Archived News for October 2008

What's this? A new SJD album?

Came out yesterday according to SmokeCDs, and due out in two days time, according to the label. 's called Dayglo Spectres, and 's come completely out of left field for me (I should listen to bFM more, maybe).

's a neat promo video from roundtripmars, his label:

My bad routine is to take three years to make an album. And now my new good routine is to get people along to help, and take four months instead. It's going to be a glorious mess. Darkadelic!
Dayglo Spectres

Oh, and I just saw the video for Black is a Beautiful Colour for the first time. Hilarious.

Who (not) to vote for

Last night I went to a political debate about health. Compared to other debates I've been to on tertiary policy and public transport there seemed to be some more interest in this issue; at least in expectation: it was held in the new auditorium in the business school. I think about the same number of people crammed themselves into a much smaller space for the public transport one; a fitting symbol of the unrequited demand for better public transport. The tertiary policy debate only attracted your usual straggle of hairy students; the stance of the New Zealand First representative was "is there even a debate on tertiary policy?"

The people that this debate attracted were naturally for patient choice, equality, transparency, &c., leading two of the speakers to pose criticisms of the audience. The first was Sir Rodger Douglas for ACT, who said that there were a lot of people in the room, every speaker before him, and a lot of people in general who care, but that caring makes no difference unless you also cure. His solution was to open up choice by giving the money back to the people. I thought that this was a fair criticism: people will clap when they hear what they think they want; he was encouraging them to ground their pipe-dreams a little, and I think we got his point.

The other criticism made me retch. The spokesman for National suggested in his closing remark that there was a lot of Green Party support in the room; this was acknowledged by some noise. He then proposed that if a Green supporter voted Green a Labour government would be more likely, a government which would be in favour of the Therapeutic Goods Administration which Greens and others in the room were against (Labour were conspicuously absent, along with NZ First, United Future). He said that to ensure the TGA would not come in people ought to vote not for Green but for National.

This is a seriously bad sentiment. Basically he's saying there are two parties who don't want the TGA, Our Party and Third Party, but only Our Party has the chance to become government, so vote for us. What he was asking people to vote on was not the issue but on the likelihood of their party becoming government. It's supposed to be the other way around: people should be able to vote in accord with their convictions with impunity, not be forced to vote "strategically" for a party they don't agree with.

It made me think of the refusal of Helen Clark and John Key to take part in TV3's all party debate. It made me think of the US election, the ultimate farce which our system here in New Zealand will escalate into if we allow major parties to monopolize the debate. There Ralph Nader is bluntly _not allowed_ to debate with Obama and McCain. And so if you say you're voting Nader you'll get a scale of responses from ignorant to informed: "Huh?! Who's Nader?", "But he won't win! shouldn't you vote for the lesser of two evils?", or "Right on, brother!". It's this "vote for the lesser of two evils" argument which makes me sick; and it's sad to see people buy it. If year after year you vote for the lesser of two evils: a) you only ever get an evil, and b) the two evils become more and more similar.

I'd argue that both of these are happening to some extent here; it has certainly already happened elsewhere. The feeling seems to be that the closer the race between the two major parties the less we should consider voting for a third party. It should be the other way around: a closer race oughta get more people voting for more extreme parties; otherwise the whole political arena descends into monotony and status quo as National tries to cater to the centre-left and Labour to the centre-right, trying to get an edge one over the other.

National has announced that they won't go back on the several Labour initiatives which they opposed but which went through (Working for Families, interest-free student loans, &c.); are they just some retarding force which only grudgingly admits progress? or are they too afraid to set themselves apart, since that would lose votes? And this isn't just an attack against National. The fact that National wants me to vote for them out of some desire to keep Labour out is insulting; as much I am insulted by Labour's "it's about trust" theme: they want me to vote for them to keep National out because National have been demonstrated to be "untrustworthy", but for all I know Labour could just be better than National at not getting caught. It's not about trust, it's about transparency. I shouldn't be being asked to vote on some vague faith that the government is doing it right, but on clear principles which are being openly and consistently acted upon.

