ASEAN FTA opens market of 500m

February 28, 2009

Trade Minister Tim Groser has signed a Free Trade Agreement with 10 Asian nations.

They are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia and these 10 members of ASEAN – Association of South East Asian Nations – have a total population of more than 500 million which is a big market for New Zealand produce.

While applauding this I do wonder about the time, effort and expense involved in these sorts of agreements when the greater good would be better served by world-wide free trade.

Given the slow progress of the WTO I realise that it’s important to keep working on these smaller deals which may well be stepping stones to the big goal of full free and fair trade.

That will only come when all the protectionist barriers are dismantled so all countries open their borders to allow trade with all other countries. If there’s a silver lining to the GFC it might just be that more countries find they can no longer afford subsidies and other anti-competitive measures.


Saturday smiles

February 28, 2009

A ventriloquist is touring the country doing shows in clubs and pubs.

 

He’s going through the usual run of off-colour and dumb blonde jokes when a well dressed, beautifully spoken blonde woman stands up and shots, “I’ve heard more than enough of your dumb-blonde jokes, you jerk!

 

“What makes you think you can stereotype women this way? What connection can a woman’s hair colour possibly have with her fundamental worth as a human being?

 

“It’s morons like you who prevent women like me from being respected at work and in our communities and from reaching our full potential, because you and your Neanderthal brethren continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes of not only blondes but women in general for the sake of cheap laughs.

 

“You are a pathetic misogynistic relic of the past, and what you do is not only contrary to discrimination laws in every civilised country, it’s deeply offensive to people of modern sensibilities and basic respect for their fellow human beings.

 

“You should hang your head in shame you pusillanimous little maggot.”

 

The ventriloquist hangs his head in shame and begins to stutter out an apology when the blonde interrupts him:

 

“You stay out of this, mister, I’m talking to the cheeky little sod on your knee.”

 

Hat Tip: the weekly Ag-letter from Baker & Associates.


Pedal power

February 28, 2009

A dedicated cycleway the length of the nation is a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – but it’s one appeals to me.

Cycling is popular but few of our roads are designed to enable cyclists and motor vehicles to share them safely so getting the bikes away from the roads would be better for bikers and motorists.

I’ll be even more enthusiastic about the cycle way if it doesn’t stick too closely to the route followed by the main road but meanders away from the highway between cities to some of the small town and rural byways.

Following the main road doesn’t always give the best scenery – the coastal route which the railway takes from Oamaru to Dunedin is far more attractive than much of State Highway 1 – and as trains don’t usually go up very steep hills it might be easier pedalling too.

The main road north from Oamaru to Christchurch is pretty boring, but a cycle route up the Waitaki Valley, through the Mackenzie Country to Geraldine would take in some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Then it could take the inland route from Geraldine through the Rakaia Gorge, by-passing the monotony of the Canterbury Plains.

Busted Blonde notes the micro-economy which has blossomed along the Central Otago rail trail. It’s created business opportunities in the provision of food and accommodation – raising the standard of both for the benefit of tourists and locals – and the benefits aren’t confined to businesses on or close to the trail.  Most cyclists visit other places on the way to and from the trail and leave some of their money behind.

I am very wary about the government picking winners by propping up private businesses and aware of the risks of using public money for make-work schemes.

If taxpayers’ money is to be used for economic development it must be for projects which will have endure and propser in the long term and I think a cycle way could do that.

It ticks the boxes for a tourist attraction which is clean, green and has health benefits too. And if public money goes in to the infrastructure it will provide opportunities for private investment in the provision of food, accomdation and other goods and services along the way.

It might be a BHAG but I think it’s one that could work.


Don’t panic

February 27, 2009

 The creation of non-jobs and anything which hints at protectionism  are to be avoided at all costs, Don Nicolson says in Federated Farmers ‘ submission to the job summit.

New Zealand is the poster country for being an open dynamic economy. If any company or organisation proposes protectionist measures, we farmers will tell them to go and read some history books.

