An arrogant prick ACTs decently

EDIT: the final amount raised was just over $100,000.

Our sainted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently made the mistake of saying — with a live microphone in front of her — what she really felt about David Seymour, the publicity-savvy leader of the opposition ACT Party.

What gets said on the floor of Parliament gets recorded into something called the Hansard, and so it is now a matter of historical record that Mr Seymour is an “arrogant prick.” No argument from me.

But he’s also very smart and enormously energetic at his job. He’s learned how to turn his nerdy debate-club superiority and prickly oligarch-apologist libertarian ideology into a potent political brand.

And so we have one of the best political feel-good stories in a while. They both signed a copy of the Hansard page in question and it’s being auctioned off to support prostate cancer charity. The bidding is already up to $60,000 with nearly a week to go.

“Supporting pricks everywhere.” Next year’s best campaign slogan.

Well done, Mr Seymour. It can’t have been the first time you’ve been called bad names by your exasperated opponents, and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the last. But you’ve deftly parried and scored, while doing something altogether decent with the fundraising power you hold.

O caption my caption

The NYT today briefly showed us a headline about the Texas abortion law battle under a picture of tornado destruction in Kentucky.

But wait, that must be a glitch. I figure this page was composed by a junior layout editor, no doubt someone with an Ivy League education and parents who routinely donate to NPR. There’s no way such a person could be so snarky and bitter as to equate the freakishly destructive December tornadoes with the politico-legal maelstrom that gives us this law and this Supreme Court at the same time.

Is there?

All Politics is Local

On the right, Trevor Mallard, Speaker of Parliament. In the center, seated and appearing to listen raptly, Lee and I. I will say parenthetically that the name Trevor Mallard sounds even more comical with a New Zealand accent, at least to my ear… the syllables are accented more evenly than in American dialect and the last part is pronounced just like the word lard. But whatever his name, he is the Speaker of Parliament and that ain’t nothing.

Our freshman MP, Shanan Halbert, has impressed us with his energy. If you hold an event bigger than a child’s birthday party, Shanan will be there and he will take a selfie and he will post it on Facebook.

On that same Facebook page he posted a note saying he’d be having dinner at a nearby restaurant (that we’d already been to and liked) and would anybody want to come? Done. It turned out he’d booked the entire restaurant, meaning there were about 50 or 60 dedicated Labour Party types and a few curious spectators like ourselves.

Trevor Mallard was there in the capacity of after dinner speaker and to present a few people with their Labour Party life membership pins. He told a few stories, which might have been more amusing to him, or at the time, then they were to us, or now. His phone went off while he was speaking, and he gets high marks for having a quack quack ringtone.

Shanan makes the third Member of Parliament I’ve had a conversation with. I’ve been in close proximity with the Prime Minister twice and had my picture taken with the Leader of the Opposition. And none of those interactions cost me a penny. Shanan has office hours every Friday within walking distance of home, and so did my previous MP David Seymour. Of course, that level of interaction with regular people would be impossible for American politicians… It would mean that Congress would have many thousands of members. But it’s amazing and wonderful to feel like politics is so accessible. I wonder how many US problems would recede if there were a similar level of connectedness.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day

Although it won’t be official for a few weeks, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party has won enough votes to govern NZ alone for the next three years. The opposition National party didn’t have a credible alternative policy, and its leadership was beset by internal and personal problems. Jacinda’s coalition partner NZ First (finally) self-destructed. The Greens, the Māori party and Libertarian ACT all did ok, but not enough to have a guaranteed role in shaping policy.

The most interesting parts of the election are the least certain till all the votes are counted: referendums on legalizing recreational marijuana and euthanasia. In my circles, sentiment seems to be leaning in favor of both, but let’s see.

Even with a pandemic delay, the campaign was blissfully short and substantive. NZ faces a lot of problems, as does the whole world. It’s not clear how this or any government will solve them… but by a lot of measures this government has in fact outperformed the entire world recently.

So congrats Jacinda and Let’s Keep Moving!!

A beacon in the darkness

Proud of the unruly, cantankerous residents of Brattleboro and surrounding towns! They would argue endlessly over a fifty cent rise in trash fees or what color to paint the school maintenance shed, but they’ll do it six feet apart while wearing face masks!

Waitangi Day 2020

Waitangi Day

Chuffed! NZ has its own Google Doodle celebrating Waitangi Day today, yay! The Prime Minister would have made this announcement herself, but she was busy cooking breakfast for the people gathered at the Treaty Grounds for the annual celebration. Because she’s awesome like that.


Get out of here you dirty hippie

Last weekend’s trip to the market netted us both mung bean sprouts and hemp seeds. Either one is probably OK, but together I fear they represent some sort of consumption turning point.

The predictive polling algorithms would probably identify us as Bernie Sanders supporters based on that single purchase (not correctly, as it turns out… I’m hoping for a ticket where Bloomberg gives his billion dollars to Buttegieg).

Get a job

I saw this tableau on my way home last night… nobody around it.

I believe it is now widely accepted that telling a homeless person to “get a job” is unhelpful and inappropriate.

