Word of the day

August 29, 2011

Scurryfunge –  to rush around tidying when expecting visitors; a hasty tidying of the house between the unexpected news of approaching visitors and their arrival.


Time to decide what’s real and what’s illusory

August 29, 2011

Central Otago poet Brian Turner says it’s time for New Zealanders to decide “once and for all what is real and what is illusory, what is sustainable and what is not”.

He was speaking at a University of Otago graduation ceremony at which he was awarded a Doctor of Literature.

“That means working out how to manage the transition to a society based upon a different ethos, one that’s more ethical and imaginative.

“We need to be smarter, more caring in every sense, abandon the lust for instant materialistic gratification, and ignore the freakery of those who would have us believe in the possibility of perpetual euphoria.”

Decades ago, Aldo Leopold had implored people”to adopt a land ethic, to see all creatures and the very atmosphere we breathe, as a community to which we belonged” rather than mainly as “commodities to be used however we saw fit” . . .

. . . “I’m convinced that strengthening one’s localities, one’s regions, in the interests of our families and friends, and of the wider family of life on earth, is the best and most responsible thing we can do.

 

“Considerable resilience” was called for, everywhere, “if we are to make the transition to different ways of living and providing for ourselves”.

If he is arguing for more localism I’d take issue with it. Self sufficiency has its place but so too does interaction and trade between communities and countries.

However, I agree there is a need to seek continual improvements in the way we do things.

Such calls often taken to be anti-business and development but it doesn’t have to be that way. A reader emailed me this link to the obituary of Ray Anderson, the  head of the world’s largest commercial carpet-tile manufacturer, who was a trail blazer in reducing his firm’s environmental impact:

While much of what Anderson instigated is now relatively common – including measures such as car pooling for employees, moving distribution of goods on to water and rail, switching to an element of fair trade for suppliers, and introducing sustainability training for employees – his company blazed a trail. It also showed, as Anderson was keen to point out, that most of the measures were beneficial to the bottom line – money. Waste-saving innovations alone over the past 13 years have saved the company $372m.

Some initiatives such as fair trade are often based more on feel-good factors than fact, but treading more lightly on the earth can have positive affects on both the environment and the economy.

In seeking to do that we should also strengthen our localities and regions in the interests of people. If I read what Turner is saying corretly, we’ll make the world a better place for people now and for those who follow us.


Appearance and arguments vs realities in political coverage

August 29, 2011

Where on this graph would you put most political coverage:

It comes from a speech Why Political Coverage is Broken  by Jay Rosen who explains the grid:

Bottom left: Appearances rendered as fact. Example: the media stunt.

Top left: Phony arguments. Manufactured controversies. Sideshows.

Bottom right: Today’s new realities: get the facts. The actual news of politics.

Top right. Real arguments: Debates, legitimate controversies, important speeches.

It is much easier to cover stunts and sideshows than to report and seriously analyse real news, debates, legitimate controversies and important speeches.

Rosen blames this on what he calls three impoverished ideas: politics as an inside game;  the cult of savviness and the production of innocence.

The inside game is :

 When journalists define politics as a game played by the insiders, their job description becomes: find out what the insiders are doing to “win.” Reveal those tactics to the public because then the public can… well, this is where it gets dodgy. As my friend Todd Gitlin once wrote, news coverage that treats politics as an insiders’ game invites the public to become “cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement,” which is strange. Or it lavishes attention on media performances, because the insiders are supposed to be good at that: manipulating the media . . .

He explains the cult of savviness as:

In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane.  Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)

Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political. And what is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Or knowing who the winners are . . .

. . .  Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sighted, but as practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, and dreamy.  This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog political realism to itself.

But even more insidious than that is the positioning effect . . .

On the production of innocence he says:

. . . I mean ways of reporting the news that try to advertise or “prove” to us that the press is neutral in its descriptions, a non-partisan presenter of facts, a non-factor and non-actor in events. Innocence means reporters are mere recorders, without stake or interest in the matter at hand. They aren’t responsible for what happens, only for telling you about it. When you hear, “don’t shoot the messenger” you are hearing a journalist declare his or innocence . . .

