Saturday, May 15, 2021

On Taiwan's Recent Covid-19 Cluster

Unfortunate to hear this news out of Taiwan this evening, with Taipei moving into lockdown. They really had been (and in many ways still are) a singular success story for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, reading this ... my thoughts turned to various things that our own domestic right wing / opposition had come out with over the past few months. Because everything that went wrong with Taiwan's response here (and it must be said - they've done very very well to get this far sans something like this eventuating), is something directly connectable to something somebody from National or ACT demanded we do. 

For a start - this cluster in Taiwan appears to have kicked off due in part to the opening of a tourism travel bubble with a Pacific nation. Something that people in National have been jumping up and demanding that we do poste haste, because who could believe that there'd be any risk in opening up to Fiji, right? 

For a second - the leap from quarantined air-crew to ordinary citizens appears to have taken place due to a privately owned hotel attempting to ... do something I don't quite understand around opening itself up for "air travel fans" who would like to sleep near an international airport so they can hear/see planes taking off. Not what one tends to be looking for in a hotel, but ok. 

Now, I viscerally remember some from National opining that we should open the border to international students - and have universities responsible for the quarantine/managed isolation requirement management in their own hostels. The idea was to shift some of the burden from the Government's MIF capacity on to private enterprise. Because of course, the profit motive means that there'll be a significant financial incentive for any private sector (or likes to think it's one in the case of the universities) operation not to screw up by doing something daft!

Which is not to say that we haven't had our share of "how on EARTH did that happen?!" from our Government-run border facilities, of course - only to suggest that "just because it's private, doesn't mean it's automagically more competent". 

For a third - we have heard a lot about Taiwan's world-beating contact-tracing systems. I have no doubt that they have performed seriously well to this point. Hence why David Seymour was suggesting that if only we moved to more fulsomely emulate Taiwan upon this score, we could significantly abandon our current Covid-management strategy. 

Except leaving aside the fact that ACT's libertarian support-base would probably be hugely opposed to what they'd term a "surveillance state" (unless it was run by private enterprise, presumably) - the issue is that with this current cluster in Taiwan, it sounds like they've had some problems with their contact-tracing processes, to the point that potentially infected persons who were in the same hotel buffet-queue with infected aircrew were finding out from the news rather than being called up or traced. 

Now this isn't about gloating about what's happening to Taiwan. Of course it isn't. They've done well, they'll likely continue to do well, and there's much which every nation may learn from their success. 

But it IS about pointing out that any system, any regimen CAN have gaps, shortfalls - and that the sorts of people back here in New Zealand who were attacking our own approach and claiming that if only we had emulated Taiwan (something we were and are, to be frank, not really in a position to do .. not completely, at any rate), we'd never have had a lockdown and could do all sorts of ramping-up-the-risk things like Pacific tourism bubbles or en-masse international student influxes ... 

Well, no, that's not how it works.

It's true to state, I suspect, that in various cases we've had where there were oversights with our own border management ... we've been significantly luckier than the Taiwanese were here. We have definitely benefitted from luck. But contra to what certain grumpy voices in the media have recently sought to suggest - we have never been solely dependent upon it for our (relative) success.

Where problems have happened, and where containment has been breached - we've moved to constrain the virus's spread and we have managed to do so with a thankfully limited human cost. Particularly following the end of the August outbreak. 

I am sure that the Taiwanese shall endeavour to do the same. 

All I can suggest is that we continue to improve our procedures and our processes - and remain vitally aware that caution, an abundance of caution as the Prime Minister put it back afore February's 'Valentines Day' lockdown cluster-response, remains our watchword. 

It is easy when one is successful to become complacent. And complacency leads to the unwarranted feeling that just because something hasn't happened thus far ... that axiomatically means that it isn't going to happen in the future, even and perhaps especially when some fundamental shifts are made in what one is doing that alter the risk-profile in question. Like opening up to other countries, for instance.

I look forward to the broader rollout of vaccination here meaning that we don't have to worry quite so much about individual border-control breaches. 

Yet it must also be remembered, upon that score, that until there is a more pervasive vaccination of much of the rest of the world - we're just buying time, effectively. 

Time we MUST use to build up our own defences - and yes, quite probably, seek to more actively emulate the Taiwanese' response-capacity in certain ways that are appropriate for us here. 

Our thoughts are with Taiwan at this time, just as mine - personally - are currently with India. 

Let us hope that they get back on top of things afore too long. 


Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Properties Of Tino Rangatiratanga - On Judith Collins' Convention Speech

I took a brief look through Judith Collins' speech to the New Zealand National Party's northern convention today and uh ...

