Many people hear useful information each day and later when it might be relevant (such as in a discussion with a political opponent) they might have forgotten that piece of information which might have allowed them to deliver a devastating riposte!
Yes, that used to happen to me until I started using my iPhone to its full capabilities. No, when I hear a useful tidbit I just pull out the phone and make a note of it. The notes are synchronised automatically to my computer and I just do a “tidy up” every now and then and file all the facts away in a file based on the subject area involved.
But many of these little gems have never been used, so I thought why not share them here with my blog readers? And why not start with something moderately controversial like environmentalism? So here they are, some of the contents of my “Environmentalism Random Facts” file which show that what many people believe isn’t necessarily true!
Fact number 1: The energy content of a fabric shopping bag is 130 times greater than that of a plastic supermarket bag. (source: unknown)
Commentary on fact 1: Many people think they are doing the environment a favour by using reusable fabric shopping bags, but this isn’t necessarily the case. A fabric bag involves (in manufacturing, transport, etc) 130 times more energy than a plastic single-use bag. So, if you shop once a week, you would need to have the fabric bag last almost 3 years to make it worthwhile.
Judging by how many of the fabric bags we use break, I’m not sure that many would attain this lifespan. Also, this assumes that the plastic bags aren’t re-used. We re-use ours for rubbish, etc, so that gives them a second life.
I’m not saying that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly that fabric but I am suggesting that the issue isn’t quite as straightforward as many people think.
Fact number 2: Within 50 to 100 years of the Maori (native New Zealanders) arriving in New Zealand the moa (a large flightless bird) was extinct. (source: RNZ podcast, Moa Flourished Through… 2012-08-08)
Fact number 3: The Pacific rat, which was introduced by Maori, caused more extinctions than any other mammal species. (source RNZ podcast, Part 2 the next extinction?)
Fact number 4: In New Zealand 34 species were made extinct by Maori, and just 15 by Europeans. Originally there where were 245 species, of which 174 were endemic. (source RNZ podcast, Part 2 the next extinction?)
Commentary on facts 2 to 4: Many people think that the arrival of Europeans was the greatest factor causing the extinction of native species. These facts show that (at least in New Zealand, but I expect also elsewhere) it is humans in general which are the problem.
Contrary to politically correct belief there is good reason to think that native human populations are no more “in touch with the land” or “integrated with nature” than anyone else.
Fact number 5: Less than 1% of the ocean is fully protected, and just 13% of the land area. (source: RNZ podcast, Managing Our Oceans, approx 2013-01-25)
Commentary on fact 5: Many people who are opposed to conservation claim that industries which exploit the environment (fishing, forestry, etc) are being blocked by excessive environmental protection and regulation. But the facts are that very little of the total area of the planet is fully protected.
Fact number 6: In the US acid rain was stopped by a government cap and trade scheme on sulphur dioxide emissions. Emissions are now 50% below what they were in 1980.
Commentary on fact 6: I often hear conservatives and libertarians claiming that government imposed cap and trade schemes can never work. If that is the case then how do they explain the apparent success of this one?
Note that I am not necessarily a proponent of these schemes myself – just look at the rather dismal failure of the current carbon trading scheme to see why – because they can often be easily manipulated by the exact people they are designed to control. But clearly they can work if they are set up correctly.
I think that any scheme is potentially open to abuse but I also think a carbon (or other pollutant) tax is a better choice. Whatever scheme is put in place the governments involved need to be committed to it and be prepared to stop cynical manipulation by those who will sacrifice the greater good of the planet for their own monetary profit.
Fact number 7: Over half of New Zealand’s recreational rivers are unsafe due to pollution. 52% of those monitored were rated poor or very poor and unsuitable swimming. This was mainly due to farming discharge. (RNZ Podcast 2012-10-17)
Fact number 8: In New Zealand 18,000 to 30,000 people per year contract water borne diseases. These are almost entirely related to pollution from dairy farming. (RNZ Podcast 2012-10-17)
Commentary on facts 7 and 8: There are two common myths which these facts contradict: first, that New Zealand is a “clean and green” country; and second, that farming is a safe and natural activity.
Many parts of New Zealand are clean and green, and some farmers are quite responsible about their farm’s effects on the environment. But as these figures show, neither of those statements are true in general. Dairying is the biggest source of pollution in New Zealand, and the country isn’t particularly clean or green in many places.
Farming is just another exploitative industry but obviously we need it. But it should be much more closely controlled to prevent farmers from destroying the environment just for their own profit. If farming can’t be carried out in an environmentally responsible way then it shouldn’t be carried out at all.
And the myth of our country being clean and green is both a carryover from the past and an invention of the tourism industry. Tourists can certainly visit many parts of the country and not see many signs of pollution, but they would need to stay away from intensive farming areas.
So those are some of my “random fact” highlights. The key feature of many of the facts I gather is that they show things are rarely as they seem, both because of political correctness and the propaganda power of the rich and powerful. I rarely believe what is presented on mainstream media so when I do hear more credible facts from experts I make sure I keep them somewhere safe!
For the last 30 years New Zealand, along with most of the rest of the world, has been run according to a classic neo-liberal agenda. I use that word quite a lot so let me explain my interpretation of it. To me it means free markets uncontrolled by governments, all major assets in private hands, the smallest possible sized government, and increased trade and production efficiency.
These policies have been followed by parties traditionally from both the left and right, and the reality is that there has been little choice for anyone who disagrees with the whole idea. But who would disagree anyway? The aims I listed above all sound fantastic, don’t they? I mean, who doesn’t want freer markets, smaller government, greater freedom for business, more trade, and greater efficiency?
