Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Give us this day our daily bread...

Small item that caught my ear (and I have no idea why this was on the radio news) the other night concerns one Dr Raj Patel and the "theories" behind supermarkets.

Rather than just link through to all that he has written, let me put this in my own words...

Patel starts with the idea that "Supermarkets sell those products that are the cheapest and highest margin." Nothing wrong with that the Capitalists would sy, and I agree. "Therefore the range of products on sale is determined by their relative profitability and not by the needs or desires of the customer." Returning to Patel, he contends that we humans are wired to desire foods containing sugar, fat and salt - HFSS's as he terms them.

How does this work?

Take a small family business I worked for some years back. It no longer exists. The boss sold out I believe but he might also have gone to Florida seeking eternal redemption with the Scientologists. Anyhoo we sold "bulk food" to the supermarkets. These are products intended for the customer to weigh out and pack for themselves as much as they require instead of having to buy 500gm, or 6 x 30 gram packs... Top of the company's range by volume - out of some 85 available - was blanched roast salted peanuts. Probably one of the more "unhealthy" of the products we sold. High oil content (we used canola oil), high fat content (from the peanuts as well), and very high salt content. The supermarkets used this as a loss leader (one of them) for about four weeks every three months. There was no debate on our price, we were told - not asked. On one occasion, in one of his more shitty moods, the boss refused to supply at the markets price and got his answer about ten minutes later - "take your fittings out by tomorrow night, we will make arrangements for a new supplier". It took about three months to get that market back into our order books.

But the point behind that little tale is the fact that we were a "health(y) food" company. Because of the nature and business of our customers, one of the highest volume lines was also one of the most unhealthy.

OK, now for a personal observation. It came to my notice during my 14 weeks off work. In all, that resulted in at least ten major shopping trips to the supermarket with the CofE (Chancellor of the Exchequer). Now I am the first to give credit; apart from the odd small item like a bar of chocolate or suchlike the CofE is not given to impulse purchasing. She carries a very detailed list, fully costed, and prices get checked at the time she is selecting what she wants. She really is very good at it. (I hope that Lucy would approve). There were a couple times where I went on my own with this very important task but that is a different story.

What is an interesting way of passing the time in the supermarket is through observation. Take note of anyone that goes past; their trolley contents, age, sex, children if any, but try to get a feel for the relationship between purchases and people.

What I noted -

Younger mothers, with kids under ten buy the most. The ratio of convenience foods (frozen pre-prepared, pre-cooked etc) to fresh produce is fairly high.

Young people, say the under-30s are usually small shoppers. I suspect this is one of perhaps three or four trips to the market this week.

Middle aged - those with no kids about indicating probably teenagers at home - seem to buy the most convenience foods and least fresh produce.

Late middle age and elderly seem to be the ones who buy least convenience foods and most fresh produce. Is this the result of tradition and culture or a matter of economic necessity? In our case it is preference, probably driven by family tradition.

The presence of children with the shopping expedition seems to result in a much higher purchase of the junk food lines - crisps and chips, sweets and soft drinks. The worst of the HFSS's.

Worst of the lot? Obvious grandparents with grandchildren in tow.

On a wider scale, the statistics that appear from time to time in the news hereabouts (and I have no reason to doubt that is the same the whole world over) indicates that lower income people are more likely to purchase more HFSS's than fresh produce.

One of the more interesting ones in recent times gave the average travel distances home to nearest takeaway outlet for various suburbs in Auckland. Furthest (greatest distance from home to a takeaway) were in the more affluent suburbs. One can argue that this is the result of rich people being willing to travel further to buy Big Macs, Fried Chicken or whatever. But in fact it seems that the demand is unable to support more outlets. Contrast this with the "poorer" parts of town. Travel distance home to outlet can be as small as 1/4 of that travelled in a "rich" area. Is this because of the cost of travel? No, it seems that people will buy the family dinner on the way home from work, or will give the eldest the money to buy dinner at McDs or BK or whereever.

The distance function is the result of the demand for the product, not the cost of travel.