"Article 2, Tino Rangatiratanga, confirms the property rights of all people. It establishes that all iwi, families and individuals have rights over their own land and property. Property rights are again a key democratic principle and core to National party values."

Now ... what I suspect has happened here is that Collins has not realized the problem.

That problem being that while, yeah, that's what Article Two broadly sets out in the English version - she's mixed it up a bit by terming this "Tino Rangatiratanga".

Which, again to be fair, is what is in the Te Reo Maori version of Article Two.

It's just that "Tino Rangatiratanga" very definitely does not (just) mean "Property Rights". And, if we are running on the Te Reo version of the text, I'm also very sure that the definition of 'taonga katoa' (i.e. what Maori thought they were maintaining rangatiratanga over) is quite a lot broader than "land and property".

I haven't actually checked the jurisprudence upon the matter in any great depth, but it does appear that for Treaty purposes, (Maori) Health does indeed constitute a Taonga [c.f the Wai 2575 Treaty claim]

Which, yes, we can have an open conversation about how to protect and uphold. Whether this is best done as part of a unitary state system ... with a specialized Maori component; or whether a patchwork of DHBs is the better answer, for example.

Or, to take things further - whether Iwi can themselves act, in a much closer manner to what the Te Reo Maori version of Article Two seems to have envisaged (intentionally or otherwise) as the active authorities themselves.

Previously, National hasn't had too much issue with this. It's an integral part of the settlement they were quite proud to negotiate with Tuhoe that the Iwi would be able to work in partnership with the Crown to deliver key services - including with relation to welfare and healthcare.

It's also something which somewhat underpinned the previous National-led government's very expansive welfare 'reform' project, Whanau Ora (which Collins talks up in her speech). Although that went far further in the degree to which it was open to non-Governmental components playing a role in Maori (but also Pasifika .. and in theory, other New Zealanders as well ... in theory) service delivery in that sphere.

Tariana Turia put it best, I feel -

"I'm a firm believer in the private or NGO sector carrying out a lot of functions of the state - that is what rangatiratanga is about."

Which probably explains why she got a standing ovation when she spoke to ACT's 2006 party convention.

And it's that kind of thinking which provides a potential 'Option Two' for the interpretation of the relevant portion of Collins' speech ... namely, that it's deliberate, and is part of a subtle culture-jamming 'privatization' of Maori political ethos. Although to be honest, I doubt the Nats of 2021 are clever (or long-term focused) for that.

Either way, the incipient 'redefinition' of a cornerstone of Maori political aspirations - whatever one may happen to think of various demands for 'Tino Rangatiratanga' and its various forms - into mere material attainment is something odious.

Although I suppose, upon closer inspection, that that's simply National all up - taking the supernal, the transcendental, the actively meaningful ... and saying "these are values, that means they're convertible into dollar-signs".

To bring things back to the specific Labour proposal which Collins is attempting to attack -

I must admit I haven't seen enough detail upon it to decide one way or the other whether I support it or not. I am not a fan of having separate this that and the other thing 'just because' - but also feel that this is not a case of 'just because' being the sum total of the justification for exploring the possibility of a Maori Health Authority.

Even leaving aside the direct claim that such a structure might be Treaty mandated (which I'm not sure that it would be, for reasons I'll soon address) - there is a practical dimension to the consideration. What we're doing at the moment for healthcare in general isn't succeeding optimally for many New Zealanders, and is failing quite dismally for a variety of reasons for many Maori over and above this as well.

If there is evidence to suggest that the Maori Health Authority proposal would meaningfully improve performance, then what is wrong with that? It would surely take a hard heart indeed to insist that a philosophical commitment to the same kind of 'egalitarianism' which holds things fair and equal as both the rich and the poor are legally prohibited from sleeping under bridges ... means that a useful health reform proposal cannot go ahead.

The way I've generally thought about the Treaty is that it has by necessity become a compromise between the two versions. In theory, the Te Reo Maori version has legal precedency - but it is quite plainly apparent that in reality, even its terms are not absolute. In the strictest literal sense of the words, 'Tino Rangatiratanga' remains held by the Crown - hence why some are still quite keen to protest for it.

The specific maintenance and performance of various Taonga related rights and duties have likewise been vested in the state. Hence why there was a wave of Treaty claims upon these when the state divested itself of these during the waves of privatization slash vandalism carried out in the 1980s and 1990s. Because if the State wasn't going to look after these things which had - somewhat involuntarily - become invested in it by Maori ... then Maori would quite understandably be rather keen to be having them back, thanks. [The various developments around radio broadcast frequency - for the support of Maori language and culture - are an interesting case-study, perhaps ... but more upon that some other time]

One of these Taonga, as we have noted above, is Health. Which, in terms of the exercise of rangatiratanga, would entail healthcare provision - something that is both a core Crown capability and responsibility (via the public healthcare system), and which also exists in the private sector sphere.