(Anyone sqwaking about Sawzi losing the Defence Department contract  please take note and if you don’t understand why, read what Macdoctor  and Poneke have to say about the issue.)
More good advice from Feds:
 “A key part of what Federated Farmers recommends is not to panic.

“We are still selling goods overseas and are now seeing some price stabilisation. We’re actually pretty upbeat about New Zealand’s economic prospects as there’s no direct protein in a silicon chip. Everyone needs food.

 Yet again the importance of agriculture in our economy should be a good thing. People still have to eat and we are very good at producing more food than we need ourselves. People in the overseas markets we sell to might have to give up luxuries but they will still have to eat. 

“Some gentle steps rather than a series of knockout schemes must be the starting point. This is an argument for treading gently and not thinking big.

If there is one good thing about the deficits we’re facing as a country it’s that we can’t afford to think big.

Feds’ submission made four main points:

1. Don’t trip up the economy and cost more jobs by including agriculture in the Emisisons Trading Scheme.

Agriculture should never have been included in our Kyoto commitment and including it in our ETS would cripple the economy while doing nothing for the environment.

2. Include water storeage in the infrastructure package.

For each 1000ha irrigated, the Ministry of Economic Development’s study of the Opuha Dam near Fairlie in South Canterbury, confirmed that some $7.7 million is injected into the local community, 30 jobs were created and household incomes boosted by $1.2 million.

We have seen similar gains from irrigation in North Otago with economic, social and environmental gains.

Feds includes tree planting on marginal land and rural broadband under infrastructure.

It would be difficult to argue against planting trees and I second  PM of NZ  and Farmgirl with their complaints abour rural internet service.

3. Improving skills and getting people into agriculture.

One of the eye openers about dairying is the poor literacy and numeracy of so many job applicants.

4. Concentrate R&D funding on agriculture.

When money is scarce it should be directed at areas of natural advantage and our biggest one is agriculture.

If nothing more than these points are acted on as a result of today’s job summit it will have been very worthwhile.


Which is the oldest?

February 27, 2009

The annual North Otago A&P show starts today.

Like many others it went backwards in the wake of the 1980s ag-sag but in recent years exhibitor and visitor numbers have improved, due in part to a change of date from November to February.

The two-day event retains the best of the old attractions – stock judging, horse jumping,  pet lamb and calf contests and dog trials.

I’ve never been tempted to enter the home industries competition but do admire the skill of those who produce light as air sponges and intricate hand crafts.

This year new attractions include sheep racing, a jelly bean spitting competition and the full throttle motor bike spectacular.

This is North Otago’s 144th show which makes it the second oldest in the country, I don’t know which is the oldest so  if you do, please tell me.


Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

February 27, 2009

Sunday is St David’s Day which made the choice of a Welsh poet the logical choice for this Friday’s poem.

That of course led me to  Dylan Thomas  and the only one of his works I could find in any of my poetry books was Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.

It was Owen Marshall’s choice in Dear to Me 100 New Zealander write about their favourite poems, published by Random House  as a fund raising project by Amnesty International.

Writing about his choice, Marshall said he’d have preferred his favourite :

wasn’t as conventionally popular as this . . . nevertheless I cannot deny the power I find in this poem. that emotional power, and the theme which it drives, are almost entire within the first three-line stanza. And what a stroke of genius to use the adjective, gentle, rather than the expected adverb.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

 

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

                –      Dylan Thomas    -


Spot the PR troll

February 27, 2009

The NBR story headlined Red faces at PGG Wrightson media briefing  attracted a long comment from Bob who was obviously less than impressed.

It’s followed by these two comments from Anonymous:

Bob, you’re a poor listener.

Bob, you’re a poor listener. The answers on the SFF deal finance were actually very good and credible. Have you heard of the global financial crisis, by the way? Or are you living on Mars? Your reply betrays you as a victim of the current panic, eager to dish out cheap criticism without considering the facts.

and

And also… do you think

And also… do you think that if a crucial refinancing was nearing completion at a time of turmoil in the banking sector a person like Norgate would talk freely about it before it was completely signed up. You’re not only a poor listener, you’re commercially ignorant.

