Archive for December, 2015
Out of the mouth of comic children! With appropriate acknowledgement to the commercial copyright owners of the cartoon strip ‘Peanuts’, Linus’ response to Charlie Brown’s question: “Did you have a good Christmas?’ was: “Do you mean did I get a lot of presents? Or do you mean did I give a lot of presents? Are you referring to the weather or the Christmas dinner we had? Do you mean was my Christmas good in a spiritual sense? Do you mean was my Christmas good in that I saw new meaning on old things? Or do you mean……. “. Charlie Brown sighed. Christmas has become such a complicated day.
We spend the day ensuring as many of us as possible can eat as much as possible as though this was still Dickensian London when impoverished orphans starved to death on the mid-winter streets during Christmas. But the irony is that today it is obesity, not starvation, that is the chronic cause of illness and premature death in our society. In the western world, a day of fasting would be far more appropriate than a day of feasting.
Anyoldhoo, now that the day of compulsory gorging and gift-giving is over, it’s down to some serious personal shopping. Boxing Day Sales! From near and far the pilgrims made their way to the great temple of shopping. I have to say I saw more joy in that excited throng of families in the mall than I ever used to see on the faces of the joyless, subservient old buggers who drone ‘joyful and triumphant” at Church. I’m not saying that the mall is the right place to find true spiritual joy, just sayin’ what I’m seein’ is all.
But now another Christmas week draws to an end and today, New Year’s Eve, as the last day of the Christian calendar year, is the time for reviewing, rethinking and resolving. The global hand-wringing in 2015 peaked in the December Climate Change Summit in Paris and concluded with the joyful and triumphant resolution presented by French President Francois Hollande promising climate peace for our time. Echoes of Neville Chamberlain.
Never trust a politician’s promise, particularly when he is the Grand Pooh-Bah politician acting as the host who has to justify one of the biggest junkets of the modern junket era. 196 nations, 100 heads of state with, according to Time Magazine, a supporting cast of around 40,000 attendees, including 3,000 journalists, all enjoying an extravagant two-week long, pre-Christmas bureau-bash in Paris.
And a plan to control the climate was the glorious outcome of this King Canute Summit. Imagine promising to control the climate! Nature has its own timetable and nature will always do what it wants, however many summits we hold. Our geologists are able to trace back its climate patterns 4-500,000 years and we know that the earth’s temperature, and consequential volume of ice, rises and falls in predictable cycles. Nature sends its water where it wants, when it wants. It defrosts its fridge when it wants to. I wonder how many hand-wringing microbes, living on planet my-fridge, organise summits whenever I turn the icebox off because I can no longer squeeze a 1kg packet of peas into it? To earth, man is a tourist not a tenant. The best we can do is to try to make ourselves as comfortable as possible for the very brief time that we are nature’s guest.
There will always be natural disasters, that is the nature of nature. But 2015 did not bring any exceptional natural disasters, historically speaking. Global warming is our current great natural boogie man. The Indian/Pakistani heat wave this year resulted in an estimated 5,000 deaths or 0.33% of the 1.5 billion people living in that region. Certainly much fewer than met their death at man’s hand, or absence of a hand. That number, fortunately, is well down on the 56,000 Russian deaths from the 2010 heat wave and the 70,000 Europeans from the 2003 heat wave. Trending down nicely as the statisticians would conclude. On the storms and flooding side of the global-warming problem, no cyclone in 2015 got anywhere close to the top 1o list with the #10 deadliest tropical cyclone being in Bengal in 1874 with 80,000 deaths. Certainly 2015 had no super cyclones like Bangladesh in 1970, Calcutta in the year 1737 and India in 1839 all with 300,000+ deaths. The worst tropical cyclone in 2015 was Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific with a death toll in Vanuatu of 16. So, weather-wise, 2015 was a relatively benign year.
Geologically it was also a relatively calm year. The Nepal earthquake in April this year was a big one and killed 9,000 people, but, historically speaking, that figure was well short of the 40,000 deaths required to get it into the top 50 list of deadliest earthquakes. And there were no tsunamis to challenge the Chilean one in 1868 that sits at #10 of the deadliest tsunamis with a death toll of 25,674. In terms of total natural disasters since 1900, the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone is #10 with 138,866 deaths, the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India was #8 at a total of 280,000 and even those crises were dwarfed by the 1931 China floods with a death toll estimated between one and four million people.
And then we have the viral threats. The Ebola virus in Sierra Leone was the most serious viral outbreak in 2015 which resulted in 11,000 deaths. Again, historically, this was well down on the 2009 Avian flu with 18,000 deaths and neither of these could compare to the 1918 Spanish Flu that had a toll of an estimated 25 million deaths.