There is a quite legitimate perception that the Crown's provision and custodianship of this Taonga of Maori Health ... hasn't been an unqualified success - indeed, by comparison to much of the rest of the population, on equity grounds, it's been ... well, something else.

National started the week by claiming that a Maori-focused health unit would be "segregation". They've since changed tac, and claimed that while they're not opposed to the general principle of Maori-oriented service delivery vehicles ... this particular one is Iwi/Kiwi, replete with the multi-coloured billboards awaiting in the wings.

They have their reasons for that, of course - even if they might be different to the ones they started out the week professing to believe so ardently in.

Yet ultimately, it's all just so much politics. You read through the bullet-pointed list of "TWO SYSTEMS" exemplars Collins has singled out as purported Labour insidious social engineering ("by stealth") .. and the majority of these things are elements which actually got rolled out to a significant degree under National during its previous nine years of Government anyway.

Gosh, I guess it really WAS Labour working very much "by stealth" if they were so stealthy they had the National Party do it all for them whilst they were stuck in Opposition!

National's looking for a Shiver to send up the collective Spine of Middle New Zealand (via way of the Talkback belt), and the delicate double-speak Collins has to engage in in this speech of hers shows just how difficult it might be for her to turn the clock back on the John Key era to the Don Brash era - without bellyflopping herself all the way back to the Bill English error in the process.

She can't make succinct stands on nice, easy, white-shining Principle, because National's own record sells her out at almost every other turn. She can't do Pragmatism in lieu of principle, because the pragmatic approach may just turn out to be the principled one as well - on this issue, at any rate.

So she's left with the inchoate endeavour of redefining words as she dances upon the head of a pin, giving voice to the people who used to call in to MagicTalk Radio to tell us all how voiceless they now were, and seeking to (New)Con her way back to the lifelines of electoral relevancy.

As Matthew Hooton put it earlier this week in his own writeup of this ungainly display of the twilight hours of her political life -

"At least Don Brash had a sense of theatre." 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Why You're Being Told To Believe We've Just Sold Out To China

This whole thing about "JACINDA / LABOUR ARE CRASHING NEW ZEALAND OUT OF THE FIVE EYES BECAUSE THEY'RE SECRETLY IN LEAGUE WITH THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA - OR WISHING TO BE" meme is ridiculous.

Now, leaving aside the very legitimate points of hesitancy which New Zealand has over, you know, allowing the same five countries which majority-declared that Iraq ought be invaded for possessing "weapons of mass destruction", to decide via declaration aspects of our core foreign policy for us ...

... the stupid thing is that NONE of this is actually based on genuine concerns of a geopolitical nature. Helen Clark has already come out and shown some of the allegations about the previous Labour-led Government in relation to the Five Eyes to be simply untrue. The *current* Labour-led Government, in its previous term, pursued a fairly active *continuance* of rapproachment with the United States ... and I stress that it was a *continuance*, because it actually *began* during the previous Labour-led Government's 2005-2008 final term.

Meanwhile, as we saw not all that long ago - during the previous Parliamentary term in fact - all the outrage from certain corners of the commentariat was about how the Labour/NZF Government was actually seriously jeopardizing our relationship with the People's Republic of China. Mysterious "definitely not bans" on certain of our key exports to the PRC ensued as a result, a Chinese diplomat made pointed remarks about poking out eyes in our direction, the list goes on.

I suppose you can forgive the PRC for expecting New Zealand to be a pliable little not-quite-ally. After all, it had faced zero opposition getting a *literal PRC spy* elected into our Parliament, who had then proceeded to arrange direct face-to-face contact and photo-ops for prominent members of the Government with the PRC's head of secret police, etc.

Except ... hold the phone ! That didn't take place under Labour! That took place under National! The blue-coloured, (more-) neoliberal right-wing 'conservative' party. Those are the facts, well documented after they came out - and then supplemented by quite the cavalcade of additional supplementary evidence showing a web of influence and influence-peddling going on both under National's watch and pervasive throughout the National Party itself.

So why is it that we're only NOW hearing people in certain places jumping up and down about how New Zealand has purportedly - just recently - Sold Our Soul to the People's Republic of China?

