How to vote: Assessment No. 3 (no to fear)

Don't vote for those for those who prey on your fears. Instead vote for those who inspire you.

There's an incredible amount of things to be afraid of if one so chooses (it's often a choice). At election campaigns these types of topics often get a lot of air time. In local elections the classic is:
A candidates responses to such topics is useful in drawing an important distinction. The candidate who defaults to fear is a candidate who has not much else to offer in their current state of mind. The candidate who inspires however is the candidate more likely to act bravely, with an eye for the future and in the best interests of the community because they have hope.
It's important to note that there is a big difference between a candidate tackling a scary topic and one actively trying to scare you. In fact if they are tackling a scary topic that you'd rather not hear about and are doing it in a manner that is considerate, thoughtful and full of hope then you should probably crown them king or queen immediately.

Ignore the polarising topics.
Topics that polarise such as fluoridation however are useless for assessing anyone on their ability to govern. You're always better off with a candidate who can act with discernment and wisdom generally and who you disagree with on a topic like this than the one who agrees with you but is a lying scary zombie.

Which about wraps up all I have time for. I hope you enjoyed my assessments, here's the wrap up.
  • Keep your candidates fresh (don't let them get institutionalised)
  • Don't vote for liars
  • Vote for the people that inspire you and refuse to be scared at election time.

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Can they sing?

Can they sing for you?
(Via Julian Blanchard)
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How to vote: Assessment No. 2 (Lying Zombies)

On giving up your addiction to liars
On giving up your addiction to liars
Refer to previous post : this is my second suggested assessment you can apply when deciding on how to vote. Intended to be applicable to all elections everywhere. Very briefly, liars are terrible for good governance as they destroy the trust that is so essential to a well functioning governance body so the rule underpinning this assessment is:
Don't vote for liars.
Of course that leads to a more tricky question: "how do I know who is lying?" which is often answered with the thankfully incorrect assumption "all politicians are liars".
It's important to recognise that calling someone a liar is often more dangerous than the actual activity of lying because of the onus of providing proof. Rather than accusing people of lying here is a better way for them to tell you themselves. 

I use the term lying but don't be confused with the technical mistakes that dominate elections. The assessment is to determine the intent to mislead, distract and obfuscate rather than "you said 15 but it was 16..." which is really a game played by liars to make everyone look like them.
Before assessment you need to ensure you are correctly positioned.

Keep practising the very healthy approach of trusting and believing the best of all the people you meet EXCEPT FOR THOSE IN OR PURSUING POWER. Instead expect us (well not me this time as I'm giving it up) to be always lying to you like pathological zombies who will doing anything for our next power trip. Expect us to rip your neck open at the slightest sense of you getting between us and our power (which means you must be doubly careful when performing the lunch test in Assessment No 1). It's also important to note that the longer we've been in power then the more we're likely to hate you because of that small subtle fact that your vote represents an irritating power over us mightier, superior beings*.

Political campaigns are where liars really get to shine. The saying "You can fool all of the people some of the time" is probably the best way to sum up how election campaigns deliver so many liars into power. Which is where it starts to get dirty because it's here that we reveal our love for those who abuse us with their lies. We set up public debates and compare lying skills, rooting for the one with the most venom; using it as the measure of who is the cleverest/strongest to rule us. It's like a filthy Stockholm syndrone where we've grown to expect the abuse and start revelling in it.
It's also in this environment that the honest politician has a whole lot less arsenal because facts and numbers are lost in the moment. The honest politician with the weight of character, presence and wit to overcome a lying adversary is only exceeded in rarity by the lying politician who discovers ethics upon election to office**.

What's dangerously common nowadays is everyone taking on an air of suspended disbelief as we all pretend we're not being lied to, because imagine how horrible that would be. We act sophisticated, preferring to play along, going to our happy place while we're abused.