So we end up with a quiet revolution from Detroit Free Press
And yet Americans in general and Michiganders in particular spend a lot more time hunting bushytails than grouse, largely because while most grouse hunting is confined to the state's northern forests far from where most hunters live, squirrels can be found everywhere.

In anticipation of telephone calls and e-mails from the uninitiated, let's say right off the bat that the primary reason to hunt squirrels is that they are delicious. Truthfully, I'd rather have a Brunswick stew or one of my friend Craig Porter's fantastic squirrel pies than grouse breasts or a venison roast.

Squirrels are incomparably tastier than supermarket chicken, beef or pork that may have been raised under questionable circumstances and took weeks or months to get to the consumer.

To which I might add that I have never tried kiore (the Pacific rat), or dog, both considered delicacies by the Maori in pre-European times. I have tried huhu - a grub not unlike the Aussies witchetty and it tastes like peanut butter which has been soaked in wood. Regretfully though, most of the wild food is getting difficult to find due to poisoning programmes for possum and rabbits, the commercialisation of deer. Pig are getting hunted out and hard to find. Goat is now farmed - had goat stew a couple weeks back and it were very good.

To return to the top, an article from Britain's "Independant"
Should we be worried about the power of supermarkets?


* Their dominance is killing the diversity of the high street

* Suppliers are being bled dry by their cost-cutting demands

* They have the power to dictate to the consumer


* They are powerful because they provide the best deal for the public

* Many investigations have failed to find any wrongdoing

* Competition between chains ensures a good deal for consumers

... and our government is adding folic acid to all bread to prevent birth defects. About 15 of them a year.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On public vs private health care -

Al over at The Old Whig wrote about H Clinton's public health proposals. I left this as a comment, but it is worth repeating here -

I am very much of two minds here. Or perhaps I should say two hearts.

I have had all of my treatment, surgery etc for little more than a few hundreds.

I was talking with the corporate health insurer last week and she (the rep) said that the insurers would be looking at in excess of $50,000, perhaps even closer to $100k if there had been complications. The conversation came up because my boss could not understand (and neither could she) why my mitral valve was excluded under the corporate policy. It should, apparently, have been covered. However, I have the piece of paper that says otherwise.

Using that as a guide, I have recouped probably most of the tax I have paid in total over the past 15 years.

On the other hand, how does Rand's theories cope with the refusal of a private provider to cover for some medical events. More to the point, my wife would be faced with having to help me decide between another 5 years or so of fairly restrictive life for me and a $100,000 mortgage as we move toward retirement. Suggestions?

There are whole rafts of other considerations that are being debated here in NZ - not the least of which also directly impinges from my own surgery.

For example, the number of patients on waiting lists, defects in the process of determining priority for treatment, and that is the consequence of having restricted resources available. No argument from me on the need for limiting public funding of resources but it does have some interesting sidelights.

Over the past twelve months or more there has been a very emotional and persistant campaign for the use of Herceptin as a standard treatment of breast cancer. After much pushing from the womens' rights groups Pharmac has agreed to fund a 16 week treatment course, costing some $16,000 per patient. The WRGs are still pressing for 12 months treatment - potentially costing over $100,000 per patient. Well what is wrong with that?

In the past few days, a new test for male prostate cancer has been announced. It is not yet available in NZ. It is apparently far more accurate than the existing hormone test - which gives a very high rate of false negatives.

This new test is too expensive!! Hence it will be made available only by private providers, probably at an even higher cost to the patient.

How much? Reportedly $500 or thereabouts per test...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It must be elections - 2

Regular readers might recall about two years ago I spent some time debating the connection of politics and religion. Essentially my argument is that it took some 1100 years if not 1600 years for England to attain effective separation of Church and State – a boon passed to NZ through our status as a British Colony in the 1800s. “Nae kin, nae quin, nae laird, nae master. We’ll nae be fooled again!!”

Central to my commentary then was one “Bishop” Brian Tamaki, leader of the Destiny Church – one of the modern charismatic, personality based, “Churches” that seem to be so popular these days. “Salvation is at hand – place 10% of your money in my hand in return for eternal life”. It is the same Bishop Tamaki that has opened next year’s Parliamentary election campaign with one of the best jokes in years.

