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The Inverse Square Law

June 20, 2018 Leave a comment

The inverse square law is well known in physics. It states that some physical quantity becomes less strong at a rate relative to the square of the distance to the source. For example, if one planet is twice as far from the Sun as another, the gravity of the Sun won’t be half as strong, it will just be a quarter as strong, because a quarter is a half squared.

And the same applies to the light from the Sun. If one planet gets 1 unit of light, then another planet 10 times closer won’t get 10 times as much light, it will get 100 times as much, because the difference in distance is a factor of 10, and the difference in light is 10 squared, which is 100.

Basically it means that as the defining number (in this case distance) gets higher, the resulting number (gravity, light, etc) doesn’t just get lower, it gets much lower.

Of course, this blog post is not a lesson about physics, it is a rant about modern society. By the way, if any of my readers would prefer a lesson about physics please leave a comment because I know my basic physics fairly well!

Anyway, to get back to the inverse square law in relation to society. I always think of it in relation to large organisations and why they are so hopelessly inefficient.

If one person is responsible for getting a job done there is a good chance that it will happen fairly quickly and reliably. But add another and suddenly misunderstanding, miscommunications, poor relationships, and poor procedures suddenly become an issue.

Add another person and the total sources of issues increases exponentially. Imagine the two people situation (let’s call them A and B), then A could interact poorly with B or vice versa. There are just 2 sources of problems. But with 3 (A, B, and C) A could have issues with B or C, B could have them with A or C, and C could have them with A or B, additionally A could have issues with C via B, etc. The total chance of poor communication becomes high very quickly.

Now imagine an organisation where 50 or 100 people interact!

Yes, it’s not surprising that large organisations rarely work efficiently, is it?

In fact, this is far worse than an inverse square law because the number of interactions between a certain number (and therefore the potential confusion and inefficiency) is related to a factorial law, not a squared law. So a squared law would say that 10 people are 100 time as confused as one but a factorial law would say they are 3.6 million times as confused!

Of course, I’m not really saying that there is a simple mathematical law describing human behaviour in groups, I’m just saying the general principle applies in a general qualitative way instead of an exact quantitative one.

Now it’s time for an example. We haven’t heard from my friend Fred (not his real name) for a while, but just to remind you, he works in a large organisation in a similar role to me, so I sometimes identimes identify with his difficulties. Anyway, here’s the story…

A staff member needed help with a technical issue (I need to be vague here to avoid any repercussions to Fred or his employer). The staff member called the helpdesk which, after confusing the client with irrelevant questions, logged a call which went to a coordinator. That person forwarded it to someone they thought specialised in that area but that turned out to be the wrong person so they sent it back to the coordinator who then forwarded it to Fred.

Fred received the request and tried to contact the client, who was away and not answering their phone. He left a message in the system which the client didn’t notice, because the system is horrible to use and totally user-unfriendly. Fred got on with other work while he waited for a response from the client.

After about a week the client called the helpdesk again for an update and the request was sent to Fred (they got the right person this time). Again Fred could not contact the person but he left a voice-mail message, instead of using the system, which the client replied to the next day.

So Fred asked about the problem which turned out to be quite different from what was recorded in the system. Once he figured out the real problem he organised a time to visit the client. Unfortunately they didn’t have any time until the next week, but then Fred did meet the client, and figured out what needed to be done.

It turned out the client had to get her HOD to organise the required service, but because of her limited technical skills she asked for the wrong thing and the HOD sent the wrong information to the helpdesk. A request was sent to another support person who eventually figured out Fred was involved and sent it to him instead.

Fred corrected the information and re-submitted the request. When the helpdesk person received it they cancelled it because they thought it was a duplicate of the previous request which had just been corrected. So the wrong service was supplied, or at least the right service with the wrong settings.

After a while the client asked for another update from the helpdesk who gave the wrong information on how to fix it. When this didn’t work another request was sent and luckily the client mentioned Fred this time so the request ended up with him.

Fred visited the helpdesk staff in person and figured out who had made the error, which he then asked to be corrected. That went to the admins who ran that service and they assigned it to a technician who eventually got the service working properly. They noted this in the system. Unfortunately Fred was busy and missed the notification that the change was done.

So the client called for another update which went to Fred (they were getting used to who was coordinating it by now) and he organised another visit to undo all the wrong stuff which had been done after the first attempt, and to set up things correctly.

