Comments are the lifeblood of blogs

Posts are obviously essential for blogs, that’s what they primarily consist of. But comments give blogs life. A healthy commenting community is almost aan essential

There are exceptions – No Right Turn is followed and respected with no comments.

But mostly a blog with no or low comments is a sign of struggling to reach an audience, or ‘moderation’ that deters lively discussion – The Daily Blog is a good example of this (but the awful site layout and difficulty with knowing what the latest posts and comments are are also problems there).

Whale Oil still has an active commenting community, but this has diminished somewhat and seems to be concentrated on social rather than political discussion – a sign that message control moderation suppresses decent debate. Activity at Whale Oil has noticeably reduced since Cameron Slater had a stroke and stopped commenting altogether. Site failure to disclose what happened and apparent pretence that nothing had changed – possibly an attempt to try to protect revenue streams – has probably disappointed a number of now ex commenters too.

The most active commenting is on Kiwiblog – significantly more than on Whale Oil on political issues. This works in parallel to the often well informed posts from David Farrar. Very light moderation encourages a lot of commenters and comments, but detracting from this at times is the level of abuse tolerated there.

The Standard has changed significantly over it’s eleven or so years, in part due to substantial coming and going of authors. It’s commenting community has also changed quite a bit – recently I think for the better. They used to revel in gang attacks on anyone deemed some sort enemy of of ‘the left’, which was a form of self trashing as a serious forum for debate.

Then they turned over authors and moderation was dominated by ‘weka’, who tried to manage and manipulate comments to fit her agenda. She suddenly disappeared at about the same time Greens got into Government with Labour and NZ First. Since then there seem to be fewer posts apart from stalwart mickysavage keeping things ticking over, But the often toxic commenting environment seems to have improved significantly.

Recently MICKSAVAGE posted The Standard a decade on:

The site itself I believe offers a rich historical repository of contemporary New Zealand politics.  If you want to understand what has happened during the past decade from a left wing perspective then this site is a good place to start.

Proposals for suggested changes and critiques all welcome.

An interesting comment from Te Reo Putake (whose approach to blogging has evolved somewhat over many years involvement there):

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people.

For mine, it is the commenters who make this place special. If you look at our comrade Bomber’s blog, which often has posts on the same topics as TS, there is no life in the comments section. As I understand it, each comment at TDB is held until released by a moderator. That means that there is no flow, no conversation, no engagement.

It’s different here. The commentary is effectively live and takes on a life of its own. This permissive approach to debate is vital to the Standard’s success. As WtB notes above, the community has to a large extent self regulated and the moderation workload has dropped considerably in recent times.

That may in part be due to a change of Government changing some agendas, but there seems to have been a noticeable change in moderation practice, with open support for diverse views being expressed, quote a contrast to past toxic intolerance..

I’d also like to give a nod to the righties who comment here. TS is not an echo chamber and differing opinions make for good debate. It’s great that conservative opinion is not shouted down, but rather, is argued against rationally. Well, mostly!

The site is better for the contributions from people we don’t agree with, in my opinion.

In my opinion this is a positive change at The Standard.

I’ll take up the challenge “Proposals for suggested changes and critiques all welcome”.

Fewer posts attacking the Opposition.

More posts debating topical Government initiatives and proposals, and allowing wide ranging discussions (with personal attacks discouraged).

Through that I think that The Standard could become a more useful part of wider political discussion in New Zealand – comments are the lifeblood of political blogs. Too much bad blood is a real negative and puts many people off, but The Standard seems to have found a fairly good formula for now.

Transparency trashed, Official Information Act plans kept secret

The Official Information Act is supposed to enable public access to Government information. It is supposed to improve transparency.

So it is alarming that discussions on a review of the OIA are being kept secret, and are limited to some unnamed people – referred to as “a select group of chosen insiders”.

No Tight Turn: The government’s secret OIA plans

Back in September, when the government announced plans to increase proactive release of official information, we learned by accident that they were also considering another review of the OIA, and “intend[ed] to carry out targeted engagement to inform a decision on whether to progress a formal review”. As someone interested in OIA reform, I was naturally curious about this, so I sent an OIA off to Justice Minister Andrew Little seeking information about the proposal. I finally got the response back on Friday, after a month-long extension for “consultation”. Unfortunately, its not very informative.

You can read the released documents here. As is obvious, all interesting information about the proposal has been redacted. All their specific proposals for reform are secret, as is practically everyone they plan to consult in their “targeted engagement”. People with specific expertise in the law? Secret. Bloggers and commentators? Also secret. They do list some media organisations, and the members of the OGP Expert Advisory Group, but everyone else is secret.

