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June 2, 2009

There’s a theory that we never forget anything.

Everything we’ve ever known is still there, filed away in the dim dark recesses of our memories.

That theory doesn’t explain why the things we need to remember are buried under things we don’t, but this Venn diagram illustrates the problem:

Memory

Hat Tip to The Hand Mirror for pointing me at GraphJam.


BBC World Food Price Index

June 2, 2009

The BBC World Service has been tracking food prices in seven major cities to create a World Food Price Index.

Reporters started making a weekly record of five basic food items in July last year. The basket of goods was normalised to 100 and subsequent changes in prices are measured against that to show rises and falls.

Bread, milk, potatoes, eggs and beef were the products chosen in Brussels, Buenos Aires, Moscow and Washington DC; onions, rice, ground flour, lentils and milk were priced in Delhi; in Jakarta it was eggs, rice, sugar, flour and cooking oil; and in Nairobi it was green maize, milk, maize flour, bread and tomatoes.

Some interesting points in the analysis:

In Brussels prices were fairly flat. The price of milk fell because of a price war between supermarkets but the change wasn’t as great as the fall in price paid to dairy farmers.

In Argentina the price of potatoes, bread and beef were steady but the latter was due to export taxes which resulted in farmers reducing production of beef in favour of better paying produce and the country may have to import meat.

Inflation has hit food prices in India where the price of wheat, rice and other grains has risen by 12%,  fruit and vegetables gained 8.5% and the price of milk rose 6.4% and the price of sugar nearly tripled.

Religious factors influence food prices in Jakarta with a rise in the price of chicken and meat at the end of the Muslim month of fasting. The price of rice has fallen and the government it delaying exports because of this.

Russian food prices increased nearly 10 times more than prices in the European Union.

The biggest rises in the four-month period were seen in prices for fruit – which spiked 17% in Russia while rising only 1.9% in Europe – and sugar, jam, honey, chocolate and confectionery goods, which jumped by 12.7% and only 1.5% in Europe.

Prices for vegetables rose by 11.6%, while fish and seafood prices were up by 9.4%.

 Russia imports nearly a third of its food and the low value of its currency is one of the reasons prices have increased.

Food shortages because of drought and political violence contributed to food shortages in Kenya.

In the USA food prices went up by 5.5% last year but falls in the price of meat and diary products are expected to result in a smaller increase this year.

World Service Average 18/05/09

Tuesday’s answers

June 2, 2009

Monday’s questions were:

1. Name a band and a song it sings which are both palindromes.

2. Who wrote Breakfast at Six?

3. Who said, There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply callisthenics with words.?

4. Which language is spoken as a first language in the most countries?

5. It’s Queen’s Birthday today – but when is Queen Elizabeth II’s real birthday?

For the first time all questions were answered correctly.

An electronic bunch of flowers goes to Paul Tremewan who got all 5.

Kismet got 2, 3, 4 and half of 5.

I thought Ed Snack was right with 4 but if Wikipedia is to be believed, we were both wrong.

PDM gets a point for trying.

Tuesday’s answers follow the break:

Read the rest of this entry »


Greenhouse gas research centre to be built

June 2, 2009

Minister of Agriculture David Carter has announced the government will establish a greenhouse gas research centre.

“It is clear that agriculture will be part of New Zealand’s emissions reduction efforts, but the sector must have access to effective and affordable technology that doesn’t compromise productivity,” Mr Carter says.

The centre would be funded through the Primary Growth Partnership, announced in last week’s Budget, and would be run through a host provider, most likely a Crown Research Institute or university.

The centre will be operating by next year and the government is committed to funding it for 10 years.

This is a very sensible response to the politics of climate change. We have to be seen to be doing something and research could have both environmental and economic benefits.


Montana Book Award Finalists announced

June 2, 2009

The finalists in the Montana Book Awards include, The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi which won the NZ Post Children’s Book Award.

Ladies A Plate: Traditional Home Baking by Alexa Johnston is a finalist in the Lifestyle and Contemporary Culture section. This is an intergenerational book. It’s full of recipes my mother used to make and I gave a copy to my daughter.

Another finalist in that section is The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s clinary History by Helen Leach (and yes, records show it was cooked in New Zealand before Australia).

The full list of finalists is here.


Superannuation affordability can’t be judged in isolation

June 2, 2009

Request to commentators: if you want to be taken seriously on the future affordability of superannuation could you stop looking at it in isolation?

Criticism of National’s decision to suspend contributions to the Government Superannuation Fund continues with the critics saying it means that universal payment of 66% of the after-tax average wage to people from age 65 is no longer affordable.

The Super Fund was established to use surpluses. We don’t have them any more.

Continuing contributions would be like a farmer doing a budget, realising the income wasn’t going to meet the expenditure and then increasing the mortgage to play on the share market.

Shares are usually a good longterm investment, but the advice given to individuals also applies to governments – you only buy shares with money you can afford to lose.

Shares might be cheap now but that will only be proved in hindsight. Share prices go up and down and no-one knows when they’ve reached the bottom or the top until they reverse direction again.

If the fund was buying overseas shares, the exchange rate also has to be taken into account because if the value of our dollar increases there would be a corresponding decrease in the value of returns in foreign currency.

On top of that the affordability of superannuation can’t be judged in isolation, all other expenditure has to be taken into account too.

If , for example, you could afford current superannuation payments or benefits for upper and middle income working families, which should be the priority?


June 2 in history – Italian Republic Day

June 2, 2009

Today is Republic Day in Italy,  Festa della Republica, marking the overthrow of the monarchy by popular referendum in 1946.

The colours of the flag have two meanings: green for the countryside, white for the snow capped mountains and red for the blood shed in the fight for independence; or green for hope, white for faith and red for charity.


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