Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Story...

The best of the Christmas stories for this year, and I fail to see how any could best it unless the Pope is caught in bed with a call-girl would have to be the brou-haha that blew up around the ears of the Vicar at St Matthew in the City.

This is a church with some personal connections; my step-mother was Deacon there for a number of years, she and at least one of my sisters were bell-ringers. It is a very handsome church, well preserved and well supported.

It is also known for being one of the more open and inclusive Anglican churches in the city. No less so this Christmas...

From Herald last Thursday (17 Dec.)
The vicar of St Matthew's, Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, said: "Progressive Christianity is distinctive in that not only does it articulate a clear view, it is also interested in engaging with those who differ.

"Its vision is one of robust engagement," he said.

But the Auckland Catholic Diocese has called the image inappropriate, disrespectful and offensive to Christians.

Spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said that for a church to put up a poster which implied the Virgin Mary and Joseph had just had sex was disrespectful to the church.

"Our Christian tradition of 2000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph," she said. "Such a poster is inappropriate and disrespectful."

Mrs Freer said the idea that the poster was made to provoke conversation amongst non-Christians was not a defence, but completely offensive.

On Friday...
A paint-bomb attack on a controversial Christmas billboard will not stop the church from continuing its campaign, church leaders said yesterday.

A replacement has been ordered after the billboard was defaced about six hours after it was put up outside St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland.

By Saturday...
A paint-bomb attack on a controversial Christmas billboard will not stop the church from continuing its campaign, church leaders said yesterday.

A replacement has been ordered after the billboard was defaced about six hours after it was put up outside St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland.

The image depicts the Virgin Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, in bed together.

A person was seen defacing the image just after 4pm yesterday, covering Mary's face, Joseph's face and the slogan that read: "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow."
Church leaders at St Matthew's said the point of the image was to get people thinking about the Christmas story.

Yesterday St Matthew's communications manager, Clay Nelson, said the defaced billboard would stand for a day, as a testament to the single-minded view that some people had.

"They are driven to give threats and abuse - and [yet] they say 'we love Jesus and he loves us'. I'm sorry, but they don't get the irony of their behaviour.

Earlier, the parish defended the billboard, even though the Bishop of Auckland, John Paterson, had slammed it as "insensitive" and said he was disappointed at St Matthew's decision to continue with the display.

As the story spread around the world yesterday and church staff were interviewed on American TV stations, a defiant Archdeacon Cardy told the Herald: "I know what the bishop said. But at this stage we have no plans to take it down."
Archdeacon Cardy said the billboard was designed to let people outside the church realise that many Christians and church leaders did not believe in the literal virgin birth, and didn't believe that was the true meaning of Christmas.

"We're not out just to deliberately stir the pot. We're out to critique the idea of a male god impregnating Mary and the literalism of the virgin birth.

"The topic is ... something the church has talked about for centuries, but what is new is that we have the audacity to laugh at something quite so ridiculous as a male god

OK TF, sit back and relax. I am not going to use this to make fun of the Church.

There is need though to sit back and reflect. Not just, as the Vicar of St Matthew wished, on the story of the conception of Jesus. There is a need for some Christians to examine with care the justification of fundamental beliefs, and the extent to which some believers are prepared to react to perceived slights and insults. In my mind there are people, even within the major churches, whose response brought back memories of Islam's reaction to the Mohammet cartoons of a few years back.

And as Clay Nelson said - some people just do not get it.

UPDATE Forgot the photo and discovered "some" three times in one sentence.

All of the quotes included are from NZ Herald on the days indicated. Thanks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Well, I guess that some questions...

are just too hard to answer.

Those who read TF Stern with any regularity will know his politic, his attitude to global warming. His latest writing centres on an article reporting an incident at a press conference involving one Professor Scneider.
McAleer, a veteran journalist and film maker, has recently made a documentary “Not Evil Just Wrong’ which takes a sceptical look at the science and politics behind Global Warming concerns.

He asked Professor Schneider about his opinions on Climategate – where leaked emails have revealed that a senior British professor deleted data and encouraged colleagues to do likewise if it contradicted their belief in Global Warming.
Professor Schneider, who is a senior member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said he would not comment on emails that may have been incomplete or edited.

During some testy exchanges with McAleer, UN officials and Professor Schneider’s assistants twice tried to cut short McAleer’s question.

However as the press conference drew to a close Professor Schneider’s assistant called armed UN security guards to the room. They held McAleer and aggressively ordered cameraman Ian Foster to stop filming. The guard threatened to take away the camera and expel the film crew from the conference if they did not obey his instructions to stop filming Professor Schneider.

The guard demanded to look at the film crews press credentials and refused to allow them to film until Professor Schneider left the room.
McAleer said he was disappointed by Professor Schneider’s behaviour.

“It was a press conference. Climategate is a major story – it goes to the heart of the Global Warming debate by calling into question the scientific data and the integrity of many scientists involved.”

“These questions should be answered. The attempts by UN officials and Professor Schneider’s assistant to remove my microphone were hamfisted but events took a more sinister turn when they called an armed UN security officer to silence a journalist.”

TF followed this line with a fairly heated line on suppression of the freedom of the press, and leading to the failure of the media to give the fullest publicity that he felt the incident deserves.

(Right so far TF?)

Now there are two parts here as far as I am concerned.


The first is the nature of a press conference; its purpose and the rights of those involved. If one takes the time to watch the process rather than the just letting it flow over there are three things you will note;

1. The process has a purpose, an objective. It is to pass a message to the media. In this instance the professor was publicising the release of his latest book.

2. There are standards of courtesy that are usually observed. Those courtesies generally tend to favour the person presenting the conference. It is little different whether the person is presenting a scientific paper, a political statement or a religious sermon.

3. One of those courtesies relates to the asking of questions, the presentation of responses to those questions, and allowing a range of questions to be asked.

Think for a moment about the normal (usually weekly) press conference held by a very senior politician; I am thinking here President or Prime Minister. The press conference is a very good mechanism for the presentation of current action, flying future kites, and generally making the politician look good. The other side of the rostrum is looking for that vital piece of news that is going to headline the 6 oclock news on tv, or the front page of the next morning's newspaper.

Now think for a moment what might happen if a journalist or media publisher were to not observe the niceties, the courtesies of the press conference. In the extreme, he/she could be banned from the process leaving them without the direct contact with the "news maker". I can think of one instance here, a famous one in NZ, where a Prime Minister refused to attend his own press conference "as long as that charlatan is in there. Get him out!" The clash began with a series of questions at an ealier press conference and a rather inflamatory editorial piece combined with an excellent lampoon of the PM (the journalist was/still is an excellent cartoonist). I can recall "exclusion" being threatened by GWB against one journalist and his network for similar incourtesies. It is not all that uncommon.

So I arrive at the second part.

How does this apply to the situation that started TF's rant?

The Professor, whose conference was disrupted, was faced with a person whose intentions were (very obviously to my mind) to disrupt the proceedings, to use it to present his own and very contrary views, to suppress as far as possible the publication and dissemination of the proceedings of the true purpose of the conference.

In my mind the Professor's inital response to this un-house-trained puppy was polite and controlled. The repetitive, long-winded, and loud demands from the floor very quickly passed any acceptable limits. No one else in the room could ask a question simply because they were being shouted down.

Another parallel for you, TF. If I were to walk uninvited into your family Christmas celebrations and began preaching atheism through a megaphone with a mate videoing your and your family's reactions for the news I can imagine your reaction. I would be lucky to leave the room intact, if at all with my life.

The professor, rather than taking that extreme himself relied upon the (very tight) security being provided for all of the participants at the Copenhagen shindig.

To summarise -

If that wally, that rude, persistent, totally unwanted, self-appointed, self promoting idiot, that moron wishes to present his personal views he has the right to freedom of speech. He can without fret nor favour hold his own press conference. He might even be allowed to hold it as part of the Copenhagen conference.

What would be really interesting (if he were to do this) would be the attendance at his press conference. I think that if I were a journalist at Copenhagen I might be tempted to go. But the resulting article would be very similar to Tom Scott's views on Rob Muldoon.

Friday, December 04, 2009

On matters of health - and great fortune...

I make little secret of the fact that, at age 13, I became epileptic. I had what I know as "Juvenile onset gran mal". I also know that I am one of the very lucky ones who "grow out of it".

There are many others who are greatly less fortunate.

I saw the headline link at (what used to be)Jack Grant's Random Fate blog.
My chest was to his back. My right leg was thrown over his right hip. At first he made a smacking noise with his lips, as if a cow was chewing his cud beside me. I thought I heard him ask for something. I might have just been falling to sleep myself. But this mouth thing caught my attention. My arms tightened around him. He started to shake. I thought, "Is he having another one?"

