Archive

Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Shouting Fire!

May 25, 2017 2 comments

First, I want to make a quick comment about the big news from yesterday: the terrorist attack in Manchester. As soon as it was reported I commented “Islam again?” and I was right, it was Islam again, and it almost always is. I will write a bit more about this in a future post but I just needed to say something now because so many people are defending Islam and I think that defence is often taken too far.

But the main subject of this post is freedom of speech, and what limitations should be put on it. This subject arose after a prominent New Zealand doctor disrupted a screening of the anti-vaccination film “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe”. He told the audience the arguments behind the film were “based on lies and fraudulent information that harms children”.

He’s right, of course, but did he have the right to do that? I should note that, as far as I can tell, the people were not prevented from watching the film, they were just warned about it first. But they were warned in a rather extreme way, including (for some bizarre reason) a haka (a traditional Maori war-dance or challenge).

So first, is there any good evidence that vaccination either doesn’t work or is dangerous? Well, like all medical interventions, there are some risks and it might not be effective in a small number of cases, but generally it is both safe and effective. Well respected organisations like the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, and the Center for Disease Control have estimated that millions of people have been saved from death and disease by vaccinations.

Against this are a small number of poorly designed studies, some of them discredited and retracted, and contrary beliefs largely based on emotional arguments, personal opinions, anecdotes, and broad claims backed up with little specific evidence.

It’s possible that some vaccines have unknown hazards and it’s even possible that some might not be as effective as currently believed, but the only rational conclusion possible at this time is that vaccination is a valuable disease prevention technique.

So it is reasonable to say that vaccination works and is safe to the extent that any small risks are easily compensated for by the potential benefits.

But the second question is less straightforward. Is it OK to try to stop people from exercising their right to freedom of opinion? Should the “authorities” prevent films like this one from being shown? And should opponents of the film’s message be allowed to present their opinions to an audience who really don’t want to hear it?

I believe in personal freedom of expression but I think everyone would recognise there must be limits to this. This is the old classic question: is it OK to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire? If you have freedom of expression then why not? Does that freedom trump the risk of people being injured when trying to exit the theatre?

I suspect that most people, including those at the screening of “Vaxxed”, would say that falsely shouting fire is a bad thing and that’s probably what they thought the doctor was metaphorically doing. But, as I indicated above, he was really doing the equivalent of shouting “fire” when there really was a fire. Because, if the movie persuades parents not to vaccinate their kids in large numbers it could result in new epidemics of disease which would cause far more deaths than those likely to occur in a theatre fire.

Another case could be made to say that the doctor was not inhibiting freedom of expression because in offering his own opinion he was actually enhancing that expression. If presenting one side of the “controversy” (note that there is no real controversy) is seen as giving freedom of expression then surely presenting the other side as well just improves that. Anti-vaccination protestors seem to think it is their right to turn up at pro-vaccination events so what’s wrong with the opposite scenario?

Finally, do people have the right to be ignorant? I would say no, but even if they do, do they have the right to inflict their ignorant views, and the negative consequences of those views, onto others? Many of those people who go to “Vaxxed” will be parents and some of those will fail to vaccinate their kids as a consequence. That’s causing potential suffering to another person because they’re too naive to see through anti-vaccination propaganda themselves.

It seems to me the doctor was a hero in many ways. Maybe he got a little bit too confrontational in the way he did what he did, but was he right to do it? I think so.

The Law’s a Joke

May 12, 2017 Leave a comment

They say that any news is good news, so New Zealanders should be pretty happy with all the exposure this country is getting in the US at the moment, mainly thanks to it being the subject of ridicule by comedian, John Oliver.

I’m not complaining here because I don’t think the material is nasty and it is presented with good humour. In many ways it makes New Zealand look a bit wacky and maybe just a bit less boring than it might be otherwise. Also, after looking at the news today, I can see Oliver’s point – there really is some pretty silly stuff going on here.

So here’s a list of some of the better stories coming out of New Zealand in recent times: our prime minister’s (at the time) weird and creepy obsession with pony tails; the famous “dildo-gate” event where politician Steve Joyce was hit in the face by a sex toy; a really embarrassing court case involving the illicit sexual fantasies of conservative party leader, Colin Craig; and the National Party’s use of an alleged rip-off of Eminem’s song, Lose Yourself, in its election campaigning.