Every single disaster is, of course, a human tragedy but, historically and globally speaking, nature let our species off reasonably lightly in 2015. The personification of nature and acknowledgement of its supreme power over humans is known as paganism. Paganism has been dismissed as primitive and heretical since the advent of Christianity.
Christianity has only been around for one percent of the two hundred thousand years humans have been on the planet and 2,000 Christmas days for 2 billion Christians doesn’t seem to have made us any an more tolerant and peaceful species than in the days of paganism. The Syrian civil war is estimated to have cost 200,000+ lives in nearly five years, averaging nearly 50,000 per year and still going in 2015. Iraq in 2015 was reported at around 15,000 violent deaths continuing the trend from the days of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.
In Nigeria, the extremist religious group Boko Haram is estimated to have killed 1,000 villagers this year and over 6,000 in 2014, also abducting 276 schoolgirls. Since 2009 they are estimated to have killed 20,000 and displaced over 2 million people from their villages. In October IS terrorists killed 128 in Ankara, Turkey. In November the Paris IS terrorist attack killed 130 people. But it was only this Paris attack that created any outrage in the Christian world.
In New Zealand we have to say we had a pretty ‘Famous Five” year by comparison (Africa’s miles away from here). Yes we have our climate-change hand-wringers photo-bombing every available opportunity but, until we see Beijing-like images in the streets of Wellington, they are only going to get token traction here. The political opposition tried to amp up a sex scandal over ponytailgate, but that just provided fodder for the American chat show hosts to get a few laughs at our expense. In truth New Zealand is a Hobbiton and the big issue for us this year seemed to be the constitutional crisis of wondering whether we might like to redesign our flag.
I admit that I did spend a lot of the year thinking about it. Doodling new flag designs, submitting designs, unkindly critiquing other’s designs, deciding I did not like any enough to vote for any of them and even descended into a little procedural cynicism which is unbecoming of me. But the end of the year is, I think, an appropriate time to settle it all in my mind. I need to resolve this flag issue before the New Year.
Essentially, looking at the two options, it is a choice between a fern on black and a union jack. The rest of the two optional flags are identical. The Union Jack is there because of our historical allegiance to dear old mother England. But here’s the thing. England wanted Australia solely as a place to dump their unwanteds and so relieve the social pressure of unemployed peasants in England. After a few decades they reluctantly adopted NZ as the bastard little sibling of Australia. Our trade connections with Australia were growing and the wheels of commerce needed a little bureaucratic grease, so after a lot of lobbying by various Governors of New South Wales, Britain, in 1840, agreed with the Maori tribes on a colonisation deal. Victoria was, at the time, enthusiastically pleasuring herself with her cousin Albert, and was in a jolly good mood. But after only thirteen years of trying to deal with all the land disputes following a very dodgy deal by the British property speculators who owned “The New Zealand Company”, she gave us back our independence. ‘Sort it out yourselves,’ Vicky said, ‘the royal we are over it’. But then, a further thirty years later, they saw that we actually had quite a decent butcher shop over here and with frozen meat shipping coming on stream we became a useful supplier of lamb and butter to Britain. And so it was “We have our own farm and butchery you know? A couple of islands down in the antipodes. Another slab of lamb, what?”
But then in the 1970’s they decided it was in their best interests that they shop locally for their meat and butter and we were dumped, quite unceremoniously. We had sacrificed our young men in the Boer War for Britain. In World War 1 our soldiers were slaughtered for the British military lunacy at Anzac Cove. And in WWII we again sacrificed our young men in the trenches of Europe and the deserts of Egypt to help save Britain from the invasion of the Germans, following the treachery of the Italians and the feeble capitulation of the arrogantly ungrateful French. And only thirty years after that, the Brits tell us to stick our farm produce where the British sun sets. They are European, they say, and proud of it. They will do all their shopping in the farmers’ markets of their new friends France, Germany and Italy now, thank you very much. Then, insult to injury, when the French government committed an act of terrorism and murder in the Auckland harbour in 1985 against us, a loyal ally of Britain, a member of the Commonwealth, a nation subject to the rule of the Queen of Great Britain, what was the official British response? Probably just something like “c’est la vie” chuckled over a delightful French brandy in the club.
And now, far from being welcomed as allies, as old friends, valiant and loyal comrades in arms, New Zealanders stand in the “aliens’ queue at Heathrow Customs. Including old vets from the second world war. And still we stitch their flag inside ours as a symbol of our loyalty and pledge the lives of our soldiers to the defence of Britain and the Queen..