Which is outrageous when you think about it.

It looks outrageous to me.

The OIA is quasi-constitutional legislation, something that belongs to (and affects) all of us. But rather than a full public consultation, they plan to privilege some voices over others, presenting their select secret proposals to a select secret group, then presenting the stovepiped results to us as a fait accompli. And they kept this entire process secret as well: they decided it all back in May, but never announced anything. The only reason we know about it at all is because of a passing reference in another document. Whether these are the actions of a government committed to transparency, accountability, and participation is left as an exercise for the reader.

We deserve better than this. Its not just politicians, journalists and trouble-making bloggers who use the OIA, but all of us. Steven Price’s 2005 study of the OIA contained an extensive list of examples of how ordinary citizens use the Act, and summed it up as “the stuff of democracy”.

According to the Ombudsman’s 2017-18 annual report, individuals made three times as many OIA complaints as journalists, and its 5.5 times as many when you look at the LGOIMA. In short, it’s our Act, not theirs. And any non-trivial changes to it require publicly consulting all of us, not just a select group of chosen insiders.

From Reddit:

As some of you like to point out, I don’t comment often here. I’ll make an exception today in order to endorse this post by No Right Turn, who is something of an authority on OIA issues.

Regardless of your political views, the Official Information Act is an incredibly important tool to hold those in power to account. It’s also one of the strongest freedom of information laws in the world.

Any changes to the OIA need to be taken seriously.

So how can we  demand inclusion in this review of the OIA?

Jacinda Ardern, in a speech at Auckland University of Technology, outlined 12 priorities “looking 30 years ahead, not just three”, which included:

  • transparent, transformative and compassionate government;

Bryce Edwards (1 News september 2017):

“Stylistically it was brilliant but it was fairly hollow in terms of substance,”

This seems to be a repeating theme with Ardern.

Under her leadership the only transformation in transparency appears to be towards more secrecy, and the review of the OIA suggests she is doing the opposite of what her hype has promised.

Glucina’s text to Key

The Ombudsman has ruled that John Key shouldn’t have refused to release a text message sent from Rachel Glucina to him related to Amanda Bailey and the hair pulling issue.

The text was made public this afternoon by Newshub: Glucina’s text message to PM revealed.

Newshub has obtained the text message sent by Rachel Glucina to the Prime Minister, which John Key initially refused to release under the Official Information Act.

The text message said: “just interviewed the waitress. Piece of work! Massive political agenda”.

It has been suggested that Glucina is piece of work with a massive political agenda too. And the person who forced the release through an OIA request, No Right Turn, could also be suspected of having a bit of a political agenda as well.

Some journalists have raised concerns about this.

It appears the information was withheld by the Prime Minister’s office under Section 9 of the Official Information Act, which aims to protect privacy or an obligation of confidence.

But Judge Boshier decided the request should not have been refused.

“Even if an obligation of confidence existed, I consider it is outweighed by the high public interest in the information,” he wrote in his response to the complaint.

So anything that can be judged of “high public interest” must be released?

No Right Turn had a lot of interest in it, as did a few other political activists wanting to inflict as much damage on Key as they could, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the public may think that the text is of little interest to them.

I doubt many journalists will be keen on bloggers forcing their communication with politicians to be revealed.

I think Glucina’s text says a bit about her bit little about anything else.

It was also noted on Twitter that Glucina didn’t break this text revelation on her gossip site Scout.

Key made it clear he ignored the text. While someone seemed to think it was significant in some way that Glucina had Key’s phone number so do Barack Obama and Key ignored a call from him.

UPDATE: With so little information in a brief text The Standard are having a field day filling in all the gaps – Glucina Key #ponygate text revealed

Exposing dirty politics – and journalists?

No Right Turn has a post about his ongoing attempts to extract details of communications between John Key and Rachel Glucina over the ponytail saga.

This raises important issues about whether politicians’ interactions with journalists should be private or not.

Exposing dirty politics

Back in April it was revealed that Prime Minister John Key had systematically and repeatedly assaulted and sexually harassed a cafe waitress (while his police bodyguards stood around and did nothing). Shortly afterwards, dirty politics operative and sewer-columnist Rachel Glucina ran a smear-job on the victim.

When he was asked under the OIA whether he had had any communications with her about it, Key refused to respond. That refusal was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and so naturally enough the requester took it to the Ombudsman. On Wednesday we learned that the Ombudsman was investigating the refusal. Key response to this has been to stand by his stonewalling, citing a “long-standing view” and a “convention” that his interactions with the media shouldn’t be released. The problem? None of that is in the law.

