Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hey Clint - Here's some democracy

So, there's this video doing the rounds at the moment, about an MP in a political interview refers a question to an advisor:

Now everyone seems to agree that this is a rather unusual occurrence. It appears to have taken the journalists involved by surprise, and it is very understandable how this is noteworthy enough to have been shared around the whole political news 'scene'. It's a different way of doing politics than what everyone's used to.

What is also surprising, is that I seem to have found myself in disagreement with the next conclusion everyone seems to automatically jump to - that this is supposed to be an embarrassing moment, or shows something shady or bad about this MP or Party. For example:

3 News opinion piece by Patrick Gower:
Some people - including even colleagues here in the Press Gallery - have suggested it was wrong to run it, that it was a big call, or even that there were journalistic ethics at stake. [...] 

But to me it showed much more than a bit of humour. It showed what we know - the Greens, like Labour, are trying to act like they are not gleeful that the policy is screwing with the MRP float. [...]

It busted spin, in fact, it blew the spin apart.
It showed that the Greens, like Labour, are trying to come up with 'lines' to pretend that it's not about wrecking the float.
And that's fair enough; the Greens want to emphasise what they see as the good parts of the policy.
But, thanks to Gareth's indiscretion, we could show what they really feel.

Poor MSM journalists, interviewing a young politician to try to 'catch him out', but instead of spitting out words put into his mouth, he uses available resources to give the most accurate answer about what the Party membership feels. These journalists will have to try again later.

And another one from kiwiblog:
Neither have I [seen a politician call out during an interview for a spin doctor to tell them what the answer is]. You ask them for advice before the interview, but you can’t and don’t ask them for lines during an actual interview. At the end of the day the MPs are the ones who stand for election, not the advisors.
That's funny, I thought it was Parties who stood in elections. I mean, how many "vote Gareth Hughes for Ohariu" signs did you see? In my book, parties aren't made up of MPs, they're made up of members.

I'll admit, in the beginning, I was carried along by the sentiments held by everyone else. I also felt that this showed a glimpse into a world of focus groups, spin doctors, and carefully crafted 'lines' misleading people into hearing what they want to hear. As if it had become so ubiquitous they had given up on keeping it an open secret. In short, I bought into the media's worldview, briefly.

But then something happened. I thought about it. I thought about it from a different perspective - what I, as a member of the public (who follows political news), hope to get out of an interview like this. I thought about what would have happened if he didn't check with 'Clint', and just said something random solely from his own opinion. I thought about how I, as a member of a (different) political party, would like the spokespeople representing me to approach a similar situation. And I came to change my view.

Now, when I watch that clip, I don't see an MP and a 'spin doctor' conspiring to mislead the journalists standing right in front of them, I see a man, who happens to be a politician, going about his job of representing the Party's membership (note how he takes the question to be "Is the Green Party pleased?" as opposed to "Is Gareth Hughes pleased?"). I see a politician concerned more with substance than with style (i.e. making sure he gives an accurate answer, rather than making it look like he's sure his answer is accurate). Finally, I see a small element of transparency - unlike politicians who have gone before, he doesn't feel the need to keep this little part of his methods hidden from public view, behind closed doors, in the walled garden.

What I hope to be achieved by political journalism, is a public dialogue between the many large political groups. Not a discussion about particular individuals, but about the collective views of these groupings of many people (to the extent that they have a collective view, as opposed to the situation described here). These groups invariably have representatives, and I would hope that these representatives make the effort to accurately represent the opinions that make up their mandate. This is how I see Gareth Hughs' question to 'Clint', double checking what the view of the Party as a whole is before he risks misrepresenting them, assisting that important dialogue.

As for the journalists involved, I would hope they ask the questions and provide the context that the other political masses would find relevant to that discussion of ideas. Now the question about whether the Green Party is pleased with the effect on the share floats is part of this and is a good question, however, complaining that the answer isn't the one they were fishing for is not relevant. If I wanted to consume a manufactured narrative, I would go to a movie. Directors are better at it than journalists anyway.

As someone who doesn't agree with the Green Party all that often, I think Gareth should be congratulated for this showing of transparency and democratic intent, and I hope it catches on and turns politics into something closer resembling what it ought to be.

