Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We can't help but wonder

Labour tried to pin John Banks down during Question Time this afternoon. Trevor Mallard asked an innocuous primary question on Charter Schools, followed by several supplementaries.

The supplementary questions were quite pointed, but we can't help but wonder if someone other than Trevor Mallard should have been asking them. That especially applies to the question about ethics, which is quite possibly not Trevor Mallard's strongest suit!

Anyway, here's the fun, and John Banks' memory did not desert him this afternoon. The answer about the spelling of "vexatious" and "exonerate" was as pointed as any of Mr Mallard's questions!

Winston's playing silly buggers; again

Winston Peters is once again doing what he does best; playing silly buggers with all and sundry; Stuff reports:

NZ First leader Winston Peters has called for a referendum on gay marriage, but declined to say how he would vote on one.
Peters this afternoon said the eight New Zealand First MPs had agreed not to support the bill for "marriage equality" being promoted by Labour MP Louisa Wall.
"We will not be voting for this bill, we will argue for a referendum and we believe there should be enough members of parliament who have got confidence in the public of this country to trust the public to decide this issue after reasonable debate," Peters said.
However, he indicated he would make no contribution to any debate over gay marriage, saying his views on the matter were "irrelevant".
The public should be left to decide on the issue "rather than have people try to twist the public debate with their personal view," Peters said.
"Look at the record of parliamentarians on important social issues - they're all over the place," he said.
"These serious issues of this type should be decided by the public of this country and not a few temporarily empowered politicians."
Asked if the party's position meant all its MPs would abstain on the vote, Peters said: "I've just said that's what our position is and we're united on that."
Asked to confirm that the party would abstain, rather than vote against it, he said: "Well, we're not voting for it, is what I said. We believe it should be by way of referendum." 

Once again, Winston Peters is dancing on the head of a pin. NZ First will not vote in favour of Louisa Wall's Bill, but Peters refuses to confirm whether his party's response will be to abstain or to oppose.

NZ First is a conservative party, even though it propped up Labour between 2005 and 2008. At least two NZ First MP's have publicly indicated opposition to Louisa Wall's Bill.

But is also confirms one thing; New Zealand First should simply be re-named Winston First. In Winston First, MP's do not have consciences; they vote as their leader directs them, even on issues of conscience. Their conscience is their leader's conscience, or the lack thereof. Peters is the ultimate populist; he will not make a decision on this issue until he sees how public opinion is swinging. That is simply not good enough.

Winston Peters and his NZ First MP's took office on the basis that they were being appointed to make the hard decisions on behalf of New Zealanders. Peters needs to make up his mind on this issue, and stop the game-playing.

Olympic Caption Contest - 31 July 2012

Kiwi cyclist Greg Henderson is responsible for this one. 

He's posted the picture below of his Tour de France team-mate Andre Greipel having a "quad-off" with his German track cycling team-mate Robert Forstemann. For the record, Forstermann is on the right, and it will come as no surprise that his nickname is Mr Thigh!

So even if you can't beat these guys in muscle development, use your intellect to come up with a caption. The normal rules apply; keep 'em short, on-topic, pithy and above all funny, and don't get unnecessarily personal.

Other than that, you're only limited by your imagination...

They would say that, wouldn't they?

The Labour Party wants transparency over political lobbyists. But it wants transparency on its own terms; the Herald reports:

The Labour Party wants to exempt trade unions from a bill to regulate lobbyists, saying unions are "less sinister" than professional lobbyists and corporates.
Labour MP Charles Chauvel has proposed an amendment that will exempt unions from Green MP Holly Walker's Lobbying Disclosure Bill, which passed its first reading almost unanimously last week.
The bill would require lobbyists to go on to a register, disclose which politicians they meet and sign up to a code of ethics to be written by the Auditor-General.
The bill would cover anybody paid to lobby MPs, whether it was for an organisation such as Greenpeace or a trade union, a company such as SkyCity or as a professional lobbyist.
However, Mr Chauvel said it was too broad and the exemption was being sought because Labour believed it should apply only to groups or people who lobbied for a commercial purpose rather than not-for-profit groups.
His amendment would exempt unions and labour organisations, as well as groups such as charities, non-governmental organisations, community groups, churches and sports bodies.

This is a most interesting proposal from Mr Chauvel and Labour. The Labour MP reckons that trade unions aren't at all sinister, and need to be cut some slack. And of course, he come up with this proposal completely off his own bat:

Five trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party and donate to it, but Mr Chauvel said he had put in the amendment off his own bat. He said the unions were relaxed about the bill, but he believed they were in a similar position to philanthropic, voluntary organisations which were not-for-profit.
"When trade unions came up, it seemed to me that they fell on the not- quite-so-sinister-and-behind-the-scenes side of things."
He said corporate lobbying had the power to change policy, and was often done on the quiet.
"There is a big public interest in knowing what corporates are doing because they can afford heft lobbying and hospitality, and research and all the rest," Mr Chauvel said.

We would suggest to Mr Chauvel that there is just as big a public interest in knowing what trade unions are doing, and what they are saying to politicians. And his "unions-are-poor argument cuts no ice whatsoever; not when the Service and Food Workers Union, a Labour affiliate was able to spend $237,364 supporting the Labour Party's 2005 election campaign, but only declare a donation to Labour of $20,000.