If it was as simple as that we all should want to pursue these aims but unfortunately only presenting a positive spin on them is misleading. The reality is that there are many negative aspects to these policies which their supporters fail to tell us about.
The key concept in neo-liberalism is letting the markets work to produce the best outcome, so the critical point is do they? Well of course they do. Free markets produce the best outcomes for the free markets, and many people also do very well when free market economics is in force, but the vast majority of people actually lose.
So when politicians, economists, and business leaders say we must look after the markets I want to know why. What have the markets ever done for us? I’ll tell you what they have done: they have caused many industries to fail, they have taken jobs from one economy and replaced them with workers from lower paid workforces, they have made a small minority of people really rich while making the majority poor, they have pushed wages and conditions down, and they have increased the freedom of the rich and powerful while decreasing it for the rest.
So I can’t see why markets should get any special consideration, which brings me (finally) to the point of this entry…
We finally have a significant divergence in policies for the two major parties here in New Zealand. The (vaguely conservative and neo-liberal) National Party wants to sell shares in the previously state owned power companies and the (vaguely left-wing) Labour and Green Parties disagree and want to control power prices at a government level.
Of course government control is a complete anathema to the neo-liberals, and the value of power companies has dived significantly after the power price control policy was announced, robbing hundreds of millions from the potential value of the companies. Naturally groups who support free markets (investment companies, share brokers, big business) are predicting the end of the world, and maybe they’re right.
It is sort of like the end of the world to those who hope to make personal gains by exploiting the need for an essential commodity by those who already barely survive. It is like the end of the world to those whose whole worldview is based around free markets and to whom government control is the ultimate evil. It is like the end of the world to those who have got used to getting everything their own way just because they benefit from the market system.
But who (apart from the small minority those groups represent) cares? It’s time to look at where the markets have really got us. Has the electricity market worked, for example? Well no, in many ways it hasn’t. It has generated huge profits for the shareholders (the government up until now which at least meant the money went back to the people). It has pushed prices up at a rate many times greater than inflation. It has resulted in the loss of many skilled technicians while creating huge management and marketing bureaucracies.
The market has failed, and in reality almost every other market also fails to live up to the high ideals promised by the neo-liberals. And the pathetic excuse by market proponents that we haven’t given it enough time should really be treated with the contempt it deserves. The market has been given a fair chance and has failed miserably. It’s time to apply those neo-liberal ideals to the market itself: we need something more efficient and the “free market” of ideas should be able to give us something better.
It may seem like a backward step returning to policies we had before the neo-liberal revolution but should that even be a consideration? We should look at all possibilities, including those which have been out of favour, those which are scorned for no good reason, and those which disturb the currently accepted wisdom.
If the current system isn’t working well for the majority then we should look at alternatives, even if those alternatives are branded a backward step by certain groups in society. And when people predict disaster look at why they might say that. Are they exploiting the free market for their own benefit? Are they ideologically attached to free markets and blinded to the possible alternatives? Have they committed to free markets politically and are they unprepared to accept the political damage of having to make a change?
I would suggest the vast majority of free market supporters are in those categories, or maybe in one other: the category of people who have never heard anything else for 30 years except the pro-market propaganda that the rich, the powerful, and the single-minded ideologs have fed them.
Well, according to Lincoln (or at least attributed to him): you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. The lie we have all been told about the magic of markets is becoming apparent. The fact that a significant number of people see a lot of merit in what many see as quite a radical proposal (but in fact isn’t radical at all) should tell us that all of the people aren’t being fooled any more!
The biggest local story here in New Zealand over the last few days has been the passing of same-sex marriage legislation, making us the 13th country in the world, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region, to legalise same-sex marriage. Considering we have a conservative government this is quite an impressive achievement and shows what happens when MPs are allowed to vote based on their conscience instead of voting for what their party tells them to.
Surely all votes should work this way. Apart from the dictatorial NZ First party all the others have members who voted for the legislation even when you might not expect it (Act and United Future for example). You have to ask if these votes are “conscience votes”, does that mean that the others require some MPs to vote against their conscience? Is that really OK?
Anyway the vote was fairly comprehensive in the end – 77 for and 44 against – which is considerably better than the more common 61 to 60 votes we get when people vote based on their party’s orders rather than what they think is right.
Of course the more conservative (and nutty) parts of society are already predicting disaster just like they did when other controversial social laws were passed.
When homosexuality was made legal, when prostitution was made legal, and when the anti-smacking law was passed the more extreme conservatives predicted disaster but of course nothing happened.
Let’s look at some of the ignorant, bigoted comments about similar changes in the past.
When the homosexual law reform bill was passed in 1986 some politicians predicted that it would cause a decline in morality, that homosexuals would come to New Zealand in their thousands, and that the country would be a Mecca for homosexuality and sodomy. I see no signs that this has happened.
When the civil union legislation was passed the Destiny Church suggested that we should not forget the name of Lord God Almighty (what is that exactly?) and organised a march of 5000 people against it. They predicted legalised child sex and bigamy would be next. Again, I see no signs that this has happened.
When the prostitution law reform law (decriminalising prostitution) was passed in 2003 there were predictions it would lead to more prostitutes. A later review showed no signs that this has happened.
When the ani-smacking law was passed there were dire predictions that innocent people would be prosecuted for reasonable discipline of their children. Since 2007 there have been 8 prosecutions for smacking, and the police (hardly a source of liberal propaganda) say the guidelines are working fine. So yet again there are no signs that the bad predicted outcomes are real.