Duverger's Law: in a first-past-the-post voting system a two-party race results; something which MMP aims to eliminate. I would go further and suggest some kind of electoral reform: if I liked Green and National policy then I could approve them both, or rank them in the order of my preference. This would eliminate the kind of negative campaigning which leads to major parties stealing the votes of third-party supporters. I've talked about the Greens, but this goes for any third party. Nobody should be able to tell you that an honest vote will be worse for you than a vote for them. And do you think National is in favor of electoral reform? perhaps; but only to eliminate MMP. I heard last weekend someone say, "I wish we could go back to voting for people. I think Helen's had her time; I like John Key." I kicked myself for not speaking up. We still do vote for people! What a shame John Key isn't running in your electorate; for that matter, neither is Helen Clark.

I'm not telling you not to vote for National, I'm not telling you not to vote for Labour; unlike electioneering politicians the only people or parties I'd advise not to vote for are those whom you disagree with.

Chocolate Cup Cake - Cake in a cup

You're doing it right
Figure 1: You're doing it right.

About 3 months ago i was forwarded an email of a cake in a cup. It gave complete instructions on how to prepare your cake in a cup along with pictures to make sure that you weren't stuffing up. Attached was a picture of someones failed attempt which put me off trying this idea.

Not wanting to destroy my microwave (not destroy but just far too lazy to clean it) i never tried this recipe until just recently i was making a real chocolate cake (for work). I had 5 minutes to spare and off i went.

5 Minutes later i had a very spongy cake in a mug. A bit bitter and could do with a tad more sugar but none the less, it was still a chocolate cake in a mug. Thus i shall share with you my delights.



  • 4 Tablespoons of self raising flour
  • 4 Tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons of cocoa
  • 1 Egg
  • 3 Tablespoons of milk
  • 3 Tablespoons of oil


  1. Mix dry ingredients together in a cup (or a mug)
  2. Spoon in the egg (mix in the egg)
  3. Mix in milk and oil into egg mixture just enough to combine
  4. Microwave on high for 3 minutes
  • In the unfortunate event that you do stuff up, do remember to place the cup/mug on top of a plate in the microwave
  • The cake will rise and may overflow over the top of the cup, never fear, just keep cooking and it should turn out fine
  • If you want to make it taste better i would suggest using slightly less cocoa and adding a little more sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg (makes any chocolate cake taste better)


Electoral System Referenda

In 1992, New Zealand held a referendum to decide on our electoral system. The referendum included five different voting systems. The options were:

  • MMP: For my generation, no introduction necessary.
  • FPP: The incumbent at the time.
  • STV: My preferred system, for reasons I'll try to make clear.
  • SM: Like MMP, but only the nominal list members are elected proportionally. Somewhere between FPP and MMP.
  • AV: Also known as 'Instant Runoff'. Somewhat like STV, but with a focus of finding a single majority winner.

MMP won this referendum. The next referendum was held alongside the 1993 election, and asked people to decide between FPP – the current system – and MMP. Campaigning was vicious. Big business got involved — a few very rich people very much wanted to keep the status quo. In the end, MMP won out by a narrow margin (3%).

National want another set of referenda, no later than 2011. But here's the trick: they plan to hold the referenda in the reverse order. The first referendum will decide whether MMP will be retained, or if a new (at that point unnamed) electoral system will be put into place. The second referendum would decide which system to replace MMP with. Hell, here's Key's own words:

"The referendum will give people a choice between retaining MMP without any further consideration or having a further vote on MMP alongside another electoral system or systems."

That's back asswards.

MMP poster, circa 1993

I support STV because I believe the worst thing an electoral system can do is disenfranchise somebody. That's the problem with FPP, and it's still a problem, albeit much more minor, with MMP. If you vote for a party that does not pass the 5% threshold, your vote is not counted — simple as that, try again in three years. STV solves this problem, and it solves it in a way that doesn't have the whole of parliament divided up into little minority groups that are impossible to muster into coalition. Heck, the threshold could stay at 5%. The only difference is that, should your first preference be excluded from parliament, your vote would count toward your second instead.