Oddly, when Labour pushed through the odious Electoral Finance Act in 2007 (which was the genesis for our entry to the blogosphere), Labour MP's spoke loud and long about "big money" buying influence. It wasn't until some time later that we discovered the extent to which union money helped Labour. Now Mr Chauvel wants us to believe that unions are as pure as driven snow, and should be allowed unfettered access to those who stride through the corridors of power.

And it's not just the Right which is rejecting Mr Chauvel's proposed amendment; read on:

Ms Walker said changes were needed to ensure the bill did not cover everyone who spoke to an MP. However, she believed trade unions should be covered by the bill despite Labour's stance.
"It is important for transparency that if we are going to have a register of lobbyists that gives us a clear picture of where influence is taking place, then it needs to apply across the board. And that means it does need to capture not-for-profits, NGOs, trade unions ..."

Holly Walker has risen in our estimation for telling Mr Chauvel where to stick his union-friendly amendment. If transparency is to be applied, then it must be applied equally and without exemption. It's hardly surprising that Labour wants the unions to continue to exert influence covertly, but it must not be allowed to happen.

Jones on the Treaty

Sir Robert Jones is contributing opinion-pieces to the NZ Herald on a Tuesday. And today's column is bound to stimulate debate. He opines:

History is littered with treaties and laws which time has made redundant, without having been formally annulled. Two such are the Treaties of Utrecht and Waitangi.
The 1704 Treaty of Utrecht ceded Gibraltar to England. The Spaniards had driven the Moors off the Rock 42 years earlier, after 700 years of occupation. In the 1980s, Spain made overtures to Britain to recover Gibraltar. Once rejected the matter was dropped, but Spain was not so idiotic to raise a literal breach of the original treaty, being an undertaking by the English that no Moor or Jew would ever reside on the Rock. Yet when Spain made this recovery approach, the governor was a Jewish Moroccan. Time had made the original anti-Moor and anti-Jewish sentiment redundant and to have raised this breach would have been farcical.
So, too, with the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1840, Maoridom comprised stone age warring tribes living simple existences. There was a strong sentiment in Victorian England, led by the churches and some parliamentarians, to protect the burgeoning empire's native peoples, thus article two of the Treaty guaranteeing Maoridom their then economic base.
But as with the anti-Moor and anti-Jewish provision in the Treaty of Utrecht, time has made this clause redundant, with Maoridom now living a 100 per cent European-style existence, thus the constant literal exploitation of an expressed good intention 172 years ago by charlatan lawyers is an affront to common sense and honesty.

Sir Bob Jones can never be accused of hiding his light or his opinions under a bushel; he calls things as he sees them, without fear or favour. And he makes a strong argument with regard to the claim of the Maori Council to the Waitangi Tribunal; read on:

For example, the Mighty River Power company's principal assets are eight hydro electric generators on the Waikato River. In 1840, the river provided eels and transport for Maori villagers in the vicinity. But today, like everyone else, Maori buy their food from supermarkets and have substituted cars for canoes. To argue that the river was vested to them in 1840 and claim water usage money is simply opportunistic twisting of the original objective. If that proposition had validity, why is it only now being raised? Why have they not claimed against the power company hitherto?
The answer is blackmail, specifically that via the threat of delay through litigation of the Government's sale plans, this action could secure taxpayer millions in yet another bogus settlement.
Tariana Turia is a nice lady but she sometimes pushes it. On this issue she says Maoridom trace their roots to rivers and talk to them. I've spent three months annually for half a century fishing our rivers, mostly with a Maori mate, and he only ever talked to the river to curse it when he slipped and fell. I asked my Maori tennis opponent and my part-Maori two eldest daughters if they had such urges and received scornful looks. However, Tariana is free to chat away to the river and the power plants won't interfere.
There's a procedure adopted by courts to deal with unclear contract disputes. That is to ask what the intentions of the parties were when the contract was made. With the Treaty and the Waikato River that's easy, namely eel provision and transport. Nothing else. Clause two of the Treaty certainly didn't intend to cover radio waves and all the other opportunistic, parasitic nonsense we are constantly insulted with.
The Waitangi Treaty is redundant. It need not be formally annulled but like many other outdated laws, be simply ignored as a historic relic. Claims such as illicit land seizures can be dealt with by the courts.

Is Sir Robert Jones right? Has the Treaty of Waitangi effectively become redundant, or is it still the appropriate means to settle disputes between the Crown and Maori, even if the issues involved, such as the use of technology could never have been even imagined 172 years ago?

What do you reckon?

The Christchurch CBD rebuild

The plans for the rebuild of the Christchurch CBD were unveiled last night, and on first glance (we had visitors; ironically, from Christchurch, so we haven't studied them in huge detail), they look promising. There will be plenty of park/green spaces, especially around the Avon River, and the division of the CBD into zones makes sense.

The Press covers the announcement extensively this morning, as one would expect. And at this stage, the Government is being coy on the cost of land acquisitions. Given commercial considerations and expectations, that too is to be expected. But John Key says the coyness is with good reason; The Press reports:

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee would not comment on how much that would cost, but Prime Minister John Key said he had a "broad sense" of the total bill.
"We've got a sense of what that cost will be. We're not going to go and detail that [now] for obvious commercial reasons but the Government's made it clear it's got a vision and it's backing that vision."
Some of the initial cost would be offset when land within the "frame" was made available for sale under its new designation, he said.
"There's an initial purchase phase and we'll be working with those land owners to try and do that on a consensual basis [and] beyond that there'll also be a sales process."
Land acquisition was a necessity, he said.
"It's really the only option if you want to get an integrated, co-ordinated 21st century city, otherwise you would require organic growth and it would be very hotchpotch, certainly not the result we want for Christchurch.
"We'll work very fairly with people. We're certainly not trying to rip anyone off. But on the other side of the coin we've got to get going . . . the land's not worth a lot in it's current state."