So what predictions are we getting this time?
Family First predicts marriage celebrants will be bullied into performing same-sex marriages against their will. This right is specifically protected in the law and who would want a ceremony to be performed by someone who doesn’t want to do it anyway? It’s just silly, bigoted nonsense.
The National Marriage Coalition says it will be an open door to group relationships and incest type marriages. This is the old slippery slope argument. Another good one is the prediction that people will be able to marry animals in the future. There is a general trend to liberalisation of laws and who knows, maybe one day group marriages will be OK, after all many respected characters in the Bible had multiple wives, so it must be OK!
The Catholic Bishop of Auckland tried really hard to sound reasonable and to not admit that his objections were based on the intolerant ideas promoted by his belief system. But you could see they were, and it was hard to listen to a member of the Catholic Church lecture the rest of us on the topic of sexual morality. Is it possible to think of anyone with less credibility on the subject?
He made a few vague references to it being a sad day for New Zealand, and to re-defining the meaning of marriage being bizarre, and not being sure what the implications might be for the future (presumably his god will take a terrible revenge on us after he has dealt with the other 12 countries who have already taken this step).
After all of this mindless drivel it was refreshing to hear from a supporter of the bill who treated the subject with intelligence and humour. He described how he had received messages from Christians threatening eternal torment in Hell. He replied that he had calculated the thermodynamics of burning in Hell and it would take only a few seconds for him to be consumed: a sacrifice he was prepared to risk! Ridicule of primitive superstition is great!
But the way so many believers react so badly in these situations is bizarre. They are always so intolerant and unforgiving. Didn’t they listen to what Jesus told them? As I always say: if you really want to see an example of true evil have a look at religion!
Many people ask me why I care. Well that’s the whole point, I shouldn’t. I’m not gay, and I don’t know any gay people who want to get married, so why should I care? It’s just a matter of fairness. The people who object to this law might find gay and lesbian lifestyles unpleasant, and it’s their choice to feel that way, but what real difference does it make to them if same-sex marriage is allowed or not?
Some people say it discredits the “real” meaning of marriage. I would say that there are plenty of heterosexual couples who have done a good job of that already. Celebrity marriages which last a few days, people who marry multiple times and split up seemingly at a whim, married couples where the relationship is maintained through violence and intimidation. What else could possibly make it worse than it already is?
Another argument is that marriage is primarily to produce children and gays can’t do that. Well neither can post-menopausal women or people with various medical disorders. Should that be a pre-requisite for being allowed to marry as well?
In reality there is no good reason not to allow same-sex marriage. There is really only one (bad) reason to reject it in the final analysis: that the objector is uncomfortable with same-sex relationships. Well they are a fact and it’s time to grow up and accept them even if you don’t like them. Progress is inevitable and by trying to halt it, especially by presenting dishonest objections which disguise your real opinions, you just look like a fool.
And just like with past changes of this sort, in a few years we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
There seems to be no end to the silly, frivolous things people today get upset and offended about. Surely there are serious issues which we should all be concerned about and wasting time on trivia just seems to be counter-productive. One of the more common trivial problems is that one group is “offended” by what another group or individual says.
Well OK, so they’re offended. So what? I would suggest two possible responses: first, show why the comment or action they are offended about is untrue or harmful in some way; or second, don’t get offended so easily. In other words: get over it!
There have been a few issues recently where people have become offended for various reasons and instead of reacting in one of the two way I mentioned above, they have chosen a third alternative: threaten and abuse the person who offended them. In other words, act in an even more offensive way than the original!
First, there is very odd case of St Matthews in the City church selling a billboard “skin” depicting a gay baby Jesus which has gained a lot of interest on the on-line auction site TradeMe. The billboard was used for publicity at Christmas and depicts a baby Jesus with a rainbow halo and the words “It’s Christmas. Time for Jesus to come out.”
Last time I heard the auction had reached $855 and had 29,000 views, although I can’t find it on the site now. The ad agency involved, “Einstein’s Hairdresser” (honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up), added many humorous and frivolous comments in response to questions about the auction.
It all sounds like a bit of fun and some great free publicity for both the church and the advertising agency, but many people have taken it away too seriously and sent quite bitter and vitriolic comments to both the church (such as that they are surely going to Hell, which means nothing to an atheist like me but is presumably a bit disturbing to a believer) and to the comment system on TradeMe.
The same church has done other similar advertising stunts in the past, some of which have been quote amusing, so presumably the risk of eternal damnation hasn’t concerned them too much. One thing they will be happy about though is all the free media attention they have got as a result of all the complaints!
A second issue was possibly a but less frivolous. It involved the comments made by a visiting Danish far-right politician who called a powhiri (a traditional Maori “welcoming” ceremony) an “uncivilised ritual”. She was shocked to be welcomed by “dancing half-naked men” instead of with handshakes or salutes as she expected.
She received many emails criticising her and some advising her never to return to New Zealand. But why? She only expressed an opinion. The artistry, appropriateness, and sophistication of various social and cultural activities is surely a matter of opinion and why shouldn’t she express hers instead of (as many people do) being disgusted or amused at the spectacle and keeping it to herself.
Of course the freedom to criticise this sort of stuff should apply to all cultures. If anyone doesn’t like the Maori hongi (touching nose and forehead with the person you are greeting) for example they shouldn’t object to others rejecting a handshake. People should also consider whether it is really worth making a big point out of something which is generally fairly innocuous and should maybe just go along with the social norms.