I, for one, welcome our new mandate-driven political overtones.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Immigration, Lies and Statistics Used by NZ Herald

[Update 2013-04-08: is a good interactive site to look up stats for migrants around the world. (not to be confused with migration rates each year which this post is about) Their stats for migrants in NZ as of 2010:
  1.  UK: 260,085
  2. China: 85,447
  3. Australia: 68,629
  4. Samoa: 55,401
  5. India: 47,411
  6. South Africa: 45,587
  7. Fiji: 41,288
  8. South Korea: 31,509
  9. Netherlands: 24,175
  10. Tonga: 22,445
  11. Others: 280,095 (calculated)]

NZ Herald story headline:"Asians dominate NZ immigration"
Let's see how their headline actually stacks up. (tl;dr: NZH is full of shit)

Besides hand-waving about temporary visitors and students, their main statement about actual immigration is this:
"Despite the UK still being the biggest source country for permanent residents, Professor Spoonley noted, the combined total from China, India and the Philippines more than doubled the British."

The numbers I get from the source data for permanent and long term arrivals in the year to Feb 2013 vs 2012, as percentages of the total: (all source data)

Asia declined from 31.84% to 31.72% (though up slightly in absolute terms)
Europe declined from 28.99% to 28.20%
Americas declined from 8.92% to 8.75%
Africa and Middle east - 4.56% to 4.12%
Oceania excl Aus declined from 5.25% to 4.97%
Australia increased from 16.55% to 17.94% (90% of the overall increase)
"not stated" increased from 3.88% to 4.31% (an absolute 13% increase)

So really, the story told by the data, without pandering to demands for provocative headlines is that immigration increased modestly (1.9%), with most of that growth coming from Australia, and a notable trend for more people to not state their country of origin. "Asians" are actually declining as a share of immigration.

And what about their claim about China, India and Philippines combined being more than double the UK? well:

For the year to Feb 2013, the UK actually wasn't the biggest source country for permanent and long term arrivals like it was in 2012, Australia was. Also, China India and the Philippines combined only contributed 18% more than the UK.

Well, maybe they were talking about just the month of February. There seems to be a seasonal pattern with long term arrivals from China and India where many more come in February than in an average month. There is also a slight opposite effect with those coming from the UK.

For just the month of February, again the single largest contributing country was Australia, but the claim about China, India and the Philippines is closer to the mark. They were between them 194% of the contribution from the UK. In fact, in 2012 they were 241%, so if this claim was printed last year, it would have only been misleading, not false. (misleading because it was not explained as part of dramatic seasonal effects and only valid for one month of the year)

So, where were they looking to get their facts? well, despite the article clearly mentioning immigration, these stats were actually for *net migration*. The actual figures behind this:

2011 - 228% (+11,600 net vs +5,100 net)
2012 - 222% (+11,800 net vs +5,300 net)
2013 - 209% (+12,400 net vs +5,900 net)

So yes, there is a number that "more than doubles the British",  but this number they used (net migration) is:
a) not about immigration, it is just as much about emigration (when commenting on "immigration", they should have used arrivals data only)
b) nothing new (it has been true for at least the last 2 years and probably much longer)
c) actually on a course to no longer be true in another year or two.
d) the next paragraph in the article refers to this as a "rapid rise in numbers", which is a lie. The rise in net migration (because that's what he's quoting) from China (+605), India (-109) and the Philippines (+152) combined (+648) is nearly the same as the rise from the UK (+638), and barely over a quarter of the rise from Australia (+2394).

The figures the Herald quotes only work in their claims like this because so few kiwis emigrate to Asia. For every 2 immigrants from the UK, there is 1 emigrant to the UK (14,000 vs 8,100). For China, there is only 1 in 3 (7,900 vs 2,400), for India, 1 in 5 (6,200 vs 1,400), and for the Philippines, more like 1 in 7 (2,400 vs 370). A more honest headline based on the exact numbers they used (comparing net migration from the UK with China, India and the Philippines combined) would be "UK dominates NZ emigration" (excluding Australia), though this is also nothing new. If they had used data without misrepresenting it, i.e. if they used the permanent and long term arrivals data, they would not be able to make their dramatic claims.

