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!