The total span of time was about a month and about 10 different people were involved. The client had to delay their work for that period because the service they needed wasn’t available. I cannot imagine what the total cost to the organisation was, but it could easily have been tens of thousands of dollars.

And do you know how long it would have taken if the client had been allowed to contact Fred directly, because he had an established working relationship with the client, and if Fred had been allowed to make the small change to settings to the system that was required? Fred estimates it would have taken about 5 minutes.

And this is the inverse square law in action: involving 10 people instead of one means it takes 100 times as long. A month is about 40,000 minutes. Fred estimated 5 minutes, so in fact it was a lot worse than the inverse square law, although I do have to admit this was an unusually dysfunctional interaction. On average, and allowing for somewhat more efficient examples, the inverse square is probably not too far off.

But if our systems are so obviously inefficient why doesn’t somebody create something better? Well first, I have to say that not every system run by a large organisation is as bad as what I have portrayed here, although they are all fairly bad. And sometimes the people involved in the day to day running these systems are not particularly skilled, or well-trained, or motivated, usually because they are not paid very well and not treated with much respect.

But the real problem in most cases is that the people who design these systems are idiots. They are the failures in life who can’t do anything except become managers. They have no ideas themselves and are not prepared to listen to those who do. Instead they just regurgitate what they see in a management magazine or what they learned in their MBA course. In other words: mediocrity and ignorance begets more mediocrity and ignorance.

Corporate processes tend to go through phases. Managers just latch on to the latest fad and blindly follow it. Eventually the pendulum might swing back to more sensible systems again, but who knows how long that might take. Until then we are all victims of the inverse square law!

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A Jury of Citizens

May 28, 2018 Leave a comment

In the past I have supported the idea of direct democracy, but critics claim the idea is unworkable and would result in poor decisions because of the lack of experience and skills of the “average person”.

I often respond to this by saying that, even if the people make a bad decision at least it is a decision they can own, and they should have the freedom to make bad decisions if they want to. Additionally, many elected representatives also make bad decisions so would we be any worse off anyway?

A recent podcast I listened to was quite pertinent to this issue, I think. It described a research project involving a “citizens’ jury”. This involves a group of people, selected at random, and asked to decide on a contentious issue after hearing information from experts.

The issue on this occasion was the law on voluntary euthanasia, specifically whether there should a law change to legalise “assisted dying”. In the past similar juries were asked to consider the age at which breast screening should start, and whether identifiable medical data should be available for medicine safety research.

In the breast screening example, people were asked whether the age the screening started at should be 40 or 50. The experts supported 50, and the advocates favoured 40. You might ask why not start at the earlier age, because that would detect a few cases which might be missed otherwise, and this is exactly what the all woman jury thought initially.

But after the experts revealed some points against the younger age – such as the increased risk of false positives, and the extra cost which might be better spent elsewhere – all the women on the jury, except one, changed their mind and supported the older age.

While all this happened the government decided on a compromise of 45, but if the jury had made the decision instead the superior option of 50 would have been chosen. The age of 45 has stayed the same for many years since, and I have to wonder how many extra lives could have been saved if that 5 years worth of wasted money could have been spent on other health-prevention measures.

There are some important factors here: first, the jury was made up of individuals from the affected group (women); second, they changed their minds after hearing the expert evidence (apart from one, and there is always likely to be a few unaffected by facts); third, the decision was reached after three days, instead of months or years; and finally, they made the right decision, instead of choosing the easy option or making an unnecessary compromise.

As far as I can see from my limited knowledge the citizen jury worked far better than the government did, in this case.

The next example asked the jury to consider the issue of whether it should be legal to use identifiable medical data for research into the effectiveness and safety of medicines. At the time it was up to ethics committees to decide whether the data could be used, but they were uncomfortable with that role.

Again, there was an obvious answer which the majority believed before the exercise: that was that privacy should take priority and the data should not be made available. But after hearing the experts’ information on the subject everyone changed their mind and decided that the use of the records should be allowed.

And again, the right decision was made, because the small chance of leaked data after the safeguards were put in place, was outweighed by the huge potential public good.

The final example was the most recent one, and the one that was the main subject of the podcast. It was: is legal voluntary euthanasia OK? Clearly this is a very emotional, difficult, and controversial subject, and one where there might not be a right or wrong answer.

