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.