Call me cynical if you like but I suspect Anonymous is part of the company’s PR team.


Scarfies or barfies?

February 26, 2009

Monday’s ODT welcomed students to Dunedin with an editorial headlined Dunedin’s lifeblood.

It noted a welcome decline in anti-social behaviour though cautioned:

Those so inclined might well find that there are consequences and that leniency from university authorities and the courts is harder to gain than they expect.

Columnist Michael Guest also sounded a cautionary note in his ode to students:

Welcome back, it’s good you’re here,
The year’s about to start.
But listen up and heed this well,
Take this advice to heart.

20,000 students,
The good old days are gone.
The sheer amount of numbers mean
That leniency’s a con.

. . . A rowdy night of fun and games,
Some disorderly dereliction.
You plead before a heartless Judge,
But no discharge without conviction.

With degree in hand, you’ll want some fun,
With international travel.
Canada’s closed, that’s just the start
Your plans will soon unravel.

. . . You’re all scrubbed up with suit and tie
You think your lawyer’s plucky
But discharges and suppression
Are only for the lucky.

You’re bullet proof? You’re fancy free?
It’ll be OK on the night?
The Judge will smile down on you?
And let you off? Yeah, Right!

This may be prophetic because while there was little sign of  Tuesday’s mayhem in George Street yesterday afternoon, retailers I spoke to were furious, as they had every cause to be.

Exactly who is to blame is a moot point, it may not only have been students and it definitely wasn’t only the first years. At least some of the trouble came not from those in the toga parade but by-standers  and as as today’s ODT editorial  points out there actions weren’t spontaneous:

  . . . it is beyond most people’s comprehension that anyone could actually plan to throw buckets of vomit and faeces at participants in the parade.

But first-hand witnesses are adamant it happened – and how else can you explain it other than premeditation? How else could such material be collected for that use? It is beyond abhorrent.

 The woman who organised what is thought to be the first toga parade, former Dunedin City Council events manager Islay McLeod,  is sad the event has become become nothing more than “an initiation rite through a sewer”.

Ms McLeod said the parade, which started in 2001, was initially called the first day parade and was created to welcome students the same way as graduands were farewelled.

It had gone from “scarfies to barfies in less than a decade. . .”

It’s difficult to understand how supposedly intelligent people could behave this way and this quote from a first year student who was caught up in the violence raises more questions than it answers:

“I think some ground rules need to be laid down for this event for it to be safe and enjoyable,”

Ground rules? We already have laws which protect people and property from disorderly behaviour, including casting offensive manner, but people who disregard them are hardly likely to be deterred or controlled by ground rules.

And one of the reasons for that is that on top of the total disregard for other people, their property, society’s norms and the law ,those responsible appear to have no sense of shame.

Paul Thomas  points out in another context:

The virus attacking our capacity to feel shame mutated into a more aggressive form and the unwillingness to accept responsibility became a refusal to acknowledge error or harm done, let alone atone for it.

 Commenting on that Macdoctor says:

Our sense of shame is derived from society. As society ceases to define what is acceptable conduct, people start stepping through the invisible, ill-defined boundaries at will. Society then feels outraged by this behaviour, because it is so far “beyond the pale”.  The look we receive back is one of incomprehension.

It doesn’t matter who they are or what they wear – gang members in patches, students in togas, business people in suits – when they behave badly we’re all outraged, but outrage  is impotent when faced with an absence of shame.

P.S. Dave Gee has photos of the parade/riot


Dept of Common Sense

February 26, 2009

One of the things I like about The New Zealand week is that it greets you with a cartoon on its front page.

This one is from this week’s edition:

dept-common-sense


PGG Wrightson refinances

February 26, 2009

Investors’ fears PGG Wrightson  wouldn’t be able to renegotiate debt financing haven’t been realsied.

The rural services company’s shares have crashed in the last week as the market grew increasingly pessimistic about PGG Wrightson’s chances of securing funding to replace the $180 million of debt that matures in April.

