.

Public choice theorists talk about how Bootleggers and Baptists will often find common cause – the “Baptists” calling for bans on things like alcohol because they don’t like them, the “Bootleggers” supporting those calls because the bans raise the price of their product. Something similar happened here with dryframe:  chemophobes who claimed the boric salts were toxic and were poisoning the occupants joined forces with the big timber companies who wanted to charge more for selling less timber. The result was “Dryframe” – untreated timber that takes on water more readily, holds mould more easily, and rots far more quickly.

The vast majority of houses now being condemned were built with dryframe timber.  But that’s not the biggest story here.  That still doesn’t explain why so much water got in.

3. Silicone

Silicone isn’t just popular in Hollywood, it’s been all the rage on New Zealand building sites for the last twenty years.  Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but what happened was that folk forgot what flashings and building paper were for -- which was to remove the water that had got behind the cladding -- and they tried instead to use silicon to “face seal” the outside skin of the cladding; “face seal” it so that no water could get in at all. Can’t be done. A building is not a submarine.  And because too often the silicone was used widely, but not too well,  instead of keeping water out in too many cases it was actually blocking drainage paths and keeping water inside the building envelope. Remember the TV ad for example in which the late Augie Auer ran a line of silicone underneath his window sills?  He wasn’t stopping water getting in, he was stopping it getting out.

So over-reliance on “face-sealed” systems was a problem. But this is still not the biggest story here. That still doesn’t completely explain why so much water got in.

4. Stuff the wall cavities

Live in an older New Zealand house in winter, and pretty soon you’ll complain about the draughts.  Newer New Zealand houses don’t have the draughts because they have insulation in the walls, stuffed into those cavities between the studs. This is all the better for home-owners who are kept warmer in winter and cooler in summer – and for would-be National Party Prime Ministers, who offer the promise of better insulated homes to bribe voters with their own money – but not for the wall framing, which is all the worse now for the ability of wall framing to dry out if water does get in.

But that’s still not the biggest story here.  That still doesn’t explain why so much water got in.

5. Those aftermarket add-ons

Increasing wealth means increasing add-ons to the outside of your home.  Fancy installing Sky TV? An awning or two? A new pergola? All of these aftermarket additions add to the liveability of a home, but they’re all are much more difficult to install properly in a ‘plaster-look’ home – especially when the look is so convincing that installers often forget just what they’re screwing into. But penetrate the cladding of a monolithically-clad home, especially if the water can’t get out again, and you’re going to cause problems, just as many of these later additions have.

But that’s still not the biggest story here. These after-market bolt-ons caused some damage, but not all the after-market bolt-ons in Christendom caould cause the $11.5 billion catastrophe that now confronts the country’s cheque books.

6. Those dedicated followers of fashion

‘Tuscany’ is in. At least, it was. Tastes have changed very quickly now, but for a while there faux Tuscan was de rigeur. But Tuscany itself has a very different climate and totally different construction methods.  In Tuscany they have plastered solid masonry buildings that artisans have been building for centuries – whereas here in New Zealand designers tried to emulate them using timber stud walls, which is something very different. 

But where there’s demand there will always be supply.  Cometh the hour, cometh the building systems – the most popular of which was James Hardie‘s Harditex – a medium-density autoclaved board made with wood pulp and cement that was used to back monolithic claddings. That’s what’s behind most of the “Mediterranean” looking houses you now see around the place with plaster walls, big entrances, ands tarpaulins and scaffolding all over them.

Despite the obvious problems with such a system, everyone at the time looked at the big BRANZ-approved tick this system had gained, and went to work with a will.  After all, if it’s good enough for BRANZ – whose slogan used to be “BRANZ Appraised: Specify With Confidence!” – then surely it was good enough for Joe and Janet Home-Owner.

Well over two-thirds of the houses with leaky home problems were built with this system, built with a material systems that didn’t quite stack up, by installers and regulators who didn’t always understand the building science behind such buildings:

  • Water got in, as it always will, but it couldn’t get out of them because the plaster was taken right down to the ground.
  • And instead of accepting that water would get in past the cladding and then detailing the system to suit, the “Tuscan look” called for “face sealed’ systems, and almost forgot about the building paper and its associated flashings altogether.

So the building paper was still there, even with this system, but it had often been forgotten about – and something else was going in inside the walls that meant even when it had been installed properly it was about to disappear.

That something was a mould called stachybotrys, and it doesn’t just eat children’s lungs, it also consumes building paper. That is the bigger story here, and it became a bigger story than it needed to because of one other change that happened in the decade before the nineties.  It involved asbestos.