But the main point here is that if someone does feel uncomfortable in participating in a foreign cultural activity they really should be able to say so. It’s not like the politician said “Maori are disgusting sub-humans and I don’t want to have anything to do with their customs” (that would be genuinely racist) it was just one rather intimidating ceremony which she didn’t enjoy. Fair enough, I wouldn’t either.
The final issue involves a comment so extreme and bizarre that it does start reaching the point where genuine offense might be reasonable. A city councillor from New Zealand city Palmerston North has suggested Maori women should be sterilised to prevent them smoking in front of their children. Wow. What a comment. What can you say about that?
For a start this is crazy stuff, and making any sort of comment which is so out of touch with reality should cause concern whether it has a cultural offence component or not. The problem is more that saying something like this in a public meeting is just bizarre rather than being racist or offensive in some other way.
The councillor has apologised unreservedly and said he only made the comment out of frustration because no other actions seem to have worked. He has said he instantly regretted making it. I guess it is possible to say things you regret later in those situations and maybe the apology should have marked the place where things should have ended.
But again people are taking great offence and demanding that he should retire from office. It seems to me that the councillor is the person to have really been insulted here – by himself! I really don’t think there is any need for further efforts to inflict more damage on him as a result of any real or contrived offence.
So my point here is really that people who make what could be seen as offensive comments tend to be offering an opinion which might be seen as wrong by many, but which they should still be able to make. If it is so wrong then it should be easy to show that error, but just demanding that these opinions are never made because certain other people find them offensive is just hiding the phenomenon.
And for those who make comments which really are edging towards being offensive, they tend to do themselves more harm than good. Is it not better to know what they are thinking rather than have them them secretly acting on their strange ideas? As far as I am concerned all but the most extreme opinions should be welcome. And the most important point is this: anyone who does say something which is totally outrageous should be prepared to be criticised themselves.
But to those who hear something they don’t like and just expect it to go away because they are offended I say: grow up, and get over it!
It often seems to me that the people who should accept the greatest responsibility and have the greatest accountability are those who actually accept the least. The people at the top of most hierarchies seem to be very good at accepting all the accolades when their organisation is successful but are far less visible and suddenly seem to have a lot less influence when things go wrong.
And when things are going well these same people happily accept huge bonuses even when the success has little to do with them, but I don’t see a lot of them insisting on lesser rewards when things go badly.
In my main job I am paid a salary so I don’t get bonuses for the good stuff or penalties when things don’t go so well (and they do occasionally) but I also do after hours consulting where I can basically set my own charges. I work in IT, so of course things do intermittently go wrong! Sometimes it’s my fault and sometimes it isn’t, but generally when I am fixing a problem I don’t charge the client extra for doing that (unless it was very clearly the client’s fault).
If that sort of system is good enough for me (and my income is fairly moderate, despite doing the extra work) why is it not good enough for people whose normal rate of pay is vastly greater than mine? Why don’t they fix their own errors at no charge?
If you live in New Zealand or know anything about current events here you might have guessed by now who I have in mind here. I’m talking about our old friend Don Elder, former CEO of Solid Energy. This highly paid business leader took a well performing state-owned company and completely destroyed it. Before the degree of his incompetence became widely known he resigned, but being one of the new elite with a huge sense of his own perceived value and self-importance he continued to accept his grossly inflated salary for “helping” the company out of its precarious financial position.
Any decent human being at this stage would have either said “no sorry, I’ve messed this up, I will leave but don’t give me any more payments for a job I’m clearly incapable of doing” or said “yes, I will help fix the problems I created but I insist you don’t pay me to fix something which shouldn’t have gone wrong in the first place”. It seems to be that being paid over a million dollars a year to destroy a company and then charging the same rate to try to fix it is a bit self-serving.
As I said above, I would never contemplate charging a client to fix a problem which I was responsible for in the first place. And if people are paid based on how responsible their job is you would expect someone with over ten times my salary to demonstrate ten times the degree of personal liability when things go wrong. But in the case of the corporate aristocracy apparently that isn’t the case. The extent of their feeling of personal entitlement is unbelievable!
But I shouldn’t just pick on poor old Don Elder, should I? What about all the other numerous examples of gross incompetence from the top echelons of management in New Zealand? What about the evil Dame Jenny Shipley’s hideous ineptitude in helping drive Mainzeal Construction into bankruptcy? Doesn’t she deserve some of the blame? Well she was being paid a lot of money while she was on the board. Again, does she accept the attendant responsibility or not? Well I think we all know the answer to that!
And do you want a further list of the new incompetent elite? How about these prominent people who have also presided over similar disasters (this list is from the New Zealand Herald): Wyatt Creech and John Luxton at Blue Chip; Sir Roger Douglas, Fran Wilde and Philip Burdon at Brierley Investments; Don Brash and John Banks at Huljich Wealth Management; Sir Douglas Graham and Bill Jeffries at Lombard; Sir William Birch at Viking Pacific; and Ruth Richardson at Dairy Brands and Syft Technologies.
Did you notice all the “Sirs” and “Dames” in this blog post? These really are the new aristocracy and their value to society is about equivalent to aristocracies everywhere: zero. But they are extremely skilled at acquiring undeserved honours like those. If the job losses and destruction of our economy wasn’t so serious the whole situation would be quite humorous. Sort of like a circus with these people the clowns!