"I'm right here with you baby." I held him even tighter. He'd told me to hold him tight if this ever happened when we were together.

Read the whole article. It is sensitively and well written.

I want to pick up on the end of it.
He's had epilepsy for over fifteen years. He lost his license and his job fifteen years ago. Medicare says he's not "disabled enough." He has no insurance because after rent he has three hundred dollars per month on which he keeps himself alive. He goes to the free clinic every three months to wait in line for four hours to see his doctor and get his meds.

This is how a man who was Varsity all three years, MVP'd often, who then drove heavy machinery fifteen years for a city he loved, fell through the cracks. He's not disabled enough to receive any help from our government. This is the land of the free and the brave? I don't think so.

Those who fight and bellow at the perceived injustices of social health programmes might like to explain how their ideas would provide this man with the health services he requires.

Oh and so that you know, my health insurance carries a 5% loading for my juvenile epilepsy. I was able to get my driving license at 22, after 3 years clear of fitting and not being on (some fairly scary) drugs including phenobarbitone (barbiturate). I am lucky indeed.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On education and children -

Went to the library yesterday to select some reading for the holiday period. One of the books I selected has this little gem which I would like to dedicate to Al the Ol' Whig following his post on the topic of educating children -

On The Birth Of His Son.

Families, when a child is born,
Want it to be intelligent.
I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a tranquil life
By becoming a Cabinet Minister.

Now, I can not resist the temptation...

Roughly when was that little poem written, and where?

Answer - posted 6 Dec

Su Shi (Su Tungpo) 1037-1101) China (obviously)
Quoted translation taken from "The Art Of China" - Jason Steuber.

Where to next?

At some point in the past few days I heard a radio interview with an expert on genetics. Amongst the interesting things covered in the course of the interview was the thought that Homo Sapiens as a species is an evolutionary dead-end.

Amongst the prim-misses he put forward for the delusion was the idea that H-S has evolved to the point of becoming technology-dependant. To support this, he put forward the idea that anyone trying to survive on a totally raw diet (no restrictions on content or quantity) would die within two months from starvation. Why? For the simple reason that we have lost the means of producing natural enzymes essential for the digestion of totally raw food, and also lost the symbiotic bacteria ditto.

An interesting thought. Where are we going as a species? Do we help the long-term survival of the species through our increasing reliance on technology, and especially medical advances. I have made the comment quite a few times now that 100 years ago I would have been lucky to have seen out my 40's.

In another recent discussion it was stated that the commonly accepted age of retirement of 65 years actually comes from a scientific paper of the mid-1800's based on the fact that by then 50% of all people have in fact died. Now, we have advanced to the point where mean life expectancy (50% die before reaching it) is something like 78.

Staying with the "evolutionary dead-end" for the moment, a recent death here in Auckland pointed to another aspect of the same. The Coroner this past week heard evidence into the death of a restaurant patient who had died of an allergic reaction to either peanuts or shellfish. Sad for him and for the family, I acknowledge, given the circumstances. It raised again the question in my mind (following the radio interview I started with) about the continuing viability of the species. There are any number of human deficiencies (including heart defects of the kind I suffer(ed) from) which in times past would not have been continued in the total population other than as the occasional mutation. Thinking back, allergies were almost unheard of in my childhood, there were people who "died suddenly" of "heart failure" usually, who might well have been affected by peanut allergy or bee-sting allergy or similar. Now, (if you add them all together; allergies, coeliac, auto-immune diseases like arthritis) there is an increasing proportion of the total population who survive long enough to pass on their defective genes when in time past they would not have survived long past puberty at best.

The third thought that impinges comes from my sister's efforts to eliminate "curly calf" and Neuropathic Hydrocephalus from her herd. Again, and this leads into the question of "line breeding", is the "purity of line" more important than the long-term genetic stability of a species.

So, where do we go next as a species? Should we be looking to restricting medicine and medical treatments to those who can maintain a healthy gene stock? Are we (as a species and reportedly the descendants of as few as 2000 individuals) so badly line-bred that we can not guarantee long-term survival? Evolution (as a product of adaptation) seems well gone into the past. In all likelihood, given the opening prim-misses, we can no longer adapt. We are nailed solidly to our cross of technology.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

A little belated perhaps, but a thoughtful wish to all in America for a happy Thanksgiving. From my contact with the business world over there I know this is the last chance for a reasonable holiday before the privations of winter set in especially for those in the north.

A post by TFS brought this to mind. Being the man that he is, his emphasis is almost entirely on the religious aspects of Thanksgiving as primary. He links to another like-minded person who gives a quotation from Frenchman De Tocqueville.
The religion which declares that all are equal in the sight of God, will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law. Religion is the companion of liberty in all its battles and all it conflicts; the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims.

As one might expect, there should be (as I see it at least) one huge lot more than that for America to be thankful for.

It is horrendously out of context, I know, but no more so that the original quote and quite likely the translation as well. Not being a French-speaking scholar of De Tocqueville I am not going to take it any further than that.

First up, as I pointed out to TFS, that passage was written in the mid-1800’s, 1851 if Wiki is to be believed. At that time “citizen’s rights” were defined in a manner that would today rank beside the likes of Iran, 1950’s South Africa, and China.

To be clear, I am including under the heading of “citizen’s rights” such forgotten things as –

The right to vote.
The right to own property.
The right to unrestricted travel.

Those rights were not universal in the US in the 1850’s. I have to concede that the right to vote was not universal in NZ until 1869.

That being the case, the thought led me to think what would I be thankful for if a similar religious festival were in place in NZ.

First I think would have to be for the blessing (look it up in the Oxford TF, I am not going religious yet. It means “something to be thankful for…”) of having been born in this country, for its freedom, its bounty and beauty.

Immediately after that would come the people who have fought to make it, and keep it, that way. The likes of Hobson, Williams, Hone Hika, Te Whiti, as the foundation stones, followed by Kate Shepheard, Apirana Ngata, and even Richard Seddon and Michael Joseph Savage would be worth a passing thought. The servicemen and women of the six wars fought overseas – Boer, WW1, WW2, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam.

It is there that the difference would lie. I doubt that many of those listed would consider themselves “divinely inspired” apart from Williams who was a Minister and Missionary. For the rest, I suspect that much of what they achieved would fall into the “95% perspiration” category.

So it is likely that if I were in America now, I would be thanking a whole bunch of people for their work and sacrifice in building what America is today and striving to keep and better all that is good in that nation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On being responsible for the development of a new superhuman

Hat tip to Al (old whig) for this one.

Your child is a DoublePlusHuman. Don't make him or her into any less than that. Instead, strive to grow with him or her.

I say this as someone who was a child once and who has gone through the whole process of being programmed and then deprogrammed. I was for a while a mere drone, subject to the whims of social norms. I felt rebellion so many times in my childhood and felt terribly guilty for it. Now I understand I was right. When my parents told me they love me I felt smothered because anything I do imperfectly was not enough to make up for her love. When my parents told me life was suffering I did not want to believe. Today I know I was right, about nearly everything. If there was someone to show me what I know today, many of my current compulsions which limit my present personal freedom would not exist.

Children are not blank canvases that you can paint whatever you wish on. They already are masterpieces. You just have to let them flourish.

I have two objections to this.

The first is that every child is different. While not trying to contradict the general thrust of the line of thought, the idea has to be put into the context of individual ability.

The second is that (from my experience) an enormous part of child-raising these days is predicated on the (often quite unreasonable) expectations of the parents. I must say that this is very much a two-edged sword; that sometimes the parental expectations can undershoot their child’s actual ability by a very long way.

I left Al with the thought that “There is always that very tentative balance between guiding and restricting development of a child, and providing the social skills and morals needed to cope with living in society.”

Rather than the “programmed and de-programmed” description from the author I would describe it as more of a process of “learning and refinement”. I would like to think that I was a fairly “moral” child though there could be some debate about that if I were totally honest.

I have to confess to having very little ability in social interaction, especially in my youth. I was at one level shy, backward, and felt very awkward dealing with other people. Social contact with girls was totally foreign to me, to the extent that at the age of 13 at a school social the old man had to quite literally drag me out of a film (being shown for the parents) and into the room down the hall where there was a dance. Dance? How?? With GIRLS? By the end of the evening I had sort of cottoned on to Military Two-step and Quadrille. Trying a foxtrot had me quite literally in a sweat. And as for the last waltz!! Say no more.

Five years later I wasn’t much better. I was living in Auckland, away from the family, having to cope on my own.

Five years after that, I had managed to talk a very nice young lady into marrying me so I must have learned some social skills by that time.

Another five years and I am responsible for the education and raising of my own first-born. How the h3!! do I do that??