Well, in a word (or two) ‘sod them.’ Do they think there will never be another war in Europe? Dream on. And when Putin comes knocking on No. 10 Downing with the pointy end of a tank, don’t ‘friend-request’ us to help get rid of him. Putin is now a quite a good customer of ours actually. Russia enjoys about a billion and a quarter dollars worth of our butter and cheese annually.
The flag is a representation of our constitution. The symbol of what we will fight and die for. Currently the constitutional symbol of our unity is the Queen of Britain. We represent this in our flag with the union jack. But her Royal Highness is now in her 90th year and so the timing of this debate must take into account the imminent transfer of the throne of Great Britain to her eldest son. If we leave our constitutional symbol as it is, then we are adopting the succeeding King of England as our constitutional head of state. I wonder if, really, even he wants that job? He just seems a little tired and disinterested in the world outside his garden. Keeping the union jack on our flag sends the message that we are still a nation of disillusioned expats holding the colonial fort.
Many talk of the diversity of New Zealand today as though that is something to be proud of. But diversity is disunity; and disunity is weakness. We should no longer be a collection of separate ethnicities with the British descendants as the elite. Morris dancing at the farmers’ market, Scottish pipe bands on anniversary day parades. Still forelock-tugging over a Queens medal or a birthday card from her royalness. We segregate immigrants from other nations by refusing them admission into the British expat club. Such clinging to our British culture should be totally discouraged. We should be leaving all that behind. For we are now New Zealanders, Kiwis, a new and improved blend of human culture; and our homeland is the land of the silver fern.
So my New Year resolution is to let 2015 be the last year I passively accept another flag living in our flag like a parasitical security blanket. Let us unite as a new nation, with our own unique identity. Let us recognise that we are an independent member of the Oceania group of nations; South Pacs and proud of it. I am sure we can find someone in New Zealand to put their hand up for our Presidency. (Resolution subject to change when normal service returns).
Two roosters in the henhouse is always going to provide a bit of pre Christmas entertainment. And so it was with the last Dunedin City Council meeting for 2015. A fitting finale to an awful lot of clucking, puffing and ‘sky is falling’ from this Council this year. The issue on the table this time was the drafting of the Council’s new Procurement Procedures Manual. Cr Vandervis was persistently requesting assurance that the Manual would prevent in future the sort of skullduggery from Council Managers that he had experienced as a former contracted supplier to the Council; that is, specifically, the need to ‘cosy up’ to the manager and slip him/her a back-hander to get a contract. Cr Vandervis was seeking assurance from the presenter of the draft document that a procurement manager who would be put in place to provide accountability for the actions of individual managers who were putting tenders out to contract. He wanted a timeline for this appointment and he was refusing to be fobbed off by the bureaucrat-speak with which he was being fobbed off.
That was the signal of a cock fight challenge for the mayor (with a small m) who halted proceedings while he gathered himself for the response and was immediately comforted by a couple of black hens who clearly steeled him for his bout. Suitably prepared he then indignantly announced that Cr Vandervis could not make such allegations in council without evidence. The mayor’s indignation might have had a tad more substance had it not been that a Council Manager had been caught last year selling off, and pocketing the proceeds of, 150 odd cars from the Council fleet over a long number of years. A scandal that saw the manager involved take his own life and 5 council staff including three senior managers resign for failure in their duties of diligence and also saw the Council pay $1.5m for the forensic audit of the scandal. An impartial observer would think that Cr Vandervis had substantial cause to put the structure of the Procurement Procedures Manual under the microscope in respect to its ability to address historical problems in avoiding Council staff impropriety.
Cr Vandervis then reminded the mayor that he had presented the evidence, privately to him directly and to two different Council CEO’s, of his own personal experience in paying a back-hander to a Council manager in the past to win a council contract. Since this would also involve Cr Vandervis as a party to an illegal action, one would assume it is not an allegation he would make lightly.
At this suggestion that he had prior knowledge and evidence of the allegation, the little bantam mayor leaped up with puffed feathers and ordered Cr Vandervis from the meeting (again). And followed it up with the dramatic “you, sir, are a liar” which he must have picked up from a re-run of an old, B grade black&white movie.
Cr Vandervis purposefully gathered his papers and walked from the meeting with a self-assured strut that left the hens, who were all watching proceedings furtively, with no doubt that he would return to fight another day. The mayor observed the departure with a very subdued and unconvincing crowing; even he could see the cock-fight was far from over.