Now if that was all to much for you then it's important to note that the concept of treating anyone in power with distrust is nothing new and a lot of our governance structures have this model of distrust built in. It's long been recognised that distrust is the right, honourable and mature way to approach power.
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
Now you can start your assessment to rule out the liars and this will require you to rely on your wits a little.

Take any claim made by the pathological zombie and you'll find that if you assume they are lying there will be a very simple child-like question that is begging to be asked. If you get the chance to ask it, you'll likely get a rehearsed answer which sounds good to start with but often upon a little thought comes up as a non-answer and leads to a new question. If you get enough of those it's highly likely that they are lying and just telling you what they think you want to hear. If they ever respond with the "are you accusing me of lying?" line, don't answer, just smile, quod erat demonstrandum.

Unfortunately in our democracy you likely won't get a chance to ask those questions directly. You'll also find yourself cursing the reporters who will often fail to ask the bleeding obvious due to their own sophisticated happy place.
Remember if you expect the lies you won't be surprised by them, if you actively distrust you'll also find yourself doing a pleasant double take when you meet one of those non-lying politicians; BUT don't forget Assessment No. 1 and never start trusting them. 

Now it would be entirely appropriate for you all to practice  coming up with some good questions for claims made in the current campaign in the comments below. Remember, we're all assuming the candidates are pathological lying zombies.

*ECAN actually are superior beings now due to the loss of your vote
**They don't exist at all in the normal order of things.

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How to vote: Assessment No. 1 (Cuckoo land)

Dealing to the addiction of re-election.
Dealing to the addiction of re-election.
Refer to previous post : this is my first suggested assessment you can apply when deciding on how to vote. Intended to be applicable to all elections everywhere and remember, there are always exceptions.

I'll start off by using myself as an example. I was the fresh young upstart who took to task all who tried to beat up on our democracy. I had an idealistic(ish) take on forget-the-institution - this is about our community and the institution needs to serve us so don't-forget-it attitude.

But now it's near the end of one term and I've not yet told you about last week's workshop which left me both shocked and angry.

 I'd have liked to have stood again but a big part of me is really glad to get out for a term so I can track down my sanity.
One term. It sounds so short so why don't we describe it as 3 years. You know - a full term at University with a BCom to boot. You're already comparing a graduate with the first year student that arrived fresh face and clueless an eon ago.
Ask not what the candidate can do for you but what the institution has done to your candidate.

So here's the first assessment: How long have they served?
I like to work with the following scale:
  • No Term = serious consideration but apply the other assessments.
  • 1 Term = likely good for another if they are willing - apply the other assessments.
  • 2 Terms = a close assessment of the person's character is required; specifically around not if, but how much they have assimilated by the Borg.
  • 3 Terms = an absolute no vote unless you can get them to pass the lunch test. The lunch test comprises of getting them to talk non-stop about the democratic institution you are institutionalising them in over a meal and if they are at any time not completely lucid, logical or most importantly comprehensible you cannot under any circumstances put them back there.
  • 4+ terms = you'd very likely be in breach of the United Nations convention against torture; voting someone back in for that long is at the very least neglectful and shows a complete disregard for their well-being. The role is supposed to be one of community service but you might as well enslave them in their own egos, tie them to their adored governing chair and watch as they fly off to cuckoo land with your taxes.
It's completely and utterly bonkers to send someone in for four terms (12 years) straight when you have a whole community of representatives who could bring in a fresh un-institutionalised world view and ensure the torch of community service is passed on successfully.

I'm likely a little over the top here but my reasons for being so is that this community seems to think the complete opposite and we vote in old familiar faces for fairly arbitrary untested reasons without any consideration as to the impact the institution is having on that individual.

