Descent

April 27, 2009

Today’s contribution to poetry month was prompted by the outbreak of swine flu.

I found it last year at Opposable Thumb.

It’s Descent by Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu.

DESCENT

When you are ill you weigh more.
Your head sinks into the pillow,
Your bed curves in the middle,
Your body drops like a meteorite.
“He’s so heavy,” say the relatives,
They turn you on the other side
And nod meaningfully. “He weighs like the dead.”

The earth feels its prey
And concentrates upon you
Its colossal force of attraction.
The iron in you hungers to go down.
The gold in you hungers to go down.
The gravitation of the whole world has its eyes on you
And pulls you down with unseen ropes…

You look like the bell the peasants
Take down before their exodus, burying it very deep,
Marvelling at the sight of the bell digging its grave,
Eagerly biting the dust.

You are all lead
And unto yourself
You have become exceedingly all-important,
Surrounded by endless mystery.

        Marin Sorescu 


Stats Dept seeks feedback on ethnicity stats

April 27, 2009

Who am I?

That’s a fundamental question of identity and one which government agencies think they have a better answer to than those of us who identify as New Zealanders because most official forms which seek to know our ethnicity won’t let us give that answer.

For years when I couldn’t find an ethnicity which matched how I felt I ticked other, and put New Zealander if asked to specify what that meant. Those who deal with the stats would then have included me under European which I consider to be racist because by doing so they were saying that New Zealanders were only of European descent.

Now most forms have New Zealander of European descent so I tick that,  but I do it with reluctance, partly because I feel ethnically that I’m of Scottish descent rather than European. But even more because I’m uncomfortable that while I can be a New Zealander people of other descents aren’t always given an option of being one of any flavour, they’re Maori or Pacific Islanders or Asian or European.

The picture becomes even more clouded because the census allows you to be more specific than Pacific Islander and identify as Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tongan, Niuean, Chinese or Indian and gives examples Dutch, Japanese and Tokelauan as examples under other.

Isn’t there something wrong with their reaonsing if you can be Dutch which is definitely European but not a  New Zealander which isn’t European though may be of that descent? 

I think part of the problem is that we’re not sure exactly what’s meant by ethnic group. If the question was about race it would be much simpler, but that’s not the same thing as ethnicity.

On the cesnus form it’s defined as:

 . . . people who have some or all of the following characteristics:

a common proper name

one or more elements of common culture, such as religion, customs or

language

a unique community of interests, feelings and actions

a shared sense of common origins or ancestry

a common geographic origin.

 The OED defines ethnic, in relation to a population group as:  sharing a distinctive cultural and historical tradition, often associated with race, nationality or religion, by which the group identifies itself and others recognise it . . .

Often associated with  is not the same thing as only being and following both the Stats and OED definitions I’m even more certain I’m a New Zealander, albeit of Scottish descent, because the distinctive cultural and historical traditions which I identify with most strongly are New Zealand ones.

Perhaps we could learn from the USA because they enable people to identify as, for example Afro Americans, Native Americans or Asian Americans . . . which acknowledges both the cultural and historical things which differentiate them as well as those they have in common. (Although in a typical US centric-fashion that does ignore the fact that the millions of people in the many other countries in North, Central and South America also regard themselves as American).

However, that aside, I think the USA’s approach could be the answer to the dilemma facing Statistics NZ which has resulted in the release a discussion paper on the way ethnicity statistics are collected and reported .

This has been prompted by the debate over the inclusion of the category New Zealander  in the official census and the consequent difficulty in matching stats from previous years and with other official sources such as birth registrations which didn’t or still don’t offer that option.

Stats are important and they need to be accurate, reliable and to be compared, but they also need to reflect reality and I think that the reality has changed. 

My mother, like many of her generation, called Britain Home, with a capital h even if they’d never been there. That would be most uncommon now because many of the ties which bound us to Britain have been cut and we are much more independent in our outlook and our identity.

