Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gareth Morgan writes from Utah

(Couldn't resist this photo from the NZ Herald):

Right in this town where we are today, Moab, Utah, the local school has surrendered its right to refuse some Christian mystic running his "Good News" club for students in the classroom right after school ends, since he threatened to use a Christian activist lobby, the American Centre of Law and Justice, to fight for the right.

As the school president commented, "We're a very small district. We don't have the funds to go all the way to the Supreme Court."

It's pathetic, really. If you take the libertarian view - as I do - that religion is your own business, don't ram it down the throats of us that think it's just another human frailty. It's another sign that the US is on a slide back toward the intolerant conservatism that its founding fathers escaped.

That El Presidente, reformed drunkard and born-again George Dubya, can declare he is doing God's work as he blunders around Iraq totally out of his depth, could only happen in a democracy that excuses it because the Christian God is on their leader's side. Nuts!

Who said this?

"Don't buy a single vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide.”"

(Clue; It wasn't Helen Clark to Michael Cullen. Her instruction was, buy every vote you can. We're going to need every last one.)

Abuse hysteria

During the week I saw this headline; "Abused kids should be taken from parents, claims US professor".

Dr Schmitt was brought to NZ by the Plunket Society as an expert on child abuse. He recommended more stringent intervention. In the US there was a mandatory reporting system where anyone who had anything to do with a child - a teacher, doctor, nurse - was required under the law to report any signs of abuse to social welfare, which then fully investigated the case. He said, "Termination of parental rights has been common in our country for some time. It gives judges the option to remove the child permanently from a family and put him or her up for adoption...people should be suspicious if there was more than one bruise, or bruises in different areas. When a child fell, they usually received only one bruise."

The professor was brought to New Zealand in 1982.

Question; Those of you who have youngsters, do they have any bruises on their legs? My seven year-old does. And she generally gets them at school where she is at her most active, swinging from bars, jumping from climbing frames, tripping over shoelaces, missing a step. Like many her age, she goes at everything full tilt and sometimes comes a cropper.

Anyway, coincidentally I came across a story in the LA Times today. Now, if you want to read about the real and tragic consequences of the hysteria surrounding child abuse, physical and sexual, that peaked in the eighties read on....

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ageing = happiness

The NZ Herald has a piece about the myth of ageing bringing unhappiness. Apparently many people expect to get unhappier as they age. Not me. I look forward to having more time, travelling more, grand children, tomorrow's test match, lots of things. And I am happier now than ever before (despite all the grizzling on my blog). The following made absolute sense to me;

There are a number of theories about why people may get happier as they get older, Lacey noted. For one, people may focus less on achievement and more on personal relationships and enjoying life, and also get better at managing their own moods.

Reason for rocketing invalid benefit numbers

Here James Bartholomew briefly puts his theory about the reason so many people are on an invalidity benefit in the UK. NZ has the same problem. My reckoning is that the higher payment rate is a factor but there are others.

If it isn't the govt nagging you.....

Not content to bitch about their own lives, some women have to bitch about men's lives as well. You are not doing enough housework. It's official. I read it in the Herald. Which is licence for me to nag you about it all weekend.

Never mind that you went to work for 6 out of 7 days which meant I didn't have to. Never mind that when you are at work you get nagged by your boss and for one day a week you'd like a bit of space. Never mind that I have oodles more free time and choice about what to do with it. Forget it. I want you doing your share of the housework so you can get fit and healthy and stick around for a few more years.

Otherwise, who would I have to nag?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Medicinal cannabis back on the table

Green MP Metiria Turei has had a private member's bill to introduce medicinal cannabis pulled from the ballot. It might stand a chance of being passed if a few National MPs keep an open mind. United Future will fight it tooth and nail but there's only three of them. NZ First will probably oppose it but the Maori Party shouldn't.

11 - 14 year-old abortions

Statistics New Zealand has just released the 2005 abortion statistics which show a drop in the overall rate. One thing noticeable in the tables was the 11 - 14 year-old rate has reached 0.8 per 1000 females or 92 abortions. The rate has doubled what it was in the early nineties.