Yes, children are very much "blank canvasses". I see my responsibility as a parent to put the frame around that canvas. To limit the development of the picture to the kind of norms I consider to be appropriate for society but at the same time to not influence the shape and form of the picture.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The massacre at Fort Hood -

Just cleaning things up at the end of the week, and with the news of Fort Hood breaking on the radio...

I am sitting here listening to Portishead "Third", and as I write the track "Machinegun" is playing, and the neighbours are setting fire to money again in the form of fireworks to celebrate the unsuccessful attempt by Catholic terrorists to blow up the Protestant-run English Parliament.


I saw a saviour
a saviour come my way
I thought I'd see it
at the cold light of day
but now I realise that I'm
Only for me

if only I could see
You turn myself to me
and recognise the poison in my heart
there is no other place
no one else I face
remedy, we'll agree, is how I feel
here in my reflecting
What more can I say?
for I am guilty
for the voice that I obey
too scared to sacrifice a choice
chosen for me

if only I could see
You turn myself to me
recognise the poison in my heart
there is no other place
no one else I face
The remedy, to agree, is how I feel

(Subject to all of the strictures of copyright etc which is why I have included the link to the source in the heading)

Those lyrics I find strangely appropriate to the sad events at Fort Hood. This was not a political or terrorist act any more than Columbine, or the Pennsylvania shootings were the work of terrorists.

It is a criminal act, carried out by a man who has to fall into at least two of the "mad, sad, bad" categories. That in no way lessens the nature of the shootings. It in no way lessens the impact on families and their community.

So that is why I put the lyrics in.

I can hear the screams of rage against all Muslims. I can imagine the more extreme wanting to lynch all of the Muslims and anyone else who dresses funny just to be sure.

I saw a saviour
a saviour come my way
I thought I'd see it
at the cold light of day
but now I realise that I'm
Only for me

If you can find a P2P copy of "Machinegun" have a listen. I enjoy Portishead's music because it makes me think

Thursday, November 05, 2009

On the state of health - 1

There was an interesting comment over at TF's place stating (and I can't for the moment think of a reasonable response to it) that the Federal government "has no place in providing health services". As should be well known to readers here, that is certainly not the case in NZ. Mind you, the commenter did continue to say that it was a State responsibility, and that perhaps is the reason why I am at a bit of a loss about it.

There is one very direct parallel between NZ and the US though, and it centres on the role of the private system and medical insurance providers.

To that end there was a very interesting and somewhat blood-chilling little article in SST this week...
RISING HEALTHCARE costs have reached crisis point, pushing families to give up their health insurance and fall back onto the straining state system, says Ian McPherson, chief executive of Southern Cross Medical Care Society.

The not-for-profit insurer saw claims rise by $61 million in the year to June and McPherson said factors behind the claims blowout included the amount private surgeons earned and costly new medical technologies with little or no proven clinical benefit.

For the time being, my salary package includes medical insurance through Southern Cross at a cost of something like $35 per week. That looks like increasing by a bit in the near future.
"How much will people be able to continue to pay and not object?" McPherson asked.

"We have seen a significant downgrading from policies that are far more general to policies covering the extreme emergencies. It is difficult for people to downgrade any more. There is a significant number sitting on the bottom rung and about to jump off into the public system again."

Rising costs for Southern Cross could also feed the already rapid rise in the state's healthcare bill. Consultant Paul Winton, author of a report in August – Health, New Zealand's untreated addiction – said current trends suggested healthcare costs could grow from 20% of core government spending to 40% in 15 years.

McPherson said Southern Cross had begun engaging with GPs on the premium-affordability crisis, and the subtext is clear – the insurer wants to see GPs direct patients away from the more expensive private surgeons.

"We are not going to tell GPs who to refer their patients to," McPherson said, but "we would like GPs to be mindful about the cost rather than referring out of habit. Giving them an incentive to help manage our budgets is something we are exploring with them now."

Southern Cross has been developing a network of affiliated providers, but McPherson said as yet it would be a step too far to require their use in the same way a car insurer would require a claimant to go to an approved panelbeater.

Now there is little wrong with the Southern Cross response to the problem so far as I am concerned.

The truth of the matter is though that McPherson's prognosis in the opening paras is only too true. Even given the present premium levels there is little chance that I will be able to afford the present cover into my retirement. There is no question that I will become increasingly reliant upon the public health service. Not that I have any problem with that, as it has certainly been "good value" for me.

McPherson said there were instances where it appeared that profit motive and not clinical outcomes were driving that price upwards.

He cited the example of robot-assisted prostatectomy surgery which costs $30,000 compared to the $15,000-$20,000 of conventional surgery, without evidence of faster recovery or better clinical outcomes.

Southern Cross's reaction in this case was to pay only a "contribution" to the cost of the robot-assisted surgery.

Why were surgeons using it? "Because it is fun. Because it is interesting. Because you can get a margin on your investment."

Hmmm, sounds a bit like "boys toys" no?

Let's set the parameters here.

First, medicine is about curing diseases, mending injuries, and providing palliative care for the dying.

Second, it is a very highly skilled and for most a stressful occupation. (I am basing that on the comments made to me by the three medical doctors in the club I belong to). People who fit those parameters in any field deserve to earn more than those of us who cruise below the radar doing little more than subsist. There is also, as any capitalist will tell you, the need and justification for recovering a return on capital invested; let's face it, I will tell you that as an accountant.
Terry Moore, president of the Private Surgical Hospitals Association, said: "We are conscious of the increases in costs which ultimately, if left unchecked will mean fewer people will be able to afford to go private themselves."

Moore said uncontestable clinical proof of new technologies could take years to emerge, but acknowledged they were stoking cost escalation along with wages and surgeons' fees.

McPherson also hit out at fees in his annual report to members last month. "We hear the argument that [surgeons] are part of a globalised workforce; we point out that if their prices increase to reflect overseas rates, fewer New Zealanders will be able to afford private surgical services."

Boscawen [right wing MP] is of similar mind, arguing that the globalised workforce is more of a westernised workforce, because the wages earned by quality doctors from India, for example, where cataract surgery is cheap, are having no effect on the fees charged by private surgeons here.

Moore countered: "Surgeons are generally independent practitioners and contractors so they pretty much set their own fees in a competitive market, but I don't think the fees have gone up much more than the medical inflation rate. They have become more efficient so they are probably earning more, but probably working harder for it and doing more procedures."

He said rising premium costs for health insurers were also driven by the sheer number of procedures being done, not just the cost of each one.

All true, well I have difficulty disagreeing with most of it so it must be. No confirmation bias here!

But there are some interesting contradictions. For example, the hospitals (Moore, above) are trying to argue that "economies of scale" ideas do not apply; "rising premium costs for health insurers were also driven by the sheer number of procedures being done, not just the cost of each one." I would have thought that (as my wife found out when she had cataracts removed from one eye) being able to "mass produce/production line" operations would lead to some savings. If it costs the insurer $4M to provide 1100 cataract operations then does increasing the number by 20% mean a 50% increase in cost? It does if "industry" is currently running at or above capacity.

There is a secondary impact too, coming out of the combination of developing technology (and that is everything including drugs and personal skills) together with societal expectations. The best indicator I can give for this effect I wrote on some while back (2006?? Sheesh!) is the example of herceptin - a treatment drug for a specific kind of breast cancer. That example ended up as a $3 million programme to treat roughly 20 women per year or about $150,000 each.

No one can blame those women for wanting (or deserving) the best possible treatment, and outcome. Exactly the same justification existed in the 1970's when open heart surgery was being developed by the likes of Barratt-Boyes and the other researchers in US, Europe and South Africa. Today, that surgery is routine. Auckland Hospital does two or three operations per day at a cost each of (I was told) about $75,000.

[To be continued...]

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

State of Health - 2

Returning to Southern Cross, the pressures of increasing demand for new treatments and higher technology solutions are having impact. It is leading to the prospect of large increases in premiums. In many cases the premiums are already too high to be affordable - note SC's own comments on people not renewing, or down-grading, current cover.

Further, these impacts are being felt in the public health system as well. The herceptin debacle was eventually funded (in the first year) out of Auntie Helen's Charity Fund (otherwise known as "The Prime Minister's Discretionary Fund") but I do not doubt that it is now an established part of Vote Health.

If we look behind the political rhetoric and wailing and gnashing of teeth there is a very fundamental problem with the provision of health services. Essentially, no one wants to die. I can't blame people for feeling that way. After all, we have the ability today to ensure the survival of some 1% of all live births who when I was born would have been "sad but inevitable consequences" of premature birth. I would be one of the last to try and suggest that we should turn our backs on that ability. We have the ability to turn around the lives and health of reprobates like the ol' probligo with what is now a relatively routine opration, complex but routine. On pure observation, there must be some 1,000 people a year whose lives are improved immeasurably if not saved as a result. Those having pacemakers fitted come into a further 1000 a year. That is just one hospital.