(Which further can't be the case - if it were possible to do such a thing, the National Party would have (part-)privatized it and hocked it off overseas at the first possible opportunity along with the power-generation assets and the farmland, etc.)

Well, it's simple. Across the world, a lot of people want to be annoyed with New Zealand and our present Prime Minister in particular. It's right there in the obnoxious Telegraph piece which kicked off this whole kerfuffle once more - Jacinda is spoken of as "tiresomely woke", and the headline blares that she (rather personally, which is curious - we are not a Presidential democracy, after all, nor a monarchy ... except in exactly the same way the UK is) is the "West's woke weak link".

New Zealand has weathered - and continues to weather - the pandemic better than seemingly any other country in the Western world. From afar, we look (and I stress that it is just that - a look. Appearances *may* be bitterly deceiving) to have some sort of idyllic actually-sane-and-rational society all of a sudden (just don't mention the housing prices). Jacinda has become a domestic symbol in polities across the globe for , no doubt , the sort of people who were once multi-coloured-hair-dye University campus "communists" who these days go about "cancelling" people.

In other words ... in the (post-)Colonial Metropoles of yesteryear, they just can't have it, this business of a *Colony* outperforming the Mother Country or the would-be (still) World Hegemon. It's an embarrassment! And one doubled down upon when it comes to the sorts of people parading about with Her Graven Image in their own domestic contexts, to boot.

So how to attack Jacinda and our Labour-led Government? Why, it's quite simple. They're "Red". Literally, that's the party colour - and to a certain sort of (fifth) columnist, Red is quite simply a 'red rag' to a bull-scatology-artist. It's easy (and fun, too!) to portray Labour as being COMMUNISTS - a "pretty communist" as the protest sign in 2017 held aloft by an agrarian opponent of Labour's had it.

Except how can you POSSIBLY portray a fairly unremarkable in many respects middle-of-the-road modern neoliberal-consensus party as being THE DREADED RED MENACE these days ?

The obvious one would be via the Dancing Cossacks of the Modern Era - and I don't mean the Muldoon kind, but rather the Reds Under The Bed formenting chaos in one's domestic elections. The Russians, that is. Except that just wouldn't fly as applies New Zealand - not that it shall likely stop somebody from printing bizarre contusions about Jacinda the personalized puppet of one Vladimir Putin, the Wellington-based KGB agent once upon a time.

But instead, it's the PRC confection that's been chosen for this purpose. Because at least THERE, there might LOOK like some sort of contusion and/or collusion occurring - if you seriously massage the facts so as to outright obviate many of them (and I am thinking in particular of New Zealand's actual record of statements and engagements in the direction of the PRC over the past two years in this department).

Yet as I say - this is utterly un-about the actual situation of New Zealand under the current Labour administration. At least with regard to our relationship with the People's Republic of China.

If it WERE about our rather problematic entanglement with the PRC, then we should have heard all about it with reference to the previous shenanigans occurrent under the National Party.

Except we didn't - because the sorts of people who are these days up in arms about our Labour-led, indeed our Jacinda-led Government ... tend to quite *like* the National Party and the sorts of noises *it* makes, so wouldn't want to embarrass them and thus 'let the side down'.

So instead, the party which has actually moved us AWAY from our far-too-close and actually-worrisomely-penetrated strangulation-embrace with the PRC, is being castigated for somehow turning us into Airstrip One Of The South Pacific for the impending Sinification of just about everywhere. Never mind how much in the way of political and literal fiscal capital we may have poured into attempting to provide a viable alternative to PRC for the battleground states of the Pacific. Never mind the aforementioned trade consequences for our statements on the PRC's various 'controversial' actions in recent times in Hong Kong etc. Never mind the PRC's OWN quite vitriolic remarks against us, on everything from our decision to close the border to the PRC in the early weeks of Covid-19 through to our previous concordance with other Five Eyes nations upon PRC-relevant matters. Never mind our own decision to block Huawei from participating in our 5G rollout. Never mind our drawing cordially closer to the Americans, or any of the rest of it.

For it quite plainly Doesn't Fit The Narrative these chicken-hawk fish-and-chip paper-purveyors wish to broadcast about our country, our sovereignty, our aspirations, our vision, our future.

The contents of those headlines have been weaponized both at home and abroad by people who have just been LOOKING for something, anything, to have a go at what they think our Government represents. The lack of substance almost precisely becomes its enduring appeal - anything you like may be projected out thereupon.

You're a right-whinger who wants to live-action roleplay Cold War Mk.II Electric Boogaloo? Ok, so wail about how the GODLESS COMMUNISTS are running New Zealand as part of the Sixty Ninth Internationale in confederation with "Red China".

