Friday, December 24, 2010

Improving The Spirit Level

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Looking back, I can see that the newspapers and TV gave us plenty to worry and complain about this year. Most of us probably had to deal with personal stuff as well and look forward to putting it all behind us. Even so, we still have a lot more to be thankful for. As Fred Dagg famously put it, “You don’t know how lucky you are mate”.

It is therefore worth reminding ourselves occasionally that we live in one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand. We now have wonderful summer weather inviting us to go swimming, fishing and tramping in our spare time - or just finding a quiet shady spot to read a book. We could certainly do with some rain for the farmers, but my grape vines are carrying the heaviest crop ever and there are already early plums, apricots and peaches in the shops and farmers markets.

For many people the Christmas/New Year break is something to look forward to. Sadly, for some that is not the case and access to extra alcohol can dangerously release deep seated frustrations and disenchantment. However, it is amazing how quickly these feelings can be reduced by friends and family. We can all take extra steps to remind one another how much we care. If we act by sharing our advantages and create opportunities, we can make a real difference to troubled lives by actions instead of pious comments.

When it became clear that twenty-nine miners had perished in the Pike River Coal mine, I was impressed with the short public announcement by our Prime Minister. John Key’s face genuinely expressed the sorrow most of us felt. He reminded us that “In New Zealand, we are our brother’s keeper” and his government would be doing everything it could to ease the hardship of the dead miner’s families.

I am proud to live in a place that has such values and I hope we never lose that commitment which John Key obviously believes in. I think that an uncaring and less equal society is bad for everyone – both rich and poor. I have just finished reading a book (from the Kaipara District Library in Dargaville) titled “The Spirit Level” and although it did not tell me much that I did not know, it provided clear statistical evidence to show the undesirable consequences of economic and social inequality.

Its authors, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, show quite clearly that less equal countries such as the USA are not doing so well as more equal societies as Japan and Scandinavia. Unfortunately, New Zealand (along with Australia and Britain) has followed blindly after the USA over the last thirty years and we are now paying the cost.

A new idea comes to mind as I write this article. How about continuing some of the best things about Christmas into next year by creating opportunities and improving our relationships with other people. Strangely enough, we will probably do ourselves a favour as well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Catcalls and Doggerel

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I don’t believe a word of it! I have just shredded a newspaper article that has the audacity to suggest that dogs are smarter than cats. Oxford University researchers in Britain are claiming to have evidence that social animals (like primates, dogs and dolphins) have evolved bigger and more intelligent brains than solitary animals (like cats).

Just because dogs like doing tests, does not make them more intelligent in my view. If they are so smart, how come cats like me out number them at least ten to one. In evolutionary terms, we are doing far better and we did not achieve that by fetching sticks and chasing imprisoned animals on farms all day.

I mean, just look at them. Dogs do not have hygienic toilet habits and God only knows why they have such a highly developed sense of smell. Even a cat like myself, with my small and beautifully streamlined nose, can smell them miles away. To put it bluntly, most of them stink.

I will admit though, that dogs are more like people and that is not a compliment. They have been with them much longer than cats and allowed themselves to be bred into a wide variety of freaks. Most of them would starve in the wild and that is an evolutionary mistake. If people destroy themselves, those dogs will go too.

We cats on the other hand, know that it is better to hedge your bets and keep your independence. We prefer to be lodgers and not slaves. At night we go hunting for snacks and during the day we amuse ourselves by manipulating humans. It very true when they say that dogs have masters and cats have staff.

I will have to admit though that cats have smaller brains than the average dog, but our brains are in fact larger in proportion to our body size. We also have a more highly developed cortex. This area of the brain is involved in thinking and cats do a lot of that.

Another observation worth making is that dogs eyes are wider apart than cats and humans - almost on each side of their faces. No wonder they are so easily distracted. In my opinion, they could all do with a regular dose of Ritalin to help them overcome their inherent hyperactive tendencies.

As a parting comment, I cannot resist commenting on the appalling lack of vocal range that dogs have. All they can manage is coarse barking, pitiful howling and salivery slurps. We cats, on the other hand, are more musically accomplished. There are few things as nice as serenading the moon with a heavenly chorus. People even throw us gifts of appreciation like: clocks, ornaments and air gun pellets.

I suppose all animals have pluses and minuses and genetic adaptation is a constantly working to improve the pluses. Cats are very near purrrrrfect and let’s face it, dogs have a long way to go.

Politicians Get Hacked Off

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Internet hacking is back in the news again. Wikileaks has exposed once more what is really going on behind the scenes in international politics and politicians are rearing up, like elephant bull seals, to protect their patch from intruders.

An Australian, by the name of Julian Assange (who helped form Wikileaks), is being hunted down to pay for all the trouble his organization is causing. He is officially being charged for sexual misconduct in Sweden, but this is widely seen as merely a device to get him behind bars and away from a keyboard.

Wikileaks has been reported to have only five full time staff and yet they have been able to access many thousands of files from all over the world. There appears to be no obvious malice involved – just a passionate belief that our world needs to know what is really going on behind the scenes.

The fact that politicians naively thought that classified files were safe from hacking is really surprising. Surely in this day and age it is widely known that all electronic data can be hacked as easily as hard-copy files. All over the world there are thousands of hackers ferreting away night and day to crack open every security measure – no matter how well it is devised to be 100% secure.

There are also the whistleblowers who stand up and risk their lives to let the truth be known to Wikileaks when power is being misused. Bradley Manning is one of those brave souls. He currently faces a very long sentence to pay for letting us know what a mess the Americans are making of the war in Iraq.

“America’s Tweetheart”, Sarah Palin, apparently wants Julian Assange and his mates tried for treason. As an Australian, Julian Assange is unlikely to suffer that fate in the USA – however; he has to constantly move around to avoid capture wherever he is. Even Vladimir Putin in Russia has been infuriated with the unflattering Wikileaks revelations about himself. I hope Julian keeps a sharp eye open for people carrying poison tipped umbrellas while he visits London.

I wonder if there are any budding Julian Assange types lurking in New Zealand? Do we really know enough about what is going on behind closed doors in Councils and Parliament? Do we need to know and why should we bother to care if we trust all our politicians to do the best for us.

I believe that we do have the right to know if we wish to. Nobody is perfect and in my experience very few politicians (and civil servants) escape from being corrupted by power now and then. Because of Wikileaks, I bet many of them are very carefully watching what they say and tap into their computers. It would be very easy for social campaigners in New Zealand to form a “Kiwileaks” group and go phishing on the net to haul in a fresh catch of unsuspecting pollies with their pants down.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Trap Is A Knockout

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Anyone driving along New Zealand roads at night is sure to notice that we share this district with thousands of possums. They might look cute, but they ravage our orchards, gardens and the wildlife in our few remaining native forests. They also spread diseases like Tb to farms and so a lot of effort is going in to get rid of them - or at least control their numbers to tolerable levels.

The Department of Conservation has been using a poison commonly known as 1080 very effectively, but its use has provoked negative criticism from environmentalists. Research to find alternatives has been going on for some years and the Government has recently funded a $4 million trial to test some promising new traps.

These have been designed by a new Wellington company called “goodnature” and manufactured in Napier. The traps are quite different from the ones now in service and introduce some interesting innovations. They kill the target animal rapidly and can automatically reload up to twelve times. Traps currently being used have to be manually reset and therefore require more field workers to maintain pest eradication projects.

The target animal is attracted to a feeding compartment and then a compressed Co2 gas canister drives a rod that delivers an instantly lethal blow to the head. The dead animal falls away and the trap then reloads and waits for the next encounter. Like bait stations, they are attached to tree trunks and this should minimize the unintentional dispatching of cats etc.

Commercial trappers might find them useful too. I can see that it would be very feasible to locate the traps using GPS co-ordinates and then tally the kills on a hand held receiver. The current trials are focused on stoats and possums, however the very effective basic design will be adapted to other pests like weasels, ferrets, rats and rabbits.

The ‘goodnature’ company has three partners: Craig Bond, Robert Greig and Stu Barr. They met while studying industrial design at Victoria University and came together some time later with the intention to set up a company that focused on good ethical and environmental standards.