There has been, since the last elections, on and off debate about the need for a “Christian Party”. It was apparent last elections that having both United Future (Peter Dunne’s party) and Destiny Party (the political wing of the Destiny Church) running against each other was not going to produce the right sort of results. Over the same period, Destiny and one Gordon Copeland – a member of United Future and present MP though he is now “independent” – have been talking about the possible formation of a Christian, faith-based, political party. This must have made some progress, as events of the past few days have shown, because one of the first concrete actions required was the winding-up of the Destiny Party.

So last Tuesday, we have the public announcement, a press conference held by Bishop Tamaki, of the closure of Destiny New Zealand as a political party. “Oh, and while you are all here, I will take the opportunity to introduce to you the co-leader of a new Christian-based political party to be formed in the near future.” Fine and good, if it were part of the agreed programme. Problem is that Gordon Copeland knew that he was the other co-leader, and he knew nothing about the announcement or about who the other co-leader might be. The hole started to get deeper when it was implied that the co-leadership had been agreed between “all of the major Churches”. A quick check by a number of people showed that quite a few of the major churches were not even involved in the proceedings and discussions that had taken place.

It got deeper still by Thurday night with Copeland saying that there was no chance of him being involved in co-leadership of the new party should it ever get off the ground. This morning Destiny's appointee was in damage control mode while still trying to see if the proposed party could lift a leg – without any possibilities of it ever reaching escape velocity. At the same time Copeland was making it clear that any remotely possible political association “with Destiny’s Blackshirts” was dead. Those who can not remember, might google “blackshirts” for the implication of this statement.

So all in all a fine time was had by all. Sunday’s sermons in the Destiny Church should make for interesting listening. Particularly any given by the Bishop himself.

For me? It rather reminds me of a sequence in a Peter Sellars’ film, I think it was “A Shot in the Dark”, where a bevy of nuns in full habit were involved in a “car chase” on go-karts. Hilarious stuff. I can well imagine a government run by the Destiny wallies – "Brothers, Brothers, please a quick prayer. We need guidance on … Hallelujah!! We have an answer!"

The onset of elections...

It must be the onset of elections that does it. We have city and district elections over the next month so the place is full of “vote for ME!!” signs for prospective mayoral and other candidates. Leading the personal interest is the Manukau mayoralty campaign. Long time (Manukau seems to pick good and keep them) incumbent Mayor Barry Curtis is standing down after about 20 years in Council. The second highest polling candidate from the last election was Len Brown, whom I have never met but seems a good and decent sort of bloke who is most likely to follow the path set down by Mayors Elsmore and Curtis. (Note I have lived in Manukau for some 36 years and these are the only two serving Mayors during that time.) I need to get out and see who (in terms of “teams”) is promising what in the various Council and Community elections.

TO that end one of the leading issues in the election involves not sewerage or salaries but City ownership of shares (“stocks” to you Americans).

Manukau city owns in shares some 10% of Auckland International Airport. At current market values, that represents about $130 million on the current market I believe… a not inconsiderable sum anyhoos. Auckland City also owns a slightly larger share. The issue is, of course, whether the City should retain share investments in anything but most importantly the Airport. “Imagine”, they say, “what could be done with all of that money!”.

Underlying the resistance to the idea of selling the shares though are two quite important principles. I touched on those earlier…

First is the value of the investment. For a city corporation that value has to come from the revenue stream (in the form of dividends) that the shares generate. Auckland City has been talking of some $100 million in dividends over the past ten years. The value of a shareholding then must reflect the future income stream from another investment. I suggest that the Airport investment would be very difficult to match.

The second involves the likely buyer. Dubai DAS was looking for a major holding in AIA. They promised increased investment and development. The quid pro would probably be increased landing rights for their Emirates airline (but that is a minor detail you understand). An offshore sale, and it matters not whether it is DAS or a Canadian pension fund, is in my world not an entirely good idea.


We know what happened when the Government sold our rail systems to an American corporation. Some three times the purchase price was “repatriated” by the company to the US; the rail system was “streamlined” (read “closed down”) to save costs; the government then had to spend some $100 million to recover what is in fact a fairly important strategic asset which was then sold off again to Toll who are Australian and was again “repurchased”. Is that the only example? No, Bank of New Zealand and Air New Zealand have both been through the same process.