You're a more middle-of-the-road sounding Anglosphere sort who secretly yearns for the days of the Sun never setting upon a certain opium-dealing empire? Well then - talk up the notion that New Zealand has quite literally 'sold out' both Her own people, and also our traditional mates across the Tasman into the bargain (and scrupulously, conspicuously forget about just how uneven that relationship has been both recently and in the past).

You have some problem with the local SJW brigade wherever you may so happen to be in the world at large? Turn "Jacinda", the "Tiresomely Woke" "Weak Link" of the West, as the headline blares at you ... into the proxy target for your outrage at them kids down the road tone-policing John Cleese. Or whatever it is these days.

Politics, particularly of the popular-elective variety and especially as conveyed through the conventional or even unconventional news media - is effectively an exaltation of the Symbolic over the Real. That's all it comes down to, in the end. Symbolic choices, some of which may actually bear real consequences - provided the symbol is weighty enough that its bearers come to believe in it themselves.

And soon enough and sure enough - just as the Gulf War Did Not Take Place [to reference me some Baudrillard], or more especially as Iraq HAD Weapons of Mass Destruction ... Or At Least, Saddam Was A Nasty Enough Guy That We Were Totally Justified In Rolling Him Anyway -

The 'facts' fade away into distant, diffident obsolescence and thence obviation outright. To be replaced with the inestimably more enduring general feeling, general perception, which suborns all else beneath its subconsciously-resonating yoke.

A propaganda campaign, you may say - carried out by none other than those former-yet-future (post-)colonial would-be world masters.

Whether of the Media or the more overt Imperial centers of power. Wherever they may so happen to be. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

On Cultural Communication Amidst The Current Covid Cluster Management

 I have seen a few comments about the place concerning Case M etc. - asking if maybe the Government didn't do enough to communicate with the person (and family) in question in culturally relevant ways or a language he could understand. 


Now we shall leave aside whether a tertiary student at MIT might have difficulty with understanding English - and, for that matter, whether whomever was talking with him being of a different race may also have helped [not least because we don't actually know the guy's ethnicity, so it seems rather premature to presume that having, as one tweeter put it "any Māori or Pasifika or other poc health officials present" would have made all the difference ... and I am not convinced that these three categories of intermediary are functionally interchangeable].


The fact is that while yes, I agree that culturally relevant communications and communicators CAN be helpful for ensuring that the right information is both imparted and received ... this sadly doesn't eliminate the possibility for people to be duplicitous and/or reckless anyway.


People escaping Auckland  to downcountry baches, for instance - I would hazard a guess that the reason they're doing this isn't because of failures by the Government to communicate in a language they were familiar with, and featuring communication by persons of their relevant ethnic locus of identity. 


Or David Clark - often sobriquetted as "The Hapless" - and his own various excursions in violation of the regulations he was supposed to to be adhering to. The man was Minister of Health - he can hardly blame the Minister of Health for being ethnically nor linguistically distant from him in an attempt to explicate his behavior.


The unfortunate truth is that people are people, wherever you go. 


It's definitely beneficial for the Government to have facility - and to make active use of those facilities - to reach out as broadly as possible with its messaging and informational collection 


But at a certain point - the Government has done all it can on these fronts, and it's over to individuals and families to come to the party on these matters. 


Could the Government have done more in this particular case to get the needs of the collective across, and ensure that all information required was both transmitted and received? I don't know - I wasn't in the room. 


It's definitely the case, no matter how you choose to slice it, that a failure has occurred. 


But the more that we learn about these specific circumstances - the less that I am thinking it's a failure on the Government's behalf. 


Although everybody is human - and I suspect rather strongly that the person(s) at the center of the latest breach are probably becoming quite aware that they've made a few mistakes in recent days. I doubt their neighbours are particularly impressed, for example - and it shall surely be rather awkward for the chap when it comes time to renew his gym membership. 


Could we be doing more? In terms of financial support - I think there's a reasonable case that we could. We want to be empowering people to make the right call - and if there is a financial motivation, or downright imperative, to do the wrong thing (like going in to work - potentially under fear that if you don't, you may not possibly have a job at the other end of the isolation period) ... then that motivation must be countered, and counter-balanced rather than stabbingly cauterized. 


But - other than death - there is seemingly no curative for fundamental human nature. 


All we can do is hope that all humans involved - or viewingly proximate to the current contratemps - learn from the experience.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

On Damien Grant On Damien Grant On Covid-19, Hindsight, And Playing Russian Roulette With A Semi-Automatic Aimed At One's Own Foot

Like a diminishing quotient of New Zealanders, I have the occasional expectation of finding something enthusing and enlightening in my Sunday newspaper. I also expect there is Damien Grant. 

