Thursday, January 25, 2007

Vale James Edwards Jnr

I generally avoid personal posts on this blog but I'm going to make an exception to mark the death of James Edwards Jnr.

Jim died earlier this week after a brief illness, he was 89 and, according to family back in NZ, he accepted that his time was up. Jim was an accomplished poet and playwrite. His book, Absent without Leave, was made into a movie in 1992 (starring Craig McLaughlin) and told the story of Jim's brief departure from duty to look after his pregnant wife, Daisy. I suspect he did not see this as the high point in his career (he also read his own story on RNZ's Nine to Noon show).

Jim was the son of James Edwards Snr. He was also the older brother of my grandfather, Brian (himself a former deputy mayor of Manukau and Labour Party stalwart). James Edwards Snr. was an infamous womaniser, larrikin and Communist. He was convicted for his part in the 1932 Queen St. riots. His part, incidentally, was to be clubbed over the head and fall to the floor bleeding profusely. I suspect had he not be bashed, he'd have said something certain to result in his conviction but the enthusisam of the local Constabulary denied him this opportunity.

Jim and Brian did not know luxury - I recall stories of them selling cleaning products door-to-door - neither ever forgot what it was like to be poor and Brian remained a salesman until his death in '99 (I'll never forget the weight of his coffin).

Vale Jim. I remember many afternoons entirely confused by your crib board, entranced by your banter, choked by the smoke, greedy for the dregs of your beer (anyone's would've done). I also remember wandering door-to-door selling you books...

OzPolitics test

Span, kakariki, Idiot/Savant have done it so too as Farrar.

I think I'm one of the few ex-pats to have done it and the results are anything but surprising... centre-left, centre-left, centre-left...

I generally describe myself as more economically-liberal than this test suggest. No mind.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Minsterial infallibility

A colleague of mine is having a frustrating time at the moment as she wrestles with the implementation a decision her Minister has recently, and very publicly, made. Such is the life of officials but it made me think about one of the fundamentals of working with government: Ministerial infallibility.

Ministerial infalliability requires that once Ministers have taken a decision, that decision must be (a) implemented (b) successful and (c) popular.

Anyone of these requirements can cause officials headaches. In my colleague's situation, the challenge is (a) and (b). Popular is why it was approved regardless of the fact that the original advice to the Minister recommended against it and it's an election year and Ministers need to open, announce, expand etc so mere logistical challenges must be overcome. As is often the case in this kind of situation, the difficult parts of the program have been shifted well past the election so that any problems do not wind up in the press on the eve of the poll.

In my experience, smart Ministers ask for advice and mostly take it. It's risky to make a decision that goes against the advice not least of all because it exposes the Minister to far greater criticism. Better to not ask for advice if you think you'll not like it - at least then you can then spin that officials never advised you...

Occassionally, officials mistakenly believe that there advice must be followed and that reluctant Ministers simply haven't understood well enough. That can be the case, however most of the politicans that I've worked for have pretty extensive networks and are much closer to the electorate than is recognised. Desk research and journal subscriptions can't provide the insight of endless bowling club BBQs, rotary meetings and the experience of sitting in at the local community law centre.

The progam in question will be successful, eventually - it's been rushed which is the problem and will not produce the desired impact in the time available. If there's a change in Minister, odds are that it'll be quietly cut after 6 months to be rebadged and relaunched as the new Minister's program. If the same Minister survives the election and Cabinet, officials will find a way to reframe the project just before it fails and, in doing so, remind the Minister of their original insight.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Johnny come lately

Howard's apparently told Bush that he needs to try Hicks asap:
"I discussed this matter with the president at some length yesterday and he's been left in no doubt the strength of feeling of the Australian government"
I can't help but think Howard's dressing up the conversation a little?

Where's the amazing rush of energy I was promised?

Day four of the diet, which I've been following pretty rigourously, and no sudden rush of energy? What gives, I've eschewed all of my favourite toxins for damn-near 100 hours and still feel pretty much how I did when I indulged. Mrs backin15 assures me Nirvana is around the corner; I'm giving it another 72 hours...

Could all the boomers please exit through the side door?

I have reached a point in my career where I am increasingly intolerant of the Baby Boomers who come to work simply to maximise their superannuation payouts (which is not all of them but at least twice too many). I don't mind that they're not as committed to their work as I am to mine, I'm frustrated that they won't either move on/out of the way nor will they accept they're out of date.

That said, I know a number of Boomers who have remained up to date and who's experience means that they can distinguish what is genuinely a new problem/solution from just new-speak - these people are invaluable and I seek them out whenever I can. I've no desire to repeat previous mistakes and appreciate how an extra 10 or 20 years can provide additional insight (I've always like the cliche; the ability to distinguish the signal from the noise).