Mother Nature has presented Christchurch with a unique opportunity. Such has been the scale of the damage and subsequent demolition in the CBD that it is barely recognisable as the city that we wandered around in for the last time (pre-22/2/11) on a sunny Sunday just after New Year in 2011.  So many buildings have been levelled that there are vast empty spaces, and even SWMBO, a native Cantabrian struggles to get her bearings at times without familiar landmarks.

The full plan can be viewed here. And on the cover page are before and after photographs looking towards the CBD from out Sumner way. The contrast between before and after is striking. Because there is so much empty space, Christchurch CAN plan its rebuild in a way that no other city has been able to, quite possibly since the end of WW2.

There's obviously some discontent from those who lost homes in the Christchurch earthquakes that the CBD rebuild has pushed them to the back seat. Striking that balance is a real challenge, but the commercial heart of Christchurch must be rebuilt, and the sooner that happens, the better. Businesspeople like our resident cabbie commenter Tinman rely on an inflow of people for the livelihoods, and the sooner that Christchurch's economy and its desirability as a tourist destination return to pre-quake levels, the better.

In the meantime, Gerry Brownlee has fired a broadside at insurance companies who are dragging their feet in settling residential claims. That is where much of the delay in rebuilding homes lies, and Brownlee's rejoinder was well aimed.

There will doubtless be plenty of comment on the proposal that the CCDU unveiled yesterday. We reckon it's a step in the right direction, although it's just the first step in a long journey.

The Invisible Man

The Dominion-Post was extremely unkind to David Shearer yesterday. Vernon Small began his story about the Fairfax/Ipsos poll thus:

David Shearer is the invisible man of New Zealand politics.
Seven months after he took up the reins, voters say they still do not know the man who would be prime minister, raising questions about his effectiveness as Labour leader. 

And the Dom-Post's editorial kept the meme going; under the headline Shearer 'invisible' as gloss wears off Key, the leader writer noted:

Therein lies the problem for Mr Shearer. Only one-third think he has a clear vision for New Zealand, and just one in five believe he is a strong and effective leader.
The reason for such abysmally low ratings is likely to be tied to the impression voters have of Mr Shearer. When asked to describe him in a few words, nearly a quarter could not think of any at all. A significant number of those who could said he does not stand out or is invisible.
In other words, Mr Shearer is missing in action. Mr Key may be slowly falling out of favour with voters, but at least they know who he is. 

And just to be extra cruel, the editorial continues:

Mr Shearer has now had more than seven months to stamp his mark on Labour and present it as a credible alternative government that has a clear and carefully thought-out plan for New Zealand. He has singularly failed to do so.
What voters have been presented with instead is a leader, and a party, which do not seem to have a coherent idea of what they stand for. On the one hand, they espouse sound policies that would be good for New Zealand, such as a capital gains tax to encourage investment away from boom and bust housing cycles and into productive enterprises, and raising the retirement age to 67 to ease the burden of borrowing on future generations. 
On the other hand, they have yet to say whether they are still committed to policies that undermined their economic credibility at the last election, such as extending the in- work tax credit to beneficiaries.
Mr Shearer appears to believe he has the luxury of time, and that he has till 2014 to set out his stall. But it is wrong to assume that voters go shopping only in election years.
They are browsing now, and making it clear that as far as Labour is concerned, they are not impressed with what they see. 

With press and polling like this, and with his party organisation now stacked with supporters of his deputy leader Grant Robertson, Mr Shearer must wonder why he gets up every day. We wonder whether he'd be happier just going surfing, or chilling out to some classic rock music such as this:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Caption Contest

It's Olympics time, and there will be no shortage of memorable images coming out of London and other places around the UK where the action is taking place.

We spotted the picture below on Facebook last night, and though it's already been captioned, we reckon that our loyal readership can do better; here goes:

You know the rules; keep 'em short, relevant and amusing. Other than that, you are only limited by your imagination. Cyber-medals will be awarded in due course!

It's all yours...

Dealing with Journalists

Mark Cavendish may have failed to make British cycling fans cheer* in the Road Race on Saturday, but he made up for that with an acid slap-down of BBC Sports Editor, David Bond.

Interviewed on the Mall after the race, Bond asked him “Was tiredness after the Tour de France a factor?” To which Cav replied, “Don’t ask stupid questions” and, as his minder lead him away, followed up with a query of his own: “Do you know anything about cycling?” 

On the evidence available, this cycling fan, heartily sick of the half-arsed coverage the sport usually gets, can only say that the answer is a resounding “no”. I doubt even Martin “stick to yachting” Tasker would have bothered with that question.

It gets better though, thanks to the beauty of social media. Bond has had a whinge on his own blog on the BBC site and thereby allowed a fair number of my fellow fans to put him back in his box a second time. Nice.

*Well actually he didn’t, the GB team’s tactics may not have worked out, and they may not have had the firepower to chase down the break, with limited help from the Germans and none from the Aussies (who evidently thought O’Grady’s chances from a group of 22 riders were better than Goss’ in a sprint against Cavendish and Greipel) but everyone on Box Hill cheered themselves hoarse nonetheless.