The ‘goodnatured’ trio are proud that their possum traps have achieved an A Class kill that conforms to the New Zealand National Animal Environmental Committee’s guidelines. In a phone interview with me, Robert Greig, described ‘goodnature’s approach as “holistic and environmentally friendly”. Their products aim to not only complies with a customer’s functional needs, but also must comply with goodnature’s ethical standards.

If all goes well, we will be able to see one of the first trials of ‘goodnature’ traps taking place in Trounson Kauri Park, Bushy Park (Whanganui), Te Urewera and Nelson lakes.

The future looks good for this new eco-friendly company that is determined to create a high quality design and build operation in New Zealand. For more information visit their website at and see videos of the traps in action.

Wedded To Wi-Fi

The word wi-fi has a catchy ring to it. It sounds modern in the same way hi-fi did in nineteen sixties. Wi-fi might have begun as a company slogan, but we now use it to label much of the wireless technology that is connecting people all over the globe. The days of being “wired up” with copper seem to be coming to an end.

There are however, some people who believe that we might be slowly drowning in a cesspool of electronic pollution that gives us cancer, genetic defects, nerve injuries and undesirable behaviour. They appear to the same people who say we humans have a nasty habit of wrecking our environment for economic gain. We then find ourselves being forced later on to spend huge sums cleaning up air quality, poisoned rivers and restoring the wildlife.

To be honest, I did not give this matter much thought until I began experiencing headaches while using my wireless phone. As soon as I went back to using my old phone the headaches disappeared. For that reason I have not been very enthusiastic about using wireless devices around the house.

I then had another unsettling experience when a friend called in and wanted to show me some pictures of her attending music festivals in Britain. I sat beside her and soon felt a burning sensation in my thigh. At first I thought is was due to her being very attractive and then I noticed a router hanging down from her laptop computer. I was not even touching it and so that gave me another reason to be cautious about using wireless technology.

When I checked out on the Internet if other people were having similar misgivings about wi-fi, I found plenty of scary facts, statistics and personal stories. If you took it all in as gospel, then you might not get a good night’s sleep until you lived in the country and kept all wi-fi devices out of your house. Alas, even there satellites are beaming down Sky TV signals twenty-four hours a day and the way things are going, sheep might soon be mutating into Rupert Murdoch look-alikes.

On the other side of the fence, there are just as many people who rubbish the arguments against wi-fi – after all, our hospitals are not exactly overloaded with wi-fi afflicted patients. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued assurances that wi-fi is generally safe, so why worry?

Because of my own experiences, I will be playing it safe. Wi-fi radiation might not be harmful in small doses, but the affects of constant exposure have yet to be firmly established in my mind as 100% safe. In the meantime, if my daughters get pregnant I will be advising them to stay clear of wi-fi and keep their children’s exposure to the minimum. It takes time to effectively understand just how risky new technology is and I think our children are too precious to be experimental guinea pigs.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Armed Courses

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When I heard that the SAS had run a course for businessmen recently, I must admit that it had me worried. Fortunately, it turned out to be a fund raising event and only involved one company. For a while there, I had fears of Don Brash and his Round Table mates getting very cozy with army staff and tempting them to do unwise things with their weaponry.

I imagined Don Brash planning to storm the Beehive and demand that his 2025 Task Force Report be implemented forthwith and take New Zealand back to year zero (1984). To do this, they recommended slashing Government spending by $9 billion. You can bet your boots that those well heeled business leaders in the Task Force, would not include their government grant of $500,000 in those cuts.

Press reports summarize the basic 2025 Task Force recommendations as being the following: scrapping Kiwi Saver, making students pay interest on their loans, abolishing minimum wages, a flat tax of 20%, raising the pension age, cutting health and education subsidies, selling state assets and increasing foreign investment.

Thankfully, John Key was not very impressed with this list. Perhaps he was thinking of the SAS incident (or even Guy Fakes Day) when he said “I am not convinced that absolutely radical big bang reform is the way to go.” He made election promises and he would be “breaking those commitments and we are not going to do so.”

No wonder John Key is so popular. He knows that implementing the 2025 Task Force policies would take this country out of recession and plunge us into a costly depression. As in past depressions, the survivors would do well, but the casualties might ravage the land with revolution and war.

Strangely enough, one of the 2025 Task Force objectives is to find ways to catch up with Australia. But when you look at what the Aussies have done to increase their prosperity, almost none of the Task Force ideas are being used.

The Australians are richer by having strong unions (that have kept many of the working conditions and higher wages we have lost), they restrict foreign investment in their banks and media (newspapers etc), have huge compulsory super funds and still have a considerable amount of manufacturing activity. The mineral boom is the icing on the cake and derived a lot of its capital from Australian owned funds.

I hope that Don Brash never agrees with Chairman Mao’s often quoted saying, “Political power grows out the barrel of a gun.” In New Zealand, we are so lucky that our army serves our needs and not theirs. In too many countries it is the other way around.

Like most government ministries, the Ministry of Defense is facing cuts in expenditure and the SAS courses are probably attempts to put some money in their social services kitty. Maybe they should be called the SOS courses to prompt the Government into providing better social conditions for those valiant soldiers who defend us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kicking The Hobbit

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I have been wanting to write about the Hobbit saga for some time now, but I thought it would be better to wait and see how it all turned out. Like most New Zealanders, I am glad that it will be produced and filmed here. We certainly need the work, although I cannot seem to shake off feelings of unease about how successful it will be.

It was very obvious to me that Sir Peter Jackson and the actor’s union were both at fault. Sir Peter appeared to be aloof and outraged at the very impertinence of actors asking for more stable terms and conditions of employment. The actors union then unwisely called in some Aussie union muscle with global connections to lean on the project. In the end, the American movie moguls called the shots and it cost us millions of dollars to put right.

There are also some personal connections to the Hobbit that make me feel relieved that the standoff has been resolved. My son-in-law is a professional stuntman and he has been waiting all year to get a job on the Hobbit set. We are now keeping our fingers crossed that he will get a contract and head down to Wellington to get his share of Smaug’s treasure. I do not need to ask him what he thinks of unions right now.

I have another indirect connection to Peter Jackson’s Wellywood operations as well. I spent a large part of my childhood in Miramar and used to play indoor soccer (with bikes) in the empty warehouses that have been taken over by Weta Workshops. They have also taken over the factories that my mother worked in and I bet she would be astonished to see what they are being used for now.

Oddly enough, the Government funded National Film Unit was only a few houses further up the road from my parent’s place. Many a time I used to sneak around the back to raid the rubbish bins for rejected film clippings. Sadly, they were very boring pictures of tourist scenes and I was disappointed not to find any cowboy or gangster clips.

I did meet some of the arty looking men working there and they showed me round. It was very different from my father’s office in the city. I remember the National Film Unit offices being full of gadgets and busy people who appeared to really enjoy their work.

For a while, I even made up movie scripts with my mate Norman who was an amazingly talented actor and artist. Local hills became volcanoes and brave battles were fought defending justice and honour from the marauding armies of evil.

When I visit the area now, it reminds me that dreams need not remain dreams. If you have the courage to materialize them, the effect of your actions will be felt right across the world. It is never easy - there will always be greed and selfishness etc to conquer every step of the way

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Let's Do It!

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Every time November the fifth draws near, I feel my fingers itching again with the prospect of buying some more fireworks. I look forward to those sulphury smells and the exploding bursts of incendiary colour in the night sky.

I know some people want them banned, but I think we should keep this time of the year for fun and remembering the important history about Guy Fawkes Day. Yes, it can be dangerous, but so are many sports.

Banning fireworks would be like banning participation in hockey, cricket and rugby etc to avoid possible injuries. Passively watching fireworks and sport at a stadium is great entertainment, but it cannot beat doing it yourself with friends and teammates.

I have very fond memories of growing up with bonfires, sparklers, bangers and rockets. No one I knew got injured. I would say that we knew the risks and learnt through many mischievous adventures how to manage them.

Cliff Wilson was my best mate in those days and leader of our small band of tearaways. He was quick witted, smart and fearless. Even now, I can hear him saying, “Ok, let’s do it!” and we would be off on another wild escapade.