The problem of the cost is one that has actually been with us for a lot longer than we might want to admit. It is not limited to NZ either.

If I return to the commenter whose thoughts started all of this off, I wish him and TF and everyone fighting the good cause against Obama the very best of luck. Why? Because the choice is very simple.

Generally, private insurance and health providers are by their very nature required to make a return on their investment if not an additional return for those whose money made the investments in the first place. The argument in favour of public provision is based (in theory) on universal cover and no profit.

Irrespective of how you add those two quite different proposals there are common impacts upon how much has to be paid for them. I have covered those already.

The truth is that there is a limit between cost, availability, technology and outcome; a "mathematical" limit as well as economic and "social".

The ultimate and universal outcome for all is death. The "social" end of the limit wants that outcome minimised as far as possible and delayed for as long as possible given that it is a certainty for all (at least at present). There is much that can be argued about the causes and nature of a person's death. I do not think that this is the place for that debate other than to suggest that its inevitability has to be recognised.

The ultimate technology would have to be (effectively) eternal life. There was comment made last night on tv that in the Middle Ages the average life span was 30 years. A man of 40 would be considered elderly. A man of 60 years almost unheard of. Needless to say, aging diseases such as cancer, alzheimers, coronary heart disease were unheard of and unrecognised. In the 1800's in Europe and America, the average lifespan might have increased to 55. In the past 15 years the average lifespan for men in NZ has increased from 71 to 82; the life expectancy of a newborn is something like 62, but once past the age of 15 it increases to 85. It is expected that the number of people reaching 100 years in 60 years time will be double that of the present day. In very large part that increase in life expectancy is the result of improving technology.

The ultimate in availability is universal. It is here that most of the heat and darkness arises. "Why should I pay..." is fundamental to both sides; with the sentence ending "...for anyone else" on one side and "...more than the true cost" on the other leading to "...more than I can afford" again on the other side of the lake. What must be decided by society, not by the medical profession or the government, is who should be able to access medical services. The "rich" will always be able to afford to buy; "rich" because that is a matter of perspective as much as it is of fact (compared to half of NZ I am a "rich" man yet as I said at the beginning paying for personal medical insurance is almost out of reach).

The decision on public health services needs to come back to the fundamentals I began with - curing diseases, mending injuries, and providing palliative care for the dying.

The debate must centre on the immediate cost of treatment against the benefit to society of the likely outcome. Is that a simple judgement? Not in my book! What is certain is that it is a necessary debate. Nor can the availability of health services be limited to those with the ability to pay. There has to be a universality in health services. The scope of that universality has to be unlimited. That means that the universal care will necessarily provide services which are below the available technology and ability.

Not an attractive thought.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

On MY god-given rights -

I am sitting here listening to Fat Freddie's Drop that SWMBO has playing on the stereo, there is a tui outside with what seems at first to be a one note welcome "toot-toot" to the world. Shut off the ambient city-noise and a huge repertoir of clicks, gurgles, whistles and honks becomes apparent.

OK, so let's assume for the moment that I live in an "enlightened" country where RKBA applies. Let's assume for the time being that government imposed restrictions on road traffic do not exist.

First, forget about the killer for the moment in the three frames that follow. I want to discuss the "rights" of the victim. I want to discuss the reaction of the lady standing on the footpath. It could be a scene from any American corner store. It could be anywhere from Alaska to Florida. It could be right out of Tom Waits' "Small Change" (...got rained on with his own 38).

The question has to be - "What protection would he have gained from RKBA?" The answer to that question is not improved in any way by gun controls, let's be honest about that. It does point up what I see as the total futility of RKBA as it is presented by the NRA and supporters - you know the kind of thing; "big hairy man jumps out of the shadows and makes to rape your wife... "

In a similar vein, there is a continual pressure for "Them" (the Government) to lighten up on the strictures on road users. The speed limit is the usual one; the "government revenue-rasing law". At this time the vexed question of alchohol levels are in the sights as well with proposals to impose a "zero tolerance level" for under-25's and the same "05" law as applies in Australia and many other countries. The resistance comes from groups who consider that they have a god-given right to determine the speed at which they drive. They have a god-given right to decide when they are p'd out of their tree. So, take a look at the following. The consequences; two dead, several injured, one critically. The two fatalities came from the van; thrown out by the impact. The driver of the van was a 16 y-o girl who was "pissed as a fart". But look on the left side of the photo. There is another vehicle there also badly damaged. It is the occupants of that vehicle, their rights to use the roads safely, that I am pointing up.
So there are two small reasons why, when the likes of TF start prating on about "their God-given right" to do this, that or the other, I start getting hot under the collar.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to suggest that if the paramouncy of the rights of the individual to act as he/she sees fit without regard to the rights of others is to apply then it is appropriate too that they be isolated into their own little society. There they can kill, murder, have state-imposed murder, stop abortions, stop pornography, lie, steal, and cheat, to their collective hearts' content.

If humble and somewhat "socialist" countries are able to exist without those so-called "freedoms" then those who promote the rights of the individual over all others can stay away.

It is probably significant that NZ, the Scandinavian countries, in total 82 countries, all rank higher in "freedom indices" than does the US of A.

I wonder why?

Oh, and the three photos of the shooting are actually from Italy. Not that that fact in any way would change what I have said.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On getting heated -

I have until now retained a (hopefully fairly dignified) silence on the subject of global warming, climate change and carbon dioxide levels. That in large part is because I am somewhat undecided on the merits (and otherwise) of the various people involved.

There are two parts to the “problem” –

First, whether the planet is getting warmer or not.

Second, if it is getting warmer, what is causing the change.

I (quite intentionally as it happens) got somewhat passionate about TF’s post that further distributes the idea (that Monckton has put forward) that the Copenhagen agreement on global warming is going to spell the end of the US and freedom as we know it; that the agreement is the first step toward socialist (read communist as well) dominated world government. That “passion” also requires an explanation.

Now I know that TF will protest once more that the “End of the USofA” he wrote of is something other than climate change. We have a disagreement there for a starter; primarily because in the speech advertised by TF, Monckton is actually slating the climate change movements as “just another step” toward socialist world government and domination. I intend not to pursue that line any further than I have already pursued the climate change argument.

I want to introduce a third line of thought at this point.

Over this last weekend (a four day weekend for the lucky ol’ probligo as NZ celebrates the advent of the 40 hour week – a total victory for socialism!!!) there was a discussion on radio about the relative “natures” of talkback hosts and bloggers. One of the questions that started the discussion was why most if not all talkback hosts espoused right-wing political positions rather than liberal, centrist or left-wing. Among the opines given in response to the question was that the liberal/left-wing faction were more given to thoughtful presentation and logic compared with the right-wing penchant for bald, largely specious, statement.

The consequence is (and I “know” this empirically) that the talkback radio audience is largely dominated by people of the “far” right who listen in order to get more of their confirmation bias fix, there are a smaller number of people from the left who still have that misguided ambition and fire in their bellies to try and “save the world from itself”, there is that confused part of humanity who will believe anything said by someone with authority in both voice and stance, irrespective of how specious the statement. Oh, and there is the small proportion of unfortunates, the drunks and the over-tired who call in total confusion because there is no “reality” on their tv and thinking that something is “really happening” on the radio.

I can not say that the blogiverse is dominated in the same way by “liberals”. There are enough right-wingers around the blogiverse to keep me happy for a whiles to come.

Having those thoughts in mind, I want to return to Monckton. Well, no. I want to return to a group which includes Monckton along with the likes of Michael Moore (the American one, not the retired head of WTO), Al Gore (as TF rightly points out), even Michael Laws, Paul Holmes, Phil Hannity, Phil Donahue and even perhaps the ol’ probligo if it comes to that.

The common personality trait with all of these people is not the nature of their politics, their style or their message. The common link is that they have a message which they promote without stint nor favour; a message that they present with a minimum of justification and logical support; the message is in reality no more than the presentation of themselves to people who want to believe them.

So if I were to listen (as I do not) to the likes of Laws or Holmes in the full flight of their “oratory” I could expect to hear statements which can only be politely described as “intending to get the audience in the mood, their breeches around their knees, while bowing to the west”. The whole process is not dissimilar to that of the more charismatic churches – there’s an idea, I should have included Bishop Brian Tamaki in the mix as well. You preach to the converted. You cater to their personal biases. You tell them what they came to hear. Then you add a little more. Then you add a little more. Before long the “truth” that people came to hear has expanded to a new idea. There is as much truth in the new as there was in the old. Then you add a little more. Before you know it you can name yourself "King"; the latest in the line of "King Davids", the chosen ones.