More on David's dodgy dollars...

Pete George is a Dunedin-based blogger. But he also stood against Dr David Clark in last year's General Election, so he knows the numberless Labour MP better than most. 

Pete is also a bit bemused by Dr Clark's TV appearance yesterday, and opines thus:

Shades of Phil Goff’s election campaign embarrassment with “show me the money”.
Clark is a first term MP, have to cut him some slack. But he has work experience at Treasury, and is Labour’s shadow spokesperson for Revenue. He should be able to manage some numbers.
He’ll have to take this on the chin and hopefully learn from it. But it’s symptomatic of a much bigger problem. A Labour problem.
Labour selected Clark as candidate for a safe Labour seat, everyone expected he only needed to turn up to win Dunedin North after Pete Hodgson’s retirement.
I campaigned against Clark. He repeated carefully learnt lines at every meeting. He was elected. In Labour’s ledership contest after the election I heard David Parker recite some of the exact same lines Clark had been using.
Eight months later, on Q+A this morning and in his press release, Clark is still repeating the same lines. What’s going on going on here? He’s been an MP now for more than half a year.
It’s not entirely Clark’s fault. He seems to be doing what’s been asked of him by his party. He’s a reliable repeater.
And Labour are still running their election campaign. They put a lot into opposing asset sales during the campaign, it was their main election focus. They are still campaigning against asset sales. They are promoting anti asset sale petition. Labour MPs still use No Asset Sales avatars in social media.
And at the same time Clark’s minimum wage bill was drawn from the ballot Clayton Cosgrove had his anti asset sale bill drawn. That bill is designed to fail, it’s simply another campaign continuation.
Clark was lucky having his Monday-ising bill drawn from the ballot several months ago. He was lucky it got automatic support from Peter Dunne as it fitted with United Future policy.
Clark was lucky having his minimum wage bill drawn from the ballot this week.
Clark was unlucky that Labour handed him a lemon bill without checking the juice.

Pete George is right on the money here. Like asset sales, Labour campaigned hard for a $15 minimum wage. Along with the No Asset Sales billboards, Most Labour candidates also erected billboards calling for an arbitrary increase to the minimum wage.

And what happened? Labour sunk to its worst result in six MMP elections, and its lowest share of the popular vote in over 60 years. Its two key policy planks were rejected by almost three quarters of all voters.

Labour insists that it has moved on from the 2008 and 2011 defeats. But how can they have moved on if the party continues to fight battles that it has already lost?

Sir Ted's bombshell

Sir Graham Henry gave his new book the kind of publicity that money can't buy yesterday; the Herald reports:

Sir Graham Henry's admission that he wondered whether match-fixing was to blame in the All Blacks' shock quarter-final defeat in the 2007 World Cup has fuelled an international debate about sportsmanship, fairness - and sour grapes.
In a new book, the coach - who won the Cup last year - lays bare his agony after the shock loss to France.
And he admits that he pressured the New Zealand Rugby Union to push for an International Rugby Board inquiry after he considered whether match-fixing might have been involved.

And Sir Ted already has the kind of response his publishers were probably hoping for:

British rugby writer Stephen Jones, a long-time critic of New Zealand rugby, tweeted yesterday that the comments were a "puke-making assault on Wayne Barnes by bitter Graham Henry".

It's interesting that Henry has chosen now to tear the scar off an old wound. However valid his point may be  (and can anyone remember a test match where France went 60 minutes without a penalty being awarded against them?), it will always be taken as sour grapes.

Let's be fair; New Zealand played poorly at Cardiff in 2007. It is a match that should have been won, and comfortably so. But there was a general lack of composure and poor decision-making, and the All Blacks made their earliest-ever exit from a World Cup. There were indeed refereeing errors in that match, and it's rather galling that Wayne Barnes seems to have friends in high places, given his ongoing international appointments.

Sir Graham Henry is a very considered sort of bloke, and will not have made these allegations without a fair degree of contemplation. It will be interesting to see how this story pans out. But match-fixing in international rugby? We're not convinced.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The "clueless" Dr Clark

Labour's Dunedin North MP Dr David Clark has made a remarkably frank admission on TV this morning; under the headline Labour MP clueless on minimum wage price tag the Herald reports:

Labour MP David Clark has admitted he doesn't know how much it will cost employers if the minimum wage is raised to $15 an hour, despite sponsoring a bill to do just that.
Tomorrow Mr Clark's member's bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 was one of five pulled from the ballot.
Speaking to TVNZ's Q + A this morning Mr Clark said he had not yet had the chance to gauge how different party leaders and members of Parliament felt about the bill.
"I think it's a very reasonable policy. It will affect a couple of hundred thousand New Zealanders, and right now, actually, we're all bearing the costs of having people living in poverty, and we don't need to do that. It's an easy fix," he said.

That's right Dear Readers; Labour wants employers to pick up the tab for people on low wages, but have no idea how much it will cost; read on:

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was a start to fixing some of the problems, he said.
But he admitted the cost to employers had not yet been calculated.
When asked what the overall cost would be, he said Labour did not know exactly how much it would cost.
He then admitted he had not costed it, but understood there had "been work done around it".
"I think that we've seen that the millions of the dollars that it will put into the economy of raising the minimum wage will actually have a positive boost, it will have an economic advantage. So we're not talking about costs here. We're talking about boosting the economy," he said.