Of the 15 people chosen, initially most were in favour of the change to allow euthanasia, and only 1 was strongly against it. After hearing the evidence from experts this changed somewhat to 10 in favour and 5 against.

I do have to say that the reasons in this case might have been less logical than the others. For example, one person said that they rejected the law change because once euthanasia was allowable for terminally ill people who were fully informed and in sound mind, then in future it was likely this would be extended to making euthanasia available for the disabled without their full consent.

This is the classic “thin end of the wedge” or “slippery slope” fallacy, and while it isn’t impossible, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use it as a reason to reject a carefully controlled law which would never be triggered for a disabled person.

But even in this situation the process was relatively brief, well considered, respectful, and uncompromised. In this case no one was right or wrong, so it’s impossible to say if the “right” conclusion was reached (just for the record, I strongly believe euthanasia is an option everyone should have). The more important factor is that everyone saw both sides of the story and generally had good reasons for their conclusions

So it seems to me that “normal” people can make good decisions. Maybe decisions should be made this way based on random selections of citizens who are given brief (a few days) background information on all aspects of a topic under consideration. Maybe that is the answer to the “leader problem” I often discuss (that is that leaders rarely make decisions which are genuinely good for the people they lead).

Hey, it’s worth a try!

The End of an Error

March 10, 2018 Leave a comment

About 4 years ago my wife decided she would leave teaching (mainly because the school she taught at was managed by a bunch of incompetents, and the roll had reduced so much that some of the teachers were made redundant) and open a business of her own, in this case a cafe. Now, anyone who has been involved in owning or managing a cafe at this point is probably already thinking “bad idea”, and in many ways they would be right.

Why? Because it seems to be almost impossible to make any money from that kind of business, plus for the privilege of making little, if any money, the owner/manager has to work 12 hours a day – starting at 5 in the morning – 6 days a week.

But that’s not the worst of it either, because maybe an even more overwhelmingly soul-sapping aspect of owning a small business is the excess of mindless bureaucracy involved which results in very little of any value.

Of course, Inland Revenue is probably the worst offender, closely followed by other organisations like the local City Council. Then there are a collection of lesser parasites like insurance agents, body corporates, various health and safety organisations, lawyers, business experts, and advertisers.

I have a “real” job but also helped with running the cafe, especially with administration and accounting. Yes, you read that right: I helped with the tasks I most despise. While I felt as if most of them were a waste of time, at least I did gain a few skills in that area – but skills I hope I never have to use again!

On the other hand I did learn some more interesting stuff too. For example, at one point I was doing some baking and managed to make some pretty decent batches of scones and muffins. I never quite perfected making consistently good coffee though – that is a lot harder than you might think!

But getting back to the admin tasks. I had some major issues with those, so let me list a few of them here.

First, tax. Now I know that the two most onerous tax activities – GST and PAYE – are not actually costing me anything because I am just collecting tax for the government by adding an extra amount to prices and wages, but I do object to the amount of effort involved in doing that work. If the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) want to collect tax on sales of goods and services and on wages why don’t they do the work and collect the money themselves?

If I took the amount of time people spend on tax gathering activities (on behalf of the IRD) and multiplied by the number of businesses in New Zealand, it must come to a truly horrendous amount of time. How does IRD get away with this travesty of bureaucratic time wasting? Because they can. They can make whatever rules they like – whether they are fair or not – and impose them on whoever they want.

Note that I am not against tax, in fact far from it. It’s not paying the tax that worries me, it is the amount of time a person like myself, who is talented in many areas, wastes on doing IRD’s work for them.

And other government agencies are maybe even worse. We had to collect a payment from one employee, who had been incorrectly paid a benefit, and process the payment for the department involved. If we didn’t do this – even though it was nothing to do with us and had happened before we even employed the person – we would be fined. Again, this is an arbitrary and unfair law which was created simply because it could be.

Then there are the other forms of bureaucracy. The local council’s hygiene regulations are particularly silly. My wife took that very seriously and she maintained high standards, but I know that the inspection is more to do with paperwork being filled in correctly rather than any real measures designed to optimise food safety. I know other cafe owners who had terrible standards but kept the paper work up to date and achieved the top rating as a result.

My advice is to ignore the hygiene rating you see displayed at food premises, because that is just a measure of how well the person does documentation. Instead, have a look around any place you visit and search for signs of neglect.

It might seem to many people that running a small business is a truly worthwhile undertaking. Small businesses employee a lot of people and contribute significantly to the economy. And the government spends a lot of time talking about how important small businesses are, and how they want to encourage people to start one.