How many times has the “world government” conspiracy been around the traps in my time. Beyond number almost. It ranges from the UN taking over, to climate change, to Islamic extremists, even shady organisations like the Opus Dei (which does apparently exist despite The Da Vinci Code), Scientology, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and even perhaps the High Council of Zion.

There is a point to all of this.

Power, all Power and hence all Government, is reliant upon fear. That fear can be of your next door neighbour (who just has to be a communist or a undercover member of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee depending upon your own politics), the bogeyman under your bed, Islamists, Jews, Russians, anything that has to it an element of power that might intrude (or does intrude) on “your” lifestyle. It works the other way too – in the fear that X will stop or prevent you from attaining the ends that you deserve; be it riches beyond imagining, the right to bear arms, a 42” tv set, or 72 virgins. It can be the fear of the consequences if you fail to observe Rules, whether made through democratic or autocratic processes; the fear of failing to attain the 72 virgins in dying for your god, our burning in hell for failing to observe the right obeisances at the right time, or of being burned at the stake for speaking out against the ruling order.

What we have is the question of motivation. Why do people like Garth George and Paul Holmes write newspaper columns, especially when anyone in their right minds would turn the page before they puke? Why does Michael Laws use talkback radio to spread his particularly strange version of politik real? And why do “hosts” like Hannity and Donohue exist at all?

Each in their own way provide comfort from fears. Each in their own way builds on existing fears as a way of presenting comfort. That comfort is from the “understanding” the fear; you are not alone; together we must defeat this…

There is also the motivation of denial. “Fear not because I am right and ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ might be) are wrong. Together we will prevail”.

So, where does the ol’ probligo stand on the climate debate?

First up, is the planet getting warmer? There is some evidence - concrete evidence - that climatic changes are occurring. The unproven question is "How fast?"

Second, is the cause human (what do they call it now? "anthropological outputs"? Not proven, either way. That is where the science is at the sharp end of the debate.

The truth is, and the reason why the “debate” is so heated and divisive, we just do not know the causes. All of the positions taken, whether scientific, political or personal, are based upon suppositions and assumptions which are very open to dispute. There is no empirical, scientific, experimental evidence strong enough to constitute “proof” to the point where it is incontrovertible. No one can take a planet like Earth, run an experiment to show "Yay" or "nay" on a repeatable basis - the essence of scientific proof.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On fighting a war...

Out of yesterday's Herald comes a fairly brief summary of the situation in Afghanistan and the prospects for the future of that nation and the military campaign against the Taliban.
"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and Isaf's [International Security Assistance Force's] own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their Government," McChrystal argued in a document leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. He said the consequence had been a "crisis of confidence among Afghans. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents".

That is extracted from a confidential briefing paper prepared for President Barack Obama by the senior US general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, in August 2009, eight years into the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan.
"We should honestly admit that our efforts have not led to the expected results. Huge material resources and considerable casualties did not produce a positive end result - stabilisation of military-political situation in the country. The protracted character of the military struggle and the absence of any serious success, which could lead to a breakthrough in the entire strategic situation, led to the formation in the minds of the majority of the population of the mistrust in the abilities of the regime."

"The experience of the past years clearly shows that the Afghan problem cannot be solved by military means only.

"We should decisively reject our illusions and undertake principally new steps, taking into account the lessons of the past, and the real situation in the country."

So the Americans are starting to have doubts?

Far from it, it seems. That second quote was from August 17, 1987. The writer Colonel K. Tsagalov is addressing the newly appointed Soviet Defence Minister, Dmitry Yazov.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the Word of God; whose word?

Tapu Misa often writes a worthwhile op-ed in the Herald, most usually Monday. This week her topic was the “re-writing” of the Bible by “a Conservative American organisation”.

I am not going to quote any of her commentary here simply because it would become the cause celebre and detract from the purpose of this piece.

I tracked down the website of conservapedia and their “Conservative Bible Project”.

The following is direct from their website –
Conservative Bible Project

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:
• lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
• lack of precision in modern language
• translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.
Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third -- and largest -- source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate.[1]
As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]
1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[4] Defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

Thus, a project has begun among members of Conservapedia to translate the Bible in accordance with these principles. The translated Bible can be found here.

At the same time, there is a new lexicon presented which includes such novelties as “doubting Thomas” (without at all recognising its Biblical derivation), Death Tax, and Old Glory.

In the same vein, there were other tags listed by Google including one from Guardian with other re-writes of the Bible that are in the works.

The Guardian report is from 1991, and reveals that Vatican scholars are in the process of re-writing the Bible to bring into the accounts of the New Testament the writings of “The Dead Sea Scrolls”.

I am not going to even attempt to critique what has been done, is being done, with the Word of God. If, as I am so authoritatively informed by TF, the Word is the immutable command of God then what are these people doing? What validity, better or worse, will this version have over KJV, or NIV, Maori or Samoan translations, or any of the many other existing translations?

Or, as I have tried to argue previously, is it merely a case “one man’s word” in terms of which version of “the truth” you might happen to choose?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On being of a peaceful nature -

You know the thing that media do on their websites - "you may also be interested in..."

Looking for the Telegraph article for the previous post also turn up this -
The Global Peace Index, a report prepared for the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks 144 countries in a league table of peacefulness.

The index defines peace as "the absence of violence".

Twenty-three criteria on which the league table is compiled include political stability, risk of terrorism, murder rate, likelihood of violent demonstrations, respect for human rights, internal conflicts, arms imports and involvement in foreign wars.

It will be a source of quiet satisfaction for New Zealanders that Australia, their great rival across the Tasman Sea, managed to score only 19th place.

Nordic countries Denmark and Norway took their accustomed positions near the top of the table.

Britain, by comparison, was 35th, slightly higher than last year but one place below Botswana and one higher than Italy. Britain also ranks below most of the rest of Europe.

The United States came 83rd, dragged down by two foreign wars, a high prison population, and the wide availability of guns.

Its position did, however, mark a rise of six places, attributed to the number of years that have passed since 9/11 without suffering another terrorist attack.


The report says the global economic recession and an increase in violent conflict and political instability around the planet took a toll on world peacefulness in 2008.

So, there y'go! That is why I still live in NZ.
Top 10 most peaceful nations: 1 New Zealand, 2 Denmark, 3 Norway, 4 Iceland, 5 Austria, 6 Sweden, 7 Japan, 8 Canada, 9= Finland, 9= Slovenia.

Ten least peaceful: 1 Iraq, 2 Afghanistan, 3 Somalia, 4 Israel, 5 Sudan, 6 Democratic Republic of the Congo, 7 Chad, 8 Pakistan, 9 Russia, 10 Zimbabwe.

On "there being enough to go around" - Fit the Third

This is the article which was re-published in Granny Herald on Friday...
The world's economic travails have combined with a large increase in the price of staple foods in poor countries to force the number of undernourished people to the highest level since 1970. The total has risen by at least 100 million in the last year alone.

The UN's survey of the "state of food insecurity" found the gains of the 1980s and early 1990s – when the number of hungry people fell every year – were steadily being reversed. Instead, the total is rising in both relative and absolute terms for the first time in four decades.

Five years ago, about 15 per cent of people in the developing world were undernourished, today the figure approaches 20 per cent.

This is not primarily because of poor harvests or bad weather, although drought has brought immense suffering to Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia this year. Instead, the main factor is the increase in global food prices since 2007, together with cuts in aid from wealthy countries and the loss of jobs and remittances caused by the world recession.

While retail food prices have fallen in rich countries over the last year, they have stayed high in poor nations.

"As usual, it is the poorest countries – and the poorest people – that are suffering the most," said Jacques Diouf, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme, in their joint introduction to the annual study.

Staple foods in poor countries still cost more in real terms than they did before the recession. Of the 56 nations surveyed by the WFP, basic food prices in 47 were about 19 per cent higher than in 2007.

Consequently, many people simply cannot afford to feed themselves or their families, while others are forced to buy cheaper and less nutritious products.
Caroline Hurford, spokesman for the WFP, said: "The cost of food in developing countries has not come down, while the world's economic troubles have reduced employment opportunities and remittances.

"Many families have already sold off all they own to pay for food and they've been pushed into destitution as jobs disappear."

She said the only solution in the long term is to increase agricultural output and cause prices to fall by boosting the supply of food. But rich countries have steadily reduced the share of their aid budgets devoted to agriculture, from 20 per cent in 1979 to about five per cent today.