Sadly, a raise in the minimum wage to the degree that Dr Clark is advancing will hurt small businesses more than it will help them. Labour may not have done the sums, but we did back in October last year when we debunked Labour's election policy. Here's some of what we said back then:

We're involved in the ownership and management of a couple of small to medium businesses. So we were interested to see that Labour was releasing its work and wages policy today.

One thing stands out immediately; Labour's desire to increase the minimum wage to $15.00/hour. So here's a hypothetical scenario:

Let's say our business has just employed an office junior; a young person who rocked up to our offices seeking work. This person was unemployed, and had little work experience but there was something about them that made us think that we could develop them into a really good team member. Lo and behold; there's a change of government, and suddenly instead of paying this person $13.00/hour (which they were thrilled to be earning), we have to pay them $15.00/hour. The young person is doing really well, and we take the hit and keep them on.

But then we have two accounts clerks who each earn $16.00/hour, and an office manager on $20.00/hour. The reason that they are paid at those rates is because of the value their respective jobs, and their performance in them add to the business. Aren't we honour-bound as a "good employer" (unlike Matt McCarten, we pay PAYE on due date) to increase their pay as well, by a similar rate to that which the office junior's pay went up?

You see Dr Clark; it's not just as simple as paying people $15/hour. If the minimum wage goes up, so will everyone else's. Our wage bill is in the order of $1m per annum, so an arbitrary, across-the-board 15% wage increase would cost us an additional $150,000 per year. That would be totally unsustainable for us; our businesses run at break-even at best. There is little doubt for our businesses that we would have to reduce our staff numbers.

So who wins there Dr Clark? We certainly don't; nor do the staff members whose jobs are lost, and their families. And far from the Wanganui economy receiving a shot in the arm, there are suddenly less people spending.

Once again, Labour has not thought this policy through. The $15 minimum wage was rejected at the 2011 General Election, and we hope that it is rejected again when Dr Clark's Bill is debated in a few weeks time. 

We suggest that David Clark go and talk to some employers too. We'd me more than happy to dialogue with him and tell him just how his simplistic plan is flawed. Because it's small and medium sized businesses like ours that are the engine room of the New Zealand economy , and Dr Clark and his friends run the risk of throwing a spanner into the works.

Another defeat snatched

The Vodafone Warriors' 2012 season is all but over. Barring a miracle, their loss to Manly last night in Perth has all but ruled them out of play-off football this year.

And worryingly, they have made an art form of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Last night they led Manly by 18-6 at halftime, and extended that to 22-6 when Manu Vatuvei scored early in the second spell. But the Newcastle Nightmare came back to haunt them again, and they conceded three tries in the last 12 minutes to lose 24-22.

Brian McLennan is having a tough first year. The former Kiwis coach is finding the week-to-week grind of the NRL far more of a challenge than getting the national team up for three or four games a season.

But coaches don't lose matches on the field; players do. And on the field, the Warriors look shot to pieces. Their confidence has gone, and even when Manly scored to make the score 22-14 and still needed to score twice to win with just minutes remaining, you could see the nerves kick in.

So it looks as there will be no September footie for the Penrose boys this year. Here's hoping that they can regroup in 2013, as there is too much talent at McLennan's disposal for this side to play as poorly as they have been in recent weeks.

Christian Music Sunday - 29 July 2012

It's a glorious morning here on the outskirts of Wanganui. The sun is shining, although the pink tinges on the horizon and the clouds that are building away to the north suggest that this little run of golden weather is about to end. 

But the paddocks that surround us are green and lush, even after a few frosty mornings. And across the valley from us, there are newborn lambs. It's nearing the end of winter, and it's that time of year when you get tricked into believing that spring might be approaching, only to have a could southerly blow through and chill the bones!

But this morning, it's great to be alive, so here's a song that expresses just how much we have to thank God for:

The words of Chris Tomlin's chorus are spot on; You are amazing God!

A statistical nonsense

The Sunday Star-Times' lead story today tells us that John Key is apparently losing his gloss; it opines:

A new poll has found Prime Minister John Key is increasingly becoming a polarising figure - especially among women.
The first Fairfax Media/Ipsos political poll shows National has enough support for a third term, 44.9 per cent to Labour's 32.6 per cent, assuming the current mix of support parties. But it also reveals a growing divide, with many still strongly backing Key, but a growing sense of anger and distrust among others. 

Wow; that might be news if it wasn't followed by this:

Interviewers asked 100 people to describe Key in as few words as possible. The pollsters said many voters rated him a straight-shooter and good or excellent leader, but a significant number thought he was arrogant, smarmy and out of touch.  

And worse is to follow; the poll shows that John Key is still enjoying a huge level of support; read on:

Key still has the confidence of an overwhelming majority - 63 per cent saying he had a clear vision for the country, and was a strong and effective leader. 

This is misleading headline writing of the worst "who cares if it's factual? It'll sell newspapers" variety. Anyone with even a basic understanding of statistics knows that the bigger the selection of respondents, the more statistically valid a poll is. And we have real difficulties with a poll of just 100 people.

And let's not forget; it was the Sunday Star-Times which brought us the Horizon poll last year where respondents self-selected. The Horizon poll consistently predicted a win for the parties of the Left last year, until the SST suddenly fell out of love with it.

This is more shoddy journalism from the Sunday Star-Times.Moving into his second term, and with his government starting to move on the policies it campaigned on, some discontent would be inevitable. But what this poll shows is that fewer people oppose John Key (37%) than voted for Labour, the Greens, the Mana Party and NZ First cumulatively. We doubt that he would be too fussed by that; if he bothered to read past the very slanted headline.