The OIA specifies a number of conclusive and non-conclusive reasons for withholding official information – and the Prime Minister having a “long-standing view” that he should be above the law isn’t one of them. And the grounds he does cite – “privacy” (his own) and “confidentiality” (offered for his own convenience) – are simply not applicable.

If the system works as it should, Key should be forced to reveal whatever information he holds (subject to legitimate redactions for privacy – things like names and phone numbers, not whether he or his minions talked to a journalist).

As for the supposed consequences, I’m perfectly comfortable with them. As I noted earlier, if Key is so ashamed of his contact with Rachel Glucina that he is blatantly ignoring the law to avoid admitting it, maybe he shouldn’t have contacted her in the first place. And if the threat of exposure deters him from making such contacts in future, then that would a victory for the OIA.

[Disclosure: I’m a party to this complaint, having complained about the refusal of my request for information regarding the existence of information]

I’m not so comfortable with the potential consequences.

Should any communications between any MP and any journalist be obtainable for publication under the Official Information Act?

While the OIA may not specifically address journalist/politician confidentiality other laws do.

The free exchange of communications between politicians and the press is a crucial part of an effectively functioning democracy.

If a blogger could successfully demand that any such communications be made public I think there will be many politicians and journalists very uneasy.

Idiot Savant wants to score a hit against Key here. Terms like “systematically and repeatedly assaulted and sexually harassed” and “dirty politics operative and sewer-columnist” suggest they are not particularly balanced on this issue.

While I have concerns about how Glucina handled the Amanda Bailey story I have greater concerns about the implications of opening up all politician/journalist communications to public scrutiny.

Especially when it appears there is a growing desire to attack and punish journalists and media who are deemed to be politicaly biased by some political activists and Winston Peters and Andrew Little.

I wonder how Peters and Little would like all their comminications with journalists open to public scrutiny?

Note: No Right Turn doesn’t allow comments but this has been reposted at The Standard so there will be comments on it here: NRT: Exposing dirty politics

Multiple failures on Anadarko

It has been reported that Anadarko are plugging their test well in the Taranaki Basin. They found some oil and gas but didn’t consider the finds commercially viable.  Stuff reports:

Texan oil company Anadarko says it has found no commercially viable oil or gas in its deep-sea well in the Taranaki Basin.

“It’s a disappointment, but this is by far the most frequent outcome in exploratory drilling,” Anadarko New Zealand’s corporate affairs manager Alan Seay said.

So nothing abnormal about that.

But Karol blogs at The Standard:

So, the whole big plan for the Key-led NZ Inc, has just become a bit of a fizzer.

“In terms of the drilling operation, the ship performed above and beyond expectations,” Seay said.

So great endeavor by the ship, a big fail for NZ’s economic and energy policy.

Perhaps Karol didn’t read everything she quoted. All of New Zealand’s economic and energy policy did not ride on the results of one test well. In fact Karol acknowledges this:

So, undeterred, Anadarko is going for more fail in the Canterbury basin.

Where Shell have said there is a 30% change of a commercial gas find – they expect only one in three test wells to be successful.

So an apparent failure by Karol to understand the oil/gas industry. But it’s not just (Green supporter) Karol. Gareth Hughes’ in ‘Deep sea drilling is not our future.‘ :

The National Government has been rolling out the red carpet to the oil and gas industry, but rather than picking a winner, it has picked a loser and New Zealanders are worse off for it.

To make sure that New Zealanders have good jobs, the Government should turn around the manufacturing crisis, which has seen 40,000 manufacturing jobs lost since National came to power.

There is no manufacturing crisis. Greens and Labour tried to manufacture a ‘crisis’ but that failed, it has been dis-proven by optimistic reports from the manufacturing sector.

And there’s more failure:

National’s big economic “strategy” for the past six years has been to gamble on finding oil. As part of their bet they’ve sold our right to protest to foreign oil companies and played Russian roulette with our beaches. And now that gamble has failed.

So that’s National’s entire economic plan gone. They had one idea to boost economic growth (I’m not going to say “raise living standards” because that includes clean beaches), and it has failed. What are they going to do now? Pray for a pot of gold to fall out of the sky? Oh wait, that’s what they were already doing…

Anadarko are moving on the test drill in another part of our economic zone.

Shell have announced plans to test drill.

Tag Oil are investigating in the east of the North Island.

One non-commercial well does not a make it a total failure for exploration, and it’s absurd to claim it’s a failure for our economic policy.

No Right Turn:

There are cleaner ways to earn a living than polluting the oceans and baking a planet. And we desperately need a government which will pursue them. National seems incapable of it. Time to toss them out and get someone better.

No surprise that it’s political.