Luckily, my mother was very forgiving when she heard about some of the stuff we got up to. “That boy could get away with anything - he has such a cheeky smile!” she said. Cliff’s dad, who was a rather grim character, did not see it that way and often gave him a hiding.

Guy Fawkes for our gang was a wonderful time to launch rockets and have fun with crackers. Some of them were quite powerful. Many of our neighbours soon got to know not to respond to knocking on the front door at night if they had a rather nervous disposition.

I think it was Cliff’s idea that I should put a Tom Thumb cracker in one of my father’s cigarettes. It turned out to be a fizzer and my father laughed as he told me that he would skin me alive if I tried that again.

These days we are much more safety conscious and I suppose that is all very sensible. However, I fear that we are encouraging our youngsters onto gadgets that deliver secondhand experience. Instead, they could be making forts, going scrumping (nicking surplus fruit) and having adventures that teach you the limits that society insists we all accept.

I wonder if Richard Branson was like Cliff when he was young? He certainly has that “Let’s Do It!” attitude and his latest venture is to take his Virgin Airlines into space travel. The trip will cost you up to $200,000 and claims have been made that 700 tickets have been sold.

Alas, looking at progress so far, real space travel is some time off and many customers will only able to do it in their coffins. If I did that I would ask to be off-loaded in space and return to earth as a falling star - on Guy Fawkes Night of course.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What's In A Name

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For Paul Henry it would seem, quite a bit. He has finally resigned from his position as a presenter for TV1’s Breakfast programme after making too many offensive remarks on screen. He has had to apologize to singer Susan Boyle, Sir Anand Satyanand (Our Governor-General) and regret comments about the name of Delhi’s Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit.

I find it really hard to understand how Paul Henry can win “The People’s Choice Award” at the annual Quantas Film and Television Awards recently and then lose his job only a few weeks later. It only goes to show how quickly praise from the viewing masses, can rapidly turn into disgust and hatred almost overnight.

In Paul Henry’s case, he appears to have gone beyond what is generally acceptable behavior for a TV presenter and exposed an ugly side of his personality. I wondered why he could not see that his chortling and sarcastic sneering were not very funny to many people. Surely a man of his obvious intelligence could see that his comments were definitely inappropriate on community owned TV – especially in a family viewing time slot.

I then recalled talking to a teacher a while ago, who specialized in helping children who were found to be struggling with Asperger’s Syndrome. The symptoms she described in her pupils seem to match some of Paul Henry’s antics that I had seen on TV. For example, times of being clumsy, rudely interrupting guests, blurting out inappropriate comments, easily distracted, irritating self obsessed behaviour, rapid changes in mood and often hyped up.

People with Asperger’s can be more intelligent and talented than most of us. Some are driven to be high achievers who win Nobel prizes and create amazing art and music. However, their lives can be plagued by bouts of depression brought on by the suffering they unintentionally cause in their personal and social relationships.

It is not all bad news, because they can create happier lives for themselves. The trick is, finding the right kind of work and being with people who appreciate them and who also understand their condition. In Paul Henry’s case, perhaps he should come back on TV fronting a comedy spot that satirizes politics and all our sacred cows. Paul Holmes is another one who appears to be a fellow traveler and I think they would make an awesome duo on a show that screened away from peak viewing times.

An early reaction from TV1, about Paul Henry’s controversial behaviour, claimed that Paul’s comments merely reflected what most New Zealanders thought. There might be some truth in that, but what we think and what we say about other Kiwis and International leaders on TV are two very different things.

It was therefore heartening to hear that TV1 is now reviewing its guidelines for presenters on live broadcasts. Even so, I hope they find someone like Paul Henry (without the side effects) and do not opt for another boring Barbie and Ken duo to replace him and Pippa.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who Flung Dung

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New Zealand has every reason to be proud in its “Clean Green” reputation abroad. The rural sector has however, not such a good reputation at home when it comes to water quality. There is increasing evidence that animal waste, from the rapidly rising numbers of dairy farms, is putting pressure on the quality of our air and water supplies.

A lot of research effort is being directed to this problem and a recent proposal to try a very “clean green” solution is gaining government support. A grant of $400,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) Sustainable Farming Fund is being used to investigate the impact of introducing Dung Beetles to clean up animal wastes.

In many countries, generations of Dung Beetles have been munching their way through cowpats for thousands of years. They are seen to be to be an effective way to remove animal wastes from the countryside and might be able to reduce the 80% loss of nitrogen on New Zealand farms down to 10%. Another useful plus will also be the reduction of drenching required to cope with flies and parasites.

Choosing the right species will be a complex and time consuming process and the MAF grant will last for three years. Performance will not be the only factor to be taken into account. Prospective Dung Beetles will have to satisfy the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) that there will be minimal detrimental effects on New Zealand’s ecology.

Dung Beetles can be usefully classified into three groups: tunnellers, rollers and dwellers. Tunnellers obviously bury their precious booty underground and lay their eggs there. Rollers make dung balls, move them somewhere else and stay to guard their young from rivals and predators. Dwellers like to stay at home where the food is and some species have been seen to use polarized light to navigate around the pasture.

We could soon be seeing some very interesting beetles in our gardens after they are released into the Rodney District. Some Dung Beetles are very colourful and others, like Rhinoceros Beetles, are particularly horny. Local craftspeople might even be inspired by them to try new designs. The Ancient Egyptians revered Scarab (Dung) Beetles as symbols of resurrection, which is why these beetles appeared on their beautiful jewelry.

Most Dung Beetles go after herbivore waste but a few have got adventurous enough to get a taste for primate and human dung. Who knows, farmers near tourist localities might one day be able to employ some of these Dung Beetles to clean up the stuff that freedom campers leave behind.

Research scientist Hugh Gourlay has been reported to say that Dung Beetles will bring, “One of the biggest changes to our farm management since we first imported cows into this country.” If he is right, then hopefully it will no longer be necessary to ask ‘who flung dung’ into our waterways and we will keep our environmentally friendly reputation that gives farmers a price premium in world markets.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

All You Neede Is Love

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Falling in love is a wonderful thing and we all deserve to experience it at least once in our lives. I wish there was a magic love formula to make it last for everyone. Alas, as many of us know, love can come and go and remain mysteriously elusive.

What interests me is the way our society copes with its consequences. Fortunately, New Zealand does this in a more tolerant and understanding way than it used to. This is reflected in legislation that recognizes our ethnic diversity and personal preferences.

Lawyers of course do very nicely out of this when things go awry. In the not so distant past, it was far simpler when heterosexual marriage was the legal norm. Men were top dogs and had superior rights when it came to property and family disputes. Now it is much more complex and the courts have mountains of reform legislation from Parliament to refer to.

We seem to need hordes of lawyers to protect us and defend our rights in these new laws. We even need them to help us opt out of default legal protection too – like completing matrimonial property agreements. These make clear who owns what if you split up. This complexity can be very daunting as you grow older and I think it might be contributing to the increasing number of Baby Boomers who are deciding to live alone.

You can even see this trend in the Kaipara District. I have been told that the number of houses in the Kaipara has gone up significantly over the last twenty years but the population has not increased as fast. In fact, in some areas it has gone down and the houses remain occupied.

Another new social change has been the rapid increase in solo parents who get Government assistance. Many couples are separating and sharing their children, which also means more houses are needed and extra vehicles required to maintain family connections.

Such a life choice is not easy and it will get harder as the National Government tightens up on benefit payments. Perhaps we will see a more Polynesian approach to cope. This occurred to me while I was returning home on a bus not long ago.

I saw a Maori woman hand a very young baby to an older woman (who was sitting close to me) and then leave without the baby before the bus got back onto the highway. Curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask my traveling companion why she had the baby.

“Oh his mother’s very busy right now and I’m taking him up north to see his whanau,” she replied. “How long for?” I asked, “Three months or so – he’s so beautiful, we might even keep him,” she said beaming at me.

As a parent with daughters, I might put off taking all of their childhood stuff to the Op Shop. You never know what the younger generation has in store for us Boomers.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting Fresh

Now that GST has risen to 15%, low income New Zealanders are probably going to face another drop in their standard of living. National’s tax reductions will soften the impact, but most of the economic data that I seen clearly shows that the GST increase will widen the gap between rich and poor.

