My wife Joanna wears hearing aids and lip reads more than she knew. Now I know why she often nodded in agreement when she hadn’t really heard me. We cut a deal a long time ago that she asks me to repeat if she’s not sure.



There’s a misconception that lipreading is just like reading a book. You look at the mouth and read, right?

But no, it’s far, far more complicated than that. I have to queue up words in my mind, invent possibilities that fit the facial expression, body language, approximate number of syllables etc etc. Sometimes there are a couple of possibilities, and I hold both in my mind simultaneously, waiting for it to become clear. While I’m doing this, collecting possibilities and sifting through them all, I need to keep the conversation going. So I smile and nod and say ‘mmm,’ and ‘yep…’ as appropriate. If I don’t do that, the speaker stops, and we haven’t gotten anywhere.

Sometimes though, I get right to the end, and I realise that none of the possibilities work. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. And then I have to say, ‘Sorry, can you go…

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Toby Morris On a Plate

Thanks Toby Morris. I haven’t had success contacting you to use this cartoon of yours. I found it on social media. I hope people coming across it learn something and hope you don’t mind me putting it here for reference.

Even monkeys understand what’s fair and what’s not (so do dogs and birds and other animals). Some humans like to rationalise why they think they are “entitled.”


Flip That Script

Alan Duff, I find it hard to know where to start. As a mother of two beautiful Māori girls – you have offended my whānau deeply. Our immediate kura and kōhanga community and my girls hapū and iwi. In fact many Māori will be upset now, because your latest opinion piece infers that child abuse is a part of Māori life . This is simply not true, and so I will challenge you on the broad, ad-hock and completely disconnected statements you have made. Also, I will not stomach your sexist attitude, that reinforces the gender power imbalances which are the undercurrents for almost all domestic violence cases.

There is enough Māori bashing, enough racism and enough misogyny around without you adding to it. It defies belief that a Māori man could misrepresent his own people so hurtfully, be so blatantly sexist and willingly lead people astray on an issue…

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Aaron Connelly’s 17 May 2016 paper The problem with American assumptions about Australia links to a paywalled 2010 paper by Hugh White. So to further the discussion (quotes are from various of Hugh’s writings last month) …

Hugh White expects war by accident unless there is a transitioned power rebalancing. “Turnbull’s “rules-based global order” is just a coy way to say we would prefer the US remains in charge”. Turnbull told China it should follow the rules because it’s in China’s own interest. Rubbish says Hugh. Chinese “aims are clearly to display their growing power and replace the current order with ‘a new model of great power relations’. Hugh says Australia’s interest lies in facilitating this in order to avoid war. “Asia can peacefully create a new order” via compromise.

And on the media, Hugh says “Commentators assessed [Turnbull’s] diplomacy on the South China Sea solely as a test of his diplomatic mettle: would he show strength by speaking his mind, or chicken out and soften his message? No one asked what real difference it would make whether he did or not.”

I don’t fully support Hugh either in his apparent understanding of diplomacy as compromise or in his sanguine acceptance of real politic.
I think Australian diplomacy fails because it does not focus on force reduction (the bases in the Northern Territory are the exact opposite), has picked sides and consequently is happy to continue the arms build up. Weapons dealers will be pleased as they love to see their latest toys field tested. As Hugh White infers, when push comes to shove the men with fingers on the buttons decide. These men, and they are mostly men, will push the buttons in the heat of the moment or with aforethought. This is where the focus must be.


This petition of April 2016 was removed from

I took a copy before it was removed, because somehow I had a vague feeling it would be taken down. If anyone knows why if was removed, please tell me.

Petitioning United Nations and 3 others

Helen Clark Is Not A Suitable Candidate for UN Secretary General

started by Ella Benny New Zealand

We the undersigned strongly oppose the nomination of Helen Clark for the role of UN Secretary General.

The world stands at a historical precipice, and the United Nations requires strong, bold leadership that will not buckle to the many pressures from those that stand to benefit from continued abuse of people and the environment. Indeed – the leadership required will be of the kind that holds true to the identified goals and cannot be swayed from achieving them.

Helen Clark came under just this type of pressure whilst she was PM, and many decisions were then made that, at a global level, would set us far back from achieving the many important goals that the UN has defined.

Although Helen Clark, and indeed this government, will be swift to present her time as Prime Minister as a valuable credential, we feel it is vital to have a full, robust assessment of her track record in this area.

In particular we wish to highlight the following:

That Helen Clark came into power on promises of equity for New Zealand Maori and Pacific peoples, under her “Closing the Gaps” policy. After winning the election all references to this policy were dropped from official documentation, and during the term of Helen Clark’s government (1997-2008) the “gaps” in social outcomes actually increased.