Maybe the only country that should be even more embarrassed about the frivolous use of its legal system is Ireland, where Stephen Fry’s alleged blasphemy is being investigated by police (to be fair, I should say that the investigation was terminated shortly after I wrote this because of “an insufficient number of outraged people”).

As I said above, I do think a lot of this stuff is just amusing and I don’t take it too seriously. I was really impressed at the good natured way Joyce accepted the indignity of the “attack” on him, for example.

But it is pretty ridiculous how much effort is going into some of these court cases (especially the campaign song copyright case, and the Colin Craig defamation case against right-wing blogger Cameron Slater). Considering how much money is being spent on these and how many more important cases are currently waiting to proceed, it is again rather embarrassing how our legal system is being made to look like a bit of a joke.

But I have always considered our so-called “justice system” a joke, or to use the more common phrase: the law is an ass. By the way, that phrase goes back to 1653 where it was used in a publication in England. The word “ass” was used to indicate that the law is obstinate and inflexible like an ass (or donkey) has the reputation of being.

We are all expected to follow the law, and ignorance is no excuse. But even the prime minister admitted that he was unaware of our blasphemy laws, when the subject arose after the situation in Ireland was discussed. Also, our attorney-general admitted to enjoying a good bit of blasphemy on occasion. So the country’s chief legal officer enjoys breaking the law, apparently. I guess this is is another aspect of its asinine nature.

In this post I have concentrated only on how stupid the law is, but if that was it’s only fault I would be quite happy. The real problem is a much darker one. That is how unfair, inconsistent, incomprehensible, and inflexible the law is. We really have got ourselves stuck in a corner where everyone is more worried about what is legal rather than what is right.

ANZAC Protests

April 26, 2017 Leave a comment

About 2 years ago I commented on an incident where an Australian sports commentator was fired for making some tweets critical of Australia’s record in past wars. The tweets were made on ANZAC Day which is a day observed in Australia and here in New Zealand to commemorate the sacrifice of our military personnel in past wars, especially the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

The general conclusion I reached then was that the tweets were (probably deliberately) provocative and somewhat insulting, and in most cases not particularly accurate, but also did raise some valid issues related to that country’s participation in war.

On ANZAC Day this year in New Zealand we have had a controversy which was also related to criticisms of our past war record. This time, we had a group protesting the lack of a serious investigation into allegations of the possible involvement of New Zealand troops with war crimes in Afghanistan.

They held a sign protesting civilian war deaths (which read “Lest We Remember: No NZ support for war”) and attempted to place a wreath on a war memorial to remember the civilians allegedly killed by a botched raid lead by New Zealand military personnel in Afghanistan in 2010.

At that point they were verbally attacked, especially by a minor political official of New Zealand’s populist party, New Zealand First, and his particularly loud and obnoxious 12 year old son. Up until then any protest had been minimal and the solemnity of the occasion had hardly been disturbed.

They approached the protesters and shouted that they should not be there. The boy then said “Do it tomorrow, do it the day before, do it any day – but today it is wrong, wrong, wrong” and “You are so inappropriate, I just cannot believe this.”

Note that word “inappropriate”, which I have commented on before. This word is used (and I must admit to being guilty of this occasionally myself) as a way to say that you don’t like something but want to make it seem like your dislike is based on something more universal or objective.

So instead of saying “I don’t like that” a person will say “that is inappropriate”, because whether something is inappropriate or not is, in most cases, a matter of opinion. And it certainly is in this case.

In fact a poll run by NZ news organisation Newshub showed 67% of respondents supported protests on ANZAC day as being OK. I do need to emphasise this wasn’t a scientific poll and (at the time I voted) only had 2500 votes, but it did seem to correlate with the majority of comments I saw on the subject.

The protesers were peaceful and reasonable and the only time the subdued mood of the occasion was broken was when they were shouted at. Even then, they replied in a quiet and reasonable way.

I should also say that if someone is going to criticise another group, especially in a context like this, then they should expect to get criticised in return, and I do think it is good that people make their strongly held opinions known, but it is really a matter of how these things are done and the vigorous, loud, and seemingly tactless attack on the protesters was unacceptable (see how easy it is to use that word?)

