Saturday, April 25, 2009

Alcohol crack-down - utilitarianism in reverse

Utilitarianism as a principle isn't perfect. It embodies the idea of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number, so can leave minorities in a position of disadvantage. Mostly, however, it is the best idea we can come up with - like democracy.

Raising tax on alcohol, restricting access, and lowering thresholds for drinking and driving will punish all drinkers (an estimated 90 percent of New Zealanders drink alcohol) in an attempt to control a few drinkers. It is utilitarianism in reverse.

Geoffrey Palmer, the purveyor of the finest alcoholic deterrent proposals;

"I do not understand why bars need to be open until 6am on a Sunday morning," he said.

No. Neither do I. I don't understand a lot of things that are none of my business. That is why I don't understand them, nor attempt to.

Alcohol use of itself is not evil. The poor health impacts and criminal behaviour which arise from alcohol abuse impose costs which should be borne by those doing the abusing. If we applied that blindingly obvious fundamental the deterrent affect would be significant. The 'no consequences' welfare state is again a major culprit in encouraging buck-passing behaviours.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The corruption of "volunteering"

When I read headlines like this I get momentarily confused,

Volunteers face funding cuts

My understanding of a volunteer as someone who provides a service without paid recompense is obviously incorrect.

Further, providing "volunteer" services becomes increasingly costly. It must, because "volunteers" who once relied on church donations now rely on taxation via government funding.

This particular group get funding from Work and Income. To provide work-training courses. In this respect they are merely an extension of state welfare. That's OK if they are as successful as they claim to be. But it remains a misnomer to label activities that are paid for as "volunteering". There may be an element of unpaid work involved although I doubt that people running a full-time course would be unpaid.

We even have a "Minister for the Community and Voluntry Sector" (not my spelling mistake). Why?

Because there are over 105,000 paid staff in the "voluntary" sector which receives a good part of its funding from government. We should probably rightly call many of these people 'public servants'. Hence one can better grasp why they are facing cuts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Finlayson on Treaty settlements

Last year I attended a meeting at which National MP Chris Finlayson sat on the panel of contributors. He impressed me as a man able to grasp subtleties and intricacies that others could not. Clever people often find difficulty in expressing themselves simply but this column is not an example of such. In it Finlayson, now Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, concisely and cleanly explains why the treaty settlements have been important and were necessary. Well worth a read. Let's hope the settlement goal of 2014 can be met.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The drink-drive stats are not flash - again

Yesterday, over at The Standard, I got a lot of flak for my use of statistics, from people who had missed the point I was attempting to make. Which is that despite the past decade or so of anti-drinking and driving campaigns the stats are not flash (after considerable improvement during an earlier period.) Hence the title of my post, "The limitations of social engineering."

So here are some more "meaningful" statistics. They pertain to Auckland and come from the Traffic Alcohol Group (TAG);

(Yes. Greater Auckland is not NZ but it is subject to the same national media campaigns.)

Pathetic probing

From NewstalkZB;

Labour is broadening its attack on the Government over the use of helicopters by ministers...

Labour has now lodged questions in the House about the track record of Prime Minister John Key and has discovered he has had three trips since taking office. Two were last month, one courtesy of the Air Force at an open day, and the other via the Westpac Rescue Helicopter for a fundraiser at Waiheke Island.

The third was earlier this month at the Te Kuiti Shearing Championships where the flight was a gift from Heli Cam Aviation.

Mr Key has revealed the cost of the flight to Waiheke Island would have been $267. He made a personal donation of $5,000 to the Rescue Helicopter Trust.

In one way this is a 'nothing 'story. But in another it is about something. It is about Labour's pitiable attempts to create one. How limp and lacklustre does Labour look?

Just think, people are paid to come up with these 'innovative' angles of attack. Others are paid to process the questions. Others to provide and record answers. What a colossal and obscene waste of money. Ours.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The limitations of social-engineering

Over at The Standard they are applauding the "It's Not OK" campaign because it has "been hugely successful. In a survey, 99% of Maori, 90% of Pacific people, and 90% of all those asked remembered the campaign."