The categories in official forms need to change in response to that and enable us, like people in the USA, to answer the who-am-I? question by recognising the cultural and historical things which unite us as well as those which make us different.

Let those of us who consider ourselves to be New Zealanders be counted as such and satisfy the statisticians’ and planners’ need to be more specific with sub-categories which recognise our descent as well.

P.S. Feedback to the discussion paper can be emailed to: ethnicity.review@stats.govt.nz, until May 25th.

UPDATE: PM of NZ is quite sure who he is.


Hawkes Bay seeks drought declaration

April 27, 2009

The third successive dry year has forced the Hawkes Bay Drought Committee to ask for the region to be declared a drought area.

Committee chair Lawrence Yule said:

“An autumn drought is worse than a spring drought. At the moment there’s lower levels of grass growing around which you need to carry stock through the winter,’ he said.

“This is Central Hawke’s Bay’s third drought in a row, farmers’ morale is very low, many haven’t been able to generate the income to service their stock.’

Mr Yule said there was also a major cricket problem in CHB as the insects were attracted to the district’s clay soils.

“There are areas that have been eaten by crickets, hundreds of them are getting into houses and there are whole hills which have been eaten out by crickets,’ he said.

After visitng Gisborne which was declared a drought area last week, Agriculture Minister David Carter said that winter drought is harder to explain to non-farmers:

. . . these farmers are going into their third year of drought; with soil temperatures dropping, rain is too late for grass growth. The positives, in contrast to last year, are the price of store stock is up, the price of supplementary feed is down, and the region’s farmers do not have to compete for feed with other drought stricken areas.

The North Island’s East Coast seems to be the only area in New Zealand that hasn’t enjoyed a reasonable autumn. I have done a fair bit of travelling over the past month and farmers up and down the country are generally very positive, despite the global economic situation.

Improved prices for stock and less competition for suplementary food will make things a little less difficult this season, as will lower interest rates and a fall in the price of fertiliser. But some farmers won’t be able to afford fertilister at any price and the other points are very small slivers of silver in the cloud of drought hanging over the province.

We were in Hawkes Bay in spring 2007 and autumn last year and the impact of dry weather was evident then. We’ve got used to irrigation providing some insurance against dry weather in North Otago and Canterbury but all the farms we visited in the North Island were totally reliant on rain.

North Otago had a dry summer but February’s rain set us up for autumn. We haven’t had any significant falls since then so although it’s getting a bit late for much growth before winter sets in, enough rain to get soil moisture levels up for spring growth would be very welcome. 

A couple of good showers would be enough for us, but the North Island’s East Coast needs sustained rain to break the drought. Until that happens making the drought official will trigger government measures such as tax relief and funding for management advice and Rural Support Trusts.


Failed merger costs PGW more than $40m

April 27, 2009

The ODT reports that PGG Wrightson is to pay compensation of more than $40 million to Silver Fern Farms after it failed to get the finance to proceed with its agreed merger.

That was made up of $25 million in cash paid yesterday, in addition to $5 million paid previously, plus 10 million ordinary shares at market value.

Shares closed yesterday at $1.20.

The real cost will be more than that because PGW lost a lot of business from farmers who opposed the planned merger and it caused a lot of angst among its staff too.

I could see advantages to PGW in the deal because they’d have been clipping the ticket on stock sales between farms and freezing works.

I could see advantages for SFF because it would have helped them reduce their debt.

But I couldn’t see any advantages for farmers.

However, settling without going to court is a good move because litigation would have increased the costs and uncertainties without any guarantee of a better outcome.


Helen Clark in the making?

April 27, 2009

The good voters of Mount Albert might want to take note of Brian Edwards’ view of Meg Bates, one of those seeking to be the Labour candidate in the by-election:

But get to know Meg and you realise that you may well be looking at a Helen Clark in the making. If she were to win Mount Albert, the very real possibility would  exist that only four MPs will hold the seat in a hundred years.

Now that would be something!

It would indeed be something.

A Helen Clark in the making would be something too – but would it be a good thing?


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