Is there a solution? Boomers present a major challenge to the current and immediate working age group (which is shrinking relative to non-working age population in most modern post-industrial democracies). If they retire, we have to fund their massive super payouts (scares the hell out of State and Federal Treasuries in Australia). If they don't retire, they'll continue to be little more than ballast...

I feel somewhat better for having got that off my chest, but I still gotta deal with it tomorrow morning...

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I've never been a dieter - never, never, never.

I remember, years and years ago, John Walker doing an advert for Chelsea suger which ended with him saying "everything in moderation is good for you". I completely agree, however I can't claim to have been moderate for the last little while (it might have been longer than that actually).

Anyway, Mrs backin15 does some sort of cleansing/purifying thing every year around this time and always feels great. This year I think I'll join in... it's only 7 days (or 15 if you want but let's be realistic) however the diet requires:
  • no coffee
  • no booze
  • no dairy
  • no red-meat
  • no sugar or salt or pepper
  • and nothing refined/manufactured.
Basically it's fruit, veges, gruel and dietry fibre supplements ... ho-freak'n-ray!

US Presidential election

Speculation about who'll be the leading candidates for both the Dems and the GOP will intensify over the next 6 months. I'm picking that McCain and Edwards will be amongst the final few in the lead up to the primaries - both are infinitely preferable to the incumbent.

I'd not heard of Edwards until he pulled out of the Democratic race last time. He looks pretty impressive to me. Here's a link to a couple of recent interviews (in the first, it appears he believes McCain will get the nod from the GOP).

Left Behind: God's Quake-enhance wrath

The Daily Show's This Week with God segment review's the latest Christian-themed video games.

Man, I think I'll put off buying the faux-violence of Hitman in preference for the apocalypse - the levels are soooo open-ended.

Comparing higher education funding in NZ and Australia

There's no doubt that Australian universities receive more government funding than do their NZ counterparts. Many measures confirm this. I suspect, but am not certain, that they also receive more corporate and charitable funding too.

This latest study, commissioned by the NZ Vice Chancellors' Committee, compares NZ Universities with a select number of Australian ones. And, although it confirms what most already know, I can't help but thinking that comparing the eight richest Australian universities with all but one of NZ's eight universities skews the results of the study.

Because I can't yet find the actual report online, I can't see what approach was adopted however the sampling may affect its credibility.

It's very difficult to compare public funding across the Tasman. GDP figures are available, but the published material for NZ needs to be disgregated to identify only the public funding for university operating expenses (i.e. excluding all other funding for students and other parts of the tertiary sector). This very point is made in the report linked to above (page 98, para 389).

Although I believe more funding for Universities may well be justified and beneficial, I can't yet see where it should come from or why?

Hat tip: The Thorndon Bubble

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ten things I'll likely not do in 2007

Forget your New Year's resolutions, they're passe frankly. What are the things you thought about resolving but then decided against, knowing all too well you didn't stand a chance?
  1. Polish the car
  2. Not buy the promotional two for the price of one wine (pretending that I'm expanding my tastes)
  3. Only ever drink after 5pm
  4. Have at least two alcohol-free days per week
  5. Buy only second-hand books
  6. Incur no parking fines or late fees for DVDs
  7. Give the CDs I buy as gifts for friends to them without first burning them to the 'puter
  8. Not play Tonkapom or Last Man Standing or Stick Cricket while on work calls
  9. Not put people on hands-free (I'm sooooo busy that I need to play games and talk to you about your shitty work)
  10. Not buy Whopper burgers when pissed.

1986: the year of excess

Oh god, I remember too much of this, certainly too much of Gloss - although I have no regrets about remembering Chelsea/Lisa Chappell.

Hattip: Phil Whoar.

Errors with TTLB

Occassionally I notice errors with the TTLB system, usually because my status has jumped around wildly for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, I'm not sufficiently proficient with the technology to know what's causing the errors or whether there's anything I can do to reduce them?

The latest glitch has elevated me from Lowly Insect to Slithering Reptile - apparently the result of gaining 45 links... go figure?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

David Hicks: Australian alone

The media have carried two stories in two days about the prolonged, and likely unjust, incarceration of David Hicks. I hope this signifies the (re)start of pressure on the Government to take action to defend the rights of its citizens.

The first story is based on comments by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, a critic of Howard, that Hicks had been "totally deserted by the Australian government". Fraser also doubts the validity of evidence against Hicks given the likelihood it was extracted through torture - both the US and Australian governments have denied Hicks has been tortured but this denial requires us to accept as legitimate treatment such as waterboarding.

The second story covers comments by Australia's new director of military prosecutions, Brigadier Lynette McDade (background here). McDade simply states the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied:
"It is too long. Nobody should be held without trial in custody for that long, nobody, and if we did that you can imagine the hue and cry."