But today the company says it has received bank commitments to refinance all of its facilities. ANZ, BNZ and Westpac are providing a total of $475 million in three tranches:
– $275 million of core debt for a 30-month period to September 2011
– $125 million amortising facility to December 2010
– $75 million of seasonal working capital to April 2010.

The company’s half-year report showed a $32. 8  million loss or a $4.65 million net profit  depending which version you take.

If you read the second story to the end it explains the difference because the first is described as an accounting loss which includes non-trading items. Among those will be the costs involved with its its failed courtship of Silver Fern Farms.

That will feature in the books for the next half year too because while SFF has spurned PGW”s offer of $10 million in compensation for non-consumation of the deal and is talking about wanting as much as $144 million.


Private grief in public life

February 26, 2009

No one goes through life untouched by sadness but most of us are able to grieve in private.

It must be so much harder for people in the public eye like David Cameron whose son has died.

Ivan was six and from media reports it sounds as if he had a similar condition to our sons who had mulitple disabilities and recurring seizures.

Tom was only 20 weeks when he died. Dan was five years, however, he had passed none of the developmental milestones so could do no more than a newborn.

We had wonderful support from family, friends, agencies like Plunket and IHC, the family GP and Dan’s paediatrician but even so looking after Dan was difficult and we knew it would become more so as he grew physically without developing intellectually.

Because of that one of the emotions I felt when he died was relief. Dan’s death freed us to do things it had been difficult, or sometimes impossible, to do with him and relieved us from the strain of knowing every plan we made came with a proviso that Dan’s health would allow us to do it.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel anger, sadness and all the pain that comes with losing a child too. Not just for Dan but over the hopes and dreams I hadn’t even been aware of having for his future, because when you lose a child you also lose the teenager and adult he would have become.

But at least I was able to go through all that in private.

How much more difficult it will be for the Cameron family when David has a public role which is so demanding and his duties as Conservative leader will sometimes, perhaps often, conflict with his own need to grieve and be with, cherish and be cherished by, his family.

I hope they are surrounded and supported by the love and kindness that helped us and that they too find that grief passes, happiness returns and that life can be good again.


Minding your hs and ks

February 26, 2009

To h or not to h when spelling W(h)anganui is the question.

I’ll leave the answer to Poneke and move off on a tangent because the discussion reminds me of many a one I had with my father.

He was from Scotland and was forever telling me to differentiate between which and witch  when I spoke. When he said the former you could hear the h, when I said it often as not you couldn’t.

I take it from discussion on W(h)anganui that Maori from that area pronounce wh  with a breathy h as  Dad did, as distinct from those further north who pronounce it more like an f.

That in turn reminds me of a discussion brought up in a celebrity debate about the difference between Maori in the north who use ng  and those in the south who use k so down here it’s Aoraki  but across the strait  it’s Aorangi.

The debater (Jim Hopkins or Garrick Tremain, I think)  then applied this to English with a convoluted sentence in which strong  became strok, wrong became wrok and dong changed to dok before concluding that sometimes it was better to use the northern pronunciation because you could express your ire without causing offence by telling those annoying you to get funged.


How much is a billion

February 26, 2009

When numbers get more than a few zeros my brain starts to freeze so there’s far more zeros in a billion than I care to contemplate.

But put the concept into words and even I can grasp is so I was fascinated by these examples  which illustrate the magnitude of the number:

How big is a billion? If a billion kids made a human tower, they would stand up past the moon. If you sat down to count from one to one billion, you would be counting for 95 years. If you found a goldfish bowl large enough hold a billion goldfish, it would be as big as a stadium. . .

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate Washington spends it.

These examples refer to a US billion, which is a thousand million: 1,000,000,000. A British million is even bigger – a million, million: 1,000,000,000,000.

There’s more examples here:

 

* If we wanted to pay down a billion dollars of the US debt, paying one dollar a second, it would take 31 years, 259 days, 1 hour, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds. To pay off a trillion dollars of debt, at a dollar a second, would take about 32,000 years.