But the entertainment value aside, once again the mayor demonstrated deplorable chairmanship skills in failing to manage an outspoken member of Council. Once again he abused his authority by resorting to evicting Cr Vandervis from the meeting of elected Councillors, thereby denying the rights of those ratepayers who elected Cr Vandervis to represent their views. This was little more than an admission that he could not match Cr Vandervis in a debating chamber and made the mayor look very weak.
It was not really a difficult situation for an experienced Chairman. The mayor needed only to state that proposing and discussing such verbal allegations as fraud in a public forum would put the Councillor and the Council at risk of legal consequences and request that Cr Vandervis should put his allegation formally, in writing, to the Chief Executive, along with his evidence, to be properly investigated. The mayor could then assure the Councillor that once documented in Council minutes there is a paper trail for the process now that will prevent any further ‘I said/he said’ allegations on the issue raised.
This leaping to his little bantam feet and dramatically evicting an elected Councillor from the Council debating chamber really has to stop.
Well, this is the final voting week for the decision about which flag we want in the big flag-off with our current flag.
I did not vote. It was not a pre-planned protest; I did actually intend voting, but finally something niggled at me. A one-word question that had been raised earlier in the debate by many people haunted me as I took pen to voting slip. “Why?”
If we had voted to become a republic and break off all constitutional links with Britain, that would be a good reason to change our flag. If we had an internal revolution and abandoned democracy for communism, that would also be a good reason. But if, constitutionally speaking, we have not changed anything, then why change our constitutional flag?
If it is just because we want a design that is a bit more ‘marketable’, a bit more ‘on trend’ then we can have a corporate logo that is officially used to assist products and services to leverage off New Zealand’s profile. In fact we already have one of those, the stylised red kiwi on a blue triangle. By all means if that corporate image needs freshening up, then do so. But that is not the constitutional flag. They are two completely different subjects.
And if the organisers of the design referendum are trying to engage the new generation, perhaps they should have taken one or two of the young generations ideas into the finals.
While we had stars, kiwis and ferns coming out of our ears, the one New Zealand image that most strongly connects with the current generation is the Lord of the Rings. One youngster identified this and put in his or her concept for the One Ring to rule them all. That is very marketable. It leverages off the Lord of the Rings movies’ massive global presence; it resonates with a large consumer group; it puts NZ in the same competitive marketplace as Hollywood. In a word it ticks all the commercial boxes if commercial boxes are the ones the organisers wanted ticked. Where was this in the decision-making mix. They could have arranged a professional artist to render up the concept and we would have had a real contender.
But possibly the most unlucky design not to have made the cut was submitted by a young Korean-New Zealander, Jeong Hyuk Fidan; surely the face of the future in NZ if we are to continue to be a global golf powerhouse with all the commercial leveraging that comes with that. Jeong designed the exploding egg. Jeong’s rationale, quite simply, is that New Zealanders like eggs and explosions are cool.
This is the Playstation generation. This is a game app on a flag. Look, it even sings the national anthem. It has delightful alliteration. This design would go viral. New Zealand would be a game on 50% of the smart phones in the world. Ten million YouTube hits in 24 hours. This is the future; just think of the merchandising opportunities. But did we get to see Jeong’s creation on our final selection list? We did not. We did not because it did not ‘fit the brief’; because it was ‘outside the box’; because it would make a mockery of the whole process. All three, to my mind, are precisely the reasons why it should have been in the final selection.
We got ‘inside the box’, we got ‘within the brief’ and we got as boring as batshit. We got commercial designs not constitutional designs and that is why so many, like me, in the end disengaged with the process. For this design competition was presented as a need for changes to a constitutional flag when there was, in fact, no constitutional change to validate any flag change and provide a rational brief for designers.
So my vote, which of course remains invalid as it is only on this blog not on the official voting form, is for Jeong’s eggselent exploding egg. Out of the mouths of children, creative genius.
I had a lovely stroll in the 20+ degree sunshine this morning and thought, as my dad would say, “On a day like this, I wouldn’t be dead for a sackful of five-pound notes.” But somehow niggling in the back of my mind was that little green voice of guilt that has become my constant companion after countless years of relentless trendy-lefty propaganda. It was hissing at me:
‘Lovely day is it? You selfish, ignorant bastard. That sun you see is heralding in a drought! El Nino is here, climate change is here. The crops will fail. We won’t survive and all you can say is “what a lovely day.” Didn’t you take any notice of the global climate change marches last weekend? Didn’t you read the placards? Don’t you see the news about the drought in Marlborough and Wairarapa? The planet is doomed and you want to enjoy this sunny bloody day?’