Everyone wants more clean energy, and cleaner energy (ironically gas is cleaner energy than oil and especially coal but the Green team are against everything that comes out of the ground).

But the Greens have failed to provide any convincing evidence of what grand clean energy possibilities there are apart from pie in the sky predictions.

Alternative energies are still mostly very expensive compared to fossil fuels. That’s why they are not taking the world by storm.

One Anadarko well has failed.

The whole Green alternative has failed to materialise into anything credible.

It’s certain we will still need substantially amounts of fossil fuels for some time if we want to sustain a New Zealand that most people want.

If Green energy alternatives suddenly become economically viable then great, we should go for them. But in the meantime we have to go with what we’ve got and push for a transition that won’t destroy our economy.

 

Speaking on Waitangi double standards

Some have just had their annual discussions at Waitangi, and others have had their annual say on Waitangi. That has revealed a doubled standard.

Hone Harawira enjoys Waitangi’s annual opportunity for ‘robust discussion’. The history for that goes back to 1840, so fair enough. The attention seeking antics of his mother and a few others are more questionable.

Many people have spoken against the antics, and have queries the national day-ness of Waitangi Day. It seems to more of a day for some Maori up north.

And I’ve seen a few blasts directed at people speaking about Waitangi.

@LewStoddart

Dunne and Shearer are effectively calling for a Day of Forgetfulness.

You just want to remember the bits that make you feel nice. But history isn’t about feeling nice, it’s about being true.

I’m not advocating anything be excluded. You are: that grievances be papered over, minimised in the name of faux harmony.

Lew wanted grievances heard – but just his preferred grievances, his attacks suggested that he wanted to exclude Dunne and Shearer for not playing his game, for speaking their own minds.

Also fairly typcial is this blog from No RightTurn:

Shearer on Waitangi Day

Another year, another Waitangi Day, and another call from Labour leader David Shearer for the day to be about “celebration” rather than reflection. As I noted when he did this last year, this is basically a call for us to deny our history, to forget the wrongs that were (and still are being) done.

Its a demand that Maori shut the fuck up and stop ruining “our” (meaning “not their”) day, a dogwhistle to rednecks and lazy Pakeha who just don’t want to think about where “their” wealth came from.

No one was demanding anyone shut up, they were saying what they thought. No even robustly. He has a right to do suggest a preference for celebration. That doesn’t deserve an abusive response.

Waitangi Day has a history of speaking one’s mind. That shouldn’t be limited to some small minded people who think they and their views have an exclusive forum every 6th February, where they can criticise whatever and whomever they like, however they like, but anyone outside their circle is abused if they do likewise.

Some people like to celebrate at Waitangi. Others should be able to suggest a country-wide celebration, on February 6 or a different day of the year. This does nothing to diminish the importance of those who enjoy Waitangi Day in Waitangi. Unless they want to be the sole focus of attention.

4% porridge

The MMP review has recommended a reduction in the MMP party threshold from 5% to 4%.

In conclusion, therefore, the Commission’s sense is that 5% is too high and that 3% is the lowest end of an acceptable range. We suggest 4% is preferable. It reflects the Royal Commission’s original recommendation. It would compensate for abolition of the one electorate seat threshold. It is in line with comparable democracies such as Norway and Sweden. And it is in line with public opinion and the weight of submissions received by the Commission.

Andrew Geddis has called this the Goldilocks number. “Not too high, not too low, and supported by just the right number of people!!”

But this doesn’t seem to consider what would be the most democratic, they have judged on what others do and what they think is “in line with public opinion and the weight of submissions”. Except, acccording to No Right Turn:

Interestingly, more submitters favoured a lower threshold than favoured 4% (and as many favoured actual or effective abolition as favoured the second most popular category of 1 – 2.5%).

There have been a number of claims that the commission has taken a big party approach – of course the big parties will have a big say in trying to protect themselves from those pesky small parties.

Meanwhile, the actual evidence from NZ of the effectiveness of smaller parties, or their effects on government stability, does not seem to have been considered. I guess they decided that Graeme Edgeler’s proposal of considering the pros and cons of the whole range was too much work, so instead we have the usual snobby, anti-democratic nostrums about the need to keep small parties out in the cold. Translating the Electoral Commission’s view into the real world, they think the Maori Party are ineffective representatives and that Jim Anderton was extremist, and that both should be denied a place in Parliament if they hadn’t had the good luck to win electorate seats. You don’t have to approve of either of those examples to recognise that this conclusion is a bit dubious.

Democracy should be about giving people a say. The commission report seems to be weighted far to much towards giving the incumbent self interested large parties a say.

It is still possible to have a say on this, here. The proposals paper is open for submissions until 7 September.