But they sure have a strange way of showing their enthusiasm. If they really wanted people to start a small business, why can’t the government and other authorities make the whole process a lot easier?

I’m sure that people running a cafe would rather make use of their talents in areas like baking, cooking, and hospitality instead of wasting hours every week on meaningless paper work. And I’m sure a struggling business where the owner is effectively making less than the minimum wage while working 70 hours a week would appreciate not having to pay provisional taxes on money which hasn’t even been earned yet.

I am contemplating becoming self-employed myself in the near future, but the advantages of being free of the stupidity of ignorant and dogmatic management decisions are at least partly negated by the dread I have of processing GST and other time-wasting accounting.

People might say that spending that time on tax calculations is just part of their “civic duty” as a citizen, but is it really? Would it not be better for the country if people spent their time doing what they’re good at? Why is accounting considered something everyone has to do, or pay an exorbitant fee to some accountant to do for them.

So yes, the end of our cafe means the end of processing payrolls, GST returns, tax payments, employer returns, hygiene certificates, building safety checks, and various other nonsense I can’t even bear to contemplate right now. It’s like the end of an era… or should that be end of an error?

West is Best

February 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Warning: This post makes the controversial claim that Western civilisation is superior to all others. If you are a “snowflake” and are likely to be “offended” by controversial opinions of this sort, you might not want to read this post.

I am often seen as a defender of Western civilisation against alternatives, such as Islamic or indigenous cultures, but I’m not trying to say that everything about the Western World is perfect, and everything about the alternatives is wrong. Far from it, in fact.

Actually, my real aim is to reject the simplistic (and yes, yet again, I will say it: politically correct) notions that everything about traditional and other alternative cultures is so wonderful and better than what we have created for ourselves in the West.

I have a large collection of maps (over 100 – I really like maps) showing various aspects of different parts of the world, and while looking at them I noticed similar patterns indicating the superiority of Western nations. So here’s a description of some of these maps…

Look at a map of the world showing life expectancy. In the top category is most of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and Jordan. The US isn’t in the top category, but is in the second top, just a few years behind. So clearly the best life expectancy is found in the Western World, plus a few others.

But what about the worst? Well, that would be most of Africa, where some countries (for example, Angola) have a life expectancy of less than half the top category! Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are also fairly bad, with a life expectancy 20 to 30 years less than the top category.

So if a long life is important the western world (plus a few others) is clearly superior. But what do other indicators show?

What about happiness? In the top category is all of North America, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil. All of Africa is unhappy or very unhappy, and so is most of Asia.

Next, let’s look at freedom. Well, it’s the usual suspects: Canada, most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, most of South America, India, Mongolia, Japan, and a few countries in Africa (including South Africa). But most of Africa and most of Asia are not free.

Now let’s look at peace. The most peaceful countries are Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Scandinavia, Japan, Germany, and a few other central European countries. The rest of Europe, Argentina, and a few other countries in various locations are the next most peaceful. The US is somewhere near the middle. Most of Africa and Asia (including Russia) are near the bottom.

So let’s look at corruption. The least corrupt countries are New Zealand, Canada, Scandinavia, Germany, and the UK. The USA, Australia, and Japan are also fairly high. Africa is right at the bottom, followed by Asia and South America. The least corrupt country, New Zealand, scores about 90, while the most corrupt, Somalia, scores less than 10.

Finally, let’s look at intelligence. Do I even need to tell you? I don’t, but here are the countries in the top categories: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Russia are in a high category, but China and Japan are even higher. Needless to say, most of Africa is very low. In fact, in some countries the average IQ is less than 65, making the average person technically mildly mentally retarded.

There are a few issues with what I have presented above.

First, I know I mixed up countries and regions. For example, I know Scandinavia isn’t a country, but the countries in that region tend to cluster together so using that label was just convenient.

Second, have I just cherry picked attributes which fit my hypothesis? Well I don’t think so, because I looked at many others too, and I just couldn’t get anything which didn’t make the West look good. One possible exception is air pollution deaths where the data was difficult to see a real pattern in, but at least this is one where I was relieved to see Africa do relatively well!

Third, are the measurements done by Western countries, and would some innate bias just make them look good as a result? There might be some element of this happening, but it is unlikely that the same result would occur for every measure I looked at. Also, I found multiple maps from multiple sources for most measures and they generally agreed fairly closely.