Now I could care less that the get rich quick buyer might end up with the lemon that they deserve. Similarly if the buy-back is considerably less than the sale price.

I do get considerably steamed though about the flow of money out of NZ into the pockets of others in the name of “open global markets”. Yes by all means pay a dividend. But for every dollar of that dividend that walks over the border, NZ needs to earn at least two on the overseas market to recoup the “loss”. No, I am not talking about “income redistribution”. If I want part of the Airport pie I can and will go buy some shares on the market. I am talking about the reinvestment power of those dollars leaving NZ shores for the benefit of Dubai, or Canada, and other foreign shores. Equally, I also get steamed about the control of assets such as AIA being held overseas rather than by NZers. DAS wanted something like 45% and Board control. The Canadians are seeking about 30% but are happier to leave control to Board majority.

So at this stage Len Brown looks like he might get my vote for the mayoralty. If I look at the candidates for Council – and they are probably far more important in the general scheme of things than the Mayor – and cross out all of the “reduce the rates”, “sack the staff”, and “core services” candidates I don’t think that there would be much left other than parochial interests. I have to add that the present mob seem to know what they are about at least in general terms. The Council seems to tick over fairly quietly - like the proverbial watch, even if it does occasionally morph into a Mickey Mouse dial.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Riverbend again...

A voice it is always good to hear. May your God walk beside you alway...

News updates -

First up - Ahmed Zaoui.

It has taken this long folks. From February 04
and again in November 04 I wrote on the strange tale of Ahmed Zaoui, former Algerian MP, religious scholar, and political refugee. At that time the "case" had been teetering along for some two years as the judicial processes of the NZ immigration system ground on exceeding slow.

Forefront to the hoha was a "Security Certificate" issued by NZ's version of the CIA, known locally as the Security Intelligence Service. It was believed, very strongly in some quarters, that Zaoui's "history" including convictions in France and Belgium were sufficient proof to have him excluded from NZ as an undesirable immigrant. What crimes he is convicted of has never been stated. It may well (I am guessing) for use of forged immigration papers; a crime common to many seeking refugee status.

What has happened in the past week or so is of some interest - not because of the "triumph to the people" fanfares from the media commentators, or perhaps even the fact that the unfavourable certificate has been withdrawn, but the vast background that has not and probably will never see the light of day.

So,, if you want to follow this as a news item I commend Granny Herald's articles here, here and finally here.

The second of these stories contains the following -
One of the reasons given yesterday for the SIS deciding Mr Zaoui is no longer a threat to New Zealand was that he had become "more candid" in his disclosures to authorities.

Both parties backed down to reach the unorthodox and face-saving compromise which allows the Algerian to stay in New Zealand under a written promise of good behaviour and co-operation with the SIS.


"Zaoui clearly gave [the SIS] all the information he had, just as he did the DST [French domestic intelligence service] when he was in France," the source added.

From France last night it emerged Mr Zaoui fears he could be targeted by former associates.

"Zaoui isn't a danger any more, he hasn't been for a few years and certainly won't be if he stays in New Zealand," the European intelligence source said.

"But he is under pressure from activists he once associated with and he wants protection from them."


The SIS says that although Mr Zaoui had some potentially dangerous associations with extremist groups in Europe, they did not mature into active support for terrorism.

OK, I accept their word that it is so, but how long ago did Zaoui tell them? We will never know. I will bet that it was not last week or even twelve months back.

Then from the last article -
Dr Tucker said Mr Zaoui was "clearly a risk" when he arrived in New Zealand in 2002 as he had convictions in France and Belgium for participating in and leading terrorist networks. He had been deported from Switzerland and was excluded from the UK.

But he said he had reviewed the position following new evidence presented by Mr Zaoui.

"I am now satisfied that in 2007 he is no longer considered to be a risk," Dr Tucker said.

His decision was based on:
- Mr Zaoui becoming "more candid" in the information he provided to the authorities in New Zealand

- newly received classified information which showed Mr Zaoui's associates were involved in terrorism, not Mr Zaoui himself

- the length of time he has been in New Zealand and the distance in time from the offences he was convicted of

Well we know why the last one - nearly five years in NZ custody for a starter...