Many people think New Zealand’s official national day, Waitangi Day, has been spoiled by protest (and I have blogged about his in the past) and it might be that another important day for this country is heading that way too.

I don’t think that is necessarily bad, but the protests have to be reasonable and they shouldn’t be over-done. That is bad for two reasons: first, too much protest spoils the event for others; and second, too much protest loses any meaning and just becomes background noise.

One of the claims made about our country’s past reasons for going to war was to protect our freedoms, such as the ability to speak out against injustice and to protest. It is sort of ironic now if those freedoms are being denied. And it is also ironic if a protest about a protest is more disruptive than the original protest!

If people would just settle down a bit, recognise that there are alternative views on every topic, including the way that our military personnel have acted, and just talk about these things reasonably instead of shouting mindlessly, then everyone would benefit. Will that ever happen? Probably not.

Classic Fighters

April 17, 2017 Leave a comment

On Saturday I went to the Classic Fighters Omaka 2017 air show in Blenheim, New Zealand. I had been intending on going to this show since it first started, but being at the opposite end of the island I just never quite made it. This year I was visting my in-laws in Nelson, so I thought the 90 minute journey to Marlborough would be worth it.

And despite the bad weather a lot of New Zealand (including Marlborough) has experienced recently, the day was brilliant. There were almost no clouds, a light (to moderate) wind, and a temperature of 22 degrees. Great conditions for watching warbirds (although maybe a bit less wind would have been good).

I have been to the other big South Island, New Zealand air show, Warbirds Over Wanaka, several times in the past, and have put reports from all of these, including photos and movies on my web site, so I will do the same for this one over the next few days.

Both air shows have a variety of aircraft, but Wanaka seems to specialise in World War II planes and Omaka in World War I. So there were plenty of Fokker Triplanes, Sopwith Camels, and other aircraft from that era (all replicas, of course) plus Spitfires, a Corsair, a Kittyhawk, and some Yaks from World War II.

My favourite display was the Yak 3 Steadfast, powered by the 1750hp Pratt and Whitney R2000 radial engine and capable of over 650 kilometers per hour. It had smoke generators on both wing tips and left twin smoke trails which formed all sorts of cool patterns and smoke rings in the deep blue sky.

The saddest part of the show (apart from it taking over an hour to drive the 100 meters to the car park exit) was the A-4 Skyhawk sitting in a hangar. This one had it’s engine stripped out of it to use as a spare part when the other New Zealand Air Force Skyhawks were sold.

I remember watching the Skyhawk displays in Wanaka back in the 1996, 1998, and 2000 shows and they were awesome. Of course, they were a bit of an obsolete aircraft by American standards, but at least the NZ planes had updated avionics and weapons systems.

So I’m glad I went to the trouble of watching this show. I really didn’t like it quite as much as the best Wanaka shows, but it was still very good. My only regret is that I didn’t get there a little bit earlier because I missed some of the first WWI displays.

As I said above, I will have a report on this show with photos and videos on my main web site (ojb.nz) in the next few days so check there if you are interested (and I apologise in advance if it takes longer – it’s surprising how much time the photo and video processing, researching facts, and general writing of those reports takes).

Let’s Talk About It

February 15, 2017 Leave a comment

A common theme I have seen last week when New Zealand celebrated (and I should put that word in quotes because there seems to be more angst than celebration) its national day was that “we need to talk about it”. The “it” in that sentiment seemed to be something like race relations, our history in general, colonialism, and other subjects of that sort.

But I wonder how genuine this wish for “talking about it” really is, because it seems that people are only allowed to talk about it if they take the side of political correctness and don’t offer any alternative ideas or even mention any opinions which don’t fit in with what the “political correctness police” want to hear.

A classic example of this happened recently when a member of a local council mentioned on social media that he didn’t think the Maori language was worth saving, and that effectively it was on life support.

If we are going to have a discussion about indigenous rights in general, and the preservation of the Maori language in particular, then surely that is an opinion which is worth presenting. It might be right and it might be wrong, but at least let’s accept it as a genuine possibility and discuss it.