It’s easy to rant about these people in a blog like this but surely it’s much harder to actually do what they’re doing, isn’t it? Actually, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. It seems to me that in most cases the failures were due to overly ambitious and poorly considered plans for expansion and forgetting about doing the job the company was supposed to be there to do. And it is all about the top management just walking away and moving on to the next unfortunate victim for their allegedly exceptional skills.
Everyone makes mistakes but these people are paid a lot not to make the same mistakes over and over again. And if they do make a mistake at least they could take a little bit of responsibility and do the right thing. But the “right thing” is about as far from the minds of senior management as anything can be. These people are the worst type of immoral, greedy, ignorant excuses for human beings on the face of the planet.
Even if they did work for free they would still be overpaid!
Apparently I’m a racist, at least according to some people. Why? Because I question the wisdom of giving some groups (let’s be specific: Maori, the original inhabitats of New Zealand) extra privileges based on their race, and because I dare to criticise some religions (again let’s be clear: I’m talking about Muslims) for their poor behaviour. By the way, I know race is a vague concept with little scientific validity, but we all know what these “racial” groups are – even if their origin is cultural more than biological – so the whole issue is still valid.
It seems strange to me that saying that certain racial (and cultural) groups shouldn’t be given special privileges is racist when the definition seems to suggest the exact opposite. Here’s the definition: “having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another”. I would have thought that if you think one group deserves extra privileges then you are strongly suggesting they are superior in some way, and of you suggest a group needs extra help you are suggesting they are inferior. Either way, those opinons (totally contrary to mine) seem racist.
Compare that with my view that every race should be treated the same and race based privileges and policies should be avoided. Surely it is my critics who are the racists, isn’t it?
A similar argument applies to my criticism of religion, because some religions are associated with certain racial groups. So my negative comments about religion are also sometimes criticised as being racist. But I criticise people based on many criteria: their politics, their philosophical perspectives, their moral standards, but never their race. And it seems fair to criticise them based on their damaging belief in superstition as well. If I don’t I’m effective giving that particular group (which might be associated with a racial group) a free pass. Isn’t that more racist than treating everyone equally?
I realise that the argument I am making is not a new one. I also realise that some people who actually are a bit racist use it, including some fairly extreme right wingers who are my usual opponents in political discussion. But in this blog I like to express my opinion clearly and directly, and if it fits with a particular ideology or not doesn’t really matter. It’s the logic and truth of the points which are important.
I think that is one of the reasons some people find my attitude in this area so disconcerting: I have traditional left wing views in other areas but this is seen as more reminiscent of the right. Generally the left are very politically correct around the subject so it seems more significant when I don’t follow the usual pattern. Of course, I have always said I reject these labels and if I did need to use a label I would see myself more as a rationalist rather than a leftist.
There is a current political event which has lead to this particular subject. It is the appointment of a new Race Relations Commissioner, Susan Devoy. Her opinions on the subject have caused a lot of consternation to many people and her apparent lack of relevant knowledge is also a concern.
Here’s what she said about Waitangi Day which is (in theory) our national day: “Waitangi has been hijacked and if it can never be really seen as a day of national celebration then perhaps the time has come to choose another true New Zealand day. … A recent poll showed more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders were in favour of a new holiday. This would leave Waitangi Day to be the day that recognises the importance of Maori, but the door open for a day that we don’t feel ashamed to be a New Zealander…”
I agree. I feel no connection with Waitangi Day at all and, according to many polls, neither do the majority of other New Zealanders. Waitangi Day has really turned into “Maori Day” which is fine for those who are interested in Maori culture and history (and a lot of that alleged history is very doubtful). But I have no interest in that area at all. Maori culture can be OK in small doses (some of the legends are quite cool) but in general I find it boring.
Many people would see that last statement as racist, but is it? Should I pretend to be interested in something just to be politically correct? I don’t think so. There are many other subjects and cultures I am also not that interested in but that doesn’t mean I think they are inferior, I’m simply just not interested!
Race relations in New Zealand is in a fairly healthy state but I think that is despite the modern trend of forcing people to participate in Maori culture rather than because of it. I have absolutely no problem with Maori culture being part of our society as long as people with no interest in it aren’t forced to participate. That really does create resentment.
The other thing that causes a lot of negativity is the seemingly constant hand-outs to Maori groups for some real and some imagined grievances. People quite rightly get annoyed when one group is given extra privileges (and money) for highly doubtful reasons. If you really want different groups to get on then treat them all fairly. That’s how to get real racial harmony.
So Susan Devoy might or might not be a wise choice for this role but in some ways it might be quite a good thing that we have someone who (at least in the past) has been prepared to stand up for the majority view. Maybe, just maybe, we might make some real progress towards equality and harmony now instead of the false situation we have now where resentment and indignation seem to be barely held in check.
In general tolerance is a good thing. I know I have ranted on many occasions against various groups in society in this blog but in general I am not absolutist about it.
For example, I think that big business is extremely dangerous but I still want corporations to exist, just with tight controls on the excesses of their behaviour. Without big corporations we wouldn’t have many of the valuable products and services we depend on. However they do have too much freedom and influence in politics, none of them pay their fair share of tax, and they should be forced to follow environmental and social objectives as well as the financial ones.
And I find the ignorance and arrogance of many religious people almost unbelievable, but I don’t want to eradicate religion. That’s because it is socially valuable to some people, it has many interesting stories and customs, and it is an alternative world view from mine and I celebrate diversity rather than trying to eliminate it. I do however want religion controlled. Creationists have no right to have their beliefs taught in a science class for example, and I reserve the right to debate and ridicule anyone who believes in nonsense.