So that's my first assessment from my vantage point on the inside. It's likely I've just offended a very small number of people so I'll stop there and ask if there are any questions?
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4 things I hate about democracy

4 things I hate about democracy

  1. Lies and innuendo get equal standing with honesty and truth with an uninformed public
  2. There is no good guys or bad guys like the movies (would be so much simplier)
  3. Those with limited ethics can game far more effectively and while admirable at a gamemanship level is always disappointing for the community later when those same ethics come home to roost.
  4. The art of assessing ones own character, motivations and values requires a greater wisdom than most possess, yet we're supposed to decide on candidates based on a bill board?
The thing I hated about Team Timaru campaign was that it was marketing, a game that to make a difference in our democracy we'd need to pool resources and do something different. It wasn't an assessment of the characters and motivations of the candidates involved any more than the most common assessment which was praise aimed at our ability to run an effective marketing campaign (i.e. well they must be "good"). Hitler was very good at marketing which I'm including to point out why this is such an absurd and crazy assessment; it worked well for me and the Team for all the wrong reasons and marketing will never ever be a good way to assess a candidate.

This is why I'm a firm believer in a democratic system in which all votes cast are based on intimate knowledge of the candidates. This requires much smaller democracies and part of why I was voting the way I was in the representation review - I sincerely believed the focus should have been on strengthening the smaller community boards - I failed to realise just how under-valued they were by their own communities comparative to a seat at Council.

So it's election time and I ask myself, do I give a damn about this community? Do I just roll out of town on my bus and leave you to it? It would be soooo much easier and surely I've done enough in performing my service?

My problem is it's part of my duty as an elected member to work to strengthen our democracy and I see some really stupid assessments taking place (as at all elections) by otherwise intelligent members of our community. So as an elected member who isn't standing again I want to impart what I see as some excellent methods in assessing who to vote for under our existing system from my vantage point while I still hold it.

You can assess my assessment methods for yourself and I'll be posting them here soon; then wonder-of-wonders, vote however you please - this is a freedom you no longer have with your other rating council...

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Worth waiting 170 years for

The Timaruvian masthead as of yesterday
The Timaruvian masthead as of yesterday
For the first time in its 170 year history, Timaru has news.  In a move some have labelled as “premature” and “reckless”, the The Timaruvian has launched with a slew of breaking news items previously unknown to the traditional grapevine. It has been seen as a major setback for those members of the community who just didn’t want to know. Some commentators are saying it is likely to signal the end to a way-of-life unique to Timaru that had seen nothing newsworthy actually reported due to the lack of reporters. This peculiar predicament has been partially caused by the lack of any actual news outlets, a situation which in turn has occasional been blamed by commentators on the lack of any actual news for reporting. 

In response to the launch of The Timaruvian an unnamed source within the internationally-owned advertising publisher The Timaru Herald has voiced their growing concern about the impact that news might have on the community. After extensive googling, they had been astonished to find out just how dangerous news had proven to be elsewhere in the world and were deeply concerned about the steps taken by The Timaruvian to date. "We've been so alarmed by the results of our searches we're considering running an anti-news campaign to alert the community to the dangers" our breathless source told us. They also mentioned there may well be some local politicians who could put a stop to this and intended to write to them to warn of this imminent threat to our natural social order. This has not yet been actioned however as we understand that everybody The Timaru Herald has talked to so far had no idea who these politicians actually were.

We however did speak with two people we found on our main street about the situation and they gave voice to the wide spread growing sense of outrage that has been brewing within the community. “This is a community still coming to terms with the fact that their actions may end up being reported.  For heaven’s sake, we just don't need to know this news stuff?” one resident responded. Another resident just shook their head and muttered something unintelligible about “progress” and “if it ain't broke”. The only positive response was from a child on Gleniti Road, who after appearing initially confused and disorientated, suddenly and excitedly asked, “Will this news tell me where I can nab me some legal highs?” 