That Helen Clark authorised the sustained illegal surveillance and violent invasion of Māori homes around the country in 2007. This included the lockdown of the entire community of Ruatoki. Families were torn from their beds, marched from their homes, forced to the ground, searched and interrogated at gunpoint. A schoolbus was boarded with police in balaclavas brandishing automatic firearms. Children were kept in sheds for hours on end with no food, water, or access to a toilet. This particular event has been condemned by a number of UN human rights officials and rapporteurs. Many families remain traumatised by this event, and it was acknowledged to have set race relations within NZ back by 100 years.

That in her time as Prime Minister, Helen Clark oversaw the single largest land dispossession event of modern times, through the 2005 Foreshore and Seabed Act. This act alienated 10 million hectares of Maori land, and is regarded by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples Professor Stavenhagen as a discriminatory law and a breach of the human rights of Maori. This act was so controversial that it resulted in 50,000 people marching in protest to parliament, where Helen Clark refused to come out to meet them, and also resulted in the formation of a new political party in recognition of the fact that Helen Clark’s party, under pressure from competing interests, could not care for the interests of indigenous people.

That Helen Clark refused to sign the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People’s. New Zealand was one of only four nations that voted against the agreement, of which 144 other nations voted in favour. Clark’s government labelled UNDRIP divisive, un-implementable and incompatible with New Zealand constitutional and legislative arrangements. This document remained unsigned for the remainder of her time in parliament.

That Helen Clark responded to the dire emergency of Climate Change with the strongly criticised Emissions Trade Scheme. Since its implementation New Zealand’s emissions have increased, and we now have one of the fastest rates of emission increase in the world. Helen Clark’s government refused to commit to a significant number of the policies needed for strong leadership on climate change, supported continued coal production and refused to make NZ’s agricultural sector (responsible for the largest GHG emissions in NZ) responsible for their emissions.

That, in the time of Helen Clark’s leadership, New Zealand’s freshwater crisis intensified, characterised by cases such as the Tarawera River “Black Drain”, where legislation intended to protect our environment was amended by Helen Clark’s government to allow the continued intensive pollution of this river. Nationally, studies have confirmed that our overall freshwater quality declined significantly between 1998 – 2007, the period of Helen Clark’s term as Prime Minister.

When surveyed on their willingness to commit to 25 policies that would tackle climate change, clean up New Zealand’s rivers, save our oceans, protect natural heritage and exercise environmental leadership, Helen Clark’s government refused to make clear commitments, and we are paying for the legacy of this conservative approach today, with some of the most severe environmental challenges we have ever faced.

These cases are clear examples of Helen Clark’s tendency to cater to the establishment, and lead conservative levels of change, which would be disastrous when we live in times that demand bold, innovative decision-making.
We believe the role of UN General Secretary requires a strong leader, one committed to issues such as environmental and indigenous rights. Clark’s clear inability to champion the wellbeing of the environment, and indigenous people, makes her unsuitable for this role. We therefore ask that you DO NOT support her bid for the role of General Secretary.


25May2016 update

Lena Sinha effectively sacked by Helen Clark for her role in Petrie report on U.N.’s “systemic failure” re Sri Lanka abuses.

Here’s my extracts: UNDP, and Helen Clark in particular, took the Petrie report personally,” said Edward Mortimer, who served as a top advisor to former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. But “even if you think the report is wrong it is not a reason to discriminate in giving them a job.” Petrie — a veteran U.N. player who once worked for UNDP — characterized UNDP’s treatment of Sinha in an email to FP as “an extraordinary demonstration of vindictiveness and abuse of authority.” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Susana Malcorra, Ban’s chief of staff at the time and currently a candidate for secretary-general herself, reached out to Clark’s office to urge UNDP to back down.  Philippe Bolopion, the deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch. Bolopion claimed UNDP has resisted Ban’s efforts to strengthen the U.N.’s human rights advocacy. In turf wars Clark and her aides sought to dilute a proposal to deploy teams of human rights experts and conflict specialists to countries beset by a sudden influx of violence.

equality is not equity

When I studied economics at Sydney University in the 1980s the Economics Department was split down the middle between the happy clappies (religionists who swallowed the free market koolaid and wanted the world remade to fit their models) and the realists who wanted a data driven profession. It was so divided that the Department was effectively two departments though students got credits by studying either strand and it was compulsory to take units in each.

These days many more younger economists are data driven and not happy clappy ideologues. Realists point out that the problem of production has long been solved by humans and what remains are the problems of distributing the incredible wealth of the planet and externalities (pollution for example). Solving these are political questions. Those who don’t want them solved hide behind the myth of scarcity.