Their own economic difficulties have also caused them to cut the amount they donate to the WFP for emergency aid. This organisation has a long-standing target of feeding 10 per cent of the world's undernourished people – or 100 million this year.
It needs £4.2 billion to achieve this, but donors have provided only £1.7 so far.
"That will inevitably mean cutbacks and that's going to hurt the poor," said Ms Hurford.

The overall picture, however, is less gloomy than in the past. Four decades ago, one in three people in poor countries was undernourished – today that figure is one in five.

For a bit of "raw research" take a read here...
The countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions. Whether you watch a video of the drought in China, Australia, Africa, South America, or the US , the scene will be the same: misery, ruined crop, and dying cattle.

With the Australian experience just across the ditch (as it were) and having seen the effects that drought was having within a very small area of a few hours drive of Cairns including the levels of the local water supply reservoirs I can appreciate in a very small way what it might be like in east Africa, or north China. Take a look at the article because it presents two (admittedly statistically invalid) global maps which outline one part of the problems involved.

However, I would guess that it is also likely source of the article in Telegraph and Herald.

Forget the emotive language for just a little and try to put this into the context I have been presenting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On "there being enough to go around" - Fit the Second

TF, I confess. I am most astonished at your response.

". The idea being that if you wanted more, you'd have more because you would learn the required skills or obtain the necessary tools to acquire that which you wanted. The same holds true for those living in less than ideal habitats.

OK, so when the Japanese (as they did) sent their deepsea trawlers to Vanuatu and literally scraped the reefs clean of fish, the ni-Vanuatu were supposed to do what? Obtain the tools and skills to catch fish from the reef and surrounding waters? They already had those, but no fish. Should they go out and buy deepsea trawlers? Whatever for? They normally use small canoes and catch just enough fish for the evening meal. After the Japanese stole all of their fish, what should the ni-Vanuatu do?

When the Icelanders and Brits cleaned out the cod stocks from the Newfoundland Bank, the Newfounders were supposed to do what? Go fish the North Sea? Go fish round Iceland? Remember the so-called “cod wars” between Iceland and Britain? What should the Newfounders have done if Iceland had sent naval vessels to “protect” their trawlers on the Bank (and effectively to keep the Newfounders and British away)?

How about we consider the Somalis, or the Nigerians living in the Sub Sahara. In both instances traditional agriculture is impossible because of long-term (20 years plus) drought and encroaching desert. The tools necessary would include the ability to dig wells to a considerable depth, the energy to pump water in high volumes from that depth to the surface and an infrastructure to distribute the water to fields. How do you suggest that they should go about obtaining those resources? They have little enough money to grow and buy food as it is.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops? That is one answer. Would you buy and feed GM soy products to your family? Fine if you do. Would a Somali farmer be able to buy a drought resistant grain from the likes of Marsanto? Probably not, simply because the major thrust in GM crops is into weedkiller resistance so that the likes of Marsanto can sell both the seed and the weedkiller. Supposing that he could by such a crop, how would he afford it? If he is (as a matter of practice) accustomed to reserving part of his crop as next year’s seed how will he pay for the seed from Marsanto or whoever? Charity aid? Think how many Americans there are who preach “Give a man a net…”. Giving a man the seed is much the same as giving him the fish instead of the net. He plants his seeds, grows his crop, sets a portion aside to plant for next year. The following year he plants his seed… and nothing grows because one of the genetic “modifications” applied by the makers ensures that the seed is sterile.

But enough of that for the moment…

Those without natural resources are there by choice and for no other reason. Throw away the idea of being anchored to a particular spot of land by birth because if anyone really wants to move, regardless of the restraints, the human will to get things done wins when applied to most any challenge.

Now, TF, I have to ask; what in the world have you been drinking? Seriously! Did you really consider the implications of that statement?

I live in NZ because I was born here. There is little reason to leave.

There are a large number of Afghanis living in a shantytown close to the French end of the Chunnel. Why are they there? Because they are trying to get into Britain in response to exactly the motives you have suggested. Le Gendarmerie moved in a couple weeks back with bulldozers to “move them on”. Video coverage showed many of them disappearing into the trees not far distant. Comment said it will be a short while before the camp is “re-established”.

Why does the Australian Navy stop and turn back boatloads of people “taking a day trip” out of Indonesia heading for North Australia and West Australia? Is it because they are poor tourists who can’t afford the flight fare? Really?

How many people try to cross from Mexico into US every day? WHY are they trying to get into the US? Same answer. What is your response to those illegals TF? I know, because I have seen it often enough. You certainly do not want “lower peoples” in the US; certainly not from Mexico.

People live in Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Zimbabwe for the very simple reason that they were born there in the same way as you were born a citizen of the US. Why are they still there and not hightailing it to US, EU, Australia, NZ, or even South Africa or Brazil? Because they barely have sufficient resources to get themselves to the next town or the next refugee camp. Even if they can afford to travel to “better places”, would they be allowed to immigrate and stay? Like hell they would. And at that point look to your own attitude to those coming across the Texas-Mexico border for the reason. You are not alone, and I would probably feel the same about people trying to enter NZ.

But it does make the total lie of your statement.

The energy available to mankind is limitless whether you want to call it oil related, wind, solar, nuclear or "other". We need only use the inventive and creative minds God gave us to figure out the mechanics of it.

I don’t believe I made a specific point about energy. But there y’go. Yes, cheap sources of energy are running thin, globally. Good point! I wonder if the South African cropper who has just bought himself a clockwork radio would be looking to buy a Hummer if you were able to similarly repower it? Clockwork radios? They have been around for a while… I have not the knowledge, time nor ability to argue the laws of entropy.

The idea of not having enough food is also not real. There is the idea of "fishing to excess" and destroying one breed of fish; that is true. Then again, the oceans are able to sustain many life forms which have yet to be harvested for food; what are we able to do when we get creative is limitless.

In your backyard that might be true. Been fishing recently? I know that the places where 50 years back we could get in an hour or so enough fish to feed three families now might provide one or two fish for an afternoon’s fishing. If you go to those places now you might be lucky enough to catch one or two fish in an afternoon, and one of those might be of legal take size. You could revisit my comments earlier on fishing in Vanuatu as an example of that.

I know from experience that there are many places where the general idea of “having enough food” is true. I also know that there are many places where there is not. I have canvassed some of those already…

We better learn what is acceptable under Muslim Law because the way things are going we all are going to be subjected to the barbaric system they use the way things are going. Aside from the fact they intend to do away with any and all infidels, removing all non Muslims from the equation, we might not have to worry about running out of food, energy or a comfortable sofa upon which to enjoy the A/C.

Off topic and not even worth responding to in the present discussion.


In the news this morning - I will pick this up over the weekend - was statements that current estimates have over 1 billion people globally without sufficient food. I want to research that just a bit further to validate claims that the estimate includes/excludes the impact of "increased food cost". Bear in mind that if (as an impromptu example) the "price" of millet has increased then it would impact upon those who use it as a part of their staple diet. Bear in mind too that that price increase is simple Econ 101.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On "there being enough to go around..."

This exchange with Fraser Stern follows my exposition on the idea of a probligo utopia (resulting in confirmation of my strong feeling that any utopia is an impossibility because there will always be some idiot turn up to spoil the party)...

...I would like to add a comment to your line, "To reach my dream, I need to face that my standard of living will be lower; that others will benefit in far greater measure than I. Of even greater measure, I have to persuade the richest 20% of the world's population to join me in giving up what they have."

I’d have to disagree on this point. Your belief system is based on the premise that there is only so much to go around, by extension, there can be no increase; but such limits are burst by innovation and productivity incentives which would make the natural resources more useful and go farther. The false warning which I continue to hear is that the earth is too populated, that its natural resources cannot sustain the quality of life which we would all desire or prefer; that simply isn’t true. I refuse to buy into the idea that in order for me to improve my life’s quality that somebody else must reduce their quality of life.

The probligo said...

So the availability of such resources as arable land, potable water, and quality air are infinite TF?

Not in my book.

You often speak of "God-given rights". Is the right for a person living in Somalia to have sufficient food to sustain life "God-given"? If so, why are so many people living there on the verge of starvation? Do you have a "God-given right" to consume (and don't worry, I am no different) far more food than you actually need?

T. F. Stern said...

Probligo, I didn't say these resources were infinite, only that there was sufficient to go around. I continue to believe that there is enough so that my increase does not mean someone else must decrease.

The idea of God given rights is not the same as consumption of natural resources being spread evenly, I would have thought you understood that concept after the many times we've gone head to head.

Now I started this with the intention of a rather ascerbic scrute at the idea of "god-given rights" but, as TF points out we have traversed that ground before without any consensus ad idem.

No, it is the thought that "there is sufficient to go around" that draws the eye this time. It is a thought that has exercised economists, sociologists and others far more learned than I. It still bugs me though, on a number of levels.