The Timaruvian’s apparently rash decision to start reporting could be commended as visionary, but we wanted to know how The Timaruvian intends to get its news to a population who don’t know they exist.  This seemingly impossible scenario was put to The Timaruvian who responded rather clinically with a “No Comment”. We also questioned who their readers would likely be due to combined factors of the highly unpopular notion of news in general and the sense that Timaru was also quite small. This appeared to unsettle them somewhat and a heated argument broke out which had them leave the room shouting at each other. Later they rang back to say that they had of course considered that question when they started but did it anyway because if just felt so noble.
We have since had it confirmed by The Timaru Herald that while news may actually be legal, it is highly addictive, and most commonly sold from newsstands or dairies. “Do we want our local dairies to become dealers; feeding the addictions of these disadvantaged need-to-know types within our community?” asked our unnamed source at The Timaru Herald
Having clarified with our legal experts on the topic, we can confirm that while there have been no reports of such activity to date; it is currently legal to sell news from dairies in Timaru. It should be everyone’s hope that if these politicians do exist, they will see the sense to amend our laws immediately and continue to keep our bliss as their top priority. Down with The Timaruvian.

In other news, a local politician has taken it upon himself to start writing things that are true on a website. This startling revelation has caused some in the community to question their very existence. As it turns out those people discovered they didn't actually exist at all and this has resulted in no change for our blissful community at this point. We'll hope to have more updates on this developing story for you shortly.
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Open letter to the Timaru Herald

Dear Timaru Herald.

I love your community effort, I consider some of you friends but I'm aware I don't know a lot of you.  It's not really my role to provide you with advice and I'm going to be pretty unpopular for doing so - perhaps then just consider this as from citizen Hamish, not Cr Hamish although we're a little inseparable.
I am as you are aware not running for re-election. This is somewhat freeing in that I don't have to feel like I have to keep you on side. That feeling has always been mildly disturbing; in a civil society one should not have to keep the press on side because they don't take sides - they report.
Which is what this letter is about really. I would like to tell you publicly that the decisions that you have made to support the mayor in her legal highs campaign have been bad. I've already covered the damage that has done in a civic sense in the bullying of our local dairies. But you have also let down the Mayor by not providing critical thought and commentary on what she has to say. 
Politicians need to have what they are saying critically and publicly analysed. This is because they are the power holders and have the ability to affect the whole community. Power of course is really good at corrupting and giving people head rushes. Public commentary and critical thought is what forces them to take account of their communities and the perception that that is what you offer as a news organisation is what gives you your mana in your local community.
The world has changed however and you will have to fight more to be heard. The rise of the on-line mob as we have seen in the recent Aaron Gilmore situation (assuming you know who he is) is exactly(exactly) the reason an independent and critically thinking press is critically more important than ever.

On another note it has had it's upside. Due to my position in the community it has given me a wonderful example of watching a small community deal with a joint campaign run by the press and politicians and live within the bubble it creates.
It started out all innocently, the evil was obvious and over time the sense of power and the sense of possibly affecting change took over and behaviour which is entirely acceptable for citizens but entirely unacceptable for the Press took hold.
Worryingly but predictably nobody in the community wanted to say a word against the campaign. There was plenty of private disagreement however and this just displayed to me how powerful the press and politicians are when they get together on something, even on the local level. This letter is entirely serious at this point because what you pulled off was classic propaganda, although not of the deceptive kind in that I genuinely believe you genuinely took your position in what you believed. Which doesn't make it any better - history is littered with crimes from such good intentions which is exactly why you are not allowed to take a position as "The Press" if you want your position taken seriously. Save it for the editorials or start a blog.

Now that your sense of panic is hopefully starting to wear off, you are becoming aware that a large portion of the national population has an entirely different view than your own. That the real discussion is a whole lot wider than you realised. That many great minds have applied themselves to the topic and the real topic of the debate is "should we decriminalise soft drugs".
Which brings me to your editorial today. I felt sorry for you having to prepare today's paper. It was also going to be difficult after a national televised debate on the real topic land-slided against your favourite. But your editorial was entirely disappointing because "sorry, did we miss something?" would have been more appropriate.
The topic for the debate was crystal clear as this page indicates "Should soft drugs be decriminalised?". It just wasn't the topic you assumed it was, which is pointless other than to serve to illustrate just how caught up in your own campaign you have become.
Snap out of it.
We need critical thought now urgently and you should know better in election year. You have done your mayor a huge disservice in not critically piercing this bubble of your own making at it's inception and you've fooled yourselves into it. 