So, given that I support STV, what am I to do in the first of National's referenda? A vote against MMP is not a vote for something better. In fact, it's a vote for something completely unknown: all National would need to do to get their choice of electoral system is ensure the options in the second referendum split the vote of any opposition. That's very easy to do, considering there's a wealth of alternative STV or instant-run-off options, and only one traditional FPP system. Hell, take a clue from the 1993 playbook: lump the options you don't want together with an unpopular increase in the number of MPs.

So, in effect, National's proposed referendum puts my vote against MMP in with all the voters who actually want to see a return of FPP. If I vote in accordance with my views, it could be detrimental to my desired outcome. National's proposal breaks the monotonicity criterion.

Why would somebody want to see a return of FPP? Well, Key is counting on the fact that you've forgotten or, more likely for people my age, have never known how bad FPP was. He's hoping you've forgotten the 1993 election, in which National received just 35% of votes, yet gained 51% of parliament. He's hoping you've forgotten both 1978 and 1981, when Labour received more votes than National, yet received fewer seats. And you've sure as hell forgotten, if you ever knew, that Social Credit once received 21% of votes and got just 2% of seats.

But Labour is the one playing dangerous games with our electoral law, right? That's what rich middle-aged white men tell me. That's not to say Labour is any more impressive than National when it comes to electoral reform history (Labour was opposed to MMP too), I just think Key is the bigger threat to our democracy.

The Global Pool of Money

Want a good understanding of the causes of the sub-prime mortgage crisis? I'd recommend this This American Life episode, but it's not free. So, you might like to check out it's companion story, over on NPR. There's also the subprime primer, which is a good, humorous overview, but it doesn't give nearly the depth you get from TAL.

This week, This American Life did a follow-up story, to explain what's happened in the last two weeks. It's very, very good, and available for free download for the next little while. Money mutual funds, the commercial paper market, credit default swaps, netting, leverage, all very nicely explained and explored. Bonus: includes Modest Mouse's Bankrupt on Selling. Get it, and spend an interesting hour.

Edit: The Giant Pool of Money episode isn't available for free download, but it can be streamed for free, directly from the link above. You might even like to listen to it before this week's episode - it gives useful background information.

Wikipedia on Athenian Ostracism

Each year the Athenians were asked in the assembly whether they wished to hold an ostracism. The question was put in the sixth of the ten months used for state business under the democracy (January or February in the modern Gregorian Calendar). If they voted "yes", then an ostracism would be held two months later. In a roped-off area of the agora, citizens scratched the name of a citizen they wished to expel on potshards, and deposited them in urns. The presiding officials counted the ostraka submitted; if a minimum of six thousand votes were reached, then the ostracism took place: the officials sorted the names into separate piles, and the person receiving the highest number of votes was exiled for ten years.

The two stages of the procedure ran in the reverse order from that used under almost any trial system — here it is as if a jury are first asked "Do you want to find someone guilty?", and subsequently asked "Whom do you wish to accuse?".

Reminds me of something…

John Key on the Average Wage

So, Key promised $50 of tax cuts to the average New Zealander, did he? Here's how Stuff reported on what he actually delivered:

National will deliver tax cuts worth $47 a week to workers on the average wage of $45,000 - most delivered in April 2009.

And here's how The New Zealand Herald reported it:

In his speech notes Mr Key said the bulk of the cut would come on April 1 2009, meaning a worker on the average wage of $48,000 would be better off by an additional $18 a week above Labour's cuts from that date.

Problem is, of those figures, neither is what the average wage is. Neither of them is even close. The average worker in New Zealand makes less than $40,000. Most figures show the average worker earns about $37,000. The CTU says two thirds of workers earn less than John Key's imaginary "average wage".

