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Monday, April 12, 2004
BACK: Well, almost. I feel like I need another break after an Easter involving in various quanities quicksand, gorse, mudslides, ancient stone walls, rather-less-than-completely-successful attempts at rockclimbing, associated blood, waterfalls, rope swings, paths of the dead, and somewhat-more-public-than-expected semi-nudity (with some ever-so-slight bits of exaggeration thrown in for good measure). However, normal blogging activity should resume presently...

...or perhaps not.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004
CATHARSIS: A friend of mine sent this to me today. Called it catharsis. An attempt to deal with his grief at the passing away of one of his history heroes. It seemed like it was worth sharing.

I am at work. Michael King is dead. He was in a car crash yesterday. His wife died too. Michael King was one of my heroes. I really wanted to meet him one day. I wanted to be like him; wanted to write books and articles and make TV shows about New Zealand History. We need people like him in this country. People with reasoned, credible voices who struggle and fight to be heard in the race relations feeding frenzy, without ever raising their voices. People with the knowledge and the ability to communicate so as to steer our collective understanding of our past (and therefore our present) towards a fairer, more accurate and ultimately “truer” point of consensus.

Michael King was a pioneer. OK, yada yada yada, so he was the first professional historian to write in the field of Maori history. The thing is, he wrote in a way which respected the autonomy and control of iwi, and hapū, and individual Maori over their own stories. Yet his work was embraced and read by an enormous Pakeha audience. His biographies of Whina Cooper and Princess Te Puea captured what can only be described as some sort of national zeitgeist. Suddenly, New Zealand realised that these and other local Maori leaders (many of them strong, female figures ranging from late middle into old age) were at the forefront of something incredible, something unique to this country. That thing is today referred to as “the Maori renaissance”, as if it was a cold, hard, now dead social phenomenon – a fact to be impersonally dissected and dismantled by and political commentators. Michael King was there, man. As a journalist, author and historian he went out and crossed cultural boundaries that many New Zealanders didn’t even know existed. Good on him I say.

Michael King showed us the human element of history. His biographies were of “important” New Zealanders – not important as holding power or office, important as in changing the very fabric of the society we live in. Biography is a curious art. Executed successfully, the reader feels as if the author just isn’t there. Reading the book is like engaging in a long discussion with the subject about the hidden subtleties of their life. Michael King could do that. His Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame were the same. Looking back, people will say “In the 1980s and 90s, Michael King wrote the biographies of prominent New Zealanders” as if he actively went around seeking out “important” people to write books about. Bollocks. These “important” people, country-changing people, they trusted him. Janet Frame trusted him to write her life in a way that was truthful yet passionate and considerate of the fact that she was still alive. Wrestling with the Angel told the story of an old taonga, one who deserved to be treasured and celebrated rather than picked over, scavenged and interrogated – the regular wages of a New Zealand tall poppy.

Janet Frame’s recent death only adds to the poetic timing of Michael King’s passing. This was a man at the height of his powers. Finally, after years of prolific publishing, the release late last year of his Penguin History of New Zealand gave him the recognition he deserved. In the brouhaha that currently passes for political debate in this country, his contribution has been timely, measured, unbiased and immensely valuable. I was saying to a friend this morning, imagine if the Penguin History had been published 5 years ago. As a country we would almost certainly be in a different place now. I know it sounds cheesy, but his loss will be keenly felt, no clichés intended. Simply put, New Zealand is worse off without him.
Monday, March 29, 2004
LIGHT BLOGGING: For the remainder of the week. Work commitments are taking their toll.
Sunday, March 28, 2004
I CLEARLY DON'T CARE AT ALL ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS, I MUST BE AN EVIL PERSON: I'm beginning to make a habit of questioning the unquestionable value of human rights. Oh well.

No Right Turn claims that the proposed SIS powers to deny passports for reasons of national security "should be opposed by anyone who cares at all about human rights".

Accrding to Idiot, there are just some things no government can be trusted with, and messing with the right to freedom of movement is one of them. He has a point of course - the right to freedon of movement is important. But at the same time, it should be clear that it is not absolute. Indeed, we "violate" it all the time with criminals, both by locking them up, and by imposing parole conditions on them. If you accept that common crimes are a valid reason for such "violation", then it shouldn't be too much of a leap to argue that national security should be a valid reason too, provided it's properly construed. After all, national security is fundamentally about preserving the rights and freedoms of us all. At the risk of understatement, it is very important.