I want to leave you with an image I have posted previously but this time to point out what I consider another reason you need to stop:

Notice the text at the top of the page. The news that the Aorangi investors were getting all their money returned after all that had been done in their name and their apparent misfortune. This was Timaru District front page news if ever I've seen it due to some very large questions it raises. You however bumped it to page 3 because it got in the way of your campaign.

Thanks for the real world lesson in civics on a relatively harmless topic, I don't think I'll ever forget it.  Now please just stop, there is some very real news that needs reporting.


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Moral Panic

Ye old corner store, Elizabeth Street 2009
Ye old corner store, Elizabeth Street 2009
Election season. The local politicians are turning beautiful colours, soon to drop from the trees, into the streets and into the gutters. There is that faint smell of action and "important" issues and the time is ripe for a classic moral panic.

But wait! Now the powers that be are running a campaign against our dairy farmers. The poisoning of our water ways is a serious and possibly illegal activity but it is also a delicate and intricate issue which our environment begs us to resolve. The local media have photographed each dairy farmers farm house where they live and have printed them all on their front page after ringing around asking just one question. Are you poisoning our waterways? They all denied it however except for one farmer who stated his truth in a blazing show of honesty but was denied to add to the story with some highly relevant information which may well have served to improve the level of discussion and any resulting actions. Two other farmers denied it but were caught in the act. Now the public are organising to picket those houses where the farmers, their families and children live.
The blazingly obvious problem with the front page profiling however is "did any of them actually tell the truth"? Is the public perception that has been created by that story accurate in anyway? Are there only three bad dairy farmers? Are we about to picket the very farmer who is attempting to solve a complex problem honestly?

The local business development groups are up in arms. How dare the media and politicians come down like this on local businesses who provide valuable local service and employment. Actually when you are funded by said politicians you will generally stay quiet which in many ways is fair enough. We all know that despite the dairy farmers not having much money, they do have strong community links, contribute hugely to our nation's exports and could very well defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

Which is why the above has never happened (nor should) but is also exactly what has allowed us to see a moral panic campaign targeted at our local convenience stores; because they are a very easy group to target without fear of retaliation or political cost. 

The Timaru Herald, front page.

Can you imagine how much more stress your life would have if you have a young family, a small business dependant on your local community, you have done nothing illegal and then the local politicians and media decide you are doing something outrageous, are campaigning on it and now it's possible your house is going to be picketed by the public?

So I just want to take the initiative here and praise my local Elizabeth Street dairy for their honesty. They were the only dairy to admit to selling legal highs on the front page of the paper. Their honesty was the most responsible and honourable moment in this whole situation; honesty like that is the foundation of any discussion that might actually achieve positive change.

In brief, they were rung by the mayor and asked to stop selling "legal highs" and did so on the understanding that everyone was. After 4 weeks of having customers put back product on the shelves and go elsewhere on being informed at the counter that they didn't stock legal highs they actually rang the mayor back to say it wasn't working. Their explanation, that because other dairies were still selling it, it was impacting too much on their sales and they were going to start selling it again until such time as the whole of community approach worked. They felt they needed to do this because of the impact it was having on their business was that severe.
They could have just NOT rung the mayor. They could have just denied they were selling it. They could have just sold it to their regular customers to avoid the "stings". They however attempted to engage with an imposed and arbitrary process which to date has unfortunately been a process entirely uninterested in their input until it was to late. 

I'm not justifying their position or decisions, I'm arguing they've been hammered and their reputations tarnished with very little thought for their difficult position and with little chance of redemption; this is an injustice.