But that’s not what happened, of course. Because in these politically correct times a “discussion” involves only hearing one side of the story and not even mentioning anything which might seem to go against that view. So this person was subject to general scorn and derision, will probably be forced to apologise, and might face other disciplinary actions from the council he works for.

This is not a discussion. When a discussion involves only saying things which are approved by a controlling group it is called propaganda, and that’s what all of the “acceptable” pro-Maori views I have seen recently really are.

The fact is that you could make a very good case to say that the Maori language is, in fact, on life support, and that the money being spent on it might be better used somewhere else. That would be my view, and I know I would be attacked for it if I presented it in a forum where the left wing nutters I have been unfortunate enough to have to associate with recently reside.

And remember that I’m not saying this as a far-right red-neck conservative. I am politically quite far to the left and am definitely liberal by any reasonable measure. But there’s just one aspect of left-wing politics which I reject: political correctness and the mindless posturing the left are often involved in.

In fact I would be far more amenable to arguments supporting the Maori language if it wasn’t so much considered a topic which is protected in the way I described above. It is the bungling and bureaucratic attempts at making it more acceptable which have had the complete opposite effect and made it less so.

This isn’t a unique view either. I think the silent majority secretly hold it and, if it was acceptable to have a real discussion on the subject, its popularity would become quickly apparent.

But repressing alternative views doesn’t make them go away. I would have thought that after the debacle in the US presidential election recently that the left would have realised that people don’t like being told what to think. I’m convinced that political correctness and the repression of alternative opinions are major reasons why the left was rejected there (and yes, I know that Clinton won the majority vote, etc).

So if we are going to talk about this let’s actually talk about it, instead of having a one sided monologue of politically correct propaganda which is occasionally interrupted by alternative views which are quickly repressed by the thought police.

Forget about compulsory Maori language teaching and forcing one group’s customs onto another. People don’t like being told what to do. They like even less being told what to say. And all the political correctness in the world won’t stop them from thinking what they want to think.

McLaren Spin Out

December 7, 2016 Leave a comment

One of my main areas of interest is cars. Although unfortunately my current (and most likely, future) financial position means I can’t afford a supercar, I do drive a reasonably fast cheap car (a twin turbo Subaru) and keep up with the latest car news and trends.

Maybe the supercar manufacturer I admire most is McLaren. That’s because they produce brilliant cars, including what is arguably the greatest car ever, the F1 (produced in the 1990s). I admire the F1 so much that I wrote a blog post specifically about it, titled “Favourite Things 4” and posted on 2013-02-17.

Recently there was a convoy of McLaren cars touring New Zealand, which included an F1 which had an estimated value of $20 million! Unfortunately the cars didn’t reach my home town so I didn’t get to see them, and the F1 was actually involved in a fairly serious crash just a couple of days ago.

The organisers of the tour claim the driver wasn’t exceeding the speed limit, but skid marks 80 meters long were found near the crash site. Now, I haven’t tried this, but my car (which as I said has good performance but obviously nowhere near that of the F1) can stop from the speed limit in less than 40 meters. So it seems to be that the driver of a car capable of 4 times our speed limit (yes, that is 400 kph or 240 mph) might have been going just a tiny bit faster than 100. And who could blame him? I know I certainly would be!

But the really intersting aspect of this event, and the thing which encouraged me to write a blog post, is the way McLaren handled the accident. They were on the scene fairly quickly offering large sums for photos, and covering the car with a cover, the name badges with tape, and then removing it as quickly as possible. I thought the protection of their corporate image was bit over the top.

And it’s not the first time. McLaren make another car called the P1 (yes, I know their names aren’t so inspirational) which is one of the “holy trinity” of modern, hybrid supercars (the other two being the Porsche 918 and the Ferrari LaFerrari). Car enthusiasts have wanted a comparison of these cars for years but McLaren has been uncooperative.

To be fair, so has Ferrari, threatening owners with having their cars confiscated if they allowed them to be used in a comparison race. I know, could you make this stuff up? Only Porsche seem to be fairly relaxed about having their cars used however the owners wanted.

One common measure of performance, car enthusiasts often use, is Nurburgring lap times. McLaren did this test but never released the result. The Porsche 918 has the best recorded time for a standard road car (there are better times but they are for open-wheel, quite specialised cars). Again, McLaren seems to be playing corporate games.