Despite his bluster claiming that this is about more than just "concerns about the competence and motives of the SIS", I confess I find it difficult to see why we should have any concern about this if we thought the SIS was perfectly competent. Indeed, his post defending the claim that there are things that no government can be trusted with, is entirely about why we cannot trust the SIS. At no point does he defend the thesis that a real national security threat would not justify an interference with rights, and to be honest I don't think he'd be able to.

Pace NRT, I would suggest that the challenge for anyone who cares about human rights should not be to mindlessly oppose this move. Rather, it should be to design a system that protects both the rights of the individual and the rights of society. Normally, this would be accomplished by involving the courts. However, national security issues are generally of a nature that means this will not be appropriate. Information should be revealed to as few people as possible. So we need to be more creative.

In fact, contrary to NRT's assertions, that "the decision is in the hands of the SIS and the Minister, with no checks, no balances, and no independent oversight" there are checks that we use in situations like this, and which are likely to be appropriate here. The primary one is that the leader of the opposition - someone who has every incentive to blow the whistle on an overzealous government - is briefed on the matter. Another possibility would be to involve the Governor General (though that could get messy), or perhaps just the Chief Justice. Either of these strikes me as more productive than simply crying "tyranny" and telling the government it has no right to protect its citizens.

NB: I'm probably with NRT in opposing the other changes, which restrict inward immigration in a much more blanket manner. They seem to me to be far too loosely targeted to have much positive benefit from a national security persepctive, and in addition to being bad for potential immigrants, also fail to take into account that immigration has a variety of other benefits for New Zealand.
FARRAR ON PROXIES: David Farrar argues that the ethnic targetting issue is not actually as simple as I made out earlier, when I said:

race-based funding that is not simply a proxy for need is bad; race-based funding that is simply a proxy for need is not.

He's partially right. I purposefully tried to make things seem simpler than they were to try to get people to understand the fundamental point that race-based and need based funding are not mutually exclusive. What I actually should have said was:

race-based funding that is not simply a proxy for need is bad; race-based funding that is simply a proxy for need is not neccessarily bad.

That, I think, is still sufficient to dispose of the Steven Franks' comments to which I had taken exception. However, David makes three more nuanced points, which are worth responding to individually - even if ultimately, I think only one of them really hits its mark (and even then, it's inconsistent with Dr. Brash's own sloganeering, so it's a little rich to expect it to stick as a criticism of Labour).


[I]t isn't that simple. As Maori are over-represented in almost every negative statistic, then one can justify any programme aimed at trying to help Maori in that sector as needs based.

I think this misunderstands the term "proxy". Over-representation in a negative social statistic isn't all that's required for ethnicity to be a good proxy. You have to control for other things as well. If all Maori overrepresentation in poor health or education outcomes is completely explained by their lower socio-economic status, then ethnicity is not a good proxy. The problem for Dave here is that the evidence suggests that a differential remains even after other factors are controlled for.


There is also a big debate about correlation and causative effect. The former does not mean one automatically has the latter, and if not then targeted funding is inappropriate.

If a correlation still exists between A and B, even once you've controlled for other variables, then the main reason for doubting that A causes B is the possibility that causation runs the other way: that B causes A. But, as it seems rather unlikely that poor health or educational outcomes cause people to be Maori, David seems on slightly shaky ground here.

More importantly, even if the argument that there's no causation here works, I fail to see how it makes targeting inappropriate. It might do so if you were looking at a correlation between, say, smoking and poor health: if you establish that particular causal link, you can try to discourage people from smoking in order to improve health. But note how this doesn't work with ethnicity: the point is not to discourage people from being Maori in the hope they'll get healthier. Rather, it is to say "this group of people is likely to have greater health need; consequently, they're likely to need more treatment, which (surprise) will probably need more money". Causation is irrelevant to this reasoning.


It is simplistic to conclude that (for example) because Maori on average die younger than non Maori, that paying Doctors more if lots of Maori live in the neighbourhood will actually produce benefits.