6. From asbestos to wood pulp

Asbestos-Cement Joints The use of asbestos goes back more than 3,000 years. Its stability, high tensile strength and resistance to chemical and moisture-induced degradation made it an ideal fibre to be used in James Hardie’s fibre-cement “Fibrolite” boards, sheets and “HardiPlanks” – and the many fibrolite buildings and baches that still inhabit the country’s beaches are a testament to just how stable Fibrolite used to be.  When I first started building, we were still cutting up sheets of “fibro” with our angle grinders, and throwing the off-cuts into fires to hear them explode.

But in the early eighties it became clear even to the miners and manufacturers of asbestos that it was killing people. Fact is, it had been known since 1906, but the miners and manufacturers and other users of asbestos were reluctant to concede the point publicly, so when asbestos mining finally ceased in Australia in 1983 they had to quickly cast around for a replacement to use in their fibre-cement sheets.  What they came up with was wood pulp – cellulose fibres that were asked to do the same thing as asbestos, but don’t.

Fibre-cement sheets used to be stable.  They used to resist water penetration.  Now they don’t.  Get water in behind a snugly fitted medium-density fibre-cement board these days and it’s going to soak in there for the long term.  It’s going to soak in, it’s going to incubate, and it’s going to emerge after a short time as stachybotrys. And so it has.

7. From building paper to no building paper!

None of the changes mentioned so far would have been fatal on their own.  If water got in, it should have been protected by the building paper.  If the building paper was badly installed in some few places, it still would have protected the home-owner in every other place. (Even on the Eden Two apartments, the installation errors only occurred in the same one or two places on every apartment).

Remember that building paper is that black stuff that goes around your framing before the cladding goes on. Some years ago when I began working on building sites I was asked the standard joke. Q: What’s the cladding for? A: To protect the building paper. The reason it was a joke was that everyone understood the punch line.

But what protects the building paper when stachybotrys does come a’calling?  Then that’s no joke at all. Stachybotrys is the toxic mould you hear the most about. As one consumer website explains, Stachybotrys chartarum is “a slimy, greenish-black mould that grows on moisture-laden materials that contain cellulose [or wood pulp], such as wood, paper, drywall, and other similar products.”

Stachybotrys just loves the sort of cellulose-rich fibre that can be found in paper, carpet backing, wood fibre board such as MDF . . . and in today’s fibre cement sheet. As one learned academic paper explains,

“fungi possess the ability to degrade lignin … (Blanchette 1984; Eriks ksson on et al al. 199 1990). This is a sought ought after effect especially by the pulp and paper industry, as selective … fungi not only have a bleaching effect of the wood pulp … they further cause, through their degradative action, a loosening of the cells.”
et al al. 2003).

Sought after it might be in the pulp and paper industry, but not sought after at all in the building industry!  Particularly not when the very same cellulose-rich fibre found in Hardie’s fibre-cement boards, and used as a backing for most of those monolithic claddings, is also used in the building paper behind it.

When that’s the case, and you get water in behind the cladding, then can you take a guess what you’re going to find? 


That’s right. No building paper.  If you take a close look at that picture above, which comes from a building built by master builders and designed by registered architects, and which is clad with James Hardie’s Harditex over which a solid plaster skin has been applied, you’ll see that what used to be the building paper protecting the building is now those few scraps of paper as brittle and ineffective as an All Black defence under the tutelage of John Hart.

It’s just not there any more. It’s been eaten away. As you can see, the studs in the picture above have already been replaced preparatory to a reclad, but the building paper that used to be the home-owners’ primary protection against the weather has just disappeared. It’s been vaporised.  It’s been eaten up – just like those home-owners’ dreams, and their life-savings.


It’s a fairly simple formula here, one known about for years in the pulp and paper industry but not publicly at least by those in the building research or fibre-cement industries – a simple formula that looks like this: in the presence of wood pulp, building paper plus stachybotrys equals . . .  no building paper.

If you want to know what’s been been going on inside so many New Zealand walls over recent years, then that’s it.

And if you like your stories simple, then that’s about as simple as it’s possible to make this one.

And the story has another fairly simple back-story – another story that remains still to be told, but one appropriate to a story about cladding since the phrase that springs to mind here is “cover up.”

Because the big story here, which I haven’t seen addressed anywhere else before and which is another one for investigative journalists to get there teeth into – if there really were any here in New Zealand – is this: answering the question “Who knew about this before it happened?”

It’s a fair question because the big players both have past form.