Some perspective here, consider alcohol. (In New Zealand, estimates indicate between 600 and 1,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes, Between 18 and 35 percent of injury-based emergency department presentations are estimated to be alcohol-related, rising to between 60 and 70 percent during the weekend).

I have more questions than answers to the New Zealand reality of substance abuse:
I state this local campaign around the dairies has been a classic moral panic. You can read the definition for a "moral panic" as per wikipedia and decide for yourself. The good news is you can all stop panicking soon because:
Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic
Src: Wikipedia
Which is also likely to be just after election season.
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My confession

Dear Timaru (District)

I have a confession to make. I've been putting off this day because there is nothing quite as scary as a public fess-up and the fear of what people think, the drama, politics and small town talk. It's not like it's a major mistake either, I've given my time on Council my all. I've tried very hard not lose perspective, tried not to lose my edge (admittedly I haven't been "told off" for a while).
It's important for me to come clean though, it's going to be unavoidably in the papers at some point and I would have preferred to leave it to the last. It's the claims I've made of transparency and honesty; combine that with the damn small town politics and I find myself forced to confess.  I really hope you might see some up-sides to it, because I'm disappointed in myself and it's possibly not what you thought I'd do when you voted for me the first time, which is; I've bought a bus.

Half my world thinks I'm mad, the other half think it's just too awesome. But it's a beautiful bus, it's an 11.3 metre, 12 tonne length of mechanical mayhem which I don't yet even have a licence to drive. This isn't a hair-brained last minute what-was-I-thinking idea; nor is it a severe over-reaction to my exposure to local-government. Instead it's a very old hair-brained idea that my family thought up on me near on 6 years ago and has (literally this past weekend) just overcome the main hurdle to getting going.
The plan is to trip around the provincial towns and cities of New Zealand over a space of however long it takes with the main (business) purpose being to drop in on potential clients (Graphic Design Agencies) and introduce them to what Verb (our business) has been developing for the last 12 years. 
This is likely to result in a not so little growth for the business which will be exciting for me personally because the effort to achieve a world class product to date has been immense. 

There is a second half to this story however and one that I've tried to mitigate. I had hoped there was a way to run for a second term on Council. I have explored all avenues and considered all the possibilities but at the end of the day there is one small law in place from central government that makes it patently clear you have to physically attend meetings. Physically attending meetings these days is an interesting requirement but not one I can change or make work when I'm driving along SH10 . I am particularly disappointed because I believe next term would have been the superior term of the two (the "new guys" are really inspiring some big cultural changes which you might just start seeing soon if you haven't already) and I'm excited about it.

But please don't write me off yet. I still have 1/6 of my term left and I definitely have some more posts up my sleeve with a number of topics I'd like to talk about in retrospect. I'm also chairing the District Services Committee and tomorrow we're discussing one of the biggest potential road funding changes we will have seen in possibly three decades. 

So there's a good 6 months of mayhem left in me and I intend to use it to it's fullest.  I am also seriously considering a local democracy project to take with me around New Zealand which I could use this blog for, more information on that as I get it.

I expect to see you all at committee day tomorrow (cough).

Got any questions? You've probably realised now the first paragraph wasn't entirely serious :-)


Your moment of zen

Lets first set the scene with the current thinking...
(NZ Herald article on the banks taking a bit of your savings if they fail).

Here's a NZ politician talking around related topics...

Here's a response:

Like a kid in a candy stall I'm fascinated at just how differently we can view the same things.
What was your moment of understanding in all this?
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Hamish Fraser

Hamish Fraser

An elected councillor on the Timaru District Council, Hamish has three four boys, is the Director of software company Verb, is passionate about good governance, Timaru summers and loves quality discussion over quality coffee.

This blog represents my own personal views as your elected representative on the Timaru Council and DOES NOT represent the views of the council itself.

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