Monday, October 31, 2011

Spring is here

And in spring, at least every three years, a young politician's fancy turns to thoughts of the election.

And some of the rhetoric is getting kinda ridiculous, particularly the automatic pooh poohing of any idea of another party's, even when you're pretty sure that the naysayer secretly thinks that it's a good idea.  Like, for instance, Labour wants to raise the retirement age and National claims that it's a bad idea.  Isn't this the wrong way around according to their core values?

And another bit of weird logic - John Key has been saying for a while that NZ really needs to sell off half our core infrastructure assets, in order to "pay off debt faster".  Today, we get told that, hey, really it's to build up other assets, like schools and stuff!  Really?  Future spend on school buildings is either:
  • business as usual spend that was going to happen anyway - in which case the Future Investment Fund is a meaningless gesture, or
  • it's building up new assets, in which case the government debt problem isn't nearly so bad as the National Party is making it out to be.
So which is it?

Another thing that came up on Saturday was political chitchat at Fright Night, after our game finished a bit early and people were hanging out.  One of the guys running the D&D for MMP campaign in and offered to take requests (I totally bought a couple of politician zombies to afflict the party with.  Yay!), but we also had several people there who are either in the Green party, or sympathetic to its ideals, and we got talking about their decision making model.  The thing is, a friend had told me a while ago that policy has got to be set by consensus - everyone has to agree before it goes ahead, and I was curious about how that actually worked in practice.  (Everyone's had an experience of a committee that goes around and around a subject for ever, or That One Particular Guy who always argues, just for the sake of arguing, right?)  So the party member talked about some of the checks and balances that they've got - you can choose to disagree but not block consensus, perhaps for something that you don't like but don't feel like dying in a ditch over; or you can choose to block consensus, and if it's a really important issue, then and only then will the caucus move to a conscience vote.  So it sounds like it could be a slow system on a contentious issue, but also that the group has to at least consider everyone's views before it makes a decision.  And if a group of people have got liberal views, well, there tends to be a lot of diversity of opinion.

So how are the Greens doing, given that their natural constituency is inclined to have many different opinions, and they want everyone to agree?  Well, you've got to admit that for a small party they've got staying power - their first MP was elected in 1999.  In that time, the Alliance unallied, Winston Peter's personality party got knocked out (but possibly back for another round this election), and ACT, the party for argumentative people, can't manage to keep any of its line up of MPs in the first election since they officially became part of the government.  And the Greens are polling at 10%.  So that's worth thinking about.  The other thing - they seem to have a really good knack at getting their policy into law.  The anti-smacking law, the weatherproofing fund, and making youth rates identical to minimum wage are the three things that come to mind immediately, but there are others, and the now-in-Mana Sue Bradford holds the record for private member's bills by a backbencher to be passed.

Maybe it's worth thinking about consensus more often.


Repton and I now live in a nursery suburb - I've lost count of the parks, playgrounds and, above all, childcare centres.  It didn't occur to me before Repton mentioned it, but kids do that trick or treating thing now, so we stopped at the supermarket on the way home, not even really sure if anyone was going to turn up. (But hey, we could always eat the lollies ourselves, right.)

But hark!  10 minutes ago there was a tromping on our doorstep, and Spiderman, a fairy, and something or other turned up asking for sweets.  Yep.  Nursery suburb.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Dark Underbelly of the Internet

There's this project I've been doing some research on, which basically involves setting up a database to take writing content, then spit it out in prettified nicely designed PDFs (with various constraints and design patterns and required features involved - I haven't seen anything that will do what I want straight out of the box yet). I have a technically knowledgeable friend who's been giving me advice on what's possible, but nonetheless, I've spent a lot of time trawling around the 'other' internet. Not Warez sites, or anything skeevy like that, but the bit that doesn't care so much about nice graphic design, where the links may not be unbroken, and the technical specifications are detailed and confusing, and have comments like 'last stable release' and a date from two years ago. I haven't spent this much time reading this kind of content in years, and, in fact, I guess I must have subliminally figured that everybody had been carried by the rising tide of increasing prettification and tools intended for non-internet literate idiots. But no, it's always been there, I just wasn't looking in the right places.

I'm doing it old style, baby.