Fourth, what exactly are Western countries? Have I labelled countries that way based on positive results rather than the other way around? Well, no. What is a western country is not always well defined, but people know them when they see them. They usually have all or most of these characters: democratic governments; capitalist economies, usually with significant socialist aspects; traditionally Christian but often tending towards atheism now; still dominated by the culture of a European power which controlled them in the past; usually speak English, apart from Europe. One definition at Wikipedia shows Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, and the USA. Sound familiar?

Fifth, it seems that the evidence is irrefutable, but the reasons are more interesting. For example, some people might say the non-Western countries are repressed by the West and prevented from reaching their full potential. Or they might say they are improving, but are just a bit behind the West, and they just need a chance. Or maybe this is all just part of the global conspiracy by old white men designed to maintain their position of power. I’m not planning on discussing the reasons here, but I find all of these constitute improbable conspiracies.

Sixth, many of the attributes I selected are difficult to measure and might involve some self-assessment, subjective opinion, or varying interpretation based on political and philosophical preferences. For example, how can freedom or happiness be measured in a culturally independent way? Maybe they can’t, but I maintain the overall picture is so overwhelmingly clear that any variations caused by imprecise measurements aren’t that important.

So it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable: the Western World is the best, and New Zealand (where I live) along with Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia look like the best of the best! Anyone who disagrees is welcome to try living in Russia, or Somalia, or Afghanistan. Judging by the maps they would be booking a return flight pretty quickly. Make sure it is on a western aircraft (Airbus or Boeing), OK?

No More -isms

February 10, 2018 Leave a comment

I am often challenged about why I reject various beliefs, such as liberalism, theism, libertarianism, or feminism. My thoughts on this are, that if you identify with a particular doctrine with is described with a word ending in -ism then you are probably being needlessly dogmatic. But then I remembered that I often identify with two (and maybe more) of those myself: atheism and skepticism.

So why would I ridicule one person’s belief (like the belief in libertarianism or feminism) while I give myself a free pass to pursue beliefs of my own? Well, maybe I’m just a hypocrite – that’s certainly possible – but I would like to use a slightly more generous interpretation of the situation and say that my beliefs are more a lack of a commitment to a particular idea than a close allegiance to one.

So atheism isn’t really a dogma of any kind, in fact it’s the antithesis of that, because it specifically precludes acceptance of any dogmatic, religious belief. I do agree that skepticism is in a slightly more debatable category. It could be seen as a belief system in some ways – in fact one meaning of the word refers to a specific philosophical system. But that’s not the meaning I’m using here. In this context skepticism refers to the preference for treating new truth claims with a level of suspicion until good, objective evidence for them is demonstrated.

So I think I can defend my -isms fairly well, but what objection to I have to the others? Well, the main one is that they are just unnecessary. Not only do they provide no positive benefit, but undue adherence to them is potentially dangerous. People who take their beliefs too seriously might follow the belief’s dictates instead of looking at the facts of specific incidents in the real world.

For example, there might be a need to decide whether a new industry – let’s choose self-driving cars as an example – should be regulated to ensure safety standards. A libertarian (that is, someone who follows libertarianism) might be tempted to say that more regulation is always bad and that the market should decide.

But not only do we see numerous examples of market failures (in fact the phrase “market failure” has become a common one in these sorts of discussions) but it can be shown through pure logic that markets often don’t work.

That’s not to say that markets don’t work quite well in some situations, but they certainly cannot be relied on in every possible place they might be used. But a true follower of libertarianism will think they do work everywhere, or at least will think they work in a far wider range of situations than a careful examination of the facts would support.

So there’s really no need for libertarianism at all, because anyone looking at the facts and at the outcomes required in a particular situation could just use common sense, and logic, and examination of the consequences in the real world to see whether a market or a regulation is a better choice.

So let’s look at another -ism now, let’s really jump out of the frying pan and into the fire and look at feminism. Is feminism necessary? Well, as you could probably guess from the general tone of this post, I don’t think so.

I know many people claim feminism is just wanting equality for women, but of course that is often not true, just like libertarianism isn’t usually simply about the fair and appropriate use of markets. Feminism in many cases goes far beyond that and demands special privileges for women, equality where it already exists, and is generally biased towards a female-centric worldview.