Just as the research on asbestosis was out for years before being publicly acknowledged by manufacturers – acknowledged only in the wake of a series of expensive legal suits for which governments are still bailing out their cronies in the big companies – so too has the research been out there for years showing the effects of stachybotrys on cellulose fibres, on wood pulp and kraft-based papers.

And just as the government was able to protect the Building Industry Authority’s bureaucrats from harm’s way by changing its name, so too you’d hardly be surprised if they did what they thought they needed to do to protect their bureaucrats at places like the so-called Building Research Association.  After all, they’ve already made the company once called Building Technology Limited 1995 disappear, which was once (see below) the “company wholly owned by BRANZ” which issued all those nifty appraisals back in the day, and which are now worth less than the wood pulp on which they’re printed.

So who knew, and when?  Did James Hardie?  Did the government’s so-called Building Research Association? What did they know, and when?

And how come it’s builders and designers who are getting the blame for all this, and builders, designers, rate-payers, tax-payers and home-owners who have to pick up the tab?

I think we should be told, don’t you?

  • Earlier in Part 1: The myth of deregulated building
  • Coming next in Part 3: How everything that’s been done since the problems were discovered has made life more difficult for almost everyone.

* * * * *

All care & no responsibility? The front page (below) of one of many failed appraisals issued by BTL “a company wholly owned by BRANZ,” which is a government quango. This appraisal, for Duraplast on Hardibacker, is for one of the more high-profile leaky home failures. BTL no longer exists in that form, and the “researchers” at the government’s Building Research Association of NZ continue to shirk responsibility . . .

BTL_Appraisals-1995 BTL-Duraplast-Hardibacker

Beenie Man ban “a victory for gay fascists over homophobic fascists”

Beenie Man is as popular with gay fascists as Bennie Hill is with feminazis.  Which is to say, not at all.  And when fascists feel offended, it always comes out in a ban, or a call for one.  Beenie Man’s Big Day Out appearance is the latest casualty since, as Lindsay Perigo describes, “in response to gay fascists,” Big Day Out organisers in Auckland have pulled Jamaican performer Beenie Man out of next year's event.

This represents “a victory for gay fascists over homophobic fascists,” says Perigo, “and the loser is freedom of speech and conscience.”

    “Apparently, Beenie Man's lyrics at one point included, ‘I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays.’
    “Gaynz.com content editor Jay Bennie had called on Beenie Man to be axed from the line-up to send a message that homophobia was not acceptable in New Zealand.
    "I'd never heard of Beenie Man till now," says Perigo, who himself is gay. "Quite apart from such revolting lyrics—which are probably inaudible—I know I'd loathe his brand of headbanging anti-music. But in the spirit of Voltaire I'd defend to the death his right to perform it to consenting adults.
    "The Big Day Out website says while Beenie Man has renounced those sentiments, signed the Reggae Compassionate Act [!!] and promised to stick to 'peaceful and humanistic values' at Big Day Out, 'the depth of feeling and hurt amongst these groups has convinced us that for us to proceed with his Big Day Out appearances was, and would continue to be, divisive amongst our audience members and would mar the enjoyment of the event for many.'
    "One wonders what would happen were the homophobic misogynist Eminem the 'artist' in question," Perigo muses.

One might also wonder what might happen with all those attendees wearing Che Guevara shirts, unaware that their hero brought into being a New Cuba, in which he actually did execute gays. 

    "Big Day Out, of course, have the right to extend and revoke invitations as they see fit. But it's a shame they've succumbed to pressure from a group of toxic totalitarians who form a significant contingent of New Zealand's Politically Correct Thought Police, who won't be satisfied till they've criminalized 'offensive' and 'inappropriate' speech.
    "Bennie and Beenie are flip sides of the same coin. Both would benefit from a course of sensitivity-training in the spirit and practice of, ‘I disagree with what you say, but defend to the death your right to say it’,' Perigo concludes.”

Perhaps both Beenie and Bennie – or at least those who listen to both – could begin with this primer on some of the most basic propositions of free speech, which includes these two simple propositions:

  • Forcing ideas underground does not eradicate them, it incubates them. Bad ideas are anaerobic -- the oxygen of free inquiry kills them. Bad ideas can only be fought with better ones.
  • If you don't like it, then turn it off.

No risk, no investigations . . . no real media, really [update 2]

If you’re wondering why you don’t see real investigative reporting in New Zealand newspapers any more, the reason is quite simple.  It’s because they don’t do it any more.  It’s too “risky",” as a leaked internal memo from the publishers of the Herald and Listener confirms:

    “Where editorial identifies an issue or risk in an article the relevant passages could be proactively removed, or rewritten internally, to remove the perceived risk, as an alternative to obtaining legal advice on the risks of publication.”