But having endured a thorough soaking through the Spring, which followed a pretty decent amount of lake, river and reservoir build-up during winter, I thought maybe, just maybe, I might be allowed to indulge myself with a day or two of vitamin D to cheer up the old soul.
As someone quite rightly pointed out recently in relation to food shortages, the earth has no shortage of food, it is only a question of distribution from areas of gluttonous over-supply to areas of mild to severe under-supply. But that of course involves an embracing of the concept of globalisation and those who would protest loudest about the plight of the starving are categorically opposed to any form of globalisation. That such inter-national agreements from those businesses at the top end of the food chain might become a vehicle for international co-operation in resolving the inequality of food distribution just does not occur to them. Tribalism is the only mantra they know when it comes to the food chain.
But in relation to the water crisis, my first thought was the obvious one, if it’s too dry where you live, move to the West Coast of the South Island. Plenty of room for development there. The land is quite cheap and there is certainly no shortage of water. “Are you crazy?”say the drought-stricken, “who would want to live there, it rains all the bloody time.” I love the sun and the warmth, the barbecues and the pool; I just need water without cloud and rain and I will be happy. Quite right. Ok well lets have a look at another option.
See all that pink stuff down the left side of the South Island? That is water; bucket-loads of water. Or more precisely, 2 million hectares of land upon which falls 6400mm pa of rain, free from the clouds, which, if old brother Ryall (toke to his mockers) did a halfway decent job of teaching me maths, amounts to 20,000,000,000 (or 20 billion) cubic meters of the wet stuff per year, and since there are 1,000 litres in a cubic metre that means 20,000,000,000,000 litres pa which is just too many zeros for me to comprehend. Most of which disappears into the substructure. If I bring things down to a manageable number it would be a trickle of 55 billion litres a day. That is all hypothetical, I understand, but still with those numbers it does leave a bit to come and go on.
If I read things right, that is about one third of the water volume of Lake Taupo at 59,000,000,000 cubic metres which spreads over an area of 616,000 square kilometres, has a circumference of 193 kilometres and a maximum depth of 186 metres.
Now I look at the dry bits on the map, only one little piece in Central Otago is in the red zone under 400mm pa; (to put in context, the Simpson desert in Australia averages 150mm pa and the Sahara desert averages 25mm pa.). If we add the orange bits (400-600mm) to the red bit, again mostly Central /North Otago, I think 55 billion litres of water a day should go a fair way to helping turn those colours from red-orange to yellow. Isn’t it just a question of distribution? Of getting surplus water from the West Coast across to parts that are a bit parched?
At the end of the 19th Century the Australians embarked on a water pipeline 530kms, pumping a paltry 23 million litres of water a day from Perth to the Kalgoorlie goldfields.
It seems on my casual observation that the driest bits of the country look like those where the trees have all been chopped down to provide bare pastures for our crops and other farm stock.
But since we, as a species, insist on breeding prolifically we need our farmers to keep producing more and more food: wheat, corn, potatoes, turnips, beans, broccoli, cauliflowers, grapes, apples, peaches, olives, hens, sheep, cattle etc, etc and so they must turn more and more land into cleared farmland and consume more and more water to grow these crops.
So unless/until, we reverse our breeding trends, we are going to just have to keep coming up with new solutions to the problems that our agricultural practices inflict on our planet.
That brings us back to the cyclical El Nino weather pattern. The last one was in 1997 and was pretty severe. El Nino brings rain to the west and the mountains. Those drawing water out of Canterbury’s Alpine rivers courtesy of irrigation schemes should not have a problem. It’s more the dry-land farmers that are going to be affected.
Just as nature provides for irrigation via its Alpine rivers, it must be also possible for a humans, through a West Coast Water Distribution Industry, to supply water to areas that do not get natural alpine river irrigation? Create huge reservoirs all along the Coast. Pipe these reservoirs and then pump water to where it is most needed, for a price. Or maybe truck it to mini reservoirs on farms that need it. I know little of engineering except that I know greater engineering feats than this have been achieved.
It seems to me that we just need to figure out how to get surplus water to dry areas. If we have enough water, possibly the West Coast could even develop an export market to Australia? Ships and trucks loaded with water sailing across the Tasman? No idea if its feasible, but its worth a look. Its either do that or join the doom merchants running around with a placard in our hands and a knotted hanky on our heads wailing the end is nigh, the end is nigh.
A bit of selective breeding control probably isn’t a silly idea either. Would sir like just a little snip snip today? You just settle back, this won’t hurt a bit.