Rosen uses examples from the USA and Australia but it wouldn’t be hard to find many here too.

But he doesn’t only identify problems, he has a better idea for political reporting, based on the grid above:

My suggestion is to report appearances as just that: mere appearances. Which would be a way of jeering at them, labelling them as not quite real. So the appearances section would be heavy on satire and simple quotation. . .

Appearances, then, means downgrading or penalizing politicians who deal in the fake, the trivial, the merely sensational. In other words: “watch out or you’ll wind up in the appearances column.”

Under realities we find everything that is actually about real problems, real solutions, real proposals, consequential plans and of course events that deserve the title: political events.  This is the political news proper, cured of what Tanner calls the sideshow .

But then there’s my other axis. Arguments and facts. Both are important, both are a valid part of politics . . .

 . . . Now imagine all of today’s political news and commentary sorted into these four quadrants. This becomes the new portal to political news. Appearances and realities, arguments and facts. To render the political world that way, journalists would have to exercise their judgment about what is real and what is not. And this is exactly what would bring them into proper alignment with our needs as citizens.

We have some very good political journalism in New Zealand which treats appearances and arguments for what they’re worth and deals seriously with realities and facts.

But we’d all be better served and  informed if there was a lot more of that.

Hat Tips: Dim Post and Larvatus Prodeo.


Departing with dignity

August 29, 2011

Politicians need confidence and with that can go a fairly high self-regard which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, it can be a problem if their assessment of their own ability isn’t shared by other people and that is often demonstrated when parties announce their lists.

The only thing that really matters in a list place is whether or not they’ll be in parliament – and if they’re going to hold or win an electorate then it doesn’t matter at all.

Unfortunately not all candidates see this and take their list place personally, regarding it as a boost or insult to their ego.

It isn’t. It’s the reality of politics and if they feel undervalued they should breathe deeply and take a lesson from Hilary Calvert. She has worked as a volunteer for her party, put herself forward as a candidate in successive elections and disrupted her life to become a very short term MP.

In spite of that, and no doubt with good reason, the Act board decided she wasn’t wanted on the list for the upcoming election.

She could have had a hissy fit but she hasn’t:

Act New Zealand MP Hilary Calvert was philosophical yesterday despite being dumped from the party list for November’s election less than a year after entering Parliament.

“I’m happy and fully supportive of the decisions the board has made.”

Her parliamentary career will be short and hasn’t been stellar.

But at least she’s got the good sense to keep any feeling of being badly done by to herself. 

In doing so she’ll be departing  with her dignity intact and has provided a good example for others to follow.


Earthquake prediction reporting another nominee for Bent Spoon

August 29, 2011

NZ Skeptics awarded their 2011 Bent Spoon for journalistic gullibility to all media outlets and personalities who took Ken Ring’s earthquake predictions seriously.

The Bent Spoon was awarded telepathically by those gathered for the annual NZ Skeptics Conference which, appropriately given the winner was held in Christchurch at the weekend.

And there’s already another nominee for the next award. TV3 is reporting Ring’s predicting another big earthquake for Christchurch at the end of September.

He does qualify the prediction:

On his website, he says there is a “potent” lunar alignment in the last week of September, same as the one that existed at the time of the September 4, 2010 quake.

“Indeed, it may not happen, and we all hope not, but the main players will be in position,” he says. “For example we might observe that Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw are on the field, but that does not guarantee a win.”

And the report does include this:

A 3 News analysis of Mr Ring’s predictions earlier this year failed to show any evidence he was able to accurately predict earthquakes, and even his long-range weather forecasts did no better than chance.

Given that, why bother reporting this latest prediction? There is no news value in further predictions from someone whose predictions have been proved inaccuarte and even with the qualifications giving the prediction coverage is taking it seriously.

The Herald report is even worse, it doesn’t bother to report the unreliability of his previous predictions.

All media should ignore his predictions as the unscientific guess-work they are and anyone with any doubts should read, or re-read, David Winter’s scientific evaluation of the predictions.