All in all, it seems that "intelligence" services are the very oxymoron that the names imply. Try Stasi, CIA, SIS, and MI5 through the news reports for a start. KGB I suspect ranks more alongside the Mafia though the strange case of Litvinenko does strongly suggest otherwise. The Chinese seem to be no better given their attempts to hack the computers of various governments.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thoughts on Blogging...

I was reading around this morning whilst munching on a well buttered and marmaladed piece of toast and I ended up at Donklephant. Justin Gardner is "fairly centrist" and usually has a reasonably friendly melange from which to choose. What caught my eye this morning was a photo taken during a rugby game between Scotland and Portugal. He comments -
New photos at the bottom of the page this week. None as brutal as this one, but all interesting in their own right.

Now I could spend some pages on the so-called "brutality" of rugby. I could get quite upset at his choice of a photo taken at one of the minor matches of the Rugby World Cup. Actually I have a soft spot for Portugal (the team in red), and they were fairly well beaten by the Scots which is a shame.

I played rugby myself. Not very well. I was usually played at lock (as one of the tallest in the team and not very fast), or "blindside flanker".

Now that latter might require a bit of explanation. Rugby features a "scrum", its own form of the "huddle" (I think it is called that - where play in American Football is restarted) in which the eight forwards of each team are "packed" in a 3-4-1 formation against each other. The blindside flanker occupies the outside of the row of four on the side closest to the sideline. It is a very simple job. You flatten anything and everything that happens to be carrying the ball. As fastest over 10 metres and one of the slower over 20m I was well suited to it.

If it helps at all, the locks are the middle two of that row of four.

But that is not what I wanted to write about.

In my peregrinations through the blogiverse I have come across many blogs which are obviously written by journalists. Some (The Sciolist was one) have had to give the game up after their employer gave them the word that it was "not appropriate". Other journalists are openly encouraged to blog on behalf of their employer. There are also those journo's who are covert writers.

I don't know at all whether Martin is a journo. I suspect that he is, but it matters little in the case to hand. I want to make it very clear that he is not alone in what is to come...

In his "1000 words" story this week, Martin links here - where there is nary a hint of a photo let alone rugby. The first thing to catch my eye was this -
Use the mash button to embed a news story or a news feed (with advertising) onto your website or blog.
Register to earn a share of the advertising revenue each time mashed news is viewed on your site.

That may or may not be a good idea. It is not something that I would take up.

That leaves the "real" blogger - such as TF, Al, Dave and the other "private" bloggers who might start with a news story but usually put it into a personal perspective. It is this group who, irrespective of their politics, are generally the most interesting reads.

Oh, and Martin, I hope you don't mind me saying it but I have yet to find the rest of the "page" that you keep your 1000 words on. Some script editing might be required?

So to satisfy those curiosity urges go here and suck off the "Free Sample". I have no idea of the content other than it should contain some rugby. Look for a player with the number 6 on his back - he is the blindside flanker.

And there are photos from NZ vs Italy here


I had a moment of clarity yesterday - found out what was wrong with Justin's "1000 Words".

I use dial-up, and have turned OFF any system reference to Flash. Hence the (for me rather long) video files at the bottom of the page tend to stall. My bad. Luddite again. Heigh-ho!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Vale, Luciano...

One of the very great talents, one whom I could listen to even if the music was not in my favourites list. Dame Malvina Major described him as "a great instrument".

We are lucky indeed. His voice may be silent, but will still be heard in the many years ahead.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rand-om thoughts - 4

Forget about all of the stylistic complaints, the pat ending, the predictability of the plot, the fact that once past page 1000 (in the print I have) one gets the impression that Rand wanted to finish the story.

There are a couple things that need to be said about Part 3.

First is that Rand displays a considerable foresight in her depiction of the collapse of an economy. We have seen it in Russia, in Zimbabwe, it is in many respects an extension of the collapse of the German economy during the 1930’s. The detail might shift – the rise of the crime lords in Russia; the “privatization” of farmland in Zimbabwe; the fascist (but directed so similar in that respect) economy in Germany – and that may well have served as her model. But one has to admire Rand for the picture she paints. Who would have believed that the whole interstate transport system of the US was limited to one rail bridge across the Mississippi? But that is a small carp.