Too risky.  Too much trouble. Much cheaper just to recycle press releases and print commentators that never say anything, eh.  As Danyl says,

    “Exercising caution is one thing – nobody wants to get sued – but if the editors are self-censoring instead of checking with the lawyers then it really is time to shut down the presses and turn off the lights.”

UPDATE: Herald editor Tim Murphy responds to Cactus.

Dim Post doesn’t buy it.

UPDATE: Quick as a flash, Cactus spots that Mr Murphy is set so spin cycle.

General debate!

Got something to say, someone to abuse, an argument to make.  Then have at it!  Here’s your chance.


I confess I haven’t seen a full ninety-minute soccer game for  . . . a long time.  It involved Paul Gascoigne as I recall. And I think I fell asleep part way through.  As did Mr Gascoigne.

But apparently over the weekend there were grown men rolling around a Wellington pitch for ninety minutes holding their legs and hoping to catch the attention of a Hollywood agent – and at some stage someone remembered to score.  Just once. And some of you got quite excited by that.

Perhaps you could explain the excitement to me?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Two debates, same result

Two video debates for you this morning, one serious one less-so.  Can you spot which is which?

Here’s the first, from the Pharyngula blog:

You will enjoy yourself immensely watching Hitchens and Fry debating a pair of Catholic apologists. Click on the image below (you can see how the debate ended already)!


And speaking of apologists, here’s two Stephens debating religion. Which is the best one, Islam or Christianity?

Friday, 13 November 2009

LEAKY HOMES: Part 2 tomorrow . . .

Yes, yes, I know I promised you that Part 2 of my series of posts on Leaky Homes would appear here today, but I'm afraid I've had a few delays and it will take a little longer than I thought. You know what I mean: meetings, lawyers' letters, that sort of thing.

I'll aim to have Part 2 for you tomorrow.

Friday morning ramble: It’s ‘Berlin Wall Week’!

Remember, remember the ninth of November, the day twenty years ago that communism fell … openly at least.  All the best links on that happy occasion, and on the murders and aftermath at Fort Hood. But first:

  • GOOD: Russian Prime Minister Medvedev has given a reformist speech. BAD: Remember, Rule #7 to a happy life, which is "never trust a Russian"
    http://bit.ly/4E1vuN [hat tip Willy S.]
  • "Bill English says it’s time to withdraw stimulus" Time for real budget cuts? Time to can some bureaucrats? Time, perhaps, for those tax cuts? Remember them ... ?
  • baggerand-excerpt Ayn Rand once said that when her ideas are being promoted in comic books she’ll be on her way to success.  Dim Post's favorite comics author steps up to "defend" Ayn Rand. With friends like these, however...
  • Marketer CJ Lambert has concluded she is “totally confused by the Yellow campaign and it won't sell ads.So there.”  I confess, I quite liked it.
  • Obama has a "trade" plan to present to the APEC conference.  It looks like this: APEC countries should import more FROM the US, and export less TO the US. And he calls this free trade?
  • Obama has also announced a "Job Creation Summit" for December. NZ got there first, & showed how effective it can be politically . . . and how totally ineffective economically. look how well that worked.
  • Good article here about Zimbabwe economic recovery after hyperinflation: An Austrian prescription, perhaps?
    http://www.editurl.com/54z [hat tip MarkHubbard33 ]
  • Ski resorts self-report 23 percent more snowfall on weekends.
    http://bit.ly/VcIdV [hat tip EricCrampton]
  • Chris Knox & Toy Love!! Thought this was gone for good. Squeeze on Oz TV music programme, Countdown, from back in the day.
    http://bit.ly/2q079A [hat tip theBatsNZ ]
  • Diana Hsieh has posted Explore Atlas Shrugged, Session 5 -- Podcast & Questions. Check it out:
  • LEAKY HOMES, Part 1: The myth of a deregulated building industry.
  • American Footballers realise it's about time to retire the football helmet. AFL footballers could have told them that years ago.
  • New!! Three new online university courses now available using Reisman & Rand as texts. Scholarships are available for these courses that can be taken from anywhere in world! Information here:  http://bit.ly/1lRRiy
    And here:  http://bit.ly/1lRRiy
  • A man who got 12 women pregnant after meeting them on Facebook has been dubbed "The Sperminator"
  • The European Commission, whose job it is to promote the European Union, has made its YouTube debut with a forty-four second ad showing “selected love scenes” from European films. True story:
  • When does "consultation" become bribery? The hidden costs of Resource Management Act consultation.
  • How innovative entrepreneurs think: "...innovators not only learned early on to think differently, and act differently …"