John Key in 1987

The actual figures are so trivially easy to look up that I can't believe it's an honest mistake. Key is trying to mislead people, and make his tax cuts look better than they are. Unfortunately, before we get the hard details and somebody codes up a calculator, we're not really going to know why he pulled these figures out of his ass.

It only shows how out of touch he is with ordinary New Zealanders: he doesn't realize that more than half of us would love to be earning $40,000, let alone $45,000 or $48,000.

Stairs to Nowhere

In Albert Park, near the floral clockface, there's a set of stairs to nowhere. As you can see, they've got a railing right the way around, so the only purpose they could serve would be in standing atop them. Perhaps they function as a permanent (disused) soap-box?

Dame Edna in Albert Park, 1972

Dame Edna stands atop the structure in 1972


There's more than one New Zealand company that will buy ambergris from you. Keep an eye out next time you're at the beach.

Clark vs. Key: Round One

Tonight was the first leader's debate of this campaign.. minus all those pesky minority parties, of course. Going into it I had three real main questions: 1) Was Clark going to live up to her reputation as a political giant? 2) Was Key going to "Brash it", or actually give a real showing? 3) Were they going to be made to answer any real questions?

Quite frankly, I think Sainsbury got handed his balls on a platter. The man couldn't control them, he was completely ineffectual. Willie Jackson did a better job stopping Peters and Hooton killing each other on Eye to Eye. I don't think Clark lived up to her reputation. She was strong, yes, but talking over top of him made her look like she was literally having to compete with him for attention. Also, her personal digg - shouting at home - was appalling, and berating him about the Springbok tour made her look like she was living in the past.

She was strong on presenting her experience and she perhaps made up for the perceived disparity between their ability to handle the economic crisis by talking decisively about a post-economic plan. I was disappointed to see her dodging so many questions, though, especially the ones from the Maori commentator and specifically the one regarding 1/2 of all Maori boys leaving school without NCEA Level One by appearing to claim that she herself and come up with the idea of the apprenticeship.

I was abundantly impressed with Key. Yes, I'm partisan, but as a debater I thought he was impressive. He was knowledgeable - he answered questions instead of reverting to points and he gave lots of detail which is normally a Clark speciality. He was confident and forthright. He really had to come out and present himself as a man who could be the next leader of our country and I felt he did that. Yes, he gave in to the squabble a bit and I cringed at that but I thought he gained a lot more than he gave away. He pulled her up on Climate Change which was great to see and he definitely redeemed the party post the Brash massacre of '05.

Finally, were they made to answer any real questions? I think the YouTube thing was an interesting idea, but I hope the next debate is purely moderator - one with some stones, hopefully - driven. The commentators asked some hard questions but they weren't really forced to answer them. Yes, that's politics, but I would like to see someone really stick it to them and force them to get specific. They focussed mainly on domestic policy, but that's fair enough because in a country this size that's where elections are won and lost.

I'll be interested to see who gets declared the winner by impartial consensus - I think it was fairly evenly matched but I'd say Key gained a lot whereas Clark lost just a little too much by not coming out as the strong force we expect. So far the Herald has called it 2/3 for Key, but I'll be intrigued to see what the TVNZ poll says.

Your thoughts?

Talking Points

…he answered questions instead of reverting to points

What debate were you watching? Let's start with:


1:39, the question is: "Do you want to give students the chances previous generations had?". Key launches into his irrelevant talking point about education standards.

5:30, the question is: "If education is free, why do parents have to pay?". Key launches into his irrelevant talking point about bureaucrats. Sainsbury presses him to answer the question: does that mean he plans to get rid of compulsory donations by cutting red tape in Wellington? Nope: "Of course they'll have to pay" — apparently Key thinks that's a good thing as long as parents can afford it.


4:38, the question is: "Are you calling Dr. Sharples a liar?". Key doesn't directly answer, saying "I've never given that assurance". Taurima presses: "Who's telling the truth here?". John ignores him, and launches into an irrelevant talking point about how he is able to work with minor parties. After the third question ("Can we clear this up?…Did you or didn't you?"), Key finally gives an explanation.

