Monday, August 23, 2010

The Interesting Stuff Is Not in the Newspaper

More links to interesting things I've been reading lately:

Auckland Transport Blog has thorough discussions of public transport issues in Auckland, based on detailed examination of the relevant geography, economics and engineering. Some of it is pretty wonkish, and a bit detailed for those of us who don't live in Auckland, but this deconstruction of the argument that "Auckland is not densely populated enough for mass transit" is interesting (needs to be followed into the comments section). It seems that the belief that Auckland is one of the least densely populated cities in the world was generated by Kenneth Cumberland in the 1960s, who included large swathes of rural and wilderness land in the Auckland district to make the numbers look kind of right.

I'm also enjoying Reading the Maps, a multi-author blog covering New Zealand literature, art and history, among other things. The posts, and subsequent comments, which try to engage with John Ansell over the "Coastal Coalition" billboards and the attitudes that lie behind them, are particularly compelling.

Crooked Timber is another favourite: an enticing blend of philosophy, development studies and politics. An interesting recent post is about productivity and lifestyle differences between Europe and the US. It's an old and oft-rehearsed argument, but always interesting, with its mix of value judgements and technical arguments about the facts.

Last but not least, Terence Wood's blog Waylaid Dialectic is an excellent resource for anyone interested in development studies. It combines link-fests with incisive, open-minded reviews and incisive commentary about aid effectiveness, development economics and social justice. (Declaration of interest: Terence is a graduate from the VUW development studies programme, currently working on his PhD in Canberra).

PS: distractions are useful; it's good to keep learning things, and you can't work on your thesis the whole time.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Workers of the World

I'm afraid I have a million tasks in the first few weeks since getting back to New Zealand, and still haven't found time to produce anything like a coherent blog, though I'm still planning on recounting some amusing stories from my time doing field research.

In the meantime, there's a couple of topics I've picked as highly recommended reading.

The Independent's Johann Hari reports on the incipient attempts of Chinese workers to form their own unions, amidst Dickensian factory conditions which reportedly see 600,000 people a year die from overwork. This piece from Foreign Policy in Focus provides interesting background on how international corporations opposed and helped water down a new Chinese law which would have recognised unions.

Back in New Zealand, there's been a discussion paper released by the Government-appointed Welfare Working Group on "Long-Term Benefit Dependency: The Issues".

Gordon Campbell's take is typically straightforward:

There is a peculiarly airless quality to the working paper, driven as it is by ideology and not by any discernible engagement with New Zealand, 2010. Because the panel pays so little attention to events in the real world – newsflash : the job market has not yet recovered from the worst economic recession since WW11, and that global recession seems about to recur – it could have been written at any time over the last four decades.

The posts and commentary at The Standard here and here are also interesting reading.

When thousands of New Zealanders are out of work because of a recession largely caused by greed and speculation in the world's financial capitals, is it really the right time to be hassling people on sickness and disability benefits to get a job?