Who'd be a Shark?

The Super Rugby final next weekend will be held in Hamilton. The Herald on Sunday explains why:

The Chiefs will host the Super 15 final for the first time after the Sharks upset the Stormers in the second semifinal this morning.
The Sharks held off a late fight by the Stormers to win 26-19 thanks to tries from JP Pietersen and Louis Ludik.
Frederic Michalak finished with 16 points for the Sharks including two drop goals.
The game looked over when Pietersen's try put the Sharks ahead by 14 points with 20 minutes remaining, but Gio Aplon's score for the Stormers seven minutes later set up a thrilling finish at Newlands.
The home side pushed for the try that would have leveled the scores even after the final hooter had sounded, but the Sharks held on.

That's a fantastic result in terms of the match being played in New Zealand, and the Chiefs having home advantage. But spare a thought for their opponents next week.

In the last fortnight, and excepting connecting flights the Sharks' travel schedule has seen them go from Durban to Brisbane to Cape Town and now to Hamilton. At least the air points gathered will allow a holiday somewhere later on!

But seriously, it's a gruelling schedule. And having been to South Africa a few times, we know from personal experience that it was always the flight towards New Zealand that was the toughest to recover from, where you are flying against the time zones.

In contrast, the Chiefs haven't left Hamilton during the playoffs, and had a week off for finishing in the top two. They looked refreshed against the Crusaders, and we're sure that helped them defend like men possessed in the closing minutes where the Crusaders were unable to move the ball forward to set Daniel Carter up for a dropped goal. They'll have another full-on week this week on the training field, but will have the luxury of going home at the end of each day to their families and their own beds; that's a big advantage in the lead-up to the Grand Final.

By finishing sixth, the Sharks got the rough end of the stick this year. A win next week might just be a step too far for them. Then again, that's what the pundits were saying about this morning's match. It should be a terrific final.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A straight talking mayor...

Otorohanga mayor Dale Williams has a refreshing media strategy. The Herald is trying to beat up a story about wasteful expenditure by the mayor and his councillors under the headline Mayor stonewalls travel cost inquiry which is prefaced thus:

Otorohanga Mayor Dale Williams has instructed his staff to ignore questions from the Herald after he was asked about council expenses at a local government conference.
The Herald sent a series of questions under the Official Information Act asking about the recent local government conference in Queenstown.
Questions to the Otorohanga District Council included how many councillors went on the trip, how many were accompanied by partners and what expenses were incurred. The council was also asked to show the expenses for each person who attended, including taxi fares, accommodation and meal costs.

But then the story goes on to publish a full and very frank e-mailed response from Mr Williams, which in these days of PR-speak makes wonderful reading; read on:

In an email sent yesterday, Mr Williams said he had instructed staff to ignore the OIA request and any future requests from the Herald, blasting the newspaper for trying to dredge up "muck and accuse elected members of wasteful behaviour".
"For your information, only the Mayor and Mayoress of Otorohanga attended the conference. Yes we used taxis where necessary, yes we ate food otherwise we would die, yes we drank wine because I like the stuff.
"The Mayoress paid for her own air travel, which frankly she shouldn't have to but that's how we operate.
"Yes we shared a room, yes we had breakfast together, yes we had a great time - thanks for asking."
Mr Williams said he had wanted more councillors to attend the conference; however, their familial responsibilities and commitments meant they could not.

But Dale Williams isn't finished. He has one final rebuke for the Herald's journalists:

"I ask you, would you work for my council for $15k a year and still try to hold down a job, a family, a life and put up with the crap you people [the media] think is sport?"

Now we've never heard of Dale Williams before, and have no idea of his background, his politics, and whether or not he has any history at the trough. But we like the cut of his jib.

In the main, those in local government in provincial New Zealand are doing so because they want to make a difference. The rewards are small in comparison with the big cities. Yes; they need to be accountable for their stewardship or ratepayer funds. But is it the media's job to hold them accountable and conduct witch-hunts, or should accountability be left for the voters?

We can't help but wonder...

A group has been set up to push for Sue Moroney's Bill providing 26 weeks of paid parental leave to go through; the Dom-Post reports:

When lack of finances drove Deborah Morris-Travers back to work and away from her 5-month-old son, she cried all the way there.
Yesterday she launched the 26 For Babies coalition, which is pushing the Government to extend paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks.
The coalition is made up of her organisation Every Child Counts, Plunket, Unicef, the Breastfeeding Authority, the Women's Studies Association, the Working Women's Resource Centre and unions.
Ms Morris-Travers said when her second child was born, she had spent the previous five years working part-time and didn't have enough savings to allow her to remain off work.
"The first day back at work I cried the whole way from Otaki to Wellington at the thought of leaving my tiny boy behind. I wasn't ready to return to work.
"I spent many months expressing milk in the meeting room, striving to do the best for my son, even if I couldn't be with him every day."
Extending paid parental leave would help women achieve some equality in the labour force by keeping them linked to their jobs, she said. 

So we can't help but wonder; is Deborah Morris-Travers, spokesperson for the 26 For Babies Coalition the same person as Deborah Morris who was a New Zealand First List MP between 1996 and 1999, and who served as Minister of Youth Affairs as a novice MP?