Abortions performed at 12 weeks made up;

1995 29 percent
1996 25.8
1997 22.8
1998 23.9
1999 24.1
2000 24
2001 26.7
2002 28.1
2003 29
2004 25.6
2005 28.1

I did these calculations to prove or disprove what we have been hearing from abortion practitioners - that the delay was getting longer. The figures don't support that BUT if late abortions are being performed in Australia they would be registered in Australia. Which then begs the question, is our rate really down or is the drop, 680 in absolute terms, due to abortions being performed off shore? It seems unlikely that number would have travelled to Australia.

The ethnic breakdown is;
European 51.6
Maori 20.6
Pacific 10.9
Asian 15.7
Other 1.2

Compared to thirteen other "selected low fertility" countries only the US has a higher rate (which may now be around the same as ours as it is dropping but no stats are given for the last two years.)

(Don't call me ageist. A "mature" friend sent this to me.)

Maori and abortion

Oh Crikey has a post about abortion and his outrage at the government funding overseas Family Planning agencies which provide abortions. Somehow this develops into a strong objection to white feminists killing Maori babies.

For those who strongly oppose abortion, having to fund it just adds injury to insult. They shouldn't have to but there are a hundred and one things taxpayers object to paying for on moral grounds.

Women are not forced to have abortions. Some make the decision lightly, for others, it is agonising. Oh Crikey has framed it as both killing (Maori babies) and suicide (non-Maori). Which isn't unlike the Maori Smokefree Coalition describing smoking, another voluntary action, as genocide of Maori.

Oh Crikey and the Maori Smokefree Coalition openly and admittedly care more about the race they belong to. In my work this would be unthinkable. 'Sorry, I only want to help non-Maori people'. In fact, based on my limited experience, I should prefer to work with Maori and Pacific people because their need is genuine and they are more appreciative of help.

Then again, I wouldn't want to be Maori or Pacific because there are too many people like Oh Crikey's author telling me I am a victim, that I am not capable of making or responsible for my own decisions, that they are made for me by "psychotic white feticidal women". How patronising.

The merits of hypocrisy

An interesting interview with Jeremy Lott, the author of a new book, "Defending Hypocrisy".

After interviewing a number of people about it and thinking the issue through, I decided that we should defend hypocrisy for a couple of reasons.

One, it usually forces us to hide and restrain some of our darker impulses in order to keep up appearances.

Two, it creates moral wiggle room for people to acknowledge the right thing—or speculate about what the right thing might be—even if they don't always do that thing.

Governments et al; take note

The NCPA summarises the evidence;

An absent father is something that money can't replace.....

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Released on bail

TV3 had some pretty awful stats tonight about the number of people awaiting trial who are realeased on bail. In the past year just under 10,000. A quarter were awaiting trials for violent crimes. Rick Barker came on and expressed a touching faith in the judges decisions. Ex-cop, National MP Chester Burrows was less impressed, saying many were ticking time bombs - the accused that is.

Dropped off waiting lists

1,800 Wellingtonians (or around 1.8 percent of the local population) are being dropped from specialist waiting lists.

Waiting lists have been with us for a long time. The situation has now deteriorated to having waiting lists to get on waiting lists.

Back in 1970 the Medical Association of New Zealand warned that medical graduates working abroad would not return to New Zealand because of the government's attitude to doctor pay and working conditions.

Not much chance of them returning now either.

The antagonism between doctors and the government is a permanent feature of New Zealand's public health system. It looks to be escalating.

Becoming more cultured

I always fancied myself as a highly cultured person. Now I have proof, thanks to Statistics NZ. But even more cultured than me are all those people with satellite dishes on their roofs and Aucklanders!!!

Information sharing

The Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Information Matching) Amendment Bill is going through Parliament currently. Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia has spoken to it, describing it as "big brother snooping around" and "ganging up on beneficiaries". The Greens are opposing it on the following basis;

The Green Party opposes this bill because we are concerned by the proliferation of information-matching programmes operating between Government agencies and the intrusion this represents into the personal lives of New Zealanders and the fact that this bill sets Housing New Zealand Corporation tenants apart from other tenants - only they will be subject to data matching with Work and Income.

Now I am no fan of government. Not snooping or sharing information. But these parties have only themselves to blame. They are desperate for government to provide assistance in the form of housing and benefits but when the government wants to put parameters and conditions on the recipients they cry, intrusion, intrusion.

They can't have it both ways.

