Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why alternative fuels are wrong - 2

It takes 242kg (about 540lb) of corn to produce enough ethanol to fill the tank of an average RV just once. That would be perhaps (and someone can correct me here - I would be quite happy) 100 litres - 25 gal.

Now think about that 242kg.

That would be enough corn to fuel two humans for a year - given about 12 oz a day each.

How wrong is that!

Why alternative fuels are wrong - 1

Because they produce CO2.

How simple is that!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

One of the dangers...

...of flying model aircraft.

This is from the front cover of the latest NZ Model Fliers World, the official magazine of NZMAA. The photo comes from an on-board video camera on a model owned and flown by Ian Graham of Gore in the South Island.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I am not at all sure...

...err...whether the Jonkey will be at all ...errr... pleased with this little piece of... ummm.. news in today's... ummm... errr... Sunday Star Times. No sooner has he ... oh!! the Jonkey himself ... err announced his intention to ...errrmmmm... govern NZ from the ...ummm... comparative safety of ... errr... Maui than the old ...err... bogey of the Exclusive Brethren ...ummm... raises its ugly head once more.
Timothy Lough, an Exclusive Brethren businessman involved in the controversial 2005 leaflet campaign on behalf of the National Party, said no final decision had been made on whether to campaign again this year.

"Personally, I think things are moving in the right direction and why rock the boat? What I mean is just as far as the general polls and that go. Although things can change quickly," Lough said.

He said the Exclusive Brethren knew its involvement could be counterproductive for the National Party. "That's possibly something that we would consider. We're not thick . . . I guess you could say the climate towards us is different."

Ummm, well you got that...ahhh...Right, Timothy.

Alongside that is a small panel summarising some of National's policies - ummm... as they stand at the moment - against the desires of the Exclusive Bretheren.

Repeal of Civil Union Bill - currently a conscience issue, says Jonkey.

Repeal of legalisation of prostitution - currently a conscience issue, says Jonkey.

Policies that help small businesses - policy not yet announced.

Better funding for private schools - Under National, the EB stands to gain about $1 million in additional subsidies for its 15 schools.

Repeal of nuclear ships ban - Jonkey has ruled out any change.

Closer defence ties with US - to be worked on, says Jonkey.

Ummm, Jonkey, I think that the electorate's response will be a very clear.

Yeah, ummm, Right!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On pedants, pedantry and good language.

I am slowly dragging my way through the thoughts of JS Mill on “Utilitarianism”, a term which I firstly suspected coined by 21st century bloggers with an angle to promote but which to my chagrin I find was used by the good man himself.

I often struggle – as apparently does Obama among a very large number of other people – to find the right words to correctly express an idea that is floating through the probliverse. Sometimes the words are easy to find and are direct. In other instances it can become extremely difficult to put together the right words, in the right order, to properly express a fairly difficult concept.

I recall that when reading the Gita many many moons back, a good part of the Introduction, and many of the footnotes in the first few pages, guided the reader through the translation of the more religious terms and symbology. In many instances the “meaning” came down to there being “no direct equivalent” in the English language.

JS Mill had the same problem in a much more limited fashion. He uses the word “pleasure” as the nominator of a concept central to his argument. (There will be more to come on this later). As far back as Mill’s original publication, that term has been deliberately interpreted (or rather mis-interpreted) in order to oppose and denigrate his argument.

In more everyday situations, there is the same problem occurring between what could be considered different dialects of English – where the same etymology is used for quite different concepts. Most pronounced are the very slight differences between NZ and Australian English, and the differences between Australasian English and English English, or US English.

Another example that comes to mind is the old joke (probably more true than is admitted) about the Inuit, or the Lapps, or whoever, having a large number of terms for “snow”. AS an English word, “snow” has some twelve meanings (listed in First with the etymology for “frozen water falling from the sky in a specific form”, two of those meanings cover noun and verb. Second with the etymology “to obscure or mislead”, there are a further two meanings as noun and verb. Similar in intent is “to overwhelm with the intent to confuse”. There are further derivative meanings like “snow” on a tv screen, and the literary meanings attributing “snow-like” to other objects and concepts as well as the slang and street usages.