Sunday's Star Times was no exception, and his column therein makes for frankly bizarre reading. In it, he sets out at some length, and by his own admission, just how repeatedly wrong he was at seemingly every turn about Covid-19.  I give him credit for that, it's rarely an easy thing to do to admit to being even somewhat wrong. Let alone, as I say, about just about everything. 

Although what he THEN does, is spend the last few paragraphs attempting to justify how despite all that he had aforementioned ... he was not, in fact, wrong - but rather, everybody else (i.e. the no-doubt 'collectivist' Government of New Zealand and all in favour of Her) was instead. 

By this stage, I have basically come to the conclusion that Damien Grant is being a contrarian - particularly when he writes, although probably not just restricted to that sphere

I mean ... he's a libertarian, over the age of 15; who is working in an industry whose key characteristic is the ongoing failure of private individuals and capitalist enterprises. That is literally his bread and butter, and he somehow thinks "MORE OF THAT KIND OF THING!"

Oh wait, I think I just reasoned my way to why a liquidator might want MOAR CAPITALISM. Disregard that bit ..

Anyway, I can't fathom why on EARTH a man would write a column about "How I Was Consistently Wrong At Every Turn On Covid-19", specifically emphasize that he was opposing highly informed expert opinion that was correct , presumably partially because it was "collectivist" ...

And then conclude by saying that because of "fat tail risk" [effectively the risk of catastrophic negative consequences as the result of an (in)action], New Zealand shouldn't have done all the stuff that made us a success - 

i.e. should have acted as if Grant was right ... every single time ... particularly the times that contradicted the other times.

Now yes, sure, 'risk of really bad thing happening' is an acceptable thing to factor into calculations when it comes to what one intends to do facing a complex and changing situation.

Hence, one assumes, why those EXPERTS GRANT ACKNOWLEDGES WERE RIGHT WHEN HE WASN'T .. DID SO.

But straight-up ... why is it that his definition of 'risk of things going VERY badly' is restricted to "the economy might do rather poorly", rather than "THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE MAY DIE".

The very linchpin of Grant's analysis - that one should not do the thing that might lead to Really Bad Thing Happening - ALSO militates that one should not do ... a rather large array of things other than what New Zealand did. [i.e. exactly what Sweden, the UK, USA, etc. etc. etc. decided to do instead, largely in evidently futile bids to stave off economic slowdowns]

Because it'd be WORSE.

The evidence from overseas is pretty clear about this: those countries that DID NOT engage in a proper lockdown and/or other rather serious measures [open question as to whether you count Taiwan as having 'serious measures' - although I suspect Grant wouldn't be keen on theirs..] ... have wound up with BOTH a) a public health crisis AND b) an economic injury of notable proportions .

Why? Turns out that even when you DON'T lockdown .. people don't go out and spend money so much , wind up taking time off work , and other things that aren't great for economy

So, again, what's the real 'fat tail(ed) risk" here ? That we wind up with both a) what Grant's concerned might have happened thanks to our successful pandemic response [i.e. economic impairment] AND b) what Grant hasn't considered [i.e. significant health impairment]

From where I'm sitting, Grant can go on about playing Russian Roulette all he likes - but NOT adopting the stratagem New Zealand did is tantamount to playing with a gun with five bullets , not one.

In fact, it's worse than that.

Going down Grant's "we shouldn't have done [whatever it is at any given stage of the pandemic]" approach ... we'd have been playing Russian Roulette with a semi-automatic instead of a revolver.

New Zealand, by contrast - by doing, it would appear, the literal opposite of what Grant thought was a good call at every step of the process up to and including 'Hindsight'

... instead chose to remove the firing pin.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

On National's Unsafe Attitude Towards Drug Testing

Earlier this week, the Government announced that it was going to pick up one of the loose threads from the previous Parliamentary term - and pass measures to allow the testing of drugs at music festivals and the like, so as to reduce the risk of ... well, serious harm occurring. 

It's a robust, evidence-supported policy that's utterly uncontroversial in other parts of the world (although not Australia) - and therefore, it's perhaps no surprise that the National Party remains bitterly opposed thereto. Because they assert that it "sends the wrong message". 

Which leads me to ponder whether the "right message" is young people dying or being injured in order to "scare the others straight". 

Last Term, it wasn't alone in this. New Zealand First also blocked the bill that'd been put forward - and so it was defeated. But with the makeup of the House having changed considerably since then, it's been brought back for another go. Where it shall pass.  