I remember when Green MP Metiria Turei entered Parliament calling herself an anarchist! If she's an anarchist, I'm the next New Zealand Idol.

Irish DPB

Ireland are planning reforms to their welfare assistance for one parent families.

There are currently some 80,000 lone parents - almost 98% of them women - in receipt of One Parent Family Payments at a cost in 2005 of €770 million. When other supports and entitlements are taken into account, including Child Benefit, Rent Supplement and Family Income Supplement, total expenditure is over €1.3 billion. Despite the unprecedented growth of the Irish economy over the last decade and record spending on social welfare, lone parents remain one of the groups who are particularly vulnerable to poverty.

Ireland has virtually the same population as New Zealand. We have 110,000 single parents on benefit - 37.5 percent more.


The NCPA reports on Sweden's "cradle to the grave" welfare system;

* Sweden's slope became most slippery from 1960 to 1980, when public spending increased from 31 percent of the economy to 60 percent in order to keep the Swedes rolling in government payments and to fund the bloated public sector.
* Sweden today ranks about equal with the fifth-poorest U.S. state in per capita income.
* Likewise, among the wealthy nations that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it slipped from fifth in income in 1970 to 15th in 2004.

This is the country Steve Maharey describes as "inspirational".
Perhaps when we are sitting at twentieth on the gdp per capita table, 15th does look pretty inspirational.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What's Trevor's beef?

Don't know what my electorate MP is up to today. During a snap debate over Auckland's power problem he repeatedly addressed the deputy speaker, Ross Robertson, as "Madame" speaker. When the speaker eventually asked him to use the word "Mister" Mallard refused and began using the terms "acting" and "deputy". His attitude to the chair was derisory and defiant. What's going on there? Any ideas?

Australian govt disallows civil unions

As best as I can make out, the Australian federal (central) government has overturned the Australian Central Territory government's civil union legislation. The federal government maintains it contravenes the Marriage Act. The Civil Union 2006 Act would become invalid from midnight tonight.

WFF rip-off

National MP John Key says self-employed earners are forming trusts that hide their true income in order to qualify for Working for Families payments.

Go back a step. People have already done this to minimise their child support payments, which are based on how much they earn, as opposed to what the child needs. Whether government threatens to punish or reward, many people will react in ways that others don't think are kosher. The best way to deal with it is get rid of the incentives to.

The Working for Families scheme is going to be the mother of unintended consequences.

US versus Britain

A Harvard history professor, who splits his time between the US and his British home, gives an economic comparison between the US and Britain. Relevant because the same would hold true if you substituted Britain with New Zealand;

Like the U.S., Britain has been enjoying a debt-propelled consumption boom. Household debt has grown at an accelerating pace since 1997 and exceeds 150% of post-tax income. Saving has plunged. As long as housing prices kept rising, the party could go on. But since the market cooled in the second half of 2004, the hangover has begun. Last year, Britain's economy grew by a miserable 1.8%.

The other source of growth in Brown's Britain has been public spending. Real government spending has surged since 1999 at an average rate of nearly 5% a year. Significantly, nearly a third of all the increase in employment since 1997 has been in the public sector, which now accounts for nearly 6 million workers.

As in the U.S., this splurge has been financed partly by borrowing. And, like the U.S., Britain also has a large current account deficit because imports have grown faster than exports.

Yet in the case of the United States, these vices are in large measured compensated for by the underlying vitality of its entrepreneurs and workers. Can the same be said for Britain? The answer is a resounding no.

Superficially, to be sure, British unemployment is low. But the official statistics are deceptive. In fact, about 5.3 million adults of working age are dependent on benefits, and 2.3 million of them have been living on welfare for more than five years. The reason they don't show up in the statistics is that many of them are counted as unfit for work rather than jobless. Every day, 23 teenagers in Britain sign up for disability benefits.

Parliament's gym to close

The Labour government has announced it is closing down the Beehive gym. According to the Prime Minister, Helen Clark , there is no longer any need for a physical fitness programme. Everyone gets quite enough exercise jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, running down the boss, flogging dead horses, knifing friends in the back, dodging responsibility, and pushing their luck.

Different Doctor view

The Press reports that the hours junior doctors are working is exaggerated.