I have heard comments that the GST increases and income tax reductions will encourage savings. However, many beneficiaries and low income earners have to spend most of their money and so it obviously cannot apply to them. High and middle income earners on the other hand will be able to, but will they? Shares and finance companies have not been doing too well and my expectation is that they will invest in housing (which is GST exempt) and trusts that minimize tax liability.

Both our major political parties are committed to GST. Labour’s Roger Douglas began the tax with a 10% rate in 1986 and I think Labour also raised it to 12.25 % in 1990. Recently however, they have been responding to complaints about how GST affects families and the nation’s eating habits. They have now floated a policy of removing GST from fresh food.

People who criticize this proposal say it will require and army of civil servants to police. To see if this is true, we need look no further than across the Tasman Sea. The Australians also have GST (10%), but they have no GST on basic foods. Rather surprisingly, compliance has not been expensive or difficult to administer. They tackled the supply chain at source and retailers have adjusted well.

Fresh food! Now that phrase has a certain ring to it. I can see someone like free range cook Annabel Langbein on TV telling us how wonderful Phil Goff is as she dices tomatoes and squashes cloves of garlic. It would also do a lot to help me overcome my own thoughts of Phil when I marinate a headless chicken that is destined to stew in its own juices in one of my terracotta clay pots.

Labour’s finance spokesman, David Cunliffe, has indicated on TV1’s Q&A that the cost of exempting fresh fruit and vegetables from GST will cost around $250 million and can be offset by taxes on less desirable products like tobacco. There might be even greater savings elsewhere as well because fresh food will very likely help keep us healthy longer and out of hospitals.

Labour’s new policy might also be one small step towards reducing the inequalities in New Zealand that Phil Goff helped create. Extreme inequality can be bad for the rich and poor and a book that explains how is the “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

Another plus will be the incentive to buy New Zealand produce and there are many areas near every city and town that are ideal for this. Even so, time will tell if it will appeal to voters or encourage them to give Labour an electoral slap in the face for getting fresh with our gullibility.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On The Move

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Most of the teenage males I know are mad on computer gaming. I can understand what attracts them because, in spite my age, I too feel the adrenalin rush urging me to join in. The graphics are amazing. They have now reached the point where it is getting very hard to see the difference between animation and reality.

Alas, I remain a closet gamer. I have yet to meet someone who can show me the ropes without making me feel like a handicapped dinosaur. One way of coping, is to tell myself that I have better things to do with my time. Which is true of course. Even so, it is getting harder and harder to resist the primitive urges that computer gaming companies know lurk within all of us.

For example, they are now including interactive hand held controllers in their products that are taking gaming away from keyboards and into our living rooms. It began with PlayStation and Xbox and now Nintendo’s Wii has opened up new territory with devices that respond to our body movements. My daughter has one and she keeps fit using her Wii as a kind of personal trainer.

Sony has not sat on its PlayStation laurels and intends to give the Wii a challenge with its new “Move” device. The TV ads look very impressive and claim to give PlayStation gamers additional tactile experiences. You can actually swing the controller like a golf club and send a digital golf ball across a digital green that is shown on your TV screen (the bigger the better naturally, to max the buzz).

It comes with other similar games as well like: archery, ping-pong and volleyball. For guys and macho gals, there is a boxing game where you can beat the digital daylights out of an opponent or ruthlessly machine-gun them down in a war zone.

Of particular interest to me is the painting game where you can make shapes and colour them in remotely on a TV. Who knows, one day I might be able to wave a Move device around and draw my cartoons in bed on Sunday mornings. At present, painting on the Move looks like graffiti from a spray can, but it is bound to get more sophisticated as they refine the technology.

Much of this has been already available to gamers. However, where the Move breaks new ground is the way uses its PlayStation Eye. It is a very sophisticated webcam that appears to be capable of mapping a 3D picture and shows a mirror image of players in real time who can be seen carrying weapons and tennis rackets etc.

There have seen plenty of humorous comments about the shape and appearance of Sony’s Move on the Internet. Some have described it as a lollipop. It reminds me of a comment made to me by a woman supermarket worker who laughed when I accidentally upset a display of shampoo bottles, “Obviously designed by men - always falling over when you need it!”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dear John

Click cartoon for a clearer image

Some readers might need to know that “The Secret life of Walter Mitty” is the title of a famous film starring Danny Kaye. Walter could not control his daydreaming and he had hilarious imaginary adventures that sadly ended when he woke up to a boring life.

Dear Mr.Key,
It has been very obvious that earthquakes and finance company collapses have taken up most of your time lately. I hope you are getting plenty of sleep and do not get struck down with crisis management overload. By the way, if you need a hand to sort out minor issues, like the employment of accused CV faker Stephen Wilce as a top Defense Department chief – then perhaps we can help.

Here at ‘Walter Mitty Anonymous’ we have plenty of experienced people to deal with fellow sufferers like Mr. Wilce. We welcome them with open arms to all our clinics. They usually are very grateful to find asylum from an unsympathetic world that is over flowing with pragmatic realists.

Instead of repressing it, we encourage people with Walter Mitty Syndrome (WMS) to let their condition fully express itself in a safe environment. If you are familiar with “Primal Scream” (re-enacting your birth) and “Happy Clapper” (talking in tongues) therapies, then you will appreciate its effectiveness.

Most of our members make a full recovery and some even re-direct their talents into noble professions such as writing, music, cartooning, architecture, visual arts, and even politics. In fact, when it comes to politics we have noticed quite a few untreated WMS suffers in your own party.

Some tell tale signs of WMS that are easy to detect are obsessive desires to; privatize prisons, cut welfare payments, introduce educational vouchers, remove school zoning, allow Waitangi claims to all the coastlines, let floating exchange rates dictate business profitability and allow unrestricted foreign control of land and Kiwi owned enterprises.

Just send them over to us and we will guaranty to restore the daydreaming/real life balance. Our fees you will have noticed are moderate when compared with lawyers, dentists and resource management consultants. However, we have still managed to acquire the latest WMS scanners that enable us to make an accurate diagnosis.

Recent advances in radiographic technology means we can now determine the amount of pragmatism emitted from WMS patients. If they present early enough, any monetarist tendencies can be realigned with cognitive psychotherapy. Extreme cases might require micro-laser surgery to zap offending cells and neural pathways to encourage pragmatic regeneration.

We can assure you that our strict security procedures will ensure complete confidentiality, but please book in early to get the best response. Our services are proving to be very popular lately in Australia and we could soon be completely booked out for months ahead. Regards Walt.

PS If you ring us and hear a strange noise on the phone, it will be the snooze tone. Please leave a message and be assured that you will be the first in line to get the next available wake up call.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Financial Fiascos

Click cartoon for a better image

The collapse of so many finance companies in our country has revealed one of our persistent weaknesses. When it comes to handling savings, many Kiwis are slow learners. The latest head on the block is the sad face of Allan Hubbard who was once one of the richest men in New Zealand.

He established and controlled the South Canterbury Finance Company (SCF) and until recently, it was apparently well managed. In the last few years it grew very rapidly. Unfortunately, it appears that the management team took their eye off the ball and indulged in some reckless speculation. They then took a king hit from the credit crunch in the latest recession and are now in receivership.

The exact details of how this happened have yet to be revealed. SCF investors have been luckier than most because Bill English, as Minister of Finance, has become a reluctant guardian angel. He has forked out a 1.6 billion dollar guaranty of taxpayer’s money to prevent a fire sale of SCF assets. What is even more surprising is that many investors are not only going to get their money back – but with interest as well.

To quote an old saying (when the dollar was worth more), “If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, the bank controls you. If you owe the bank a million dollars you control the bank.” In today’s financial markets, perhaps you could tack on, “If you owe the bank over a billion dollars, you control the Government!”

It is interesting to see that governments, such as the USA, Britain and NZ, who followed monetarist economic advice (deregulated markets), are now changing their minds. To fight off a depression, they are resorting to Keynesian intervention (public spending and borrowing) to avoid huge private enterprise losses. Fortunately, in New Zealand our public debt levels are low, but that is changing as large amounts of private debt are being shifted into the public sector.