I’m not saying that there have been no good outcomes from feminism, but I am saying that the usual realisation of it can easily produce many bad outcomes too. There are many situations where females are now enjoying benefits because the bias is now in the opposite direction to what many feminists imagine. For example girls seem to be getting more benefit from our education system, women enrol in universities at a greater rate than men, women live longer lives, and they get less punishment under the law, etc. Hell, maybe I should be a masculinist!

And the issues where feminism might be useful – such as equal pay, equal participation in society, etc – don’t require feminism, they just require fairness. And most people have an inherent sense of fairness. I want women to have equal rights, but I am certainly not a feminist!

I see the down-side of -isms all the time. I see people react to an event which is actually quite nuanced in simple-minded, thoughtless ways, simply because of a knee-jerk reaction they have caused by their favourite -ism.

Note that I have picked on that particular suffix because it is catchy, but other worldviews which end in a different suffix, like Christianity, should also be included in my argument for completeness.

I know they are not doing this deliberately – and that’s what makes the whole phenomenon even more scary and dangerous – but the sort of thought that is going on is like this: there’s an event I want to comment on; I am a (insert your favourite -ism here) so I should think this; I will write some tedious, biased crap on the appropriate discussion forum.

And when a more nuanced person, like myself (well OK, sometimes I take a hard line to make a particular point, but I do make an effort to see both sides of most stories) comes along and points out any deficiencies in these arguments there is rarely a reasoned rebuttal to those points, because the person makes that comment just because that’s the way things are always portrayed according to their -ism.

If I suggest we need a new regulation to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate change the libertarians will usually disagree, saying government regulation never works and we need less government involvement, not more. But they could admit that the market is the cause of climate change, not the solution, while still maintaining that markets are a useful tool in society overall. But if you follow libertarianism you really cannot say that.

And if I dare to suggest that females are already doing well in our education system and they really don’t need any further assistance, then the feminists will attack me with allegations of sexism and mansplaining. If they just admitted that there are situations where women are given an unfair advantage as well as other situations where the opposite is true, then they would be easier to take more seriously. But if you follow feminism almost everything looks like an attack on women and sensible discussion is difficult.

So I say abandon your -isms. That doesn’t mean to switch to another, even worse, belief system which just doesn’t happen to end in -ism, of course. So those who libertarianism shouldn’t switch to anarchy, and if you currently follow feminism, please don’t become a feminazi!

Random Comments 9

January 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Here in New Zealand the summer break is a quiet time for controversial news stories so I thought it might be time to bring back one of my posts where I briefly comment on a number of items of lesser immediate importance. Therefore I present random comments 9…

Item 1: Jacinda is Pregnant!

The questions about our new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern’s, family plans seem more relevant than ever now that she has announced her pregnancy. When the question about this possibility was originally asked many people thought it seemed totally inappropriate, yet it really wasn’t.

I think the assumption was that the question was asked so that she could be condemned in some way if her wish to have children conflicted with her duties as prime minister, but the exact opposite has happened, because there has been almost universally positive reaction.

And I think this is a good thing. Our culture puts far too much emphasis on work, and if the PM can show that our family and personal lives are also important then that must be a good thing. And it’s nothing to do really with anti-woman sentiment, or misogyny, or glass ceilings, it’s just about a better deal for everyone.

Maybe this discussion will be an opportunity to de-emphasise work in our lives, reduce the number of hours everyone works, and to make taking time off for non-work related activities more acceptable.

Item 2: Kim Dotcom Strikes Again!

Kim Dotcom says he will initiate a lawsuit against the New Zealand government for its illegal (and in my opinion grossly immoral) attack on him six years ago. At that time his mansion was attacked by armed police in helicopters, his assets were seized, and his business was destroyed. All because of political pressure by big business in the US influencing the government there, then pressure from the FBI who demanded the NZ police raid his home.

Few people would claim that Dotcom is the most innocent citizen on the planet, but I hope that even fewer would say a violent (and no doubt expensive) raid of that type, and the continued persecution afterwards, was justified given his relatively minor alleged transgressions.

On this one I take Dotcom’s side. The reaction of police (and their political masters) was grossly out of proportion with what was necessary, if anything. While you could say that Dotcom represents the rich and powerful, I would say he more represents a reaction to those with far too much power and wealth. I give him credit for standing up to the corporate elite.