According to one senior doctor, Many worked a 13-week cycle and the association quoted the worst week of about 70 hours, but his statistics showed most worked an average of between 40 and 60 hours a week.

Morton said that in the past two years he had worked with 220 British graduates, mainly junior house officers, and some senior registrars. "Generally, they find the conditions here are outstandingly good, except there's not enough to do."

Exit questionnaires showed many of the overseas doctors found there was less responsibility and less to do in their Canterbury District Health Board positions.

Of course, the hours worked may differ around the country.

A caller to talkback yesterday put an interesting slant on the issue. The young, single, female, high-earning doctors are being heavily taxed to subsidise staff with children, who work shorter hours but are benefitting from the Working for Families package. She suggested this is an additional source of resentment.

If that resentment is enough to drive them overseas the country loses twice; once through lost skills, and if they stay away, again through the lost potential to improve New Zealand's fertility rate.

Microchipping saga goes on

People frequently talk about MMP allowing minor parties to act as the tail wagging the dog. Now they literally are. This is really goofy politics from United Future.

MP Gordon Copeland sent a letter to deputy leader Michael Cullen and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta yesterday with a clear message – exempt working dogs or don't count on United Future's vote.

"If they don't buy that then we are going to have to do some careful thinking," Mr Copeland said.

What kind of thinking have they done so far? The government wants to do something totally stupid, United Future something half-stupid (which in a way is even more stupid). National and the Greens belatedly want to stop the stupidity, now they have sensed the public mood. ACT was the only party who saw the stupidity for what it was in the first place.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Debate degenerates

Sue Bradford says the Section 59 debate is getting ugly and she is receiving abusive e-mails. If they get worse she says she will involve the police.

Abusive e-mails are sent by bullies and cowards and, as much as I dislike Sue Bradford's politics, I see no justification for this sort of tactic. Sue and I have met on a number of occasions and she is always civil and respectful. No purpose is served by politics getting personal.

OK, from time to time I might go overboard with a post but generally I try to stick to playing the ball. It's good discipline because without insults your arguments are all you have. They have to stand up.

"Big girl's blouse"

Umm. Wonder if Super Trev is up with the play? Apparently the new Superman is a "big girl's blouse".

Concerns have been mounting that the latest Superman, played by Brandon Routh, an unknown from Iowa, may not be “macho” enough for a key group of ticket-buyers: teenage boys. Earlier this month The Advocate, an influential gay magazine, proclaimed Routh’s Superman a homosexual icon, alongside Judy Garland and Cher, because he “lives a secret double life, wears tights and has lovely long eyelashes”.

Last week Bryan Singer, the film’s gay director and responsible for previous hits such as The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men movies, compounded the anxiety by describing Superman Returns as a “chick flick about a superhero seen from a woman’s perspective, with qualities you’d want in a husband”. The woman is the ace reporter Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth.

“Young men do not want a soft Superman: they want the Man of Steel, even if he is 68 years old,” said one Hollywood executive last week.

There are good ideas and there are others

Newsroom reports, An Otago University researcher, who has just had a report on smoking published in an international medical journal, believes a countrywide ban on smoking is inevitable.

Shane Bradbrook of the Maori Smokefree Coalition was on the TV3 last night again pushing the idea of making tobacco available only thorugh pharmacies. Last week the DomPost ran a column by an Otago University law lecturer advancing the same idea. Watch it gain traction.

Here is my analysis of it:

Otago senior law lecturer Selene Mize advances the idea that a ban on tobacco sales (but not use) be implemented alongside an addict’s maintenance programme, similar to the one now providing methadone to heroin addicts through pharmacies. Maori Party MP Hone Harawira has also promoted such a plan.

Mize says,” Current tobacco users would have a set period of time in which to visit their GPs, be diagnosed as tobacco dependent, and receive a prescription that would enable them to purchase a set supply of tobacco from the pharmacy every two weeks or month.”

The theory is that with no legal tobacco for sale there will be no new smokers and existing addicts being supplied through a pharmacy will gradually give up or die. We will then be smokefree.

Unfortunately there is no evidence to back up this theory. Despite the methadone programme, the number of opioid dependents continues to grow. There is little documentation about the programme but a 2001 report estimated the number of dependents would continue to increase at the rate of 15 percent each year. Of the then estimated population of addicts, 13,500 to 26,600, only 3,774 were being treated through a methadone programme. Many were on waiting lists; many more, unofficially waiting.