Is it more or less hateful to throw down a textbook on multivariate data analysis?

One more from Vietnam: Thiên Mu Pagoda

One more place we visited in Vietnam was the Thiên Mu Pagoda.

At first, not realizing where we were, it seemed like another chance to see some bonsai trees and carvings and stuff…

But then we came to this… the car driven by Thich Quang Duc to his self-immolation in 1963.

I first learned about that terrifying day a few years ago:

But somehow in my head the movie sort of started with him in the street dousing himself with gasoline. Thinking of driving yourself to your death, of having breakfast that day, brushing your teeth, simply being alive all morning… and the day before… yikes.

Communist Propaganda

  • Mostly, Vietnam seemed like other developing countries I’ve been to, which isn’t actually all that many.
    • Things seemed grubby and chaotic, and I didn’t understand how things could work, but they basically did.
      People really want our money, which makes sense because they obviously need more than they have. Still, nobody stole anything or menaced us.
  • But one thing stood out for me, since this was the first real People’s Republic I’ve been to… the propaganda billboards displayed around town. They were caricatures of themselves, as if they’d named their intelligence officers Boris and Natasha.
  • Scoot!

    For as much noise as they’ve caused, it’s a little surprising that I haven’t written more about the Lime scooter invasion.

    Lime scooters are awesome electric scooters. You unlock them with an app on your phone and whiz along at up to about 16 mph. Totally fun. And they do solve the last mile problem for a lot of trips.

    But Auckland seems to have been completely overwhelmed by Lime’s famously aggressive rollout team. Nobody figured out the details of how they have been introduced, where you can and can’t ride them (sidewalks, bike lanes, etc), who pays for the (many!) injury claims, who is responsible for maintenance lapses, and so on.

    Or rather, Lime figured out all those details and Auckland failed to disagree. So the money goes to the VCs, and the costs stay here. The situation is particularly troubling in NZ, because of the national, tax-funded, no-fault insurance policy we all enjoy. When a private company introduces a dangerous product, their liability is mostly absorbed by the citizenry. That can be balanced by good product regulation, but government missed the mark on this one.

    The City Council did take the scooters off the streets last week over safety concerns, but now they’re back. Still fun, but for me the bloom is off the rose, and I’ll be much less enthusiastic about Lime than I was at first.

    Happy New Year

    Happy Year of the Earth-Pig!

    (In an early recognition of the impending Chinese global takeover, I’m just calling it “New Year” instead of “Chinese New Year”)

    Hot roddin’

    Last weekend we loaded the tandem into the van (I can hear some people yawning already) and headed up to Orewa to check out the Te Ara Tahuna Estuary Cycleway and Walking Track.

    The ride was lovely, although we got lost in subdivisions a couple of times (welcome to Orewa, where you can check out any time you want…)

    But wait, there’s more! We were apparently the only people in New Zealand who didn’t know that Orewa over Anniversary weekend means hot rods. Lotsa lotsa hot rods.

    I’m not really a hot rod guy, mostly for political/ snobbery reasons… those are, for the most part, not my people. But OMG the cars are magnificent. The giant engines, clean enough to eat off. You can reach into the metal-flake paint jobs up to your elbow. It’s all good: the ball fringe, the greasy food truck smells, the Betty Boop costumes.

    And of course it’s almost all Americana. There were maybe 5 or 10% right hand drive cars… the rest was pure Detroit. There were more Mustangs and Camaros than anything else. We pulled in to the sounds of Johnny Cash, and later saw a very convincing Polynesian Elvis grinding away on the little bandshell stage, mopping his face in the heat.

    Part of me does wonder, back to the political/ snobbery discussion, whether there’s a need for some additional work so that the next generation of li’l rodders is more fully empowered and socially tolerant than those that came before. But in the meantime, listen to that engine roar!!

    Falun Wrong

    On Friday the Falun Gong people were out silently protesting their fellows’ persecution back in China. I was instantly beset with a welter of conflicting thoughts…

    • Good to be in a place where people can feel safe enough to protest in public like that
    • Why in the world would China feel a need to persecute people for doing their little morning exercises… there must be more to the story
    • But my notion of freedom seems to not quite apply in China. And their brand of society seems to be pretty amazingly successful these days.
    • Forced organ harvesting? Really? In the hundreds of thousands? Really? Wouldn’t we have heard more?
    • Or not… can we trust the media to report on the important issues?
    • Yeah, actually, I think we can, more or less
    • So, good luck with your protest, I hope you find happiness somehow.

    Is there ever a good time? Or a bad time?

    New Zealanders, and Aucklanders in particular, are very focused on building personal wealth through real estate. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, but mostly it’s been a great investment for quite a long time. In Auckland, for example, tax values are up almost 50% in the last three years, and retail prices more than that. Bubble? Time will tell. The new government has said it will limit foreign buyers’ ability to buy real estate, causing a bit of a flurry among the (largely Chinese) community of foreign cash buyers.

    This particular property is leased by a property investment firm. They are being kicked out as that building is part of a large parcel that is about to get sold and even further densified.

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