First is the idea of "sufficient". At one level, there is "sufficient" as measured by the fact that both TF and I, along with about 20% of the global population, can "exist" on high carb, high fat, high protein diets compared with the subsistence-and-less diets of perhaps the lower 50%. There is "sufficient" in that we both are able to expend significantly excessive amounts of energy in our daily living, compared with the energy sources available to many who have just sufficient to cook a daily meal. There is "sufficient" in that we are able to live in permanent housing having significant economic value compared with the very large numbers who have no prospect of owning land (a concept that might even be foreign to their culture) let alone erecting permanent structures on it. There is sufficient water that we both can use what might be equivalent to a days supply from the community well for all of the family just to wash the family car.

The counter argument of "effort", "earning", "saving", and "value" mean little to people whose lives are essentially subsistence. For many at this level the idea of "subsistence" can be seen as a reasonably comfortable standard of living if you leave out essentials such as education, functioning health services, effective law enforcement, or the trappings of what TF and I might see as "civilisation". I have in mind those such as Samoans, ni-Vanuatu, and Tongans who because of the climate in which they live have better than adequate food supplies, adequate shelter, and not much more. There is a second generalisation that can be applied here; self-sufficiency. Does that mean that these people are happy to live as they do? No!, for the simple reason that they have the same desires for better and more that we all have. No tv? It becomes a desire, then a want, then a need. Minimal education? The same.

The second is the "what" that "has to go around". I would list as examples land and specifically arable land, water and specifically potable water, and mineral resources.

To that extent TF is quite right when he says -

" Your belief system is based on the premise that there is only so much to go around, by extension, there can be no increase; but such limits are burst by innovation and productivity incentives which would make the natural resources more useful and go farther."

This particular line of logic is based upon the same line of thought that gives rise to this -

TF's statement that "...such limits are burst by innovation..." is also "true". However, there are also an increasing number of instances and some within the past year or two which illustrate the first cracks in that argument.

First to come to mind is the "alternative fuels" debate. The conversion and diversion of food-producing land and crops to "fuel-producing" has impacted on (just one instance) global food prices. Suddenly, it was "better business" to produce crops for alternative fuels than it was for food. Prices for cattle-feed grain went through the roof leading to higher beef prices. Why is that? It is the simple, direct application of Economics 102.

On the same line, does it matter if Indonesia or Brazil burns and clears "unproductive" land of the overlying jungle and wild animals? Better to have "productive" land than not, surely? Well truth is that we know as much about the possible impacts of rain forest clearance as we do about the causes of global warming. In other words, not a lot.

Only one example? No.

Go look for a description of the "Sinai Aquifer". This is one of the largest freshwater reservoirs on the globe. It stretches from the north Sinai Peninsula to Cairo and further south. [About 20 years back there was major concern that the water being taken for Cairo was becoming brackish (increasing salt levels). Investigation indicated that the level of the water in the aquifer had dropped to the point where it had gone from "positive pressure" at its outlets under the Mediterranean (giving rise to outflow in the Med) to "negative pressure". The result? Not only was Mediterranean salt water "leaking back into the aquifer, but the salinity of the Mediterranean itself was increasing to the point where fish stocks were potentially under threat.]

Want another example?

Pelargic tuna stocks in the Pacific forty years back were at a level estimated to be equivalent to roughly ten years fishing, "just under sustainable levels" at the rate of fishing in the 1970's. The most recent census (taken by MAF NZ and several Pacific nations) is indicating that the predominant species of bluefin and yellowfin tuna are endangered, and possibly close to extinction. Remember that with the next can of tuna you add to a sandwich or salad.

Want another example, closer to home?

Check out the Newfoundland cod fisheries. That was about 40 years back. It is recovering, slowly, but Britain and Europe will not see cod and chips on the menu for some while for sure.

Or how is about the Lower Colorado irrigation area where the demands on land and water supply are so great that the farms are getting "saltified" as the water evaporates and the river itself is struggling to make the sea.

OK, so "technology" will solve all of these problems? Innovation and production incentives will increase the numbers of bluefin tuna? How much would it cost to provide Cairo with desalinators and then to run them so that that city had "sufficient" (not the amount we use) fresh water.

TF, I suspect that I can explain the difference between your statement that "...my increase does not mean someone else must decrease..." and "... there is only so much to go around, by extension, there can be no increase...".

That difference comes from what best fits with "a different point of view". My up-bringing, my culture, the nature of my community is such that we have very narrow physical boundaries. Nowhere is more than 50 mile from the sea. Beyond that is more than 1000 miles of water to the next major habitations. Those boundaries have, for better or worse, made NZers generally far more conscious of the "outside world".

I had a word in mind when I proposed my challenge. I was reticent to use it at that time as it could be mis-taken as insult rather than descriptive.

"insular a ... 2. of or like islanders, esp. ignorant of or indifferent to other countries and their culture, narrow minded. [Concise Oxford Dictionary]

It started as a suspicion, but these more recent comments confirm, that for so many Americans (observation again, TF, and generalisation) the problems of "the outside world" just do not exist. Well, not at least until they impinge themselves directly upon the US. Hence, until such time as the lack of a resource does impinge upon "my" ability to obtain it, there is no shortage; there is plenty for all; any deficiencies must be the fault of those who can not afford to buy what they need. Of course, at the time that the last tuna is taken it will be the fault of the UN, of "big government", of faceless bureaucrats et al that more was not done to ensure that there would be tuna for dinner next year...


Sometimes I should read my own advice. I based my commentary on the Sinai Aquifer on memory of a series of articles in SciAm, Nature, and the news of the time. As is so often the case my memory is faulty. Sorry to those who went chasing geese as a result of my error.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A new world -

of wearable art.
A previous winning garment - 2007 if I recall right...

There are some events in a person's life that deserve to be commemorated in style. One of those is a 40th wedding anniversary. Well, at least we agreed that it was an appropriate thing to make into an excuse to have an expensive - and expansive too - weekend off.

One of the things we have promised ourselves for quite some many years has been the annual "World of Wearable Art" event.

This uniquely NZ event is, by their own promotion, "indescribable". It is a competition. It is undeniably entertainment. It started as a personal desire of a Nelson woman to transfer art to something wearable; not as body paint but far more sophisticated than that. That was 20 years back. The show has since been sold to Wellington City.

So it was that last Thursday SWMBO and the probligo climbed into the silver budgie and got themselves transported from Auckland with 16C and gentle SWers, to the 6C and light SE'ers of Wellington. For those who live in "temperate maritime" climes no further description will be necessary. For those who do not, I can not imagine living in snow for three months of the year either.

Checked in, checked out, showered and shaved, and then dinner was sought. As time was disappearing somewhat rapidly and we had not been able to (completely) agree what we wanted, or to understand what the hotel was providing, we ended up with a $60 per person set menu as part of the hotel's promotion of WOWA. What a time to try and work out the "polite" way to eat prawns (the Aussie king variety). The beef filet was acceptable. The desert - what was it? I can not remember. Wellington weather being what it is we (wisely as it happened because it rained, twice, during the trip) taxi'd from hotel to Events Centre (yes, that is what it is called).

Thursday night was the opening night of WOWA, and in the absence of the cash required to buy a stage-side table, or the influence to nab an awards night seat from the hoi-polloi, this was the best night we could choose. It gave us the opportunity to outwit the judges; and we think that we did because we still think our award selections were far better then theirs. Anyhoos, any show that starts with the Topp Twins wandering on stage initially in the dark like patrons who have got themselves lost somewhere twixt door and seat, wondering "why the f??? are we here?", and then combines two hours of non-stop entertainment with the showing of "clothes art" in five different classes passes any description other than "Go see it for yourself!!".

Wellington weather being what it is we were able to walk from Events Centre to hotel completely dry though almost suffering from exposure (hypothermia) by the time we returned.

Friday was spent with the exploration of immediate vicinities. Our hotel (if you must know) was right at the nor'west end of the central city a step or three from Parliament and the rail station. So during the morning we covered most of Lambton Quay, Featherston St and the area down to the waterfront. That included Wellington Museum (not to be confused with Te Papa a Tongarewa which is scion of the National Museum). The Wellington Museum is well worth the visit too. Interesting, well presented, with several probligo family connections even if the name was not mentioned specifically.

As I mentioned at the beginning, one of the excuses for this weekend of excesses was our 40th wedding anniversary. That event was celebrated Friday night. We had hoped to eat at one of NZ's finest but again did not have the where-with-all to buy someone else out of their table, so there was a couple hours spent Thursday afternoon debating the likely risk attending the choice of one (of the very many) other eating establishments around town. We got it down to a choice of two, from which (sorry Bisque at Bolton) we selected Arbitrageurs. It happened that Arbitrageurs was an easy walk down the street from the hotel, the weather was fine if somewhat chilly but sufficed to refresh the appetite.