That’s my customary introduction, so what is the actual rant… I mean topic of discussion… going to be today? It’s about when there is too much tolerance.
In the past I have defended Islam against many of its attackers. A rather nutty right-wing friend of mine sends out a lot of anti-Islam material and I often reply pointing out that it is usually inaccurate and exaggerated. That is still true, but taking the opposite view – that Islam is basically reasonable and benign – is not correct either.
One of my many sources of news and information is the BBC world service. In a recent podcast they reported on several issues affecting the world and a pattern I immediately noticed was the negative effects of religion, and Islam in particular.
The first item was from Iraq. It reported that religiously motivated violence there in recent days resulted in the deaths of at least 50 innocent people after bomb attacks. While the death rate is well below its peak in the year 2006 it is still running at about 300 per month.
There is a political element to this clearly but fundamentally this is a religious problem, and it’s not even Islam against another religion, it is one sect of Islam against another! Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, especially places where innocent people meet such as bus stations and restaurants, are being targeted by Sunni radicals. How can anyone really claim this is a religion of peace?
I do need to point out here that the most significant contributor to the current political instability in Iraq is the American invasion of 10 years ago and that was partly motivated by ridiculous Christian religious beliefs of the president at the time. I also have to point out that the Muslim versus Muslim violence in Iraq has parallels with the Christian versus Christian violence in Ireland not that long ago. So Christians shouldn’t feel to smug when they see Muslims acting this way.
The second story was about sectarian violence in Pakistan. In this case it was Muslims murdering members of a slightly different sect to their own again but here they have gone one step further and are terrorising Christians as well. A crowd of Muslims rioted and destroyed 100 homes in a Christian area because of some perceived insult to their beliefs.
But these devoutly religious people don’t stop there. They also do targeted killings of high profile people who belong to a different branch of Islam. A Shiite eye surgeon and his 11 year old son were shot and killed. I guess that’s just what the extremists’ faith told them they should do. Praise be to Allah!
This extreme behaviour in Pakistan is being more tolerated by moderate believers so in many ways it is them who are to blame. Anyone who is a Muslim and doesn’t accept part of the blame for the actions of the more extreme elements in their religion is just denying the facts. It’s the religion itself which is to blame. It is fundamentally intolerant. Anyone who denies this should be asked “what is the official Islamic punishment for apostasy?” (in case you don’t know, it’s death).
The saddest thing I heard was the tortured question of a relative of one of the victims when he asked “can God accept that?” Even after everything going so wrong and there being zero sign of help from his imagined deity he still believes. Well if faith is all about killing people who just happen to have a slightly different interpretation of an idiotic belief than you, and then wondering why your god didn’t help you, then you can keep it. Give me rationality over faith any day!
Here’s some interesting material I want to share from the Talent2 web site…
Under the heading “Payroll – Client Successes” they claim “Our HR and Payroll case studies demonstrate our ability to provide end-to-end solutions that multiply the power and productivity of people.” and “Are you an organisation of a few employees or tens of thousands? Whatever your requirement, Talent2 has a payroll solution that suits.” and “A payroll provider you can trust.”
Here’s a description of the group CEO: “JR is well known for his accessible style and genuine interest in his people – whenever he can afford the time he will open the door to listen. This drives one of his greatest assets – his ability to recognise and combine the strengths of people across all levels of the business. JR encourages resourcefulness, synergy and initiative to allow people to realise their own potential and that of the bigger team.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to work with such a great company based on those impressive claims? Yeah, if there was even a small element of connection between the fantasy and reality then maybe that would be true. But of course, the real world and that promised by corporate Newspeak are two entirely different things.
By the way, in case you don’t know, Newspeak is the language described in the dystopian science fiction novel 1984. Many people like to describe a future where government control has resulted in a repressive regime and where propaganda is a major tool of repression, but in reality I am more concerned with one where large corporations have the excessive levels of control. Even where governments are guilty of the same thing (and they often are) it is often as a result of the excessive influence of big business, so corporations are still the root cause of the problem.
Newspeak is defined as “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings”. After examining the propaganda above and comparing it with reality you might see the relevance!
But back to Talent2. If you live in New Zealand you will probably be laughing after reading the quotes above because the promises and the reality are so different. The complete incompetence and moral corruption this corporation has exhibited in its handling of the new education payroll “Novopay” is so outrageous that laughter is the most appropriate response!
So what is the reality? Well here is a partial list of the ill-conceived decisions made in the design, implementation, and “fixing” of the Novopay payroll system…
First, instead of designing a system which fits the requirements or building on top of an existing system appropriate to the actual requirements, they have taken a generic payroll called “Alesco” which may be a perfectly adequate system in many cases (although I have heard it described as “antiquated”) and tried to add a huge number of new functions and modifications to it.
Anyone who does programming knows this is usually a bad approach. Unless the core functions of the system you are basing yours on are robust things will just go rapidly downhill from there. And if the base system is as old as I have heard mention then it is unlikely to be easily extendable because it is not likely to use modern mechanisms such as customisable and transportable code objects.
Second, patching the obvious errors as they appear instead of fixing the deeper issues is unlikely to result in long term stability. Fixing a superficial error which is really just disguising a problem at the core of the system often results in several new errors resulting as a side effect. This is incredibly frustrating and disconcerting to the programmers involved, especially when they are working with someone else’s code.
Experts say the review of Novopay shows signs of “panic and crazy practices” and “common database and coding practices not being followed” and “modifications to the core system making a mockery of the decision process” which are all often the result of not doing the basics right.