 

* About a billion minutes ago, the Roman Empire was in full swing. (One billion minutes is about 1,900 years.)

 

* About a billion hours ago, we were living in the Stone Age. (One billion hours is about 114,000 years.)

 

* About a billion months ago, dinosaurs walked the earth. (One billion months is about 82 million years.)

 

* A billion inches is 15,783 miles, more than halfway around the earth (circumference).

 

* The earth is about 8,000 miles wide (diameter), and the sun is about 800,000 miles wide, not quite a million.

 

 

 

 

Hat tip: Jim Mora

 


Siestas solution to sun exposure?

February 25, 2009

One of the reasons southern European countries have siestas is to enable people who work outside to avoid the extreme heat in the middle of the day.

We might have to emulate them if we’re to heed suggestions from a University of Otago study into workers’ exposure to high UV radiation levels.

Recommendations include providing shade for workers and scheduling outside work to avoid the most dangerous times for sun exposure.

That’s not difficult for tasks which can be done in tractors, most of which now have air conditioned cabs. But it’s easier said than done for some farm tasks such as mustering, although from my observations most farm workers are pretty good at wearing hats with wide brims which protect their heads and necks.

The suns-sense message is timely for me because I had my bi-annual skin check yesterday – something I’ve been doing ever since the removal of a couple of skin cancers – fortunately the least dangerous basal cell carcinomas – a decade ago.

Since then I’ve been very careful about the slip, slop, slap message – slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. But that won’t protect me from the damage done when I was young and spent long summer days at the river, coming home bright red to liberal applications of *Q-tol, the bright pink lotion which took the sting out of sun burn.

Then I spent two summers while a student as a pool attendant in Taupo, wandering round in skimpy shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, almost as keen on acquiring a tan as earning money.

There was some excuse then as there was little information available about the risk of skin cancer from over exposure to sun. That’s certainly not the case now but fashion has yet to catch up with the health message because a tan is still regarded as attractive and healthy while pale is often coupled with pasty as a observation on someone who doesn’t look their best.

* I don’t remember seeing Q-tol for years – is that because they’ve discovered something in it we shouldn’t be exposed to or has it just been replace dby something more effective?


Animated guide to credit crisis

February 25, 2009

Not sure how the credit crisis happened?

Jonathan Jarvis produced an animated depiction which explains it for his thesis in Media Design.

Hat Tip: Solo


Cullen culling himself?

February 25, 2009

A party ousted from government after three terms needs to cull some of those who’ve been there, done that and will be blamed for doing it,  if it’s to present new faces and fresh direction at the next election.

Those who don’t  go voluntarily face the ignomy of a public ousting of the dead wood, as happened with National after 1999.

The Dominion Post reports that Michael Cullen  is not waiting to be culled and is planning to step down in the next couple of months.

There is no doubting his intelligence and wit, but the latter was sometimes harsh and I think his reputation as a prudent Finance Minister was ill founded.

New Zealand was in recession months before most other countries and he must bear some of the responsbility for that because of the policies of over taxing and over spending.

He and his colleagues sqaundered the good economic years of the noughties. We’ve been paying for that with restricted growth for years and the bill will get bigger.

The ACC  blowouts ought to have been in the PREFU and he left other financial timebombs in expenditure promised but not budgeted for on top of reckless spending such as the purchase of St James Station at an inflated price which has left the Nature Heritage Fund’s coffers all but empty.

In December Bill English identified gaps in the budget he inherited including:

* $1 billion for the insulation fund agreed to with the Greens in the last few months of the last government (though this was flagged as fiscal risk in Treasury documents).

* Only $8 million was set aside in 2009/2010 as part of the ongoing $600 million promised in the budget for the growth of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

* Other spending had been “creatively funded” such as the $40 million to buy the St James Station which was funded by “cleaning out” the Nature Heritage Fund for the next four years.

* The need for unbudgeted government payments to ACC would also “unexpectedly” increase government debt by $1.2 billion over the next four years.