The second is that if Rand had wanted to shorten up the novel, she might have achieved that by leaving out the five separate expositions on Capitalism and Objectivism. They kinda form a book within the book. But again that is a small carp on the detail.

The third thing that really came home needs a step outside of Atlas Shrugged. It is not that long since I read (again, and with some considerable enjoyment) C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. The connection between the two? Lewis’ little novel, the last of the Perelandra series, features the conflict between the natural order (in the form of the planetary spirits or guides) and “the objectivists”. Lewis’ portrayal of the latter is very closely paralleled by Rand’s portrayal of the socialists/communists. Has that coloured my thoughts on Rand and her “objectivist” movement? That is possible. I will sit for a while on that and ponder further. If it is so, then it is a surprise for me as Rand’s philosophy in its broadest sense does connect with some of the outer fringes of my own beliefs.

I have left it to last, but the most interesting thing of all is the series of expositions by the major players – the bits that could perhaps have been left out of the story; the explanations of differing facets of Galt’s (Rand’s) capitalism by the members of Galt’s group, and the forty-odd pages allotted to Galt’s radio broadcast. All of these have been quoted at great length and discussed in even greater detail throughout the blogiverse by any number of devotees and disciples. I have no desire to add to that here.

What does strike me are in fact two minor offshoots.

First is the almost religious zeal of the supporters of Rand and her philosophies. Personally, I would not rate her that highly. I can find nothing in her “teachings” as they exist in Atlas Shrugged that would persuade me to follow her light, any more than Hubbard’s science fiction might convince me that Scientology is the future path of mankind. But there are obviously many – mostly American – who do rate Rand that highly.

The second is recognizing the number of times that Rand’s language and expression comes through the comments and posting of some of the more right wing of the blogiverse. I can not judge whether it is intentional, or purely because the language is “standard American political statement”. If I did not (now) know better, I would have attributed a large part of the expression to the propaganda of McCarthy, The House UnAmerican Activities Committee and similar organs of the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. As I have said, there is nothing that Rand would have taken from any of those sources (or so I am informed) which leaves the question open.

It is mirrored by the black/white nature of debate on the ‘Net. I can not blame Rand for that, it seems to be a fundamental to the American way of things – “My way or the highway” or “You are either with us or against us” if you like.

Finally, and to close this whole thing off, I am disappointed by Atlas Shrugged, given the hype and enthusiasm expressed by many. It is not any of literary significance or quality that is at issue here. It is in part style and content I admit. As I said earlier, there are parts of Rand’s thoughts which form part of my beliefs; there are areas where I could support her ideas. I can not say that Atlas Shrugged has in any persuaded me that she is more right than I. I can not say that I can agree with her philosophy in total by any stretch.

I can not explain that without writing my own philosophy – and that I am not prepared to do at present. It might happen in future.

Not now.

Monday, September 03, 2007

For TF

The current contents of my wallet -

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Who remembers the Mohammed cartoons?

From Sydney Morning Herald -
The head of Australia's Islamic Council believes a statue of the Virgin Mary shrouded in a burqa is not offensive, because it shows a key female figure of Islam in the modest fashion required of all Muslim women.

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday described as "gratuitously offensive" the statue and another artwork depicting a holographic image of Osama bin Laden that morphed into an image of Jesus Christ.

The artworks were entries into the Blake Prize for religious art.

But Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said the statue was "not at all offensive", because both the Virgin Mary and Jesus were revered figures in Islam.

"So [Mary wearing a burqa is] no different to how our mothers and sisters are expected to be modest in their dressing," he said.

But Mr Patel said he was affronted by the image of bin Laden's face blending into that of Jesus, who is deemed a prophet in Islam.

"You have a revered prophet of Islam being equated to somebody like Osama bin Laden.

"Also in Islam, we don't have any paintings or drawings depicting any of our prophets, so I find it quite offensive."