12:15, the question is: "Are you willing to do anything [to win this election]?". Key doesn't answer, and launches into a talking point: "New Zealand needs to change".


There's more to it that just these few instances. The worst was probably when Key was given a question about low to middle income families, and then started talking about the independent earner rebate. Hello? There's a reason it's called the independent earner rebate, and Key's response was blatant question-dodging.

Bad Statistics

There was Key using wrong figures for Kiwisaver membership. A quarter, he said. BZZT. The maths is simple. 812,018 members, 2,126,200 people employed. That's 38%. Clark corrected him: she said a third.

Clark was pretty bad in this department too. She mentioned the average household wage in the context of tax cuts; tax is computed on a per-income basis, so household wage figures are misleading. Given that Labour's tax cuts are so much better than National's for low to middle income earners, I would have thought she'd have been more careful.


I don't think the debate was good for Key or Clark. Head to head means interesting television, sure. But I think it means bad manners and squabbling. With a few more people, there's a danger of someone taking the high road, so everyone is more restrained.

Version 6.0

It may not look like it, but this is a complete rewrite of SE, from the ground up; the first since 4.0, when the site looked something like this:

We're now running on Symfony 1.1, with Propel 1.3. The latest and greatest. It means I should be motivated to add a few new features — the code base is looking awesome.

There's still some bugs to work out. You might come across one or two. I'll try to patch them up in the next few days.

You might notice there's no more skin voting. I do intend to bring that back, but I chose to just concentrate on updating one skin, so I'll need to come up with some others first. That's no big loss, I don't think. Should be fun.

Things I like:

  • TinyMCE replaces FCKEditor to edit and submit news items. Which means paragraphing works properly, and no more <br /><br />
  • News items less than a month old used to disappear into the void once they hit the bottom of the index page. Now they sit there, in summary form, until the month passes (when they head over to the archives).
  • Attaching images to your news posts is now super-simple. No more worries about {image1} or {image2} or HTML.
  • Lists in news items, like this one, aren't ugly — they previously had different line spacing to the rest of the text. Ugh.
  • Search is better!
  • Error messages will take you back to the form you were using, and you won't lose all your typing.
  • OpenID support is less buggy, uses SReg 1.1, and resolves username conflicts.

Swing Seats

I'm writing this just before it screens on freeview and streams online. We went to the tvnz 7 "Swing Seats" debate, being, as Dom pointed out in a previous post, particularly privileged in terms of that ghastly election practice known as strategic voting.

Firstly, everybody but Hide admitted that they were campaigning for the party vote, which kinda detracted from the "town hall-style" atmosphere in which the debate was supposed to be housed; the questions were posed in terms of party policy and only tenuously linked to electorate issues. Instead of the candidates being faced with an audience of concerned citizens they were confronted by their own choir, quartered into partisan cohorts and drawn up in order: ACT, Greens, National, Labour. And yeah, the questions came from the floor, but from people already convinced in their vote; apart, perhaps, from the small contingent of local high-school students, who began with a kinda broad question but got in a better one later on.

Kate Sutton was dwarfed by the veteran Epsom candidates, and rattling off the trust, look at what we've done party lines definitely didn't help. She did compliment me on my hat before we went in, which had me pleasantly confused until I figured out who she was.

Keith Locke did his usual quiet insistent thing, answering reasonably but strongly. Perhaps he realized that although we couldn't hear him under the barracking he had a microphone, and the TV audience, probably more open to what the candidates had to say than the live audience, actually could hear him. Unfortunately, a well-meaning supporter of his asked a question about the _rising_ price of oil; and the whole point of the finitude of these magical things called resources was lost amidst suggestions that the questioner read the paper.