So a very delicious meal was enjoyed. I will start with the recommendation. If ever you find yourself in Wellington at the same time as having a desire for good food and wine, then I would stake my life on Arbitrageur providing the necessary satisfaction at the very least provided that the chef remains under the present management. The only caveat is that it is not the cheapest eaterie in town. The other side is that the food is absolutely first rate. The cellar is enormous. We shared three courses and wine by the glass to match our respective selections at a total cost of $180. We came away with the feeling that we had spent very wisely. For the record the selections were; Pea and ham soup, beef casserole, creme brulee for her; vegetable soup, roast pork loin in piece and creme brulee for the probligo. Oh, and finding Arbitrageur is not easy. There is only a single wood door to the street with a discrete sign over. Inside, seating (by my count) for about 80.

That said, a sleep-in on Saturday morning was almost compulsory. An energetic walk to the far end of town for breakfast was well-rewarded with good standard NZ fare in abundance (Vivace, thank you) followed by more walking through the "entertainment precincts" of Manners Mall, Cuba St mall, and the near eastern end of "town". In between times we thought we should go have a look through parts of Te Papa that we may not yet have seen. We got no further than the main foyer where there were people presenting and celebrating PRC's 60th birthday. That made for a couple of interesting hours between lunch and heading back to the hotel. There ensued a fairly serious discussion on food for the evening meal given that a) we were pretty near broke; b) travelling back to Auckland the next day; c) still felt well fed from the previous evening; d) wanted something fairly simple to eat.... and ended up selecting Habibie, a "Lebanese" restaurant in the entertainment district we had frequented during the day. An enjoyable meal with friendly staff for a very reasonable $75 including a glass of wine.

Sunday. A day of rest for some. A day of worship for others. For us it was up at 6a.m., no breakfast, and taxi to the rail station. Rather than travel by silver budgie back to Auckland and then spend the rest of the day doing chores we had decided that we would take the silver dinosaur (in the form of The Overlander) and spend some 12 hours watching the scenery passing by at close range as against 4 miles down. There was an element of trepidation in this because the weather had been so foul as to likely preclude any interesting scenery but we were most lucky.
The mountains were magnificent. The greens in the bush and fields were straight from McCahon.

To add to the attraction was the addition of truly dinosaur propulsion between Fielding and Taihape in the form of a WAB 4-6-2 steam locomotive. What is more it was fed with real live dirty COAL.

Lunchtime at Ohakune...
It was a very tired probligo and wife who were met at Britomart just after 8 that evening by a rather lost but definitely not prodigal number one son who kindly completed the circle for us back to Howick.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the idea of utopia...

I presented TF with a challenge that he has responded to both promptly and with some considerable thought. I do not propose to present my alternative as a criticism of what he has written. What must be appreciated is that we do, obviously, come from very different backgrounds; similar cultures with a partially shared history; but like the finches in the Galapagos we are the products of habitats which have evolved in very different ways to fit very different “ecological niches”.

So perhaps I can start by echoing his entrance; it is the universal desire of every parent that their family should live in happiness and security. That echo draws the very first contrast. Not only do I wish that for my family and for TF’s, I wish it too for every family on this earth irrespective of breed, and belief. Therein lies the first major challenge as well, for it is true that not every person is born equal on this planet. Not at present that is. Bear witness here that I am taking “equality” here in its broadest and most general sense; I have just eaten lunch. I have just eaten food valued by our system at NZD0.75, USD0.55. In many places on this earth that value would comprise a week’s food for one person, not because their food is cheaper you understand but because that is as much as they are able to buy. At that point I meet the first of the “impossibilities”; I can not increase the “happiness index” (for want of a better term) of those people without decreasing that of others. The ability of this planet to support the increasing demands of our societies is limited. That limitation is distorted to a great degree by the fact that a small fraction (of which I am a member as much as is TF) of our global population are able to obtain, control and consume the greatest part of those resources.

The second truth that TF included with that first was his right “to make a living without governmental bureaucrats mucking up the works or worrying about world affairs and political upheaval.” Again, I must – can only – agree. So too does every other person on this earth have that right. There is a subsidiary thread that starts at this point and which I will return to pick up toward the end. For the moment, there is any number of books that can and have been written on the topic. Which brand of solution you want to select will depend from the type of political outlook you have. It has to be accepted that “government bureaucrats” is one of those simplistic generic terms that are floated by people who really mean to include all who are involved in the process of government from elected representatives to the desk clerk and receptionist and refuse collector. Again that sentiment has to be included as a universal. My response to the line of argument which usually follows is that every society ends up with the government it deserves. The challenge here is to accept that fact and also to have the tolerance to accept those differences. That challenge is also as universal as the sentiment.

I am also in agreement with TF’s quotation from The Federalist. Again, I can not escape “the shades of difference” between us. Where TF sees Federalist as “…if everyone acted to the best of their ability…” I can not dispute that. I must however lay alongside that the thought “…all must be allowed to act to the best of their ability…”. In that subtle distinction lies all manner of challenges for those of us who live in advanced and rich communities. Again, I come to the subsidiary thread I referred to in the earlier para. Now is not yet the time to pick up that thread. Note too that I do not make “money” the problem here any more than does TF.

At this point in his piece TF and I really do part company. I have said many times that I respect his beliefs. That I do in the same way as I respect the beliefs of the Sikh lady in the desk behind me, the Presbyterian boss, the Catholic lady my wife plays tennis with or the Buddhist Chinese family over the road from us. Therein lies a very major difference in point of view, of world view, in the nature of our respective utopias.

Whatever a utopia might be, however a utopia might “work”, its very first fundamental must be of tolerance and acceptance of difference. To do otherwise must create the tensions and the distinctions that TF has striven to avoid. It is not just differences of religion. It is as basic as differences in personality, in ambition, and in capability. All of these barriers to utopia have been well discussed at many levels; from learned papers in universities to science fiction novels.

What those differences do however is to stir the contentious pot of supremacy. TF avoids this potential through the simple mechanisms of exclusion and close focus. His utopia depends (including "hangs from") on the thread of "one-ness" of culture and religion. There are no alternatives. Again we find that thread.

It is easy to argue that my utopia has the defect of the opposite; that variety and inclusion introduces the seeds of destruction. I have to agree. There would need to be agreed means of imposing rules; ensuring common justice; guaranteeing equitable and universal rights. Conflicts between cultures and ideas have always been at the heart of the development of our species. But the greatest barrier to my utopia is that of conversion and change. To reach my dream, I need to face that my standard of living will be lower; that others will benefit in far greater measure than I. Of even greater measure, I have to persuade the richest 20% of the world's population to join me in giving up what they have.

The differences between TF and I might be expressed as –

TF sees his utopia as existing only through the culture and society in which he lives. He excludes difference. I don’t imagine for a moment that it was intentional. I believe though that (in my family at least) the spoken word that reveals underlying and hidden truth is often referred to as a “Freudian slip”. For someone like TF to speak his present reality as the foundation of his utopia is no grounds for criticism. It must be accepted as his expression of his truth.

My reference at the beginning to “evolution” was intentional. It is one of the very many differences that TF and I have. He has certainly not tried to persuade me that his paradigm is “correct”, and I have respected that by not challenging his viewpoint when expressed (perhaps other than an occasional mild poke in the ribs).

The point I have reached is this. My comment, the one picked up by TF, was born from the feeling that the existence of any person’s utopia is very dependent upon the evolution of that person’s society, even their family. The other extreme from TF might be the utopia of a member of Taliban, or Ibo, or Inuit. The fundamentals might even be similar; peace, wealth, rights. It is the means of expressing, attaining and measuring those goals that will differ far more fundamentally.

This is where I must end before I write a book. It is also where I must pick up that secondary thread I have had trailing through this whole piece. It is not a right or wrong distinction; it is a fundamental difference in our personalities, our up-bringing, our societies, our environment.

For better or worse, I have been blessed by living in a society that is based on difference and acceptance of those differences. I have been blessed by the fact that I have grown to accept differences, perhaps to an even greater degree than my own brother. I do not believe I could live in TF’s utopia. It sounds to me as though it would be too homogeneous, too narrow, for the ol’ probligo to fit. I do not believe for a moment that TF will accept my version for similar reasons; too liberal by half, and it excludes God, specifically his God.

I am not able to codify or to even develop the fundamentals of my personal utopia beyond what I have written here. I have developed these ideas over many years without ever having thought to formally express them prior to this conversation.

I have not cried the support of learned people and religion. This is all my own work.

I stand by it.