I think our Government is trying to maintain confidence to prevent a crash in private equity (e.g. land and buildings) while the massive amounts of private debt are being lowered. Even so, the scale of the SCF rescue package is very large when you realize that every kiwi citizen will be risking $400 of their taxes to stabilize the market.

New Zealand governments have of course done much the same, to a greater or lesser degree, in the past. However, when the economy finally picked up, they eventually let speculating weasels wreck the hard won prosperity again by letting them run amuck in the fowl house.

Some might say that is human nature doing its thing and so why fight against the inevitable roller-coaster rides of capitalism when government intervention has its failures too. Well, all I can say is that our “Billion Dollar” Bill English is doing his best with his fiscal shotgun to keep the weasels away for now. Hopefully, his leader’s “Keysian” approach to government will inspire the economically productive chooks left to keep laying.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Save Your last Dance For Me

Click The Image For A Clearer Picture

The recent Australian election has made me appreciate how fortunate we are with MMP in New Zealand. We now have less of the bitter factional fighting that goes on behind the scenes in Aussie political parties. Under MMP, factions tend to break off and recombine as new parties to make up coalitions after each election.

This gives us a clearer idea of what politicians really want to do and makes Parliament more transparent. However, the press seems to insist that we also need to know about personal relationships as well. The latest episodes are the dancing sessions in the Act Party spaghetti western “Royhide”.

Rodney Hide was made to appear as a kind of gun slinging sheriff, who had every right to terrorize the Act Party Saloon. It was probably the vote loaded Epsom Seat 45 on his hip that gave him his confidence. All his rivals could manage to carry were water pistols.

On one fateful day, the saloon doors swung open and in strode Rodney Hide’s deputy, Heather Annie-Oakley Roy, with an icy cold look in her eye. It had been whispered around the town that she had caught Rodney cheating at cards and it was time for a showdown.

“I hears you’ve bin tellin’ folks I’ve bin cheatin”, sez Rodney who was finishing his bourbon at the bar. Heather was about to reply, but in the blink of an eye, Rodney’s Epsom 45 was in his hand and with one shot Heather lay sprawling on the saloon floor.

Rodney lifted his gun and blew the smoke from the barrel. “My next deputy will have to be more careful won’t he”. He said grimly as he cast his most fierce glare at his cowering audience. Turning to the quivering Barman he barked, “Fill it again Sam!”

While Rodney had his back turned, Roger Douglas drummed up enough courage to drag Heather out onto the street and valiantly tried to resuscitate her. He then noticed the dent made by Rodney’s bullet in her deputy’s badge that had saved her life. Gazing skyward he cried out “Oh Miracle of miracles! Is this some special sign that she has been chosen to live?”

Meanwhile, back in the Act Party Saloon, Rodney’s mood had lifted. “The drinks are on me fellas! Here’s to my new deputy!”

The celebration did not last long though, because they were once again silenced when the bar doors swung open to announce the second coming of Heather Roy. All eyes fell on Rodney Hide and it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. To everyone’s surprise an apologetic Rodney jumped up, bowed and said how impressed he was by her resilience.

He extended his hand to Heather to dance and the man on the honky tonk piano played the Party’s anthem as they all joined in with “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’. We’ll keep this party rolling Royhide. Through rain and windy weather we’ll always stay together. Royh-i-i-ide. Yee-Haa!”

Friday, September 3, 2010

She Aint Nothin' But A Hound Dog

If you had suggested to me ten years ago that I would one day own a dog, I can imagine myself saying, ”You must be joking – no way!” In those days, I was convinced that dogs should only be kept by people who really needed their help - like the police, farmers, customs officers and the sight impaired etc.

We had close friends who had a Springer Spaniel and their visits reinforced my rather rigid anti-dog opinions. “Friend” would rocket out of their van and head straight for the swampy creek at the back of our place. He then would return to share his fun by splattering stinking mud over us. After they left, our garden looked like a battlefield and our house was full of dog hair and muddy footprints if we forgot to shut the door.

I often swore that, “I’ll never have one of those stinking, crapping, flea infested mongrels in my house as a pet”. Whenever my family suggested that they would like a puppy I would show them newspapers with stories of dogs attacking children and adults. Armed with this sort of horrific evidence, I would then rattle on with something like, “There, you can see for yourselves what can happen. They eat almost as much as a person and some of them want to eat us as well.”

In time of course, my kids grew older and became teenagers. I was eventually out voted and ‘Cheka’ arrived as a pup from the Animal Shelter. She was supposed to be a “medium sized dog”, but I could tell from her huge paws that this was unlikely. Sure enough, her Alsatian, Lab. and Rhodesian Ridgeback genes were revealed when she grew into a rather large adult dog (tipping the scales at 45kgs).

Cheka blew away all my hardened attitudes about owning dogs and turned out to be a wonderful member of our family. Mind you, I had learnt from years of looking after guinea pigs, cats, chooks and mice that were abandoned into my care. This time around, I insisted that the rest of my family should take of all Cheka’s needs and they did – albeit somewhat reluctantly at times.

It is worth remembering though, that all dogs are descended from wolves and they must at all times be treated with caution. The “Call of the wild” is still strong and most of them have not yet lost their predatory instincts. Our dog left our chooks and cats alone, but showed no restraint when visiting other households.

I discussed this with a female friend of mine once and her response was, “Yeah right! You can say much the same about all men being hunters and likewise they can be just as dangerous I can tell you!” She gave me a meaningful look and continued, “If I had my way I’d have all you guys tagged and registered so we could know who you belong to… aaand throw any untagged strays into the pound.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Punch And Plunket

On Sunday mornings there are two competing current affairs programs to tempt your appetite, TV1’s “Q&A” and TV3’s “The Nation”. Somewhat surprisingly, there seems to be some cross dressing on both channels going on. The publicly owned TV1 appears to have taken a commercial approach and overseas owned TV3 has chosen the more focused and public service style that might be expected from TV1.

Q&A is fronted by the irrepressible Paul Holmes who carries on with his usual hyperactive flair that has made him famous in various roles on TV, commercial radio and satirical reviews. I first saw him acting while I was at Victoria University in the late nineteen sixties and if my memory serves me well he had an Afro hairdo like Jimmy Hendrix.

Even then I could see he was a superb actor – bright, quick witted and knew how to work an audience. Alas, I feel that his entertaining talents do not necessarily make him a good current affairs presenter dealing with serious issues.

Paul Holmes might argue that his style gives colour and energy to the show. Indeed it does, however I would enjoy it more if he used his obvious skills in a satirical show instead. We could certainly do with more programmes on TV starring him and other comedians before he retires (hopefully a long time from now).

TV3’s The Nation is quite another kettle of fish. Sean Plunket seems to take his role as presenter very seriously. He might not have the entertaining charisma of Paul Holmes, but he makes up for it in spades with a crisp delivery and penetrating questions. No doubt his background as a former Radio New Zealand interviewer helps a lot.

The layout of the show has a weekend paper feel about it with its arts and business section and fewer panelists. I also like the way the guests and Sean Plunket sit and chat in a more relaxed fashion than they do on Q&A. The conversations in The Nation seem to have more depth, whereas Paul Holmes rattles rapidly through a heap of topics with guests who stand uncomfortably at podiums like electioneering politicians.

In spite of being shown at an in convenient times, both shows are worth a look and fans of Paul Holmes will not be disappointed. If TV1 thinks that there would be no show without Punch worth looking at (Sundays at 9am) – they are wrong. ‘The Nation’ on TV3 is delivering the goods on Saturday at 11am and 8 am on Sundays.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Taking A Punt

Democracy in New Zealand is in danger. The turnout for district council elections has been declining for some time now and it troubles me that so many residents are not bothering to make the effort. In 1992, 52% of eligible voters returned voting forms for regional councils and district council elections attracted 61%. In 2007 these declined to 43% and 49% respectively.

As the voting figures drop below 50%, some people are suggesting that consideration should be given to compulsory voting like they have in Australia. After all, politicians who claim a mandate for carrying out policies can hardly do so if they are being ignored by a majority of their constituents.