Keeping Stock reminded me of the train set Cullen bought. The multi-thousands of hecatres of land expensively purchased through tenure review and now in the DOC estate are another monster he’s created with an appetite for taxpayers’ dollars.

He apologised for the quip he made in his maiden speech about getting stuck in to farmers:

 “I’m proud of the fact that my secondary education was not paid for by the taxpayers of New Zealand but by the farmers of Canterbury and Hawkes Bay [he was given a scholarship to Christ's College]. I ripped them off for five years then, and I shall get stuck into them again in the next few years.”

But his actions speak louder than his words. His rich prick  sneer at John Key was just one of many examples which show he resented wealth and didn’t understand wealth creation. He got stuck into not just farmers but all taxpayers and we’re all the poorer for that.


Borrowing to save senseless

February 25, 2009

If your income dropped would you borrow to save for your retirement?

Not if you’ve got any sense.

Of course Phil Goff is going to take the opportunity to grab a headline by making a fuss about the government considering changes to the state super fund.

And John Armstrong is right about the importance of maintaining political concensus on the issue.

But the super fund was at best never going to cover more than a small proportion of projected super payments, so if it costs more to borrow than the fund returns then suspending payments in the short term would be sensible.

UPDATE: Kiwiblog thinks politics might get in the way of doing the sensible thing.


Food miles fallacy foiled by facts

February 25, 2009

The food miles campaign is thought to be one reason for a 15% fall in New Zealand lamb sales in Britain.

For four years now some UK shops, like Tesco, have been promoting the food miles concept, meaning the closer to home something is produced the more sustainable it is. Now, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research says it can prove that theory wrong. 

“Our cattle are grazed on grass rather than grain, and they’re housed outside most of the year rather than being in heated sheds,” says John Ballingall, “so the energy used in producing New Zealand food is often lower than the UK.”

In fact, the research shows that an average trip by car to the supermarket in Britain, 6.4km, to buy the weekly groceries uses the same amount of energy as shipping that food 8500km.

That’s a very impressive statistic but ecopolice don’t always let the facts get in the way of their religion and the green message is even infecting British hospitals which are being encouraged to  serve less meat and cheese  in a misguided attempt to be kinder on the environment.

Hospitals should serve meals which meet the dietry and health needs of the patients at the lowest cost and base their policies on facts not politics.

Less meat and cheese may be better for the health of some patients but not necessarily all and buying local isn’t necessarily better for the environment.

Food transported 100  miles by 10 trucks may have more impact on the environment than having it moved 1000 miles by one truck and as the NZIER figures above show going thousands of kilometres by ship is better than a few by car.

Besides, the distance food travels is only one factor in an assessment of it’s environmental footprint. A Lincoln University study showed New Zealand dairying produced less greenhouse gas than British dairying, even when the shipping was taken into account.

Given how short most hospital stays are these days patients are probably not in danger from the new prescription for their diets, but the implications of the other “green” initiative of greater sterilisation and reuse of equipment could be very serious if it increased the risk of infection.

However, the food miles debate might be academic because sustainability tends to be the concern of those wealthy enough to choose and as the recession bites households and hospitals alike are more likely to be more concerned about how much food costs than how far it travels.

Hat Tip: No Minister


You know you’re in an unhealthy relationship with the internet when. . .

February 24, 2009

For a while there before the election I was in danger of developing an unhealthy attachment to my keyboard, but now I’ve got a life again I can go not just hours but days  and even longer without a fix.

Not so this bloke who stole a laptop when its owner wouldn’t let him use it to check Facebook.


Hickey’s last post

February 24, 2009

Bernard Hickey is retiring from his blog Show Me The Money.

I understand his reasons – the demands of his job and a desire for more time at home – but I will miss his contribution to the blogosphere.

In his last post he asks John Key to trust us with the truth about the economy.

I think his view is very pessimistic one and I don’t agree with his suggestion Key cancel’s the tax cuts but I do agree with the need to direct spending to the things which really matter, like education and infrastructure.


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