  • Q: What do Jesus, Frankenstein, Dracula and a Zombie have in common? A: http://bit.ly/3OAeS4 1:58 PM Nov 10th from TweetDeck
  • The Real Climate blog authors, paid by Al Gore to blog, are exposed as a lying warmist shill. 'Hockey stick' temperatures of its authors are literally upside down.
  • Here’s the truth about unemployment in a recession: “The less sticky wages are, the less unemployment the economy faces." And it turns out wages in NZ are not as sticky as first thought.
  • New Zealand is now literally a nanny state.
  • How to avoid doing what you need to do for another 4 min. 16 sec. Procrastination. It’s a wonderful thing. http://bit.ly/4GDJSL [hat tip Joe Green]


  • NASA gets a new Moon picture, and this one is, well, it's a *good* one. One Giant Leap seen again. You think this will shut up the lunatics? What do you think.
  • Victoria Postrel explains why you should work less during a recession, (but what about innovation? New services?)
  • The Epic Beer Family get together for a beautiful Family Portrait 2009 http://ff.im/-bhljt Very tasty indeed:



  • One thing the anniversary of Berlin Wall should remind us "unequivocal economic superiority of freedom" - http://bit.ly/3c61Ks 35 minutes ago from TweetDeck
  • When today’s Russian & East German youngsters favor capitalism more than US youngsters, you know American culture is in trouble
  • Debi Ghate interviews Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate on the history of the Berlin Wall, and the meaning of its fall. http://bit.ly/3HbStC


  • Fort Hood: Reaction, Responses and Rejoinders -- from the inaccurate to the unworthy, and worst.
  • Week's Best Headline: 'Lessons of Ft. Hood: Military Bases Need More Mental Health Professionals.'
  • Iowahawk uncovers truth behind Ft. Hood killer’s murderous rampage: ‘He Had Access to Fox, Talk Radio & Right-Wing Blogs’
  • Why does Obama keep saying the Fort Hood massacre was "hard to comprehend?" Hasan's lecture was plain as day:
  • Muslim soldier Hasan to military MDs: "We love death more then (sic) you love life!” Viva diversity!
  • "U.S. Knew of Suspect’s Ties to Radical Cleric"
    NYT: http://bit.ly/14H10K

More to come shortly . . . or keep track on my Twitter feed . . .




'There Was a Child Went Forth' – Walt Whitman [1855]

I was thinking and conversing today about Montessori and Dewey and capitalism, as you do, and thinking about the importance in all good education of observation – of the senses, where it all starts – and thought of Walt Whitman’s brilliant observational poem posted below.

And searching for an online version to post here, I came across this great description of it on the Walt Whitman Archive website that I knew you’d all enjoy:

     “Called by Whitman ‘the most innocent thing I ever did’ and by Edwin Haviland Miller ‘one of the most sensitive lyrics in the language and one of the most astute diagnoses of the emergent self, this 39-line poem is a retrospective view describing the absorption of everything the poem's child beholds. Each sensation becomes ‘part of’ the child (a phrase repeated six times) and by implication foreshadows his maturation into the Whitman poet-persona.
    “Sandwiched between the poem's opening assertion that each experience ‘became part of’ the child and the closing line's recapitulation of the same idea, a compact catalogue records an astounding four dozen metaphorically-charged images or sounds that the child absorbs (in a phrase deleted in later editions) ‘with wonder or pity or love or dread’ (1855 Leaves). His development is shown objectively by interlinked patterns of space, colors, passing time, and social phenomena; subjectively by his developing cognitive powers.
    “Coincidentally or not, the poem illustrates the phrenological formula for educating the superior child by cultivating its powers of observing all surrounding phenomena. ‘The inductive method of studying nature, namely, by observing facts and ascending through analogous facts up to the laws that govern them is the only way to arrive at correct conclusions.’ (J.G. Spurzheim, Education: Its Elementary Principles Founded on the Nature of Man.)”

And with that by way of introduction, here it is:

There Was A Child Went Forth

mntsol3THERE was a child went forth every day,

And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part
         of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,

And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red
         clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,

And the Third-month lambs and the sow's pink-faint litter, and
         the mare's foal and the cow's calf,

And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-

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And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and
         the beautiful curious liquid,

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part
         of him.