Probably the same the same can be said of the "If you drink and drive you're a bloody idiot," or the "Every cigarette is doing you damage," campaigns.

Yet the drinking and driving stats are not looking very flash. The percentage of fatal crashes with alcohol/drugs as a factor has been fairly steady over the ten years to 2007;

1997 27%
1998 27
1999 23
2000 26
2001 26
2002 26
2003 31
2004 31
2005 30
2006 28
2007 31

Self-reported use of tobacco statistics are unreliable but consumption of tobacco is not;

New research suggests the government may have been over optimistic when it said that smoking is decreasing.

Last year's New Zealand Health Survey showed for the first time that just under 20% of adults smoked.

But a study published in the New Zealand medical journal disputes those figures, saying the number of cigarettes released to the market actually increased by 7%.

It says smokers tend to under report their smoking and future health surveys should include biochemical tests of a smoker's status.

Now I know that drinking and driving/smoking has reduced from the 1980s and early nineties. If that was an effect of advertising, today, at best, the advertising may be said to be having a containing effect. The Standard will argue that the "It's Not OK" campaign can have the same early effect because it is something new.

But it isn't. There have been a number of police and Women's Refuge anti-domestic violence campaigns. There was the high profile anti-family violence campaign "Breaking the cycle" in the second half of the nineties. Don't try and tell us that we have only just been given 'the message' that domestic violence is not OK.

I wonder if all these hugely expensive tax-payer funded media campaigns are just glorified make-work schemes. I also wonder if they don't sometimes provoke an emotional backlash.

One thing is clear - getting the message is not the same thing as acting it on. Apart from an increase in reporting I do not expect the "It's not OK" campaign to effect a decrease in domestic violence. Not while we keep on turning out ever more culprits with welfare-created families.

Stud farmers vs fertility specialists

Stud farms exist so mares can go to them, get served and produce a foal. A number are now offering a 75 percent money back guarantee if the mare fails to conceive. So the mare's owner pays let's say $10,000 but will have $7,500 refunded if the serving is unsuccessful.

Listening to Breakfast telly this morning I see that human fertility specialists have jumped on the bandwagon BUT their deal is a little more, what shall we say, self-interested. They offer 3 'treatments' with a 70 percent refund if no conception takes place. That is, the punter pays for 3 up front regardless of whether or not they are all needed. If the first treatment is successful the punter loses a substantial sum of money. And I call them punters because it really is gambling. And we are not talking small beer either. The cost is $24-30,000.

Why not one treatment with a 75 percent refund if unsuccessful?

I guess the fertility specialists costs are significantly higher than a stud farmers. But one wouldn't be surprised to see an improvement in the first-treatment success rate.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Gender and Disaster Conference

“The purpose of this conference will be to address and review progress and existing challenges in mainstreaming gender issues in disaster risk reduction. At present there is an unequal balance in how disasters affect men and women” said Ms Chadwick.

Stevie don't-dock-dogs Chadwick has found an even more burning issue to occupy her.

It stretches the imagination how these hand-wringers propose tackling this anomaly. But hang on a minute. How did they work out that males and females are unequally affected by natural disasters?

In NZ I would expect that built-up city areas would fare the worst. If anything the population balance would be tilted towards men at any given time of the day.

As men predominate in rescue operations many will experience additional exposure to risk.

Surely gender makes little difference to children who are probably the most vulnerable given their lesser physical strength and (depending on age) reasoning abilities. Oh yes. One might make the same observation about females leaving out the age dependent qualification.

Is that it? Women are disproportionately affected by natural disaster because they are weak and stupid? Anyone that dreams up this kind of BS certainly is.

Perhaps while Ms Chadwick is over in the host country she can have a word about the the cruelty of docking dog tails. To the Chinese. Yes. It'll be about as useful as anything else she does while there.