The first episode of “The Grand Tour”, the new program featuring the hosts of the old Top Gear, managed to test all 3 cars and found the Porsche was the fastest and the McLaren the slowest. Of course, this was a rather informal test on a specific track with a specific driver, so we shouldn’t read too much into it. But it is an indicator that the P1 isn’t quite as good in real life as it should be. I do have to say that even though the Porsche and Ferrari were faster, the P1 was still incredibly fast, and not far behind the other two.

Now to move on to my more general point. There are obvious parallels between Apple and McLaren. In fact, recently there were talks between the two and a rumour that Apple wanted to buy or invest in McLaren in some way. At the very least they both represent great engineering and premium pricing. And while they both represent great products they also both suffer from questionable corporate ethics.

So people ask me as an Apple fanboy (I use Apple computer products almost exclusively) and as a fan of McLaren cars, what I think of them as corporates. Well, like almost every corporation (or maybe that “almost” isn’t necessary): they suck!

I have a theory (which is based around my personal political biases rather than any real empirical evidence) that there are two types of big business: successful ones, and moral ones. For anyone who works in IT you just have to choose which immoral corporation you will tolerate. And for any car fan you have to choose which products you like while trying to ignore the corporate malfeasance shown by the manufacturer.

There is no doubt that large corporations do achieve some excellent results, and that some projects do need extensive teams that only larger organisations can provide, but I can’t help but think that things would be even better if the power of the corporates was significantly curtailed. I think things have gone a bit too far towards greater dominance by corporations.

We don’t really need that. We don’t need dodgy tax deals, we don’t need dominant companies forcing their inferior technology on us, and we definitely don’t need any more corporate spin!

Goodbye, John Key

December 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Today New Zealand’s prime minster, John Key, announced that he would retire as PM and party leader. It seems to have been a big surprise to everybody, including me, because he has been consistently popular and still maintains that popularity today.

His party, National, is New Zealand’s center-right party and one that I would not normally support because my politics tends to be a bit more to the left, but I do have to say that, in general, I found Key’s leadership fairly easy to accept because he was what I would call a moderate and pragmatic leader.

He did sell some assets (what center-right party wouldn’t, even when it makes no sense) but a less than a 50% share. He did cut taxes to the rich (yeah, there’s nothing much good that can be said about that) but also introduced higher minimum pay. He did allow fishing companies to plunder our fisheries, but also introduced some worthwhile environmental changes. He did some effort to reduce climate change, but he didn’t force farmers to accept their responsibility in that area.

So it was a pretty average effort overall, but still orders of magnitude better than any other National prime minister we have ever had, especially some of the miserable excuses for human beings who preceded him, like the truly revolting Jenny Shipley.

On the other hand, what is maybe his biggest failure, is the one thing that I am quite happy he failed to deliver. That is the TPPA (trans-Pacific partnership agreement) trade deal, which was rejected by the biggest treaty partner, the US, by Donald Trump (it was also likely to have been cancelled by Hillary Clinton). That wasn’t Key’s fault, but it was one of his signature policies so he must accept it as a failure.

So who will replace Key as New Zealand’s new prime minister? Well, I do have to say that I find the rest of the National Party to be completely uninspiring. I have said that I will move to Canada if Judith Collins is the new PM. The most likely person will be Bill English, the current finance minister, who is completely underwhelming, but relatively safe.

I haven’t thought about this too carefully yet, but I do quite like Amy Adams, so if she won the leadership I might be fairly happy. She was a lawyer so that’s a mark against her, and she currently owns 3 farms, so that’s another huge mark against her. But this is the National Party and you can’t be too fussy. After all, you don’t join a party like that because of your high moral standards!

Many people would say that John Key was single-handedly responsible for the National Party’s recent success so this does make the next election, in less than a year, more interesting. Maybe the opposition will now have a chance to make some progress in the polls. Maybe the center-left might even win. That would be good because New Zealand does tend to do better when the left are in power rather than the right.

Whatever happens, we probably won’t get another PM like Key again for a while. I do have to admit he was a hard man to dislike. He could be kind of goofy, and some times a bit creepy (do I need to mention the pony-tail incident?) but in general he seemed like a fairly decent person. And that’s all we can really expect for anyone in that position.