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part
         of him,

Winter-grain sprouts and those of the light-yellow corn, and the
         esculent roots of the garden,

And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms and the fruit afterward,
         and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road,

And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the
         tavern whence he had lately risen,

And the schoolmistress that pass'd on her way to the school,

And the friendly boys that pass'd, and the quarrelsome boys,

And the tidy and fresh-cheek'd girls, and the barefoot negro boy
         and girl,

And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.

His own parents, he that had father'd him and she that had con-
         ceiv'd him in her womb and birth'd him,

They gave this child more of themselves than that,

They gave him afterward every day, they became part of him.

The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper-

The mother with mild words, clean her cap and gown, a whole-
         some odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by,

The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger'd, unjust,

The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,

The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture, the
         yearning and swelling heart,

Affection that will not be gainsay'd, the sense of what is real, the
         thought if after all it should prove unreal,

The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious
         whether and how,

Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?

Men and women crowding fast in the streets, if they are not flashes
         and specks what are they?

The streets themselves and the fa├žades of houses, and goods in
         the windows,

Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank'd wharves, the huge crossing at
         the ferries,

20061028113220!Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_001 The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river

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Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of
         white or brown two miles off,

The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little
         boat slack-tow'd astern,

The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,

The strata of color'd clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away
         solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,

The horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt
         marsh and shore mud,

These became part of that child who went forth every day, and
         who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

[Poem from the Walt Whitman archive. Paintings are Lilacs in the Sun by Claude Monet, and View of Delft by Jan Vermeer]

Thursday, 12 November 2009

LEAKY HOMES, Part 1: The myth of deregulated building

"The building codes of the democracies embody, of course, only what the previous generation knew, or thought they knew, about building...”- Frank Lloyd Wright

If a detailed, factual study were made of all those instances in the history of … industry which have been used by the statists as an indictment of free enterprise and as an argument in favor of a government-controlled economy, it would be found that the actions blamed on businessmen were caused, necessitated, and made possible only by government intervention in business. The evils, popularly ascribed to big industrialists, were not the result of an unregulated industry, but of government power over industry. The villain in the picture was not the businessman, but the legislator, not free enterprise, but government controls.”
- Ayn Rand

THE LEAKY HOMES DEBACLE is costing everyone in the country dearly.  Homes full of mould and misery – builders, designers and contractors fearful of opening their letterbox for fear of a summons -- and “a bill that is likely to top $11.5 billion” to fix it all that is being picked up by ratepayers, by home-owners, and by everyone who’s  got a dollar in their pocket and anyone who ever visited a building site.

It’s a big problem, isn’t it – and a big problem needs a big villain.

The myth persists that the leading villain in the leaky homes debacle was the “light-handed regulation” introduced to the building industry in the early nineties by the National Government, which allowed “alternative solutions” to undermine good professional practice, and cowboy builders and unregistered designers to fly by night and rip off old ladies.

According to this myth, there was once a golden age in which kindly building inspectors and knowledgeable bureaucrats were everywhere, reining in the cowboys, prohibiting shonky practices and banning shoddy building systems – and who are now grasping the nettle to return things to sanity. 

Unfortunately for those who peddle the myth, nothing could be further from the truth. It's a fairy tale.

The fairy tale, however, is everywhere. Its latest appearance was on Leighton Smith’s morning show in the person of John Gray from the Home Owners and Buyers Association, where  he peddled the myth that this “light-handed regulation” is the cause of all the leaky-home misery, along with all the cowboy builders, designers and inspectors it let loose on unsuspecting home-owners.

Unfortunately for the headline writers and Mr Gray, it’s just not true.  In fact it’s almost one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees the opposite of the truth.  It’s a fairy tale erected out of whole cloth

The misery is certainly true,however – and it’s been killing good builders, good designers and unfortunate home-owners.  And let’s not downplay either the misery, or the good intentions of Mr Gray. But the cause of all that misery is not “light-handed regulation,” since that wasn’t the regime under which most of the damage was done then, it’s far from the regime in which the damage is still being done now, and in any case it doesn’t speak to the actual pathology of the problem: what actually allowed water into houses and let them rot.

I’ll talk about the physical causes tomorrow, and on Monday I’ll talk about how the “solutions” set up by government to “fix” the leaky homes problem have conspired instead to make things worse for everyone, including the regulators.  Today I’ll just talk about this myth of light-handed regulation.

110263519_fullFOR A START, JUST think about this: there was a much more light-handed regulatory regime in the early 1910s and 1920s, when most of the villas and bungalows were built for which people now pay huge money – even for “original” examples.  Things couldn’t be more light-handed then, but the disastrous systemic problems now being experienced weren’t in evidence then – not even for the many stucco (solid plaster) buildings like these two on the right still decorating some of our leafiest suburbs.80521246_full

In fact, even in 1982 when I started building, a relatively light-handed regulatory regime was still in existence – even in those Muldoonist times. 

