Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Squeegee law a distraction

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Ousting window washers seems petty when housing quality needs lifting.
Ousting window washers seems petty when housing quality needs lifting.

It looks like Len Brown has finally worked out how to solve his image problem.

He's sent councillor Arthur Anae and functionary Roger Blakeley to play diversion by taking on the menace of windscreen washers at intersections.

At last someone is going to protect us from the threat of assault with a deadly washcloth - something that is already illegal but apparently not illegal enough.

Anae is considering confiscating their buckets, but the washers are a doughty lot, possessed of a fierce and determined rebel spirit that only the most foolhardy bureaucrats (and isn't that most of them?) would challenge. "If you take my bucket, I will still have my sponge. You can take my sponge, I'll still have some Wet Ones. And you can take my Wet Ones, but, so help me God, you'll never, ever take my tongue."

The pronouncements remind us, in case we forget, that municipal councils are as much as anything an opportunity for bureaucrats to practise their art.

This time they've excelled themselves, with talk of licences, uniforms, codes of conduct and spot fines.

The windscreen washers aren't easy to like. They seldom get less than a dollar for a job that takes no more than a minute, meaning their base hourly rate is more than four times the minimum wage - tax-free.

What we really dislike about them is les miserables syndrome. We don't enjoy being reminded we are part of a society that reduces people to this ridiculous enterprise to survive because normal options - jobs, benefits, family support - are not available. If they want to win our hearts - and those of Anae and Blakely - they should at least improve their service. They could develop their acts with fancy footwork, cloth tricks and other moves.

Or maybe not. Once they were putting on a decent show, our opportunistic southern cousins would soon lure them away and people would be coming from around the world to attend the Christchurch International Windscreen Washers Festival.

This would free up council resources to tackle real community nuisances - landlords with unhealthy houses, "respectable" businesspeople pushing alcohol on children, institutions that survive on gambling addictions. That would be good for the mayor's image.

We don't need to ask new Act leader Jamie Whyte what he thinks of windscreen washers. As a libertarian he will fully support their right to own their own lives and put themselves at risk all day and every day.

Whyte, with his Mephistophelian charisma and prodigious powers of logic, represents a real opportunity for Act. They may find that there are a lot of people who will respond to well thought-out arguments, if Whyte gets a chance to present them.

Libertarians believe what's good for the individual will be good for everybody. They believe people can do anything they want as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of others. Philip Seymour Hoffman, for instance. Okay, bad example.

Generally, their logic is perfect but, unfortunately, they are absolutists. Everything must fit their narrow view of how decisions should be made. Fortunately, we are more than logical beings. We are feeling and instinctive beings as well. There is good evidence, for instance, that altruism is part of our genetic heritage. Our feelings are the source of more happiness than our syllogisms. Our instincts have evolved to meet our needs for survival. The most compelling argument may be able to persuade us up to a point, but it will never override our human qualities.

- Herald on Sunday

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