The Anglican bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, said he was surprised by offended reactions to the artwork.

"Christians are not about to go and kill people because someone did some cartoons - it's not the way we respond," he said.

He said the artwork comparing Jesus to bin Laden was "somewhat critical" rather than offensive.

"It raises questions about what they have got in common and how they are different - Jesus himself said there will be many false Christs that will arise," he said.

Christians ought to be cautious about "running to the press" to complain about being offended, he said.

"You need to limit the language of outrage to things that are really outrageous," he said.

"[Politicians] should get on with running the country. Even though they are Christian men it's not an area they should be commenting on."

Rod Pattenden, chairman of the Blake Society, which runs the Blake Prize, said controversy over the artworks was a "beat-up".

The competition "reflected on political, religious and contemporary issues" each year and the artworks have never been offensive, the Reverend Pattenden said.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, said: "As a person of faith and religious background I think it's important to reflect on the icons of our faiths.

"Unfortunately, some contemporary art is tedious and trivial. These couple of works demonstrate this.

"Regrettably, attempts to insult Jesus and Mary have become common in recent years, even predictable.

"Too often it seems that the only quality which makes something art is the adolescent desire to shock.

"If this is the best the Blake Prize can do, it has probably outlived its usefulness."

The Blake Prize was awarded last night to indigenous artist Shirley Purdie for her painting Stations of the Cross.

Strange perhaps that JH is one of those expressing offence. Mebbe something to do with impending elections and Closed Brethren?

A recent visitor

On our way out one morning we found this visitor on the floor inside the garage.

First to give an idea of scale, the body of this small gent is about 50mm (2 inches) long. Despite the fairly fearsome appearance - the manibles are visible and can give a fairly painful nip if he gets really annoyed. The earwig style "nippers" on the the rear have only one use and it is not defensive.

Say "Hi" to an ancient member of the cricket family. Native to NZ; feeds mainly on fungus and rotting wood; makes a very quiet chirrup; and smells of cinnamon during the breeding season.

Tena koe, weta.

Sir James Fletcher; Nic Nobilo

During the past weeks, NZ has seen the deaths of two of our greater "captains of industry".

From NZHerald -

Sir James Fletcher
Tributes poured in yesterday for construction giant Sir James Fletcher, 92, and leading winemaker Nick Nobilo, 94.

Both died peacefully in Auckland overnight on Wednesday.

Sir James was remembered as a visionary and "absolute gentleman" by business leaders, industrialists, politicians and figures in the art and sports worlds.

Known as Jim to his friends, he became managing director of the newly created Fletcher Holdings in 1942, at age 28.

He went on to create a business empire that included major stakes in New Zealand's first steel mill and the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill at Kawerau.

Fletcher Challenge was New Zealand's largest listed company until Telecom listed in the 1990s.

...John Hart, who was employee relations director at Fletcher Challenge, said Sir James was hugely respected by employees, trade unions, suppliers and customers.

"He was universally accepted as a very humble and a real gentleman, but obviously a great business visionary," he said.

"We have lost probably one of the best industrialist role models that we could ever have had."

Nic Nobilo
Mr Nobilo, a Croatian immigrant who founded Nobilo wines after arriving in New Zealand in the 1940s, was praised for creating an innovative company that is now the country's second-largest winery.

New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said he left an impressive legacy by building Nobilo into a company that led "the revolution in table wine" in the 1960s and 70s.

George Fistonich of Villa Maria wines said Mr Nobilo was an innovator who was also deeply proud of his culture and had supported his three sons in the wine industry.

Fathers Day - 2007

A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.
Louis Pasteur

So says the card given me by my beloved wife.

Here's to you Louis!!

Can I add, with the greatest of respect -
The realisation of that philosophy is beyond the reach of mortal man, but the pleasure thereof is taste beyond God!

My wife also bought me a small gift. A series of radio conversations collected in the book "As Far As We Know". Review in due course.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

...the sounds of silence...

HT to ALD for this little piece which certainly rings a bell or three with me.

The colonization of silence is complete. Its progress was so gradual that even those who watched it with alarm have only now begun to take stock of the losses. Reflection, discernment, a sustainable sense of tranquility, of knowing where and how to find oneself—these are only the most obvious casualties of marauding noise's march to the sea. Much more insidious has been the loss of music itself.