This sounds attractive, until you realize that people in this country value the right to choose to abstain if they wish. Compulsory voting is like demanding that everyone should drink the usual brands of milk, or be made to buy some other registered beverage. I am sure those who prefer their own rainwater would certainly oppose laws making that choice illegal.

A Saatchi and Saatchi poll points towards the source of the problem of low turnouts, by finding that 51% of local body voters are over 55. This suggests that younger people are opting out and efforts should be made to re-engage them. Generations X, Y and so on, are probably less aware of the sacrifices that were made to create and defend democracy than Baby Boomers and their parents – and appear quite happy to leave voting to older folk.

No doubt they are influenced also by the fact that they find it much harder to get into their own rate paying houses than their forebears were able to. In my opinion, any efforts to increase their interest to vote will be bound to fail until greater numbers of younger citizens are able to buy property. Land prices are absurdly high and unjustifiable when you realize that we live in one of the least populated countries in the World.

I hope that a higher turnout will take place this time in the Kaipara. There are some interesting new faces and a couple of popular and quite different personalities are engaged in a tussle for the mayoralty. The high profile Kaipara candidates for the Northland Regional Council are well known too. Graeme Ramsey (currently CEO of The Problem Gambling Foundation) is taking on the widely respected sitting NRC councilor Mark Farnsworth, who has been there since 1992.

Graeme Ramsey is well known for his two term stint as a Kaipara Mayor. I can imagine that Mark Farnsworth will not relish a challenge from his younger opponent along with Mangawhai resident Charles Cooke. Local body government is likely to change soon in Northland. The NRC will have to be in the negotiations and further opportunities will undoubtedly open up for experienced and popular politicians. Whoever gets the Kaipara seat on the NRC might have an even greater role ahead of them to guide the Kaipara Waka across some very treacherous waters.

Out For A Duck

The Aussies are at it again. For many years now, they have been protecting their trade surplus with New Zealand and their latest effort is to keep our apples out of their home market. This has been going on for over eighty years and NZ growers are doggedly pursuing a just settlement.

A break through of some sort occurred recently when the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally rejected the Australian reasons for denying access for NZ apples. The Aussie growers claimed that New Zealand apples would pose a bio-security risk and carry Fire-blight, European Canker and Apple Leaf Curling Midges.

The WTO ruling is not at all surprising. Australia already has fire prone gum trees, too many European immigrants and roll-your-own dwarfs in their Parliament who like to blow smoke into the eyes of kiwi orchardists. The Aussies are “a peeling” the WTO ruling.

They also have far more pests, such as snakes, crop munching parrots, poisonous spiders and ravenous insects. In spite of Aussie assurances, these unwanted pests regularly turn up at our airports and wharves. Therefore, to protect our biosecurity status and in the interest of promoting fair trade practices, perhaps we should demand that all their produce undergo the same treatment they demand of our apples.

This would mean asking them to wash all Australian agricultural products in insecticide or a chlorine based disinfectant (such as ‘Nappysan’) and store them away in quarantine here for several weeks until we are satisfied they are absolutely safe. Of course that is totally unrealistic, Australia has much more clout than we do and so we let them get away with minimal restrictions.

When it comes to international trade, size matters. China is getting its apples into Australia unchlorinated and the Australian Government seems to kowtow to their demands in order to get other products into China. I guess there is a long term strategy at work here, but it does seem odd to give concessions to a country whose agricultural quality control is a lot less rigorous than ours.

The Chinese Government is also an expert in manipulating international trade in their favour and lending its trade surpluses back to its customers to weaken them with debt. Australia does much the same to us and somehow we need to send a message that all traders understand – like stop buying their products until they behave better.

The real losers are Australian consumers who eat only half the amount of apples per head than kiwis do each year. This is very likely because apple orchards over there are apparently still producing old fashioned varieties at prices way above the levels our orchardists have to live with.

Maybe that is a reason why more Aussie tourists are coming here each year. Is it possible they secretly pigging out on our new apple varieties and secretly discovering what they are missing out on back home? If so, like communism, Aussie trade restrictions on kiwi apples will hopefully fade away soon when the people demand a better deal.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting Ryalled

Way back in the in the mid-nineteen hundreds, I spent many hours watching our first TV in vivid tones of black and white. My father called it “The Idiot Box” and I guess he was right a lot of the time because I watched so many comedy shows that brightened up our rather austere lifestyle. Cartoons interested me the most, but I also got addicted to a few of the early American and British sitcoms.

One of my favourites was the James Bond/detective spoof, “Get Smart” which starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart and Barbara Felden as his sidekick, Agent 99. Max would get himself into all sorts of trouble and Agent 99 (with assistance from their Chief) would help him muddle his way out somehow.

Max had all sorts of goofy gadgets that were supposed to help him outsmart his archenemies at KAOS and the most famous was probably his shoe phone. This was seen as very futuristic at the time, because there were of course no cell phones about. For those who have not seen the “Get Smart” series the nearest equivalent might be today’s ASB ads.

When I heard that our Minister of Health, the Hon. Tony Ryall, was making unannounced visits to hospitals in his spare time, for some reason memories of the programme “Get Smart” came flooding back to me. Like Maxwell Smart, Tony Ryall is very conscientious and obviously has an earnest personality.

This can get him in and out of trouble at times with the public and now hospital staff have been discussing whether they like the idea of his impromptu visits. Some has expressed support, but others are furious about being spied upon by a Minister of the Crown who uses ‘secret shopper’ practices to gain information.

All hospitals have good and bad days and I can imagine how annoying it would be if Tony Ryall popped in during a real emergency, where all the staff were under intense pressure. I know accidents and misunderstandings can happen anywhere and may God forbid the day when Tony becomes a victim of his own curiosity.

There are quite a few conscientious ministers in the National Cabinet and I wonder if Tony Ryall’s fact finding sorties will copied by other ministers. After all, “official visits” are usually set up to impress rather than to inform and ministers can easily become distanced from reality.

They should be warned of the dangers however. There might be adverse reactions if Education Minister Anne Tolley dropped in without warning to classrooms on Friday afternoons or if Corrections Minister Judith Collins had unannounced meetings with inmates to discuss the smoking ban.

Mind you, they might be able exchange notes with Tony Ryall as they were being wheeled into the local hospital’s A & E unit. He might help them write a note to John Key explaining why they will not be at the next Cabinet meeting. Maxwell Smart’s famous apology might help – “Ahhh, sorry about that Chief!”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Phil Gets Edgy

I doubt if there are many people in Parliament who would like to be Phil. Goff right now. His standing in the preferred prime minister polls is abysmal and he leads a party that is not getting enough public support to win the next election. Like Prince Charles, the prospects of getting the job that he probably thought he was born for, have been fading in the shadow of a powerful woman.

Most politicians and commentators seem to agree that Phil Goff is a decent, likeable and very competent man. His academic record and behaviour in public service positions are certainly praiseworthy, so why is he doing so badly in the polls?

I put it down to several vital factors that Kiwis do not seem to like in their leaders – persistent adherence to unpopular (or failed) ideologies and a lack depth in their personality and life experience.

Phil Goff appears to remain an unrepentant monetarist and my correspondence with him confirms this. I am sure that he was very influential in persuading Helen Clark’s Labour Government to keep some of the misguided economic reforms of the 1980’s intact. In my opinion, these policies have contributed to our current economic woes. Like Don Brash, he appears to think that there is nothing wrong with his ideas and the rest of us should understand how right he is.

John Key on the other hand, appears to be more pragmatic and I think most of us prefer our politicians that way. Phil Goff also appears to me to be more aloof and detached than Key – rather like the bureaucrats he works with every day. On camera, John Key comes across as relaxed and tunes in to the audience. Phil Goff’s approach is more defensive and guarded and (to put it mildly) not very inspiring.

When it came to choosing a replacement for Helen Clark, the Labour Party was obviously wedded to that seductive 1980’s siren called TINA – There Is No Alternative. Which is why Phil Goff got the job I suspect. Not everybody was pleased though, because we have just witnessed the extraordinary outbursts of Labour MP Chris Carter on TV stating the obvious. “Phil Goff is a very nice guy, but he is just not going to win (the election).”