There have always been problems with funding, client willingness and specialist addiction services. Despite opioid dependents costing the community an estimated $1,000 per week there seems to be little political will to expand the programme.

There are around 700,000 smokers in New Zealand. Even if half could be persuaded to quit if tobacco products disappeared from the supermarket and dairy shelves, the remainder would need to be managed through their GP and pharmacy. A GP would need to see an average of 125 tobacco addicts and a pharmacy around 395. Which raises obvious questions.

Have either got the resources to manage that level of “clients” and, for that matter, do they even want to? Pharmacists will have ethical concerns about dispensing products that damage health. Doctors will have qualms about prescribing a harmful substance. There may also be security fears. Pharmacies are already common targets for criminals operating in existing drug black markets.

And there can be no doubt that a tobacco black market will develop. Selene Mize believes with supply through pharmacies the black market will be small. But the market will be driven by price and accessibility. Illegal suppliers will make both more attractive, especially at the ban onset. Tobacco will present a lost-leader opportunity to expand market share of other illicit drugs, especially to young users. Has Mize failed to see use of the cannabis growing despite prohibition?

Methadone programmes have reduced the amount of crime committed by addicts and offered a chance of rehabilitation for a small number. These are not considerations affecting smokers.

Methadone programmes have done nothing to diminish the number of addicts or reduce the black market, both aims of a ban on tobacco sales. Denying the evidence is a facet of wishful, rather than innovative thinking.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

There isn't much to entice me to the big red shed but I concede their music DVDs are the cheapest and their selection the best.

Music DVDs are making available so much previously unseen or unheard of. Today I came across a Bonnie Rait concert with guests Jackson Browne, Bryan Adams, and Bruce Hornsby. Wonderful. Last week at concert by Bruce Hornsby with guests Gregory Hines, Don Henley and Pat Metheny. Don Henley perched on the end of Hornsby's piano stool dueting 'The End of the Innocence' is just beautiful. But today this one left me perplexed. Gordon Lightfoot's voice was always deep and rich. In this 2000 performance he sounds like he has inhaled helium. I did a search and found other people have commented on how thin and nasal his voice has become but can find no reason for this. It sounds as though he had some sort of surgery on either his nose or throat. The songs are still haunting but I don't feel compelled to watch it again.

Over-doing it

I've always been the sort that's in for a penny, in for a pound. If I get interested in something I get mega-interested. Maybe that's what is fashionably known as having an addictive personality. I'm not sure. But what I did work out is it paid to get interested in things good for me. Like painting and writing, as opposed to how to beat the TAB.

At one point somebody challenged me to run a marathon and as I was looking for a way to mark my 30th birthday I thought, this is it. Thing was, they wanted me to run the New York marathon in November and it was already early September. What the hell. I was living in London and started training like a maniac. I would run a two mile circuit from my flat. That way I could call it a day early if needed or just keep going...just one more...just one more.

Of course my body wasn't as keen as my mind. At around ten or eleven miles one knee would force me to stop so for the first time in my life I went to a physiotherapist who worked wonders. With her help I was able to push out the distance.

Three of us went to New York. The challenger was an experienced marathon runner. His brother and I were the novices. We each started separately. I ran thirteen miles and hobbled the rest, coming in at 5 hours and eighteen minutes. My place was around 23,000th. But the time would have been even longer if I hadn't been passed by the other novice about midpoint. From there on I refused to let him out of my sight.

We planned a great liquid celebration that night in Chinatown but by 8 o'clock all of our noses were in our chicken and sweetcorn soup. We crawled our way back to the hotel and flew out the next day. I remember landing at Heathrow and finding to my dismay we had to exit via steps. I needed assistance. My equally nutty companion lost his toenails later that week.

What brought on this trip down memory lane?

Well I was just reading about a ban on people who go to gyms and over-exercise. What difference will that make? People can exercise anywhere. If they are hellbent on wrecking their joints and tendons, they will.

Some people can't do "moderation" and frankly, thank goodness for that. There is a place in the world for passionate obsessives. And notice, politicians excepted, that they will rarely be found telling other people how to live their lives.