On this point, I completely agree. Although we might suspect that putting more money into areas where there is greater need, this may not be the case. Indeed, many public sector agencies are notorious for gulping down greater and greater amounts of money for little return. This is the area where real debate is sorely needed. If targeted funding doesn't produce results, then we need to look for better ways of getting them. However, I would add two caveats. First, there's probably a legitimate presumption that need based funding is likely to produce better results - indeed, Dr. Brash's own slogan accepts as much. Second, if you don't think targeted funding works, you should be consistent about it and question all targeted funding, not just that which is ethnically targeted. To date, National haven't been willing to say "let's scrap decile funding" or "let's stop funding health on the basis of need." (I'd suggest with good reason.) Until they do, it's tough to take David's claims seriously.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
WHAT'D WE DO? One day, PNN has NZPols listed as one of the top 5 NZ blogs. The next, we don't even make it onto the blogroll.
THE TREATY AND GROWTH: Yesterday's Herald reported that Treasury papers have suggestsed that uncertainty around Treaty claims could impact negatively on economic growth by making proterty rights seem less secure. Fair enough. But it's important to note that the conclusion that we should just be done with Maori land/foreshore/seabed claims does not follow from this. In fact, it's part of the reason why we need to make sure that we deal with these issues properly, and that any solution is a lasting one that everyone can buy into. Because if it isn't, then the sort of uncertainty Treasury is worried about is only going to continue for longer.
QUESTION: People often defend the right to be a memeber of a union as part of the right to freedom of association. Yet, those same people are unlikely to be willing to defend the right to be a member of a producer cartel as part of the same right. What's the difference?

I'm not suggesting here that consistency would demand that either both be allowed, or both be abolished, but the rights-based argument seems to me to be little more than a convenient way af avoiding talking about the actual economic effects of unions.

Trevor Mallard has released the terms of reference for the government’s review of targeted funding initiatives. Oppsotion reaction seems to fall into two categories.

1. To Hell With the Facts. We Want Action!

Gerry Brownlee reckons that:

[i]nternal navel gazing will not satisfy the public demand for changes to the way Labour's Maori policies and programmes are delivered.

I love the way politicians, activists and anybody else who happens not to have a substantive argument to hand resorts to this sort of fallacious appeal to democracy. Of course, it's possible to support uninformed majoritarian decision-making solely on the proceduralist grounds that it "takes everybody's opinions into account", but anyone who believes that part of the value of democracy is that it tends to come up with right answers (as opposed to just any old answers as long as their "ours") should welcome the chance to get more information.

(On a slightly separate note, I wonder how much hammering the race-based funding theme is actually helping National. Most of the National supporters I know, while agreeing with Dr. Brash that things have gone too far in terms of treaty clauses in legislation, and "Maori consultation" on everything under the sun, have no problem with ethnically targetted funding - indeed, they think it's a good idea.)

2. It's all too complicated for me. Off with its head!

Meanwhile, Steven Franks argues that "it's all too complicated". First, he trots out the tired old line that any funding with an ethnic component is, by definition, discriminatory. Then, against arguments that it’s not quite that simple, he offers this brilliant piece of non-argument:

[a]ny complexity is self-created, to hide the logic vacuum at the heart of the race privilege industry. It's complicated because it's dishonest - many words trying to deceive. Many perpetrators are well meaning - it's complicated because they've been trying to deceive themselves, along with everyone else.

And people complain about left-wing obscurantism.

Actually, Franks is right that this isn’t complicated. It’s simple: race-based funding that is not simply a proxy for need is bad; race-based funding that is simply a proxy for need is not. What we need to know, is which one of these two categories current targeting regimes fall into. One suspects that there’s a little of both. But Franks seems to suggest, without evidence, that we already know that it’s all of the first type.
Thursday, March 25, 2004
PROGRESSIVES SUPPORT FREE TRADE, THEY JUST CAN'T CALL IT THAT: Matt Robson reckons that "International trade reforms won in the last big round of WTO negotiations have created thousands of new jobs in New Zealand," but it's important to note that this is not because of freer trade. It's because of fairer trade.

So what's the difference?
IF YOU'RE GOING TO SAY SOMETHING, SAY IT: Muriel Newman is apparently looking into whether CEG grants have been awarded to "political friends of the Labour Party". Fine. Given that she doesn’t appear to have found anything yet, you’d think it might be a little premature to start slinging allegations. But who needs facts when you can just sling hypotheticals like this instead:

[a]t least three [grant] recipients, who could well be Left-wing activists, have received more than $50,000 in taxpayers’ money. If this were true, then it would appear that Labour is using this fund to reward political cronies and mates.

And if Muriel Newman were just milking an unfounded suspicion to score cheap political points, then it would appear that politics has stooped to all new lows.
THE OBVIOUS CHOICE: according to United Future finance spokesperson Gordon Copeland:

is for those who believe that New Zealand can choose both faster economic growth and build families is to vote United Future, thus providing a Dr Brash-led government with a coalition partner dedicated to those goals.

Of course it is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004
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