In Summary, "Asians" do not dominate NZ immigration, they make up 32% of it, and this figure is declining. The UK is not the largest source country for immigrants, Australia is, though the UK takes 2nd with a very large margin. The combined total immigration from China, India and the Philippines did not more than double the British. It's just that unlike Australia and Britain, kiwis don't emigrate to Asia in nearly comparable numbers. Of course, the NZ Herald could never say that, because it just isn't provocative enough, and who wants to let the truth get in the way of a good story?

[Update 2013-04-02: re-wrote a few sections for an utterly marginal improvement in clarity]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Random Birthday Speech

Well, as somewhat of a fan of the duodecimal, today is rather a semantically important one for me.

It was less than a week ago that I visited my old high school (the one in New Zealand, if anyone was unsure). Seeing that which was the same as when that place was a pole of my commute, and the great deal which is not. Seeing the additions to the lists on the hall walls of teachers, trophies, prefects and awards which had come and gone in the intervening time. Meeting again after such an extended absence my former form and maths teacher (appreciation of whom was highly correlated with that of socks). Well it's fair to say that I was feeling rather old. Like days past were days preferable. In a way similar to how i've often felt in the past half dozen years, I felt time has passed too quickly and I wasn't yet ready for the next milestone.

All that, up to just less than a week ago.

But no longer.

Whether driven by deceptive grudging acceptance, by time-measurement based perspective shift, or by the numerous greatly successful events of the remainder of my travel, that feeling is gone. Now, I *am* ready. My life has caught up with time. I have overtaken my adversary, and now *I* am in the lead.

I'm grateful for the second dozen years of my life, but I'm also finished with them. Mission accomplished. BRING ON THE THIRD!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shenzhou 9: The Decentralization of Manned Space

So, last night, China launched Shenzhou 9, with a crew of 3 including the world's first female taikonaut. That news is all over Chinese social and news media.

However, for me, the launch is not the most exciting part of the mission. Yes, it means there are now 6 people in space, but that is less than a full space shuttle crew used to be. It is not the first Shenzhou flight with a crew of 3. Even though this is a first for China, Liu Yang is only the 56th woman to travel to space.

The most exciting part of this mission will be the docking with Tiangong 1, and the crew transferring between the two craft. This will happen around the 21st of June, and once this happens mankind will once again have two occupied space stations.

Now, it is not the first time in history this has happened, but it is still a very notable event. The 3 times this has happened before were in 1998, 1999 and 2000, while the Russian Mir station was being wound down and replaced by the International Space Station (ISS) project. Each of these periods of double occupation lasted only 5-7 days and involved the first 3 brief space shuttle flights to the ISS, during the last two permanent crews and then one final visiting mission to Mir.

This time it is different. It is different because the ISS is not being decommissioned. If things go to plan over the next few years, the ISS will remain permanently occupied while China develops its own permanent space presence. Manned space is starting to be decentralized!

Here is a bit of history on manned space stations:

Up to 1971: zero, unless you count the moon landings from 1969
  • No space stations yet.

1971: one, but only one crew for 22 days.
  • Salyut 1 was launched by USSR in April, and after one partially successful docking, the first 3 man crew entered the station from Soyuz 11 in June and stayed 23 days. This was not a successful mission either though, because tragically, this crew died during their return to earth.

1972: back to zero. The last moon landing also happened this year.

1973-1974: between zero and one, sequentially, each occupied by one crew at a time
  • Skylab was launched by the USA, and had 3 manned crews, with gaps in between. It was occupied for a total of 171 days over 9 months. The last crew left before the USSR's next space station was launched.

1974-1986: between zero and one, sequentially, with crews receiving short term visitors.
  • Salyut 3 thru 5 each launched by USSR after the final visit to the previous one. These were manned numerous times, each time for less than 2 months, with gaps in between. After 1977, Salyut 6 and 7 were occupied by several crews for up to 8 months at a time. Unlike previous space stations, Salyut 6 and 7 had two docking ports, and resident crews received visitors during their stay, however there were still gaps for months at a time in between crews.