Richard Worth was criticized as having given up on the Epsom seat, which he countered by the party vote argument. Like the Labour candidate, this guy got disregarded a bit. Unlike Labour, National's support contingent weren't very vocal at all, just kinda waved their signs…which was all made up for by the vociferous ACT supporters whom we were unfortunately seated directly behind. An amusing and perhaps indicative situation played out in front of us: a woman gave her seat to a new arrival that he might sit next to his ACT buddies, and he thanked her sincerely; very soon, however, we noticed that she was physically shying away from her new neighbour, who was getting into the habit of letting out booming condemnations, and when the next opportunity arose she removed herself. Rodney did what he does best, playing to the crowd, walking in front of the other candidates rather than behind, speaking in that way of his which makes everyone shut up and listen. Unfortunately for him his supporters didn't do him much service, but he of all the others seemed most interested in supporting Epsom. I don't think it would be fair to say he's only interested in the electorate for the purpose of staying in parliament.

Meh, I'm new to the electorate; perhaps I haven't acclimatized yet.

This guy didn't do the best job of controlling the candidates, let alone the audience. I'm not even sure whether we should apply a word with the audi- root to that group of people. The questions didn't get the chance to be answered, let alone debated. We moved swiftly from education to crime to economy and I don't think any of those issues was properly addressed, but that's what you get when you pile a whole lot of people who know their party lines and are sure they're right into a room. I'll be interested to see how it comes across on the teevee.

World of Goo

I just finished World of Goo, and dammit, it's fantastic. It's crazy that a game this good can be produced by just two people.

You should play it right now. You've got no excuse: it's available for Linux, for Mac OS and for the Wii. The Windows distribution channels are numerous (including Steam), and there's absolutely no regional price differences (not the case for many recent releases: I'm looking at you Farcry 2 and Fallout 3).

If you don't know whether you'll like it, well, screw you. You should be able to take my word for it. Of course, I'm not the only person who thinks it's great (that score is equal with Half-Life 2). And there's a generous, substantial (and free) demo that should convince you of the game's merits. You have nothing to lose but your ignorance.

Ancient Pro-Lifers

So it's exam break and I was finishing off a math assignment, looking for a good definition for a proper face in the geometrical sense, when I caught sight of this link which I strangely followed:­_a_unborn_baby­_without­_getting­_a_proper_abortion_i_need­_to_know_please.­_i_cant_get_a_proper_abortion_and­_need_to­_know_a_safe_way_that_i_­can_get_rid_of­_it_without­_getting_a_­proper_one&src=ansTT

 In studying a different subject I came across Ovid's Amores II xiv:

 Why should girls be exempt from war-service

     and refuse to follow the Amazons

if they carry lethal weapons in peace-time

     and suffer self inflicted wounds?

 The first woman to tear an embryo from the womb

     should have died of that assault herself.

 How can you fight this duel on the sands of death

     simply to save your stomach a few wrinkles?

If the mothers of old had followed your vicious example

     mankind would be extinct—

we should need a second Deucalion

     to renew our stony stock.

Who would have broken the power of Priam

     had Thetis cut short her pregnancy?

Had Ilia mudered her unborn twins

     who would have founded the queen of cities?

The world could wait in vain for Caesar

     if Venus miscarried with Aeneas.

You yourself would have died unbeautiful

     had your own mother been as callous as you.

And is it not better for me to die of love

     than be murdered by my mother?

Why rob the vine when the grapes are growing?

     Why strip the tree of the bitter fruit?

Let it ripen, ready to fall. Let first beginnings be.

     New life is worth a little patience.

Why jab the needle in your own flesh

     and poison the unborn?

We condemn Medea and Philomela

     for murdering their children—

Both were inhuman mothers: but both had bitter cause

     to punish their men by such blood-sacrifice.

Is there a Jason or is there a Tereus driving you

     to mutilate your own body?

No tigress in wild Armenia does that—

     no lioness destroys her own cubs.

But tender-hearted girls do—and  pay the penalty:

     for the murderess often dies herself,

dies and is carried out in a shroud of hair to the burning,

     and the people who see it shout Serve her right !

 May my words vanish on the wind

     and bring us no bad luck.

May the gods be gracious, overlook a first offence

     and give her a second chance.

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