There are unfortunately sufficient numbers of happy clappy economists who are either convinced of their religion or happy, like other scientists, to sell their services to the highest bidder.

That bidder falls into three main categories. 1) media controlled by profiteers, 2) university chairs endowed by profiteers, 3) government servants and politicians within the koolaid camp. The argument they often use is that the worker bees won’t work unless they are forced to, that they will sit at home and accept government handouts if you let them. So cruelty and hardship are the best motivators. There is plenty of evidence that this is la la land but the happy clappies ignore it while dressing themselves in happy clappy econobabble.

I was a government economist for a while and three instances spring to mind.

1) I worked with a particular economist in the Australian aid agency that steadfastly refused to accept that Papua New Guinea was a dual economy (ie swathes of the economy were outside the wage sector and were therefore unresponsive to neoliberal economic levers which were popular at the time.

2) Another economist was happy that “the market” operated nicely in the Philippines so that people could eke out a living on garbage dumps. There was absolutely no personal downside or responsibility for these ideologues promoting their delusions. They wielded enormous power over our regional economies and on multilateral bank boards (ADB, World Bank etc for which I also had policy input). The bureaucratic manouevering was something to behold

3) The mastery by the then World’s Greatest Treasurer Paul Keating (I served under him and Hawke in the Prime Minister’s Department) of the dominant ecobabble. He learnt the script like no other and it was always about media performance, public perception and how he had the facts under complete control and could tell you which economic levers to pull as if they were real and not constructs within an economic model. That we were riding a mineral boom at the time seemed to be lost on the happy clappies who briefed him and those that gave him the award while real wages fell pretty much worldwide in a trend that is continuing.

So to the “value” question, central to “economics”. Marx had a labour theory of value which was rubbish (duckduckgo on why). Sraffa tried to save the theory, unsuccessfully. “Time” as a metric would probably suffer the same fate. But the critical point is the model into which you plug your value metric. All models have assumptions and simplifications and will eventually trip you up unless tested rigorously against the real world. If the model includes measuring things which are self-referenced within the model (GDP is a classic example) then it’s garbage in garbage out and your metric is useless.

And in modelling the world (economies, weather, biological systems) we come up against complexity and the NP-hard barrier. NP-hard algorithms, under our present state of knowledge, can be proven to run the life of the universe and still not give you an answer. You are then left again with a basic political and moral question in deciding how to organise an economic system. People like Sam Harris think morality can be measured. He might be right.

But for me in the meantime as a striving older wiser humanist realist scientific economist there is only one metric worth the cake. Call it what you like – sharing, love, compassion, caring. Build your societies and economies on these. Altruism versus fear has a strong genetic link as I’ve argued elsewhere in this blog and the gene seems split 50:50 among living organisms (science published early 2016 showed different ant colonies possessing measurable differences on a related metric).

Good luck with your study of economics.

Here’s three books to begin with:
1. Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality
2. Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide
3. Thomas Piketty

alcohol muscle man

Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) developed by World Health Organisation.

Write down the number in brackets for your answer, then add up the total number.

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
(0) Never
(1) Monthly or less
(2) 2 to 4 times a month
(3) 2 or 3 times a week
(4) 4 or more times a week

2. How many alcohol units do you have on a typical day when you are drinking?

(0) None
(0) 1 or 2½
(1) 3 or 4
(2) 5 or 6
(3) 7 to 9
(4) 10 or more

3. How often do you have six or more units on one occasion?
(0) Never
(1) Less than monthly
(2) Monthly
(3) Weekly
(4) Daily or almost daily

4. How often during the last year have you found that you were unable to stop drinking once you had started?
(0) Never
(1) Less than monthly
(2) Monthly
(3) Weekly
(4) Daily or almost daily

5. How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?
(0) Never
(1) Less than monthly
(2) Monthly
(3) Weekly
(4) Daily or almost daily

6. How often during the last year have you needed a first drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?
(0) Never
(1) Less than monthly
(2) Monthly
(3) Weekly
(4) Daily or almost daily

7. How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?
(0) Never
(1) Less than monthly
(2) Monthly
(3) Weekly
(4) Daily or almost daily

8. How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?
(0) Never
(1) Less than monthly
(2) Monthly
(3) Weekly
(4) Daily or almost daily

9. Have you or someone else been injured as the result of your drinking?
(0) Never
(2) Yes, but not in the last year
(4) Yes, during the last year

10. Has a relative, friend, or a doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?
(0) Never
(2) Yes, but not in the last year
(4) Yes, during the last year

If you’ve scored 8 or more you are drinking to a hazardous and harmful level.

If your score is between 8-15 you can probably help yourself with a stern talking to and a plan to cut back.

If you’ve scored 16 or over you may need professional help and continued monitoring.

Good luck.


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