Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thank you to the brave Auckland protestors

I want to say a very loud thank you to the brave protestors who marched ahead of Steve Crow's blatant pornography advertising stunt in Auckland. A reporter called Emily Kernot should be ashamed of herself for describing them as "poker-faced" for refusing to respond to verbal and physical attacks, then calling Crow's tame women "bare-breasted beauties" and "the girls".

The parade didn't have a permit, but that wasn't a problem. It's a bit disturbing to discover (thanks to a police press release) that councils have effectively no power to enforce their own by-laws: "There is no power of arrest for breaching the by-law and any Court action would have to be taken through the issuing of minor offence notices. The enforcement of Council by-laws regarding parades is not a matter for the Police."

So it seems that anyone who has a mind to advertise his wares with a street parade can simply go ahead. Once he's got away with it once or twice, cheered on by brainless guys who've apparently never seen bare breasts before, a precedent has been set determining that it's not offensive - at least, that seems to be why the Auckland council's attempt to get an injunction failed. Now Crow is triumphantly proclaiming he's going to do it all again in Wellington.

Forget dignity and self-respect and equality. According to Crow's Law, if you're female you've only got one purpose in life, apart from doing the housework, and that's to be perved at and pawed over - or slagged off - by any male who feels like it. And make some canny pornographer a shitload of money in the process.

Back to maths class: online news has announced that "Shell has dropped the price of diesel by 6 cents a litre to $165.9, effective from 12 noon today." Oh dear, things are much worse than I thought - thank heavens our car runs on petrol...

And the Dom-Post front page originally proclaimed that Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell won the double sculls by "one thousandth of a second". I doubt that even Chinese time-keeping is that good. Online it was swiftly corrected to one hundredth.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Picture perfect at the Olympics: China learns from the USA

I admit it: I'm just not all that interested in the Olympics. I was really thrilled to see in the DomPost that I'm not alone - a survey showed that almost four out of every ten people (39.something percent) aren't all that interested in them. We may be couch potatoes, but so are most of the people who ARE interested. And at least we're probably reading something while we're lolling there.

I didn't sit up for the opening ceremony, but I did watch the highlights. Like everyone else, I was stunned - especially by the incredibly banal, stodgy, limited commentary from the guys (Sophie was good, but she didn't get much of a look-in).

But what's really striking is the revelation that the impossibly cute little girl singing "I Sing for My Motherland", 9-year-old Lin Miaoke, was substituted at the last minute for the 7-year-old originally chosen, Yang Peiyi. Her voice was used, but she was dropped after the dress rehearsal at the behest of a senior Chinese leader, because she wasn't pretty or perfect enough.

The only surprising thing about all this is that we know about it. The musical director revealed the switch because he wanted to make sure Peiyi's contribution was recognised.

"The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings, and expression. Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects. But in the aspect of voice, Yang Peiyi is flawless, in each member of our team's view." They had already dropped the 10-year-old originally chosen because she was "a little too old".

So here's how China and the USA match up. Those who run both countries - the business power brokers as well as the politicians - are intent on putting across a picture perfect image of what they're about, no matter who or what gets crushed in the process.

Remember Jessica Lynch? The official story of her battle involvement, capture and rescue turned out to be a load of hogwash. The powers-that-be had massaged the facts to turn her into a fitting symbol for what they were doing in Iraq.

(By the way, did you hear Condoleeza Rice saying today, with a completely straight face, that Russia could not expect to just march into another country and overthrow its leader - "those days are over"?)

The really sad thing is that so many perfectly normal women - and girls, even - can't wait to prove the powers-that-be are right, and picture perfect is all that matters, no matter what it costs them. Nose jobs, breast implants and botox in the US, eye jobs, leg lengthening and skin whitening in China - there's no difference. I bet little Ying Peiyi has already started saving up to have her teeth fixed.

Go to Scoop to read my new Letter from Elsewhere on National's welfare policy, "Closing the door to hope". And while you're there, see Lyndon Hood's advice on how to impose sanctions on beneficiaries.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I was wrong

I was wrong about Mark Hotchkin's mansion. It doesn't have seven bedrooms. It has seven bathrooms.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

...and the rich get richer

It's been one of those weeks when I start to think I'd be better off not reading or watching the news.

First we've had Winston Peters blustering about the sins of the media because he is clearly unable to give anyone a straight answer about party donations from rich businessmen (possibly a few women too, but that seems unlikely - contrary to popular wisdom, it's elderly gents, not elderly ladies, who flock most eagerly to dear Winston's banner, and how many women, even now, can afford to regard $25,000 as loose change?).

Then yet another finance company turned out to be in trouble, putting hundreds more ordinary people's hard-earned savings at risk. This time it was Hanover, the one that employed Richard Long to convey reliability and security.

He says he has money in it himself, he thought long and hard about doing that job, and he would hate to think anyone invested in it because of him. For heaven's sake, Richard, why do you think they employed you? You can't be that naive.

To make things worse, Hanover was allowed to sponsor the weather on TVOne, making it look even more mainstream and dependable. Yes, I know taking any notice of such transparent ploys is an idiotic way to choose investments. But that's exactly what people do, of course. Which is why advertising geniuses continue to do it.

I bet very few of those who invested had actually realised that this ever-so-solid-sounding company was actually set up and owned mainly by Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin, or that some of its loans seem to have been to projects or entities with which they appear to have been closely connected.

Not that the boys will suffer if Hanover does go down the tubes. Hotchin is continuing to build his $30 million mansion in Paritai Drive (seven bedroooms, gym, and a carwash, natch). Watson lives in London. As the Sunday Star-Times pointed out, they could afford to fork out $50 million each to cover investors' funds and not actually miss it. But the chances of them doing that are somewhat less than the chances of Winston having a change of heart, fessing up and apologising.

And no, in case you're wondering, I don't have any money in Hanover. But I do have money in Kiwisaver. As one financial guru said recently, those who can afford to join Kiwisaver, but haven't, obviously don't understand it. Where else can you get the equivalent of 100 percent interest?

But where is the lovely new pool of Kiwisaver money going? Has any of it gone to companies like Hanover? Is it just a big fat subsidy to financial institutions?

My extremely modest Kiwisaver fund is held by a major bank, and is supposed to be the lowest possible risk. I had the puzzling experience the other day of getting a notice which told me that whatever it had earned in its first few months, it had failed to cover costs.

But not to worry - the bank would simply deduct some "units" to meet the shortfall. I worked out that my money, plus the government's money, must have "earned" pretty much less than nothing to make this happen.

Of course I wasn't actually paying for this sleight of hand - the government was. And I gather that anyone who chose a high-growth (i.e. high-risk) Kiwisaver option has already seen a much larger chunk of it disappear.

(If you were thinking of writing in to point out earnestly that higher risk funds will do better in the long run, don't bother. As Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead.)

As the last few months have shown, for all but the select few who really know what they're doing, trying to take care of your future by saving is an extremely risky business in New Zealand. No wonder so many people go for property instead - except that right now, that's tanking too.

So I hope Mark's tacky mansion turns out to be a completely unsaleable white elephant. And with any luck, Eric's current squeeze will turn out to be a clone of the discarded Nicky Watson.