Essentially what this all comes down to is that English – as a language – can be said to have far too many words for a comparatively limited number of concepts. At the same time, there is also the criticism that English does not have the means of expressing alien concepts accurately other than by adopting the alien term (hence in the Gita, those terms not having direct or accurate English equivalents were presented in the original Sanskrit).

It has led, as a personal example, to my use of terms such as “mana” in the sense(s) that derive from the Maori word to express the appropriate emotive and respect responses that I am trying to put forward. I know that for an Australian or American, those responses would be far more limited than they would be from someone from Opononi or Whakatane.

The consequence is even more difficult to deal with. As Mill discovered, it can take a chapter in a book to clarify and express exactly what is meant by the term “pleasure”. That difficulty is increased geometrically when a reader intends that it should be mis-interpreted because the concept is not acceptable to him. My personal approach is to try and find a word where the first meaning in the dictionary is the concept that I wish to convey. That does not (in any way) prevent the intentional mis-interpretation. It does not stop the accusations (particularly from my wife) of my tendency to get quite pedantic about the meanings of words.

As for Mill, I thought I had a problem with sentence structure and readability. I take it back. My writing on average would be easy reading for a fifth-grader by comparison. Mill is convoluted, highly nested, and extremely precise writing. The typical sentence might contain as many as three or four levels – of noun and adjectival clauses – and often more than 50 words. Not easy going at all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mahinerangi Tocker MNZM 1956-2008; Mate.

Mahinerangi was one of those rare talents that is ignored by too many people; blessed with a fantastic voice, a deep knowledge of her cultural and musical roots, and the power to present both in humility and grace.

I heard her interviewed on radio, some time after she shifted to Mangonui to live, and she was commenting upon her (musical) relationship with influences as diverse as Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne at one end of the scale through to an oboeist from a Canadian symphonic orchestra with a delight in playing jazz at the other.

She was a champion of those suffering mental illness, participating in a major public campaign on chronic depression and bipolar disorder. She was a tireless worker in keeping the Maori musical culture alive. She was deeply involved in many aspects of Maori welfare and education.

She deserved a much older age.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

On nature vs nurture...

One of the more plausible politicians of any party in the House at present (and what a shame that he chose Winnie the Pooh as his leader) is Ron Mark. Now be clear here, I do not agree with everything that he says politically, and I have a very decided dislike for the views of his Leader. I say again, he strikes me as a fairly plausible guy.

This morning's Sunday Star Times has a fairly lengthy "human interest" story focussing on Ron the MP and his brother Tui the ex-leader of a criminal gang.

Some excerpts -
It was the neighbour who found the two small children late one night, sitting on the back doorstep of their darkened Carterton home, alone, locked out. Ron Mark was not much older than three, his sister Angela was seven.

"We'd been put on a goods train, and had walked from the railway station to home.

"This lady took us over and tried to find us some clothes and food and everything and found nothing in the house," says Mark.

Their parents? Mark shrugs. "Out somewhere, partying."

There is Ron, 54, the scrappy, energetic New Zealand First MP, who enlisted as a soldier at 16 and found his path out of the chaos. Now law and order is something of a personal calling, with his insistence that gangs should be outlawed, that the age of criminal responsibility should fall to 12, and his passionate attacks on "scumbag, low-life gangsters".

Also here, under a New Zealand flag and a wall of armed forces memorabilia, is Mark's little brother Tui Mark, now 50, who tried to follow his brother into the army but was rejected. Instead he rose through the criminal ranks to become a Black Power president.

And then one day when Ron was 11, and Tui was seven, the boys were told Ron would be going to a new foster family. Tui would not be coming.

"It was the only connection, it was the last connection. He was the only one in my family I was brought up with," says Tui. He remembers feeling lost.

But Ron found himself in a whole new world of opportunity and affluence. His new foster parents were Gordon Thorburn, a big wheel in the agriculture business, and Gordon's wife Sylvia. Ron and the three Thorburn kids were treated to holidays away, fishing and hunting.

All the same, Ron Mark struggled at school, and was at times wild and rebellious. He believes ultimately what saved him was the order and self-discipline he learned in the army. Even there, he was initially close to being thrown out, before finally settling down.

