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.