Wikipedia suggests that she may be. Which also causes us to wonder; ought not the Dom-Post have disclosed that, especially when her profile suggests that she fell out with the National government of the day and with her leader, becoming an independent MP up until the 1999 election. It might just add some context to her advocacy for Ms Moroney's Member's Bill.

FOOTNOTE: This is in no way intended to be a criticism of Ms Morris-Travers. It is merely an observation as to the media sometimes not telling all the story; that's of course if the writer concerned is old enough to remember the time period concerned!

Tweet of the Day - 28 July 2012

Today's selection appeared in our Twitter feed just a few moments ago. Legside Lizzie, one of our favourite cricket scribes makes this telling observation:

Need we say any more?

Bring 'em on

It's almost time for the 2012 Olympic Games to start in London. The Opening Ceremony is just over an hour away as we type this, after which everyone will go to bed, hopefully happy. Then tomorrow (UK time) it's game (or should that be Games?) on.

Today's Dominion-Post editorial reflects a similar theme, beginning thus:

Forget the pre-Olympic worries about security and directionally challenged bus drivers.
It's the same every four years. Reporters descend upon the host city a few days before competition begins and look for ways to fill pages and pad out their bulletins. At Athens it was unfinished stadiums, at Beijing it was air pollution, and in London it has been missing security guards and bus drivers who cannot find their way from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic village.
Inevitably the concerns prove to be unfounded. In Athens the seating was in place when the crowds filed in. In Beijing the skies miraculously cleared and a host of records was shattered.
In London, where the opening ceremony for the 30th Olympic Games began this morning, British troops will fill the gaps left by the security guards who've gone AWOL and it's a penny to a pound that bus drivers will discover a previously unknown talent for map-reading.
It is time to turn our attention to the real business of the Games. In the main, Olympic sports do not command the year-round attention of Kiwi fans in the same manner as rugby, football, netball, rugby league or even cricket. But, for two weeks, every four years we are entranced by watching the planet's greatest athletes perform feats the rest of us can only dream of. National pride is a secondary consideration. To older generations the names of Nurmi, Owens, Blankers-Koen, Zatopek, Korbut, Spitz, Comaneci and Lewis are as familiar as the names of Lovelock, Williams, Halberg, Snell, Todd, Ferguson, Loader and Ulmer.
Four years ago we were as excited by the performances of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps as we were by those of the Evers-Swindell twins and Valerie Adams.
We got to see Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell triumph in a finish so close that TVNZ commentator Peter Montgomery initially placed the Kiwis only third. And we got to see Adams send a 4kg metal ball soaring high into the night sky, before circling the Birds Nest stadium with the New Zealand flag hoisted aloft by her massive arms. But we also got to see two of the greatest individual performances in the 116-year history of the modern Olympics - those of Phelps and Bolt. Phelps, the hyperactive kid who found peace swimming laps, motored relentlessly up and down the Olympic pool to win an unprecedented eight gold medals. The long-legged Bolt won five fewer medals, but, arguably, did so in even more memorable fashion, lurching out of the starting blocks in a tangle of arms and legs like a drunk ejected from a bar, then straightening up and turning to look for his fast-receding rivals. 

Goodness; was it only four years ago that the Evers-Swindell twins won a gold medal in a pulsating finish? It seems far longer ago, now that they have retired and largely disappeared from the public eye. How quickly we forget our sporting heroes and heroines.

The Dom-Post's leader writer then looks forward:

Who will excite our imaginations this time? We don't yet know. But two glorious weeks of sport stretch ahead of us in which we will find out.  

We will indeed. As well as the performances of the New Zealanders, there is much to anticipate. The Men's 100m race on the track could be the best of all time with a fantastic field trying to knock Usain Bolt off his perch. Michael Phelps will not win as many medals in London as he did in Beijing, simply because he is contesting one fewer event. Kenyans and Ethiopians will dominate middle and long distance running. That's just scraping the surface!

And we'll see more of the 2012 Olympics than any other. Sky TV is providing multi-channel coverage, and those who subscribe are in for an Olympic banquet. Once the Opening Ceremony has been completed, today will be devoted to clearing as much as possible from the MySky disc in anticipation of it getting a pretty good workout in the next few days.

Just three words remain with regard to the 2012 Olympic Games; bring 'em on!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Not very funny after all

The sad case of The Comedian has hopefully been out to rest at last; Stuff reports:'

A comedian who sexually assaulted his four-year-old daughter has been convicted and sentenced to eight months home detention.
"It is clear this was grave offending," Judge Mark Perkins told the man at sentencing in the Auckland District Court today. 

Judge Perkins has taken a far more realistic view if this case than his judicial counterpart Judge Philippa Cunningham took almost a year ago when she was far too lenient towards The Comedian. 

He agreed to the prosecution's request for a sentence of home detention, but far more importantly he entered a conviction against The Comedian. Actions have consequences, and the drunken actions of The Comedian in December 2009 will have life-long consequences for him.

The Court was told that The Comedian had abstained from alcohol since this incident, and sought help; read on:

Judge Perkins said a probation report indicated the offending was one-off and there was no prospect of future harm to the child.
The offender had dealt with his alcohol issues and both the Family Court and Child Youth and Family "harbour no continuing concerns".
The man has shared custody of his children with his former wife and had a clear expression of remorse. "You are horrified at your own offending," the judge said.
Much of the child's trauma at the time was related to the break-up of the family.
"Obviously one would hope the child would not remember the details," Judge Perkins said.
He said he considered whether a jail term was necessary but given the informal agreement in an earlier court, he could only do that by vacating the man's earlier guilty plea. 
"It is clear I should stand by the position now presented."
He said there was no premeditation in the offence, there were expressions of remorse and steps had been taken to overcome alcohol abuse but he had to be convicted to deter others. 