Third, when you have a large team working on a project there needs to be some strategy for coordinating their efforts, but having an ignorant manager who is interested in nothing except gaining maximum money for minimum effort is likely to be worse than having no management at all (I’m not saying I know this happens at Talent2 for sure but all the signs are there).
There seems to be a policy of minimising costs without any real concern for the final quality of the product (and that includes support, training, communications, and all of the peripheral issues related to a large technical project of this sort). The decision to hack together something out of an existing system which was itself substandard must have been made primarily to cut costs but this can only be the result of greed given the huge cost of the system.
Fourth, there seems to be no indication of individual ownership or pride in the system. When I write some elegant code, or build an incredibly flexible code library, or design a really friendly user interface I feel personal ownership of the result. The fact that the system is almost unusable by most people and has just been stitched together, Frankenstein-style from old parts, would suggest to me that no one really cares much about this project.
I am now going to make a crazy claim that no one should make without understanding the details of the project, but I will make it anyway to illustrate how an alternative approach might help…
If I was creating this system I would do it for about a quarter of what Talent2 have charged for a start because any more is tantamount to theft. Then I would hire about 10 or 20 (the exact number would depend on the details but too many is worse than not enough) really talented programmers and some people who have actually processed education payrolls. I would then design a system from scratch based on open (and cheaper) technologies which would provide great performance for minimum costs.
Because I would have less staff I would pay those I do hire more and I would give them plenty of personal freedom to create really outstanding code, while ensuring that the client (the payroll experts) were the final arbiters of functionality.
There would be no central management but there would be regular, short discussions on how the components would fit together and every module would have a precisely defined functionality which everyone understood. And there would be unlimited free coffee!
Maybe I’m being hopelessly naive but I believe this approach would provide a far better outcome than the traditional management based approaches where the strategies are devised buy a bunch of senior bureaucrats who are completely clueless about the real issues (and yes, again I am assuming a certain amount about how Talent2 operates).
I will say this though: whatever the outcome of my system, how could it possibly be worse than the total shambles the so-called professionals at Talent2 have created now?
You may think I am being unkind towards my fellow IT professionals. Actually I’m not. I blame the management for this mess. The CEO, John Rawlinson started his working life as a physical education teacher and has a bachelor of education from Victoria University and a Graduate Diploma in entrepreneurship and innovation from Swinburne University. Gee, I’m so impressed! No wonder he gets such good results! (that was sarcasm)
The system cost $182 million. For that price I have very high standards and I don’t expect a bunch or corporate thieves run by an ex physical education teacher who seems determined to create a totally half-assed piece of crap for the absolute minimum cost possible. Talent2 should refund all the money they have been paid and go home. And in future the government should be a lot more careful about who they hire!
I think people are getting more and more sick of the incompetence and immorality of the ruling class here in New Zealand. And yes, I used the word “class” deliberately because it really has got to the point where there is a certain group of people who rule by a sense of entitlement rather than any proven competence.
Every week there seems to be a new story describing the ineptitude of another highly paid director or other leader. The latest is Solid Energy ex-CEO, Don Elder, but he is just one of many.
Don Elder was probably quite a smart person at one time. He went to the prestigious high school Christ’s College, graduated from the University of Canterbury with a degree in engineering, and then gained a Rhodes Scholarship to go to Oxford University. Who knows, maybe he’s still a really smart person but I think something has gone horribly wrong and I think I could make a good guess about what it is.
It’s that senior managers acquire a false sense of their own importance, competence, and uniqueness. They really think that they deserve the vast salaries they are given. They really think their decisions are better than those of mere mortals. And they really think they are making the “hard decisions” which no one else understands.
There are probably a few exceptions to the picture of hopelessness I have presented so far – after all, the people running companies or other organisations reasonably well usually keep out of the news so we don’t hear much about them – but the model seems to fit the vast majority of the ruling class I have heard of.
The process through which this false sense of their own skills and value is acquired is obvious. Who do these people associate with? The board of directors, other managers, senior government ministers, and other people of the same class as them. In other words, other immoral, useless parasites who aren’t going to risk sabotaging the system by suggesting it has significant faults.
I can imagine them congratulating each other on a job well done and giving each other huge bonuses at the same time as their company sinks into financial disaster or compensates for its inefficiencies by ramping up prices for its captive customers.
Don Elder has driven the company into the ground at the same time as he made investments which anyone could see were bad, built a luxurious corporate headquarters (known locally as the “Palace”), bought a mine for $64 million and closed it a month later, invested in a failed biodiesel project, and thought that he and his high class buddies were doing such a good job that they deserved $23 million in bonuses. What a guy! Now isn’t that the sort of performance well worth paying over a million dollars a year for!
And now he’s at home being paid full pay as an adviser and to help with the transition to new management, and still he refuses to be accountable. His phone diverts saying he’s out of town. Is he hiding somewhere like a coward or maybe he’s enjoying an overseas holiday at our expense.
Let’s get some of the defences proffered for Elder out of the way here. First, the coal industry is in decline so losses are inevitable. OK, maybe they are, but why make matters worse with foolish investments and undeserved bonuses? Second, it’s a hard job, could you do it? Well yes, I think I could, because I would have enough expert advisers to allow me to make a sensible and moral decision. Third, maybe what look like bad decisions would work in the long term. Yeah maybe, but it seems unlikely, and if he really thought that why not make an appearance and tell us all how that could happen.