The ‘Bible’ on site was a document called NZ Standard 3604, which back then was about forty pages long; permits took around two weeks at most to process; council inspectors were seen on site around three times maximum – and the thing called a Code Compliance Certificate didn’t even exist. 

The first house I ever worked on, in the leafy suburb of Remuera as it happens, had just  two pages of plans (no details) and each time the inspector arrived it was to discover that my boss had changed something else from the drawings.  Inspector Dumbo eventually just told us to send him a sketch when we’d finished – if we could get around to it.  We never did. The house is still there, still solid.

I tell you that story not because it was unusual, but because it wasn’t. By the time I was building EIFS-clad houses in Mission Bay in 1987, things were no different (and I have to report, these were EIFS-clad houses that had no problems with leaking cladding).  But things were about to change.
Enter the bureaucrats. 

THE BUREAUCRAT WHO BEARS the greatest guilt is a know-nothing called Bill Porteous whose agitation for more building regulation and an “Integrated Building Code” leveraged him into the job as head of the new bureaucracy set up to oversee the building industry, the Building Industry Authority. 

I say “a know-nothing,” and I say that from personal experience, since Porteous was inflicted on me as an alleged construction lecturer in my two years at the Wellington Architecture School in the mid-eighties – where I quickly discovered that what Porteous knew about construction could be written on a very small postcard (a postcard which needed to be folded until it was all sharp corners and stuffed up his arse) and was awfully excited about the idea of an “integrated national building code.”

As you can imagine, we didn’t get on.

That's a sample on the right of just some of the paperwork that accompanied the 'deregulation' of the nineties. The new bureaucracy was of a similar size.

Now if that’s deregulation, then you can call me Norwegian and ship me to Oslo.

Promoted from his job lecturing budding architects how not to build a house, Porteous’s new bureaucracy quickly set about regulating, ahem, “integrating” the building industry, giving increased powers of oversight to councils, giving increasing authority to the bunch of bureaucrats in Porirua known as the Building Research Association of NZ (BRANZ), and putting his new integrated “performance-based” building code into action.

I say “performance-based” building code since that’s what it said right there on the label, but in reality the new code was about as “performance-based” as its near-identical twin, the Resource Management Act – and just as heavy-handed.

Want to build a balustrade?  The new Building Code told you (and still does) how you’re allowed to do it, right down to the size of bolts and the spacing of balusters. Want to specify the timber you’re going to build your house with? The standards specified under the new Building Code told you (and still do) what timber you’re allowed to use where.  Want to install a cladding system? The new Building Code told you (and still does) what hoops you have to jump through before you’re allowed to. 

One of those hoops was (and still is) that the system, item or building material had to have obtained approval from those bureaucrats out at Porirua.  Those bureaucrats at BRANZ.  The next hoop to jump was (and still is) obtaining a building consent from your council -- which now routinely take months rather than weeks to process, and can even take months just to be allowed to submit a consent. And the next hoop was (and still is) to endure an increased number of building inspections from the council -- which these days can easily run into double figures, and that’s before enduring the Sisyphusian and expensive task of trying to be awarded the Holy Grail of the Code Compliance Certificate (a task that now involves lawyers, inspectors and a pile of paperwork from everybody who’s ever visited the building site while construction is in progress.

Now despite Mr Porteous’s certified and gold-plated regulatory scheme, everything failed.  It failed not despite his new heavy-handed regime, but because of it.

JUST TO CONCRETISE WHAT I mean, let’s look at two leading players in the drama : untreated dry-frame timber produced and marketed by the likes of Fletcher’s Origin Timber and Carter Holt Harvey, and James Hardie‘s Harditex – a low-density autoclaved board made with wood pulp and cement used to back monolithic claddings.  Between them, and for reasons I’ll go into tomorrow, these two products account for more than eighty percent of the problems associated with the 7,571 properties registered with the government’s Weathertight Homes Resolution Service (WHRS). You know which houses I mean, don’t you: they’re usually the Mediterranean looking things around the place now covered with tarpaulins and scaffolding.

Without jumping too far ahead to what I’ll say tomorrow, the primary problem found in houses registered with  the government’s WHRS is that James Hardie’s Harditex “system” let water into the houses, and the untreated dry-frame timber they were built with rotted. 

Use of Carter’s and Fletcher’s dry-frame timber in wall framing was allowed because a committee of the New Zealand Standards Authority decided that it should be (and sitting on that committee were representatives of, you guessed it, Carters and Fletchers) and because the boys from BRANZ issued an “appraisal” declaring it to be fit for that purpose.  (Without ticking those boxes, no building materials can be brought to market here in NZ – and as it was then, so it still is now.)

And use of Harditex was allowed because James Hardie prepared a set of details to be used when installing the Harditex system on the outside of your house, and the boys at BRANZ duly issued an appraisal saying that it was fit for that purpose.

Everybody was happy – or at least was prepared to be happy because the process set up by Mr Porteous was working and all these materials had all the necessary ticks from all the nice bureaucrats who had your best interests at heart.  And so everyone set off in complete confidence to build the slums of tomorrow.
  • Registered architects designed Harditex buildings with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie and approved by BRANZ. 
  • Master builders built Harditex buildings with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie and approved by BRANZ.
  • Building suppliers were told by both Carters and Fletchers to substitute dryframe for treated timber – and everybody was happy, because Mr Porteous’s regime had declared it to be safe.
  • Building inspectors inspected Harditex buildings built with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie, and were happy with the work – and delighted that all the details were approved by BRANZ.
  • And home-owners bought Harditex buildings built with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie and approved by BRANZ.
And everybody was happy. But they’re not so happy nowadays.

The problem wasn’t cowboys or lack of registered or qualified professionals.  Cowboys built a few of the buildings that failed, but cowboys will always be with use, and they weren’t the cause of the 7,571 failures, or of the systemic problems that caused them. Good builders and good architects relied on the process and in good faith they built and designed buildings that failed.  In fact master builders and registered architects built and designed buildings all over the country that failed – one  I’m trying to fix now was designed by a president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, drawn up the son of a former architecture school Dean and built in good faith by registered master builders.

It still failed.

What went wrong was that the details weren’t worth a damn.  The Harditex building system wasn’t worth a damn. Untreated dryframe timber isn’t worth a damn when it’s wet.

But when it comes to sheeting home the blame for all this, it’s not those who are responsible for the materials or their approval who are feeling the heat.

Good builders who relied on James Hardie’s details are being ruined, but it looks to me like James Hardie themselves has been made immune from any responsibility.

Good architects who relied on BRANZ’s approvals are being ruined, but BRANZ themselves have been held by the courts to be immune from any responsibility.

Good home-owners who were told by Bill Porteous’s Building Industry Authority that if what they bought had made it through Mr Porteous’s regulations, were soon surprised to see the government dissolve the Building Industry Authority so that it couldn’t be held legally responsible – and to then see it reborn under a new name, in the same offices, with the same staff, as the Department of Building and Housing.  Different name, different department. “Wasn’t us, honest Guv.”

You’ve heard people damn fly-by-night cowboy operators? Crikey, you’ve never seen ‘fly-by-night’ until you’ve seen the speed with which government departments sidestep their responsibilities.  (You’ve seen it again just this week, haven’t you, this all-care-and-no-responsibility attitude that only a regulatory authority can bring to things, with the news that the Overseas Investment Commission ignored warnings that Cedenco’s owners were crooks, and instead gave them their imprimatur. )

All care and no responsibility – and not so heavy on the care. That’s the ticket for the bureaucracy.

So where is Bill Porteous now?  Bill Porteous has disappeared, and his bureaucracy has disappeared with him – and you and I are left to pick up his pieces.

Where are BRANZ?  BRANZ are still issuing appraisals that councils cling to like drowning men cling to a liferaft – and the courts have declared that BRANZ were not at fault for anything.

Everyone did it, but no-one’s to blame. Turns out you can’t sue these entities.  Turns out the government’s bureaucrats really are  above the law. Turns out that so the consequences of their mistakes and misdirections are now being visited upon the licensed and unlicensed, the registered and the unregistered, the home-owners and the would-be investors, all of whom built and designed and bought houses on the basis that the materials and standards were "certified," and all of whom now suffer the consequence of that false sense of security.

Because it turns out Frank Lloyd Wright was wrong.  Turns out that neither Bill nor BRANZ nor the BIA knew even as much as the previous generation – and they forced that ignorance on us by law.  By Bill’s law.

And big companies like James Hardie?  When good builders, designers and home-owners who relied on their materials and details are being nailed to the wall, how have they somehow managed to shirk their responsibility?  That’s an excellent question – a question that some good investigative journalist needs to answer.

The Australian government has just bailed out James Hardie to the tune of A$320 million for its responsibilities over asbestos.  Has some similar deal been cooked up over here?  I really do think we should be told. . .