This regrettable chapter now comes to an end, unless The Comedian decides to appeal today's sentence. We hope that he doesn't, because this whole case was never a laughing matter.

Lest we forget...

This time tomorrow, we'll be watching the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. But we doubt that the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Olympics' darkest day will rate even a mention.

It's almost 40 years since Palestinian Black September terrorists broke into the Olympic Village in Munich and took Israeli athletes and officials hostage. The terrorists were seeking the release of more than 200 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and they chose their target with devastating effect.

However the IOC remains reluctant to revisit history and remember the eleven sportsmen who were slaughtered. We shared the image above on Facebook earlier in the week, and we encourage those of our readers with Facebook accounts and a sense of justice to do likewise.

We hate it when politics and sport collide. The attack on the Olympic Village was a particular affront, and the world held its breath as the situation developed and escalated. With the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, it would have been fitting for the IOC to allow people to pause for a moment during their flagship event and reflect on lives lost in the pursuit of sport.

We realise that many of our younger readers will have only a limited knowledge of the events of September 1972. Take some time out of your day to watch this documentary, with interviews of those who were close to the drama, and with news footage from the time. The footage may be grainy and ill-defined by modern standards, but the outrage is still very real.

As a new breed of athletes celebrates the start of the 2012 London Olympics, join us in sparing a thought or a prayer for the athletes and officials above, killed because of accident of birth. We will remember them.

Carrying the flag

Nick Willis will be the New Zealand flag bearer for tomorrow morning's Olympic Games opening ceremony; Stuff reports:

Nick Willis will walk the Olympic Stadium track in London before he runs it after this morning being named New Zealand’s flagbearer for the opening ceremony.
A silver medallist in the 1500m in Beijing four years, Willis was a popular choice for the role and speculation he could be handed the honour heightened last week when he tweeted he was off to buy some news shoes for the opening ceremony.
With rower Mahe Drysdale and shot put champion Valerie Adams both ruling themselves out,  Willis headed off the likes of veteran equestrian rider Mark Todd, triathlete Bevan Docherty and perhaps footballer Ryan Nelsen for the role.
Willis will lead a New Zealand party of 60 into London’s Olympic Stadium tomorrow morning (NZ time), comprising 39 athletes and 21 officials.  The number is low because a large proportion of the 184-strong team are competing on the opening two days, and other later starters aren't arriving in the athletes' village until closer to week two
Unlike four years ago when Drysdale had to row the morning after the opening ceremony, Willis has the first week off before hitting the track for the heats of the 1500m.
The 29 year-old Wellington born United States based runner said he was thrilled to be handed the honour by the New Zealand Olympic team’s chef de mission Dave Currie.
“What an amazing honour it is to be named as flag bearer for New Zealand,” he said.  “My heroes Peter Snell and John Walker each carried the flag, so to walk where they, and many other New Zealand legends have, is more than I could have ever dreamed of. 

It's hard to argue over this choice, given that Mahe Drysdale was unavailable and Valerie Adams is not even in London yet. As Olympic silver medallist and a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Willis is a seasoned campaigner who has paid his dues. He will represent New Zealand with pride.

We'll have more on the Olympics later in the day; watch this space for something a little different!

Same-sex marriage

The 50th Parliament of New Zealand will soon consider the issue of same-sex marriage. Labour MP Louisa Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was yesterday drawn from the Members' Bill ballot, and will have its First Reading, possibly as early as late August.

There is an inevitability about same-sex marriage being legalised, but that does not mean that the New Zealand Parliament ought necessarily fast-track this piece of legislation, which is bound to be contentious.

Where do we stand on the issue? Those who accuse us of being a fundy Christian (a term that is bandied about so much that its meaning has been blurred) may be surprised to learn that we support this Bill passing a First Reading, and going to a select committee for an extensice period of consultation and submissions. The select committee will have the opportunity to canvass the views of a wide range of New Zealanders, not just those with a vested interest who will doubtless flood the committee with submissions.

Beyond that however, Parliament should be guided by the views of the people whom the MP's are elected to represent. And just because the issue of same-sex marriage is the current "hot topic", it does not follow that Parliament should rush this piece of legislation through without an appropriate level of scrutiny.

The lobby pushing for same-sex marriage yesterday was elated that Louisa Wall's Bill had been drawn. But we found some of the comments in social media just a little disturbing. The Parliament rarely votes according to the conscience of MP's. The Oxford Dictionary defines conscience thus:

Definition of conscience


a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour

There were numerous suggestions yesterday from same-sex marriage activists and their supporters that those who oppose this Bill are being offensive or bigoted. We totally reject that view. We are a free and fair society, and the right to hold a certain belief is inherent to our democracy. MP's such as Damian O'Connor and Ross Robertson (Labour), Bill English and Tim Macindoe (National), Hone Harawira (Mana) and Richard Prosser  and Asenati Lole-Taylor (NZ First) are among those who have indicated tht they oppose same-sex marriage for various reasons. They are perfectly entitled to hold those views without bullying, intimidation or name-calling.

It is likely that New Zealand will at some point legalise same-sex marriage, and many other countries are considering such a move. Let's have the debate, but in a mature and reasoned manner that reinforces the important role of marriage to our society.