There’s another point I should deal with too. That is the Solid Energy is a state-owned company. Some free-market zealots (not mentioning anyone… yes I am, Steven Joyce) have claimed a similar problem could never happen to a fully commercial company. Interesting theory but the constant failures of a very similar type in public companies tends to counter that assertion. In fact it was by playing the same games that fully commercial companies like to play that lead Solid Energy down this dismal path in the first place!
OK, that’s one member of the new aristocracy dealt with, now who else deserves an honourable mention in this role of the most esteemed members of the upper echelons in modern society?
Could it be another member of the privileged class who is perhaps even more despised than Elder, our old friend Jenny Shipley? She has just resigned from one company she was a director of which failed, resulting in the loss of many jobs. She did have more luck with Genesis Energy though. But to overcome the gross incompetence of its management it was necessary to push the prices up for its victims, whoops, I mean customers.
Yes, Jenny is proud of the profits at Genesis Energy, but the fact that these are gained at the expense of the people of New Zealand wouldn’t even be of the slightest concern to her. Those people are from the lower classes after all, so who cares? So let’s put the prices up in January this year and then again in a few months time. Oh and I think the directors deserve a bonus for their good work on that too! Would $30,000 be OK?
Well just pushing up prices to consumers isn’t the sort of brilliant work we should be paying these scumbags big money for. The price increases are totally unjustified despite the lies about increased distribution costs and other excuses. I could choose a homeless bum off the street, pay him with a bottle of vodka a day, and let him come up with the idea that you can make more money if you just charge your customers more.
Who knows, he might even come up with a genuinely new idea instead of the stale and mindless rubbish the privileged classes just recycle over and over again. Anything would be better than what we have now.
When are more people going to see that capitalism needs to be controlled? I’m not saying we need to have a Soviet-style socialist system instead, just that we need more government (and therefore, theoretically, voter or citizen) control. I hope that should dispense with those who use the old false dichotomy fallacy (if you’re not a capitalist you must be a communist) which many people invoke to try to discredit criticisms of capitalism.
Right, so that’s the intro, now on to specifics. I know that in some ways this is just too easy, but the target of my displeasure with big business this time is the cigarette companies. Mainly thanks to the minority Maori Party there is now approval to get plain packaging of cigarettes here just like has already happened in Australia. But the whole process is being held up by legal and other more insidious threats.
Everyone knows cigarettes are harmful. Well to be fair I guess there are still a few deniers out there on the lunatic fringe, just like there are deniers of climate change and evolution, but few people would now admit to thinking cigarettes are safe.
If any other product was shown to be as harmful as tobacco would there not be some attempt to eliminate or minimise the harm? For example, lead was removed from petrol because of health issues, asbestos was eliminated as a material for building, and CFCs are now gone from aerosol products. It can be done so why not do it for cigarettes?
Cigarette companies know their products kill many people, they know the advantages are far outweighed by the disadvantages, they know their product is addictive (and that is deliberate on their part) and they know the product is marketed (often through clever indirect methods which bypass laws designed to stop advertising) to young people and naive populations in third world countries. So it’s simple really: cigarette companies are evil!
I don’t use that word lightly (well maybe I do if you look at how often I use it in my blog, but I do crusade against evil a lot here!) but I think it fits. Cigarette companies deliberately produce a product which addicts people then kills them for the sole purpose of making money. If that isn’t evil then what is? Even terrorists are motivated by a misplaced allegiance to a religious or political cause rather than just easy cash. Which of the two is more evil really?
There are counters to this argument, of course. First there is the old free choice argument. That is that people should have the option to buy a product even if it is harmful to them. At the risk of committing the slippery slope fallacy I would ask in that case why not allow cocaine and other recreational drugs on the open market as well?
Then there is the free trade argument. This says that there should be a minimum (or in extreme cases zero) level of government intervention in commerce. Well I would say there should be an optimum level of government intervention in everything. Few people really want zero government, even if they say they do, because few people want anarchy.
So why should be have free trade deals? Who are these really for? I’ll tell you who they are for: they’re almost entirely to produce an environment where large corporations can be free to practice whatever brand of evil (there it is again) they want. Cigarette companies want to be able to kill people for profit. Big tech companies want to suppress new technology so that their inferior products can enjoy a monopoly. And all big corporations want to use the dirtiest tricks possible to minimise any fair contribution to society they make through taxes (more on this in a future blog entry).
So I think we need to be extremely careful of free markets and free trade deals. That word “free” sounds very enticing but whose freedom is it really referring to? It certainly isn’t freedom for the majority of citizens or for their elected representative governments, it’s freedom for big corporations whose sole purpose in life is to exploit the world’s resources and people for their own financial benefit.
So if New Zealand wants to introduce plain pack cigarettes and the cigarette companies don’t like it then we should just tell them to go away and sell their poison somewhere else. And if the WTO doesn’t like it we can say who cares what an organisation designed to maintain the power of the most corrupt groups in society thinks. And if there are laws which might leave us open to legal challenges then let’s just change them. And if all of this makes us a less attractive target for foreign investment (or to use the real word, exploitation) then I say great, who needs it.
OK, so let the big corporations in, let the foreign investment in, even let the cigarette companies operate here. But make them play by the rules that all of the rest of us have to. In fact, because they have so much money and influence they should be held to tighter standards than everyone else. And if they choose to go elsewhere there will always be someone else to come along and take their place. Preferably that will be a smaller local company but if it’s a big foreign company prepared to play fair, then that’s OK too.
But they just need to remember Google’s original slogan (what a joke that is now): “don’t be evil”.