And predictably, the Nats are somewhat aggrieved about that. 

Partially, it's because the legislation has been brought forward under Urgency - with noted afficionado of Things Young People Like, Simeon Brown, taking issue with the Government's apparent "priorities" as a result. Which, on paper, might sound like a semi-reasonable objection ... up until you consider that it's already early December with the House rising for Summer very shortly, during which time no legislation is passed - and that most of the drug-taking at music festivals etc. tends to take place, likewise, over the Summer. 

Or, phrased another way - it actually makes sense to ensure that legislation that will be most relevant over the summer is in place before the summer. 

However, leaving aside the Parliamentary process side to things (and I'm sure we could find any number of .. curious things the Nats had used Urgency to pass, previously) - it's Simon Bridges who makes the most concise case for why the National Party remain resolutely opposed to seeing sense upon this matter.

Quoth Bridges: "National isn’t supporting the pill testing bill because it sends the wrong message on hard drugs to our young & it gives them a false sense of security. This law may result in more illicit drug use & more harm."

These claims are, substantively, incorrect. Evidence from overseas does NOT show a greater use of drugs as the result of pill testing. 

Indeed, it's not hard to see how the converse is often more likely to be true: after all, what's going to be more effective at getting somebody NOT to consume a pill they've bought. The 'just say no' message that's already evidently failed? Or pointing out that the pill in question tested positive for rat poison - or the delightfully sobriqueted "Dr Death" [less commonly, but more accurately known as 'para-Methoxyamphetamine']. 

Meanwhile, the "false sense of security" is that which recreational drug-users currently may enjoy - by telling themselves that whatever they've bought is, in fact, what they've been told it is. Pill testing can actually help to re-inject not a "false sense of security" ... but a "real sense of danger" - especially when, as is the case in some overseas jurisdictions, drug-harm information for various substances is also given out with the test results. 

Bridges' claim rests upon the reasoning that drug-testing may lead to an increase in drug-harm. It is difficult to see how such a claim can be supported, in light of the fact that drug-testing does not appear to lead to an increase in drug-taking - and also, as its actively intended purpose, keeps the more- and most-harmful drugs OUT of people's bodies in the first place. 

It's simple - if we genuinely want fewer people taking harmful drugs ... we should be making clear which ones the (more) harmful ones are. 

I do appreciate the argument that allowing drug-testing to go ahead may seem like it's providing some sort of moral stamp of validation to the otherwise-illicit conduct in question - but I don't really see it that way; certainly not much more than seat-belts in cars provide a moral stamp of validation for driving fast or drunk and getting into automobile accidents [and I was ... very surprised to find that these sorts of arguments were actually being made against seatbelts becoming mandatory, half a century ago].

The simple truth is that whatever one feels about the morality or the legitimacy of young people (and older people, for that matter), taking drugs at a festival - I don't think many would be prepared to agree that this is a crime that ought carry a potential death sentence to it. 

Even if some, apparently, do implicitly believe this to be the case. I can only presume that they don't say so openly and overtly out of a fear that it would "send the wrong message" to the electorate about their values in practice. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Why An Iranian Nuclear Scientist Was Really Just Assassinated

By now, news of the assassination of the project-head of Iran's nuclear weapons effort, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has gone around the world. What is less clear, however, is the identity of the perpetrators - and why they would undertake such a move.

On the surface, both elements seem obvious - the Israelis have a clear motivation for wishing to stab at Iran's nuclear effort and some form for doing so in the past via targeted killings. Something that had also been done to other nations as and when convenient (including their rather inspired choice of hiring none other than Otto Skorzeny in return for a faked 'pardon' for his Nazi service, to get at German scientists working for Egypt in the 1960s).

And I do not disagree that Israel is the most likely suspect. Although their actual reasoning for a strike would be somewhat different than the intuitive suggestion that this is merely about attempting to frustrate Iran's nuclear capability development. And, further, that they are unlikely to be the sole conspirator (a contradiction in terms).

As ever, the timing of events is crucial. We are in the dying days of the Trump Administration. The Netanyahu-dominated government of Israel knows this - and knows that its much free-er hand in the Middle East thanks to a pliant and pliable President in Washington, is similarly likely to be facing impending restraint from the incoming Biden regime. After all, it was the Obama Administration in which Biden served who took the radically logical step to actually endeavour to negotiate (and successfully, it must be added) with Tehran rather than continuing to treat them fruitlessly as international pariahs.