Oddly enough, Chris Carter has probably done more to cement in Phil Goff’s leadership by his ridiculous anti-Goff note writing behaviour. Anyone raising the issue now, is bound to be labeled a follower of Carter.

It looks very likely then, that the next election will be game, set and match to John Key. The only wild card entry could be a resurgent Winston Peters backed by a rejuvenated New Zealand First Party. If National allows widespread foreign ownership of New Zealand land and businesses this year, resentment is bound to spread across the country. Phil Goff might not topple Key, but NZ First and the Greens just might get Labour within reach of the holy grail of power.

Friday, August 13, 2010

North! The Rush Is On!

I never realized how lucky Northlanders are. According to Far North Mayor Wayne Brown, “We could be living on a goldmine!” This is news to me. I thought the region had been well surveyed in the past and all the economically viable mineral deposits had been and are being utilized.

There have been numerous government surveys done in the past and Northland’s incredibly diverse geological make up has revealed small pockets of interest but nothing substantial – apart from china clays, silica sand and limestone etc. Wayne Brown’s enthusiasm probably stems from the new, two million dollar government survey that will use the same aeromagnetic and radiometric technology which opened up Australia’s mineral boom.

Aircraft will carry aeromagnetic sensors that will help locate any underlying metal bearing rock structures, by detecting the differences in the Earth’s magnetic field. Radiometric devices will be taken as well. These will measure naturally occurring patterns of surface radiation and will be useful for exploiting geothermal resources. Both lots of data are going to be very handy for Councils, mapmakers and land users.

The Far North and Northland Regional Councils are chipping in with $100,000 and according to NRC Chairman Mark Farnsworth, “The results will be made public.” Which sounds good to a me, because I have found some geological information in the past has been locked away and only accessible to those able to pay huge fees.

Mark Farnsworth has also stated that they will, “ensure areas of environmental importance will be protected,” which should reassure many Greenies I know. There is a large amount of land in Northland’s Conservation Estate being surveyed and concern has been expressed that it will be devalued in the future with open cast mines etc.

I expect that there will some folk in Northland who will see an even wider conspiracy taking place. I can imagine them saying that the Government will be poking their sticky beaks into our privacy – just like Google did when it collected Wifi data along with their Street View pictures. After all, rocks are not the only objects that emit radiation and alter the Earth’s magnetic field.

Some of these people might have stuff and activities of interest to the men and women in blue - and of course to council inspectors as well. Others might have spiritual gatherings of mystics emitting energy fields that might be misinterpreted. This could possibly result in expensive drilling rigs searching in the wrong places and wounding Mother Earth as well as disrupting celestial harmonies.

Treaty of Waitangi claims are bound to made too, if any precious metals or hydrocarbons are found. Maori leaders like Margaret Mutu in Northland have been reported as saying, “The Land is ours, not the Crown’s…if we allow any mining, there will inevitably be conditions – and we will be paid for it.” Obviously, lawyers will be swooping in like mynas to a fig tree, if there really is any gold in “them thar hills.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Whacky Weka Woo!

I am getting quite concerned about the state of farming in New Zealand. The rise in profitability of dairying is great news, but the short to mid-term outlook for the meat and wool side of things is dismal to say the least. The farmers and processors working there look to me like the crew of a sinking ship arguing whether they should put the bung back in or restart the engine first. In my opinion, if they do not act quickly to copy the dairy farmers example of uniting and creating something like Fonterra - then alas, they risk becoming merely a tourist attraction.

In the Kaipara, a lot of land is not really suitable for cows and perhaps it is time for farmers to take a fresh look at their properties and consider other new land uses as well. Our maritime climate is very similar to countries in South America, Asia and some countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Obviously, there are opportunities to successfully grow subtropicals, grapes, olives, figs, pine nuts, persimmons and the huge range of pip and stone fruit that already do so well in our gardens.

Not quite so obvious, are the opportunities to farm the native plants and animals that survived the land clearance by the European settlers. Just in the nick of time, we managed to preserve some of these in reserves and they are proving to be of real interest to biochemists developing new drugs etc. This winter, some plump native pigeons have been in my garden and the thought has crossed my mind that they would make good eating too.

We are of course generally not allowed to do so. However, it does seem a bit odd that other native species, like paua and mussels are being farmed, so why not terrestrial animals as well? One farming couple are not taking no for an answer and they are pioneering the raising of wekas for meat at Tai Tapu in the South Island.

Roger and Nicky Beattie once lived on the Chatham Islands and when they returned to the mainland to farm Pitt Island sheep (and process dried kelp), they also got approval to repatriate some wekas. These wekas were the descendants of birds sent to the Chathams in 1905 from the South Island and they have thrived enough to be hunted legally. In the South Island, this species died out and the Department of Conservation is now trying to re-establish them in reserves.

The Beatties hope to get a law change to allow them to eventually get their cheeky wekas onto our dinner plates. They claim that they make good eating – something between lamb and chicken and are best stewed (Chatham Islanders pickle them as well). They can be raised in rough bush country and seem happy in amongst other livestock. Who knows, if the Beatties project takes off, the familiar sound of “Get in behind, ya mongrel!” will one day be replaced with,“Weka weka woo - weka, weka woooo!”

ETS In The Bag

Ever since the “Fart Tax” fiasco, New Zealand politicians have been very cautious about how they will get farmers to comply with international treaty obligations to preserve the environment. The rural sector has always resisted being singled out as a cash cow to fix widespread environmental problems - especially when there is so much disagreement over the factual data that is supposed to justify government action.

In 2008, the Labour led Coalition Government ratified the United Nations inspired Kyoto Protocol. New Zealand became one of the ‘first cabs off the rank’ to implement its proposals to slow down man made climate change. National has modified those commitments in the ‘Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), but it has soldiered on - with the Hon. Nick Smith, the Minister of Climate Change, leading the charge.

He seems to think that the Nat version is the next best thing since sliced bread. However, many farming leaders do not share his enthusiasm for the ETS. Federated Farmers president, Don Nicholson is quoted as commenting, “Dairy Farmers will need increase intensification just to stand still.”

In spite of the inevitable rural resistance, the Minister remains confident that the ETS is fair. “It is no different to the cost of any other business or consumer is facing, it is part of New Zealand picking up its responsibilities.” Industrial processors and transport operators will need to comply in 2010 and the farming sector in 2015.

In case you do not know what the ETS is, here is a quote from the Ministry Of Agriculture, “The principle behind the ETS is that emitters of greenhouse gases must either reduce their emissions or purchase New Zealand Units (NZUs) to pay for those emissions. NZUs can also be earned through forestry plantings as they sequester carbon.”

How this done is more complex. In a nut shell, it is a carbon trading scheme where those who produce greenhouse gases (CO2 and Methane etc) pay extra for that right or trade those new costs away to those who can absorb emissions. Forestry owners will benefit because their trees absorb green house gases and they can sell their “carbon credits” to those who produce the gases.

Greenhouse gas producers can also plant their own trees of course, or find other ways to offset their emissions. Grasslanz Research is doing its best to help. A promising discovery is a latent gene in clover that might be able to be switched on to produce condensed tannins, which have more protein and less gaseous side effects.

Most New Zealand politicians and scientists are probably happy to have the “ETS in the bag” of measures to save our planet. Across ‘the ditch’, the Aussies are more skeptical and playing a wait and see game. Julia Gillard has a lot more crocs in her billabong to deal with before she can pull an Aussie version of the ETS out her tucker bag. No doubt they will move faster if New Zealand’s approach will give our products a market advantage.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Give It A Go

Some folk around my way like to have me on now and then with comments like, “Hey Dave, you have a lot to say and you don’t do much - ever thought of going into politics?” Indeed I have, but when I attended a District Council meeting, these thoughts evaporated instantly when I saw the huge piles of paper being lugged around by councilors. It reminded me of all the homework I struggled with at high school and this time it would be followed by a series of very public exams.

I bet many councilors have to go home at the end of the day and know that many residents will always think they do not do enough and stuff up whatever they tackle. Even so, I keep seeing the names of many serving councilors reappearing on the candidate lists and I guess they must love the job (or perhaps they are masochists who like getting paid to torture themselves).