1986: two operational space stations, but only 1 occupied at a time
  • Mir was launched by the USSR, and Soyuz T-15 flew to both Mir and briefly to Salyut 7 before returning to Mir. This was the first time a new space station was commissioned before its predecessor was abandoned, but Mir was unoccupied while the crew visited Salyut 7 for the last time.

1987-1999: one, constantly occupied with overlapping crews. (one exception)
  • Mir was progressively expanded by the USSR and later Russia, and visited by Cosmonauts from 10 different countries and from 1995, Astronauts from visiting American space shuttles. During this time, new crews arrived before the previous crew departed, so the space station was constantly occupied, although Mir was left unoccupied for one four month period in 1989, after which Mir was constantly occupied for 8 days short of 10 years.

1998, 1999, 2000: two, for three brief moments each less than a week, then zero
  • The International Space Station (ISS) had its first compartment launched in 1998 and started receiving brief space shuttle visits for up to 6 days 18h, including two flights while Mir remained occupied. In August 1999, Mir (and outer space in general) was left unoccupied for the first time since 1989. One final, privately funded mission to Mir lasted for 2 months in 2000, during which time the ISS was visited by a third space shuttle for 5 days. Mir was subsequently decommissioned and deorbited.

2000-present: one, 12 years constantly occupied with overlapping crews
  • After two more brief American space shuttle visits, man's permanent presence in outer space was re-established by Expedition 1, arriving in a Russian Soyuz. During this time, there have been up to 10 people at the ISS when space shuttles visited, twice bringing the total number of people in space briefly up to 13. This happened once in 2001 when space shuttle STS-100 and Soyuz TM-32 visited in quick succession with the space shuttle landing while the Soyuz was en-route, and again in 2008 while China's unrelated Shenzhou 7 mission was in space. Currently, ISS is occupied by Expedition 31 - the 31st crew of continuous occupation.

Now: there will be two, briefly, and then one will remain
  • The ISS remains occupied by Expedition 31, while Tiangong 1 will receive its first brief crew, Shenzhou 9. This will be the first time in 12 years and the first time since outer space was last abandoned that mankind has had two occupied space stations.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Houla Massacre 2012 - Opposing Perspectives

Houla massacre 2012 from opposing perspectives:

The situation - on 25 May 2012, at least 92 people including at least 32 children are massacred in Syria. Beyond that fact, sources don't all agree.

Al Jazeera, pro opposition:

"This appalling and brutal crime, involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force, is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and violence in all its forms"

RT News, pro regime:

"Syrian state TV meanwhile reported that the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups [...]
So far, there were no official statements blaming any particular party for the deadly attack [...]
Although there was no confirmation of the Syrian government's involvement in the attack, international media and world leaders rushed to accuse the Assad regime of being behind the bloodshed."

My perspective: RT's claims are looking more and more far-fetched each time, and the scarcity of journalists actually inside Syria counts against the regime in a big way. It's like a denial that any of their claims stack up. Though I note that this time, RT has stepped back from actually denying the regime probably did it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Electoral System Referendum

Just writing down a few predictions about the referendum between MMP FPP STV SM PV.

1. I think MMP will probably win the first question

2. I think FPP will win the second question

3. I think STV will come the closest to beating FPP (despite the 'vote for change' campaign targeting SM)

4. I think that, if MMP wins the first question and there is a review, the 5% threshold will be reduced to 3 or 4%, and will generally be more proportional than the current MMP system

5. I think there will be MMP supporters who vote for FPP in the second question, despite that being their least preferred option, because they think it has the least risk of beating MMP in a second referendum

6. I think that, If MMP loses the first question, and FPP wins the second question, that FPP supporters will run a much larger and more expensive campaign in 2014, and come close to winning.

If it's not clear, I am an MMP / PR supporter. I intend to vote for MMP and for STV, because STV is the next best (proportional) option after MMP, and because it has the best chance of beating FPP.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Economy vs Election Results 1935-2008

So, Labour gets in when the economy is good, and National gets in when the economy is bad. How surprising.

Also, if Key stays in until growth reaches 4%, that graph will be perfectly striped ;)