But wait, this can't be: Music is everywhere; we have more of it, available in more forms, more often, than at any time in human history. I can go to the web and find O King of Berio, Baksimba dances from Uganda, something really obscure like Why Are we Born (not to have a good time) of the young Buck Owens, even Pat Boone's version of Tutti Frutti; I can find all of the same at the mall. Surely this is a good thing. I can find renewal of spirit in Sur Incises of Boulez or stand aghast at the toxic grandiloquence of Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals. Music is everywhere. Long live it.

Just give me five minutes without it; that's all I ask, perhaps all I'll need to bring it back into being for myself. Imprisoned by it as I am now, assaulted in every store, elevator, voice-mail system, passing car, neighbor's home, by it and its consequent immolation in the noise of the quotidian, it is lost to me as anything other than a kind of psychic rape, a forced intimacy with sonic partners not of my choosing. When music is everywhere, it is nowhere; when everything is music, nothing is. Silence is as crucial to the musical experience as any of its sounding parameters, and not merely as a kind of acoustical "negative space." Silence births, nurtures, and eventually takes back the musical utterance; it shapes both the formation of its textures and the arc of its progress through time.

But it is not just music that suffers. Think of the "hearing experiences" that you, and your children, have had. The song of birds; the silence of a forest; the running of a stream; the drip off a leaf after rain.

As part of my recuperation I am doing a twice weekly gym session under the supervision of the physios at MM hospital - there are six of us ex-hearties there at each session. We finish up the activity with a relaxation period of about ten minutes. Because I have a bad tendancy to flake out when I stand up I have been tapping into the old and long forgotten TM of the sixties. Fun all round. Everyone else thinks I am a Buddhist and consequently more than a little strange. Well that I might be but not for the reason that I "relax" sitting cross legged rather than lying down.

Why does this have to do with the sounds of silence? Because the physios seem to think that everything must be done to noise - in the case of the relaxation period to some sort of mood muzak.

Waggoner closes his article out thusly -
One thing is certain: No luddite sensibility will save us; we've come too far, too fast. Even as I write this angry missive I, like every other musician I know, am striving to hear through the noise and find what is essential in it, what speaks uniquely of my and my neighborhood's experience and to sing of that in my music. To hate the media is to hate ourselves: we all want the big medicine in the magic box to touch us, to dazzle us, to heal us. We know that ultimately it can't, but we simply don't know how or when to stop, we're children eating Skittles; our mouths are full and we just want more. To pretend otherwise is, I think, poignant at best. But, at some point, stop we must. For now perhaps the best we can do as individuals is try not to be complicit in the occupation of our lives by music made noise. We don't have to listen to music all the time; we still have some, though not much, degree of choice when it comes to the quantity and quality of sound we experience in our everyday world. Exercising that choice wisely, with an ear for the complexity of the aural environment and the need for space within it, will constitute a big first step toward righting the imbalance.

In the meantime, the problem of silence remains.

I agree.

The answer is a lemon...

One thing that we in NZ are blessed with - from country village to major city - is water. Where there is reticulation ("government provided") the standard is generally very high. I can think of only one town where I have thought the water quality was less than "nice". It was a rural town that depended upon bores for supply and it was some 10 weeks since the last significant rain...

I have had to "learn" that balance between sufficient water in my body and triggering another bout of water retention and the onset of another gout attack - yes they are apparently connected. As a result I am down to two or less cups of coffee a day plus a cup of tea and during the rest of the day I get through perhaps a litre of cold plain water. That usually entails having a tumbler sitting on the kitchen bench or in the fridge for the occasional sip...

We have a Meyer lemon tree outside the lounge. It is grafted onto a miniature stock and is a very nice little tree with even nicer lemons. We get four crops a year off it. Well, normally we do. This last year the "second" and "third" crops were left on the tree too long with the result that the fourth crop went missing. The first thing I was told when I went looking for causes is that lemons like to be picked and not left on the tree.

I am now adding a couple slices of lemon to the glass of water that I have sitting on the bench.