Meanwhile, Tui too was showing early signs of a life at odds with authority. Was there a fork in the road that ultimately led to the gangs?

Tui Mark is right back there in his mind. He is about 14, and trying to follow the brother he rarely sees into the army. But he is wearing a cast on his upper body because of a congenital back problem.

"When I went to apply to get into the army, they refused to consider me ever, EVER again," he says with great vehemence. Then he flicks back into wry detachment. "I think I might have taken offence."

Within a few years of leaving school at 15, Tui Mark was in prison. Then in 1977, not long after emerging from jail, he passed a recruitment test of a different kind.

Visiting an Upper Hutt pub known to be a Black Power haunt, he came back from the toilet to find his jug of beer gone.

"So I stepped them all out. I got my jug back, and drunk it and left. They arrived at my place the next day and wouldn't go until I came along with them to see their president. He just offered me a patch straight away," says Tui.


BUT IN about 1996, as Ron Mark entered parliament as a New Zealand First MP, Tui Mark's life was also changing. After 20 years in Black Power he began to doubt the path he had taken, and decided the whole chapter should retrain and join the trades.

Tui Mark wanted them to earn the respect of their town in a new way, "which seemed a lot better than waiting till your neighbour goes out and ripping them off".

He began training for a qualification in boatbuilding, working with steel and marine welding. But his brothers in arms didn't want a new life.

"They don't seem to want to think for themselves, or get ahead by themselves. They seem to want to be held up by both shoulders and carried through life. That's their excuse to stay patched up."

In frustration Tui Mark closed down the chapter, depatched his members, and headed to the South Island to try to make a new life. He failed to get the qualification he was seeking. A prison term interrupted.

Ron Mark of course has called for the law to be changed to make it a criminal offence to belong to a gang, saying it would be a condition of coalition with New Zealand First at the next election. Would such a policy work?

"Of course not!" says Tui Mark.

"Because people like Ronnie and Michael Laws are making it easier for the gangs.

"Take the patches off and put the suits on, and then we won't know who youse are any more. You're still a pack of criminals, but we're not going to know that any more, are we?"

But he does agree with his brother that education and real rehabilitation in prisons are keys to turning around lives. So is he impressed by what his brother Ron has achieved?

"Well, do I impress him? Did I impress him when I was president? That was meant to be impressive for him," says Tui, looking at his brother. Then he flashes a grin.


"There are no excuses in my mind for the life that he's led actually. He had very good foster parents. Out of the two of us he had more stability. Ten or 11 years with the same foster parents. Come on," he [Ron] says.

"But to the day I die, I will wonder whether moving from the Fields to the Thorburns was good for Tui.

"Who knows. Maybe I could have, as an 11-year-old boy, changed that. Maybe I could have said `no, I don't want to leave my younger brother'.

It is a quiet and fascinating image of two separate lives.

Two brothers - two very different paths.

On judgement, on prejudgement and prejudice...

TF has recently posted on the subject of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I make no criticism of his statement, in fact it is interesting and to the point.

I am using it (abusing TF?) to make an much wider point.

TF outlines briefly the difference between FLDS and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and then branches into the matters of belief and difference with particular reference to Oprah Winfrey and her support of Obama. What that has to do with the FLDS escapes me, but it makes for an interesting read.

The FLDS has hit the news (again) as a result of their support for polygamy and hence TF's need to distinguish between that and the LDS as the "true" belief.

My mind turns in a different direction, turning more on the impact that a small, extreme group can have on a much wider community. There are probably so many examples that might be chosen; the Asian populations in Auckland about whom Winnie the Pooh has already been beating his electoral drum.

There is one very big example that I want to turn to - one which potentially involves some 1/3 of the global population.

As the consequence of the actions of one small group, numbering at that time no more than perhaps 100,000, the whole of the Islam belief and culture has been promoted, castigated, labelled, and criticised as "terrorists". Exclude the "Palestinians" from this as they pre-existed the actions of AlQaeda by a long way in both distance and time.

As a result of that, Islam is now degraded in the minds of much of the Western world to the status of cultural and religious pariahs irrespective of their beliefs.

That, dear friends, differs not at all from judging the LDS on the basis of the beliefs and actions of the few nutters who make up the FLDS.