Said Administration - the Obama one, I mean - had also pointedly opposed Israel's efforts at destabilizing the situation via ongoing covert escapades and assassinations. And while it could therefore be fairly suggested that the Israelis might have chosen to 'get while the getting was good', I think that there is something else going on here. Something that has both had a longer-term buildup to it; and which may very well have taken place in some form regardless of recent US political events.

We have recently seen Israel act with the Trump Administration and also off its own bat to shore up the 'Saudi-Israeliya' axis of allies amidst certain Arab states; moves and maneuvers that have enabled an 'above-ground' rapproachment between governments that had long been working together 'under the table', and opened the door to the greater provision of American military hardware to same. This was evidently a long-term project which had been designed to make the region (south of Iraq and Syria, at least) more 'resilient' against perceived Iranian influence - and hopefully help to prevent another Syria or another Yemen (where the Sunni-Saudi-Israeli alignment has either been stymied or is getting a severely bloody nose and looking bad whilst doing it, respectively).

We have also recently seen Trump bluster about starting a war with Iran - not only via his reckless attitude towards the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani towards the start of this year (which triggered a symbolically necessary Iranian reprisal strike), but also following the Election. And it is that last element which is key here.

Little more than a week after it became apparent that he had not (immediately) won, Trump conjured together his Vice President, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defence Secretary, with a view towards exploring strike options against Iran. At the time, it seemed like a curious maneuver - one which might have presented a convenient sideshow spectacle as post-electoral shenanigans were engaged in back home, perhaps.

However, read in light of the above, this recent targeted killing of an Iranian nuclear official may suggest that instead of an overt and blustery 'symbolic' blow in the manner of the cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase in 2017, the Trump Administration may have given the go-ahead to something different. And much more cunning.

You see, the net impact of this most recent assassination isn't really going to be much of a dent in the Iranian nuclear project. That's not what it was designed to do. Rather, it is all about the optics of the thing - it is a 'showy move' of a different, and a far more 'slow-burning' kind. It is about making it far more difficult for the incoming Biden Administration to actually resume nuclear rapprochement with Tehran. Both due to the lingering perception that the Americans may have been implicitly involved in giving the Israelis a green light for the killing, as well as the plausible retaliatory action that Iran may now engage in against whomever it is that they officially declare to have been responsible. The Trump Administration will likely double down upon the action - if not claiming credit for it, then claiming that it was a moral and just action to have occurred and offering their support to whomever it was that pulled the metaphorical trigger.

A much more tense situation between Iran and the West, between the countries on either side of the Persian Gulf, is exactly what the Israeli government dearly wishes. They have been quite dismayed at the manner in which the Trump Administration's singularly inept blustery-shouting-that-it-is-diplomacy have managed to push European Union countries to engage more positively with Iran. Provoking Iran into what can be sold as their 'lashing out' and bellicose shows of attempted strength that make for good propaganda for those endeavouring to cast the Iranians as frothing-at-the-mouth scary fundamentalist extremists, would be useful to them. And would also help to support the development of acceptance amidst various Arab populations for their governments' already-decided rapprochement with Israel. 'The Enemy Of My Enemy', and all that.

So, whether this was an Israeli operation or one that the Americans nudged into occurrence (perhaps this is a part of why Pompeo was in Jerusalem last week), I think that the outgoing Trump Administration will have some small cause for celebration this week. They have managed to secure something they have dearly desired - a likely frustration and hamstringing for the incoming Biden Administration's presumed intent to re-engage with Iran. And therefore, perhaps, Trump won't have to see if he can start an overt and conventional war with Iran between now and January in order to have a lasting 'strike from the grave' at his soon-to-be replacement's ambitions and Presidency.

As I say - this is cunning. It is slow burning. The only serious question is - just how much of the Middle East may yet burn as a result of it. Hopefully, the wisdom and restraint demonstrated by the Iranians when dealing with the deliberate provocations of the Americans shall once again come to the fore. During the January retaliation for the murder of Major General Soleimanei, it was noted that the missile-strike was very much a symbolic one - it satisfied in some limited sense, the visual requirement for Iranian retribution to be 'seen to be done', without actually causing sufficient damage nor casualties to the Americans to then militate a subsequent escalation from that quarter (no doubt to the great disappointment of some).

Perhaps there is room for some similarly line-walking careful placement of foot so as to avoid both accelerator and landmine over the next two months as we all collectively wait for the clock to run down on the Trump Administration. Careful, cautious, and perspicacious consideration from Iran, I mean. I don't think anybody else involved is nearly so keen to avoid dragging  the Americans into a pointless quagmire, including various of the (outgoing) Americans themselves.