Item 3: The Wealth Gap Again

A recent report revealed more obscene facts about the richest members of society in New Zealand, and how much of the wealth they control in contrast to how little the rest of us do. There’s nothing surprising about this, of course, because it is a topic I have ranted about on several occasions in the past. Also, the gap isn’t as great here as it is in some other countries – but it’s still inexcusable.

An interviewer (I think it was the annoying Guyon Espiner, surely one of the worst on RNZ) asked what harm it did to have some people with so much wealth. How does that disadvantage the rest? Well, money is a placeholder for resources and power, and those two commodities are in limited supply. The more one person has, the less is available for the rest of us. So even if we ignore the obvious moral philosophical point about gross inequities in wealth there is also a practical point here. Effectively the super rich are stealing resources and power from everyone else.

Item 4: Confidence and Lack Of

The latest business confidence survey indicates a reduction in confidence, yet the general feeling is that the new government is doing a good job, although it is admittedly very early in their term. The consensus seems to be that business confidence is a rather meaningless measure of the overall economic situation and it seems to be mainly ignored.

Some commentators think that the National Party is unlikely to regain power with their current leadership. It might be that a more progressive (despite the inclusion of NZ First) coalition, lead by Labour, could run the country for the next 2 or 3 election cycles. These sorts of predictions are extremely difficult so I will reserve judgement on that.

So there it is, a few items of just moderate interest from a relatively boring period. I guess I’ll just have to hope that something more controversial happens soon. Or maybe I should comment on American politics instead!

The Least Bad

September 22, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s general election time again here in New Zealand, and although we don’t have much of the incredibly tedious, sanctimonious claptrap of some other countries, such as the US, it is still starting to get a bit annoying, especially the tendency for using “alternative facts” by the right.

But I do have to say that in other ways it is quite an intriguing contest, because the polling seems to indicate a lot of uncertainty over the preferred major party in the next government, whether the minor parties are worth voting for, and who would make the best prime minister.

I tend to look on the democratic process as a sort of interesting sociological event which can be observed a bit like an anthropologist would watch some primitive rite carried out by a stone age tribe from the depths of the rainforests of New Guinea. In other words, it’s hard to take it too seriously, and even if you could it’s best not to if you want to retain your sanity!

In fact, everyone I have talked to so far is extremely cynical about the political system we currently have. This attitude is reflected in real statistics too. A poll conducted a few months ago indicated a great deal of disenchantment with politics in general (this was before we got the new Labour leader whose promotion might have improved people’s view of politicians a bit).

Here’s a few of the findings from that poll…

The majority of people polled think the economic and political systems are rigged against them. Also, women and those earning less are even more likely to consider the system broken.

Less than half (45%) disagree with the phrase “the country is in decline”, 25% agree with it, and 30% are neutral.

Over half those polled (56%) say traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them. And 64% think the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful. But just 50 per cent of people want a strong leader willing to break the rules.

So it seems to me that most people see the current system as defective at best and a complete failure at worst, but they clearly aren’t sure what to do about it based on the figure of only half wanting a strong new leader capable of pushing through change.

And that is fair enough, because past experience with change does not exactly inspire confidence. The last time we had a strong leader determined to push through major change here in New Zealand was 1984. Yes, that ominous year was when a neo-liberal inspired Labour government pushed through massive changes which are only being corrected now, almost 35 years later.

And Donald Trump could be seen as a strong leader determined to force change on the current system, but most people are concerned about his actions (to say the least). I don’t partake in the mindless bashing of Trump that many others do, but there is a lot to be concerned about there.

Having a strong leader is not always a good thing, because strength is only beneficial when it is connected with knowledge, honesty, and fairness, which Trump is sometimes lacking. In fact the worst thing possible is a strong leader with bad ideas!

So it almost seems hopeless. People don’t like the system as it is, but they are (quite rightly) afraid of change too. Maybe we are trapped in a no-win situation.

But that’s not to suggest that participation in the political system is pointless. Not all of the options are equally bad, even if none of them are absolutely good. Voters need to be realistic and remember that voting for the least bad party is better than not voting and effectively giving an advantage to a party you might support less than others.

So we should just be realistic and realise that, unless we are a member of the rich and powerful elite, we cannot really win in any meaningful way, we should just choose based on how we lose the least.

It’s rather unfortunate that our current systems don’t give us the freedoms and other benefits they promise. But the sooner people realise what the true situation is the sooner they can make meaningful choices about how to make it better. And don’t take it too seriously!

Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose…