Joe Hendren

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Life and Death in the blogsphere

Over the past month a number of authors of established blogs have decided to give up blogging, while a number of new blogs have sprung up out of cyberspace. While Xavier of About Town has decided to give it a break, I do hope he springs up again on another blog sometime in the future.

While I recognise blogs with a daily posting frequency do get read more widely and more often, I do wonder about how sustainable this is. Over a year a great number of things in a person's life can change, most notably the time spent in wage slavery employment, that can adversely affect the amount of time a person has to research and blog. Of course there are some very notable and worthy exceptions, such as DPF and No Right Turn, who have managed to post frequently without blogburnout.

Blogs are very similar to other publications such as newspapers and magazines - a great many start in a blaze of enthusiasm, only to run out of puff after a few editions. On starting this blog just over a year ago, I aimed to post two or three times a week - an average I have, by and large, been able to maintain.

I see little point in a blog that just parrots other blogs or the general media. Many of my postings are things I have been mulling about for a couple of days. IMHO the modern media too often falls into the trap of simply reporting a constant stream of 'facts' as they appear at the time, without analysis or contemplation, when such activity is often the key means of identifying the meaning and purpose of current events.

For me, blogging is a hobby that fits in well with my other interests. I find blogging a useful way to collect my thoughts on a particular issue, and speaking more personally, I use it as a means to fight an inbuilt perfectionism, a character flaw that makes it hard for me to write anything, even when I really want to. I sometimes use my blog like a public sketchpad - a couple of my entries I have extended into longer articles that have been published elsewhere.

So despite recent incidences of linkdeath elsewhere in the blogsphere, this blog is set to continue.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Apparently abstinence produces results

Destiny NZ latest press release is headed "Absolute Abstinence Program Producing Results". Surely this is a contradiction in terms - or do Destiny now have a policy of virgin births?

If Destiny object to a gay couple being featured along with hetrosexual couples in the Ministry of Health's 'Hubba Hubba' campaign, I suspect they will be very busy if they object to all television programmes that 'promote hetrosexuality'. Of course, its a hard ask to expect bigots to be consistent.
Publish Post

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Random Historical Interlude #1 Pissed pollys along the ages

As a new feature on this blog I thought I would start an infrequent series of 'random historical interludes' - incidents that may have happened long ago but have pertinant and/or amusing relevance for current events. Being somewhat of a history nut myself I often think a historical perspective is often entirely missed by a mainstream media obsessed with today at the expense of forgetting yesterday.
#1 Pissed Polly's Along the Ages
In one of my favorite episodes of 'Yes, Minister' the Right Honourable Jim Hacker thinks of a cunning way to get through a long state function in Kumran where there is no alcohol. "You mean, Islamic law?"..."Five hours, without a single drinkie?"

He instructs Humphrey to set up an 'special communications room' and fill it cases of booze bought in from the British embassy to "liven up the orange juice". During the reception he receives a number of urgent 'messages' from the communications room, from notable lumanaries such as Mr Haig and John Walker (from the Scotch office). "The Soviet embassy is on the line Sir Humphrey, a Mr Smirnoff".

It was with some amusement I found a remarkably similiar incident described in Rob Muldoon's 1974 autobiography 'The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk'. Labour MP Mabel Howard told Muldoon that Walter Nash had a jug of orange juice on the table at state functions - laced with gin. Muldoon also recalls a reception where he went to take a glass of orange juice from a tray only to be told by the Scottish head waitress, 'Oh no, Mr Muldoon, that's for Mr Nash, that's the one with the gin in it'.

Having a couple of drinkies at a function or reception is one thing, but making decisions on behalf of the country while drunk is quite another. Ten years after the publication of 'Young Turk' Muldoon would call a snap election while chemically inconvenienced, in the full glare of TV cameras to capture his glaze.

During the National/NZ First coalition it was widely rumoured that Jim Bolger and Winston Peters ran the country over a whisky bottle.

If politicians feel the need to pontificate about the dangers of mind altering substances, perhaps there needs to be an audit of how much booze there is in certain parliamentary offices. In the day and age of EFTPOS and credit card transactions it would be relatively simple to add up how much each MP spent in 3.2 in a year. When MPs are conducting important state business, in or out of the house, should they be as dry as Kumran?

With attention on the contents of their own drug cabinets, perhaps MPs would suddenly lose interest in shallow politically motivated campaigns to raise the drinking age, especially as the problems associated with NZ drinking culture predated the lowering of the age to 18, demonstrating any causal link to be a sideshow at best.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Will the Alliance take votes off the Greens?

In case people are wondering, yes that is me at number 15 on the Alliance Party List.

I can understand some on the left being concerned that about the danger of the Alliance taking votes off the Greens, who have a greater chance of being in the next parliament. Many, including the media, appear to assume the Alliance and the Greens share a similar constituency because of a similar policy direction. I did a little research to find out if this was the case. In particular I looked at where the Alliance vote went between 1999 and 2002.

This data is included in "What happened in the 2002 Election" (Peter Aimer and Jack Vowles) a chapter in "Voters Veto: The 2002 Election in New Zealand" (2003). The book comes from the NZ Election Study, a research programme a friend tells me has been running for 30 years. It is based on over 5000 voters picked at random.

A staggering 42.9% of people who voted for the Alliance in 1999 voted for Labour in 2002. Only 7.1% of the Alliance vote transferred to the Greens, incidentally the same percentage of voters who transferred to United Future. 11.4% of those who voted for the Alliance in 1999 did not cast a vote at all in 2002.

Alliance voters abandoned Jim, as the Progressive Coalition only gained 15.7% of 1999 Alliance voters.

According to Aimer and Vowles "Labour benefited handsomely from the collapse of the Alliance, while National and Act exchanged almost equal numbers of voters. Significant exchanges took place between Labour and the Greens, with the Greens doing marginally better in 2002." (p. 23)

If there was ever going to be an election where the Greens should have picked up the Alliance vote, it should have been in 2002. Yet the Greens gained less than 10% (9.3%) of their support from former Alliance voters. This is not to be disparaging about the Greens - quite the opposite. Differences in the socio-economic makeup of supporters, as well as differences in policy (eg. toll roads) and priorities creates two distinct constituencies. This is encouraging, as this will improve the chances of a wider red/green vision actually being implemented.

For example, I doubt there will be significant action on student debt in the next parliament if Labour commands 40% of the vote and the Greens join the government. But say in the future a party like the Alliance, the Greens and (perhaps) the Maori party collect 15-20% of the vote together (say A=5%, G=8%, M=6%) they could combine forces on common policies and encourage Labour to be more reasonable. This scenario is conservative - long term I believe there is potential to lift the left-of-labour vote higher than this.

Interestingly, nearly 20% of the people who voted Labour in 1999 did not vote in 2002 (19.7%). This may indicate Labour were abandoned by their traditional class base. A measure designed by Peter Aimer and Jack Vowles (Afford Index of Class Voting) shows the manual-household vote reached an all time low in 1990, generally rose up until 1999 and then fell back to 1990 levels in 2002. Thankfully for democracy, Blairism has its costs.

For these reasons I believe it is in the long term interests of the left for the Alliance to stand in this election and use the chance to rebuild. By targeting Labour and non-voters we will be able to highlight important issues in the upcoming campaign and remind people we are still around. In my humble opinion the long term benefits of such a strategy far outweigh the possible small cost to the Green vote.

If you support the general direction of Alliance policy, and want to see another party to the left of labour back in parliament, get involved and help us make it happen.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Don't blog at work, start a blog for your work!

Earlier this week Span posted on the ethics of blogging/reading blogs at work.

Myself, I have found a cunning solution to this quandary. Make a blog for your work!

As 'Resource Designer' at the Mental Health Education and Resource Centre in Christchurch, part of my job is keeping the website updated.

A month or so ago my boss and I were discussing ideas for the redevelopment of the website. He said he would like to develop an electronic newsletter for MHERC that would cover latest news in mental health, the latest books in our library, local information and 'informed comment' on recent research. I convinced him he could be talking about a 'blog', especially as the content from a blog could be easily reused in a newsletter sent out by email.

As far as I know we are one of the first NGOs/community groups in New Zealand to have a blog.
There is also some scope for further development. A number of people from my work are involved in a weekly radio programme on Plains FM about mental health, with a special focus on 'consumer' issues. People were enthusiastic when I mentioned it might be possible to have mp3s of the radio show downloadable from our website/blog. We now have the ok from Plains FM to do it, so its all go. Files are approximately 11 meg, so I am hoping people will not have to download the whole file before they can listen to it. Does anyone know if MP3 playing progs (such as WMP) will automatically stream (ie download while it plays) - is there a nice way to control this?

I guess it is it is good to be enthused by the stuff I am doing at work :)

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Blair's re-election under FPP and some NZ comparisions

On Friday I watched BBC World for almost 7 hours straight. Home from work with a flu, I wasn't capable of doing much else. Luckily there was an election to watch. Overall I thought the BBC coverage of the UK election was excellent, my only gripe being the almost complete lack of coverage for the smaller parties (listing number of seats won as 'others' does not tell you much)

With thousands of the British left deserting Tony Blair for the Liberal Democrats over issues such as the Iraq war and 'top-up' fees, there was a danger the perverse electoral system known as First Past the Post (FPP) would split the anti-tory vote.

Through 7 hours there were many panellists commenting on the results as they came in. I found one recurring theme very interesting - the faults of the UK FPP electoral system. Both the presenters and 'commentators' felt the need to explain the vacancies of FPP to 'international viewers', remarking on how unusual it was for a European country like the UK not to have a form of proportional representation, where parties like the Liberal Democrats would gain a share of seats that reflected their level of popular support. I felt a great sense of deja vu - it reminded me of similar discussions in New Zealand on election night 1993, our last FPP election.

One BBC commentator pointed out that while many of the British people did not regard George Bush as a legitimate president in 2000 on the basis he did not win the popular vote, they did not seem to realise a similarly undemocratic result could also occur in their own backyard. This is exactly what happened in FPP elections in New Zealand in 1978 and 1981, where a National government was re-elected with a majority of seats, despite the fact the Labour party actually gained more votes.

Tony Blair has been re-elected with the lowest popular support (35.2%) of any government in UK history, yet Labour has gained 55.1% of the total seats. Over 64% of British voters wanted somebody else, with 32.3% supporting the Conservatives, 22% the Lib Dems and 10.4% supporting other parties.

In 1993 National kept the NZ government benches despite only gaining the support of 35.1% of New Zealand voters (gained 50 seats), a record low for NZ. The left vote was split between Labour (34.7%, 45 seats) and the Alliance (18.2%, two seats), a legacy of the forth Labour government's far right economic policy, including large scale privatisation and introduction of tuition fees. In 1993 NZ Labour was still led by a right winger (Mike Moore) and included right-wing MPs in its caucus (Prebble). Likewise, the split of the UK left vote in 2005 can be squarely blamed on the Blairites. Invading Iraq, removing civil liberties, allowing universities to set tuition fees and privatisation of public services ought to have undermined UK Labour's traditional support. Thankfully for democracy, it did.

Hopefully for democracy the emergence of genuine three party politics in the UK will demonstrate the need for electoral reform, as greater support for 'third' parties did in NZ from 1978 onwards. Once FPP may have looked like an innovation in democracy, now it's just a dinosaur.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Corporates should stop defaming cute fluffy animals

Watching Contact's latest television advertising campaign the other day, I realised that Telecom and Contact Energy are two peas in a pod. Both are former publicly owned assets which were privatised with disastrous results. Both make huge profits from New Zealand consumers, as a large portion of which is exported into the pockets of overseas investors.

But Mother Earth is pissed at Telecom and Contact for another heinous crime - the exploitation of cute fluffy animals. Back in the 1990s Telecom asked an advertising agency to come up with a campaign to improve its public image, an image damaged by abuse of its monopolistic market position and sending thousands of its workers onto the dole queue. Not that Telecom had any intention of changing their spots and improving their corporate behavior. Instead, they introduced a sideshow, SPOT the dog.

Following negative publicity about power blackouts and price rises, Contact have adopted a similar approach with their 'birds' campaign. The use of birds also has an implied environmental message, despite the fact Contact is using power consumers money to run a propaganda campaign in favour of coal power, which may be the most profit friendly form of energy for Contact, but it certainly is not the most environmentally friendly option for New Zealand. Instead of improving their behavior and becoming socially responsible corporate citizens, Telecom and Contact opt for emotional manipulation of the populace.

It is a shame irresponsible corporates can use the good name of cute fluffy animals with no repercussions. Often the poor animals will work for no more than a bone. I am sure SPOT's brothers and sisters, as well as their human companions, had to face taunts of 'telecom dog' and an unwelcome association with New Zealand's most unloved multinational corporate. Now thanks to Contact, cartoon birds are going to be tarred forever.

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Happy Birthday Blog

This blog is now one year old.

Sitemeter Hits since May 2, 2004: 2527
Hits last month: 667


Telecom win the Roger Award for 2004

Just got back from the Roger 'awards' ceremony, where Telecom was proclaimed to be the worst transnational corporation operating in Aotearoa in 2004. Contact Energy was the runner-up.

Last year Telecom turned their effective monopoly of most of the NZ telecommunications market into another massive profit. The dominance of Telecom over the New Zealand sharemarket makes the Government too nervous to dismantle their monopoly, even shying away from small steps such as local loop unbundling.

New Zealand continues to suffer ongoing negative effects from the sale of this strategic asset. To give one example Telecom have used their monopoly over the local loop, to prevent other operators from offering more attractive broadband options over the New Zealand network.

From 1995 to 2004 Telecom paid out more than its net earnings in dividends, meaning that the company is effectively being cash stripped by its wealthy foreign and local owners (reported earnings of NZ$6,464 million and dividends paid out of NZ$6,698 million). CEO Teresa Gattung takes home a salary of $2.82 million, earning more in a single week ($53,270) than the average New Zealander earns in an entire year.

In a financial analysis accompanying the Judges Report on the Roger, accountancy lecturer Sue Newberry makes two worrying observations about Telecom. As Telecom also operates in the US, it also must file financial reports according to the US accounting standards, standards that have been tightened since the Enron scandal. Telecom's total reported profits for the last four years are less than half of those reported in New Zealand. Since 2001 Telecom have incurred losses of $604m in Southern Cross Cables Limited (a subsidiary registered in a Bermuda tax haven), losses they did not have to declare in their NZ results. Also the pattern of shareholding in Telecom is changing, with foreign investors selling down their shares while NZers and Aussies buy them up. While this may improve NZ current account deficit, this and the fact Telecom continues to pay more out in dividends than it makes in profits suggests Telecom is financially unsustainable and should not be touched with a bargepole.

Still, if Telecom does crash like Air New Zealand, it may provide the Government with an opportunity to renationalise Telecom at a comparatively low cost :)

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