This year we get the chance to give all of them the boot and vote in some new recruits. If you fancy the job as a councilor (or even the mayor), you have till the 20th of August to get nominated. You are bound to do well if you have the following skills: integrity, compassion, sincerity, intelligence, oratory, vision, cultural and religious tolerance etc. It will also help if you plan to assist people who grow, make and sell things and of course be someone we can trust.

As far as trust goes, you might be able to compare yourself with the Readers Digest’s list of our most and least trusted New Zealanders. In the top ten is a V.C. recipient, famous sportsmen (and women), a cook, an author, All Blacks and a film director. Mayor Tim Shadbolt is just over half way down and John Key a bit further on. At the bottom, are the likes of Tariana Turia, Roger Douglas, John Banks and Hone Harawira.

Tim Shadbolt’s mid-range scoring should encourage the free thinking mavericks out there who feel like putting Kaipara on the map - hopefully for the right reasons. Wheelers and dealers should be cautious, the business sector has been the source of bad news lately and might also account for John Key’s lower rating than expected.

The good news is, that if you happen to be an ex military officer who played representative rugby, work as a chef, write books and make films, you will be home and hosed. People with a narrow agenda, like some members of the Maori Party and die hard monetarists, have not got a dog’s chance.

For political newbies, a media coach is a must. The Internet is a powerful tool to boost your chances and yet, within minutes, it can rip your reputation to shreds. John Banks knows this and apparently pays a large hunk of his mayoral salary to a public relations expert. Now that would be an interesting job for someone who talks a lot and appears not to do much.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Emissions Impossible

The Honorable Judith Collins is in the news once again. As the National Government’s Minister of Corrections, she has already hit the headlines with double bunking, cells in containers and re-introducing privately run prisons. Now she is making prisoners even less comfortable, by banning cigarette smoking next year.

This new policy raised howls of protest from libertarians. They were soon joined with some very experienced people who have dealt with prisoners in jail. They see the scheme as unworkable. In reply, Judith Collins has been reported to say, “We don't offer alcohol to prisoners with alcohol addictions or p to prisoners with methamphetamine addictions. This is a prison, it's not a home.”

Over two thirds of prisoners in jail are smokers. Consequently, there have been some dire predictions of riots and “bashings” for prison staff if they carry out this new reform. Perhaps it is time for Judith Collins to pause for smoko – or the more politically correct, ‘cup of tea’ and do some lateral thinking.

Tobacco smoking is not only bad for your health, it also contributes to the rise in greenhouse gases. Farmers and manufactures also produce these gases and they are being persuaded to make reductions by Nick Smith’s version of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). If jails adopted the essentials of this scheme, it might take the heat of the staff and provide some entrepreneurial distractions for the inmates.

Non smokers could be given carbon credits and smokers forced to pay a carbon tax. If smokers wanted to lower their tax levels then they could get some extra cash from working in (non polluting) prison workshops and buy credits from non smokers – or grow vegetables etc and earn some credits that way.

This scheme should be of real interest the National Government. It would show us all how effective the ETS is by prison inmates responding to market forces instead of regulations. Each of them would learn the value and cost of making personal choices.

Some might argue that prison staff should be included, but that would be much more difficult because they interact freely with the rest of society. In fact, not having them on board could be very educational.

The prison inmates could be seen to be like New Zealanders who have to conform to the ETS. The prison staff would be like other countries making choices for themselves on how far they will reduce their own greenhouse gases.

Until we routinely travel across the Universe in spaceships, we will remain prisoners of the Earth. Anything we can do to stop polluting ourselves and our planet must be worth looking at. In spite of her prim and austere personality, Judith Collins deserves to be admired for her courage to make the prisons cleaner and healthier places. However, she might have to shell out a lot more money than she realizes to force thousands of addicted prisoners to put up with a daily diet of cold turkey.

Friday, July 9, 2010

All At Sea

I should have seen it coming. Over the last few months, friends in Australia have been sending me anti Rudd emails that were getting more and more obnoxious. So much so, that I have been trashing them daily. It was sad to see Kevin Rudd being ridiculed and then humbled after winning an election and riding high in the polls. The words are so true in the song ‘A Rhinestone Cowboy’ - “Where hustle is the name of the game … nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain.”

Julia Gillard will now be Australia’s first woman Prime Minister and judging from her media exposure over the last few years, I think she will make a good fist of the job. She appears to be intelligent, quick witted, very articulate and politically astute. She also seems to have a rare combination of compassion and a realistic approach to implementing her party’s policies.

I saw on TV that her father is British. With her flaming auburn hair and fair complexion, I wonder Julia Gillard’s backers see her as a kind of Aussie reincarnation of Boudicia. Tony Abbot (Leader of the Opposition) is marshalling his legions around the Australian Parliament and it remains to be seen if this new Warrior Queen will see them off into the outback later this year.

John Key was the first world leader off the block to congratulate Prime Minister Gillard, which demonstrated his (almost unseemly) keenness to keep close in touch with Australian leaders. He knows how important our relationship with Australia is. Even if we are not keeping up with our large neighbour economically, at least we can use our cell phones to remind them we are still here.

He also had some revealing comments to the press on the speed of the political changes in Australia. Such as, “it shows the brutal side of politics” and “You have to keep close to your caucus and obviously the people.” The fate of Kevin Rudd is obviously a sobering reminder of how polls can distort a politician’s judgment.

It appears that Kevin Rudd neglected to remember this reality of Westminster style democracy and fatally adopted a presidential style of leadership. Julia Gillard is very unlikely to make the same mistake. She learnt the hard way and she knows she will lose elections without the support from the various factions of the Australian Labour Party. Her next job is to negotiate peace with the intense opposition to the mining taxes and the Aussie version of our own Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Illegal immigration is another issue and there are many Australians who miss John Howard’s firm action in that area. His latest successor, Tony Abbot, seems to promise much the same (along with Howard’s economic policies). As Julia Gillard prepares to take him on (politically) she might be singing other lyrics from ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ in the shower. “There’s been a load of compromising on the road to my horizon, but I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me!”

Monday, July 5, 2010

3D Or Not 3D?

I was really blown away by the film Avatar. The fact that animators from Weta Workshops in Wellington had a hand in it, also gave me an extra buzz. I have friends who also saw it in 3D in an Auckland cinema and they said it was even more fantastic that way. So when SkyCity in Whangarei gets its own 3D setup I will make a point of seeing it again there.

I thought I might even get to see Avatar on a 3D TV as well, because I was aware that new 3D TV technology was making its debut in appliance shops this year. I can imagine that thousands youngsters, especially those into gaming, will soon be pestering their hapless parents into getting one. “Hey, Dad the footy looks choice in 3D – like being there!”

Alas, there always seems to be a fly in the ointment. The more I researched this article, the more I realized that 3D TV might be further away than I thought for most households. Some people are warning that 3D TV might be unsuitable for those who: are in bad physical condition, need sleep or have been drinking alcohol, prone to light sensitive seizures, some teenagers, the elderly or children under six.

Wow, that rules a lot of us out right away. If you escape that group, you also might find other problems too. For example, having difficulties viewing from a wide angle and also getting up for a comfort stop or making a cup of tea when you take the special 3D glasses off.

For many of us, it sounds as though regular digital 3D viewing could be tough going. Dr. Deborah Friedman, from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, has been reported to say, “The illusion that you see in the movies is not exactly calibrated the same way as that your eyes and brain are.”

Another American professor in ophthalmology from Chicago seems to agree and adds, “There are a lot of people walking around with very minor eye problems, for example, a minor eye imbalance, which under normal circumstances, the brain deals with naturally. In a 3D movie these people are confronted with an entirely different experience that translates into greater mental effort, making it easier to get a headache.”

This sort of information gives me the willies and I cannot see many buyers stampeding into shops and forking out large sums of money to buy these new expensive TVs (plus glasses and a Blue Ray Player). Mind you, my 15 year old Philips CRT TV has its own dangers too. It makes images with an electron gun and it is not too healthy for your eyes either.

All this appears to me to add up to one conclusion. You cannot beat getting outside for a real 3D experience by working, swimming, tramping, fishing and playing sport etc. When you come home tired, you can hit the sack for a free session of 3D dreams - after some other pleasurable bedtime pursuits of course.