No “only” in imposing cost

August 29, 2011

The Green Party is using MAF profitability statistics to claim its irrigation tax proposal is affordable:

“MAF’s typical dairy farm in Canterbury has a net cash income of $2.2 million, so even using Irrigation New Zealand’s own hefty numbers for water use, we find that our irrigation charge is only 4.8 percent of income,” Dr Norman said .

There is no only about adding costs amounting to 4.8% of income to any business.

Every cent added to cost has to be either absorbed which reduces profitability or passed on by way of increased prices for produce.

“Our charge is 1/100th of a cent per litre. When irrigators are complaining of the high fees they would pay, it just goes to show that they are using massive amounts of our public water resource.

They are also providing employment, producing food and earning export income from which everyone benefits. 

“Furthermore, the MAF profitability statistics for 2010/11 show that after paying our suggested charge for irrigation water, Canterbury dairy farmers would still on, average, receive over $500,000 in farm profit before tax.

Perhaps he could tell Labour that farmers do pay tax.

“Businesses that use public water resources to generate private profit should pay.

Farms aren’t the only businesses which use water, every business does in greater or lesser amounts and it’s private profit which provides jobs and pays taxes.

“A charge on irrigation water is an effective price signal to more efficiently allocate a scarce resource and is in line with the OECD recommendation that we put a price on agricultural uses of water.

We already pay for irrigation and not all irrigation is used for dairying.

Central Otago District Mayor Tony Lepper manages the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme, which supplies 110 landowners and covers 1100ha and charges landowners about $51 per hectare a year.

“With the addition of other small charges, our income is $65,000 per annum, and with this we run a fantastic co-operative irrigation scheme that is of tremendous benefit to the Central Otago economy,” he said.

“Under the Greens’ new policy and proposed rate of 10c per 1000 litres, we would have to fund an additional $1.76 million a year, from our landowners.

“You do not have to be a genius to work out what this would do to the viability of our local horticulture and farming businesses.”

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the tax the Greens want to impose on irrigation because they don’t like dairying led to more of it because other land-uses became uneconomic?

Clean water is a basic necessity but there are far better ways of maintaining and improving waterways than  imposing a tax on irrigation.


August 29 in history

August 29, 2011

708 Copper coins were minted in Japan for the first time.

1350  Battle of Winchelsea (or Les Espagnols sur Mer): The English naval fleet under King Edward III defeated a Castilian fleet of 40 ships.

1475  The Treaty of Picquigny ended a brief war between France and England.

1526  Battle of Mohács: The Ottoman Turks led by Suleiman the Magnificent defeated and kill the last Jagiellonian king of Hungary and Bohemia.

1632 John Locke, English philosopher, was born (d. 1704).

 

1655 Warsaw fell without resistance to a small force under the command of Charles X Gustav of Sweden during The Deluge.

 

1758  The first American Indian Reservation was established, at Indian Mills, New Jersey.

1786  Shays’ Rebellion, an armed uprising of Massachusetts farmers, began in response to high debt and tax burdens. 

1809 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., American physician and writer, was born (d. 1894).

1831  Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction.

1833 The United Kingdom legislated the abolition of slavery in its empire.

1842 Treaty of Nanking signing ended the First Opium War.

 

1862 Andrew Fisher, 5th Prime Minister of Australia, was born (d. 1928).

1869  The Mount Washington Cog Railway opened, making it the world’s first rack railway. 

1871  Emperor Meiji ordered the Abolition of the han system and the establishment of prefectures as local centers of administration.

1876 Charles F. Kettering, American inventor, was born (d. 1958).

1885  Gottlieb Daimler patented the world’s first motorcycle. 

1898 The Goodyear tyre company was founded.

 

1903 The Russian battleship Slava, the last of the five Borodino-class battleships, was launched.

 

1907 The Quebec Bridge collapsed during construction, killing 75 workers.

1910  Japan changed Korea‘s name to Chōsen and appoints a governor-general to rule its new colony.

1911  Ishi, considered the last Native American to make contact with European Americans, emerged from the wilderness of northeastern California. 

1914 New Zealand forces captured German Samoa.

NZ force captures German Samoa

1915 US Navy salvage divers raised F-4, the first U.S. submarine sunk by accident.

 

1915 Ingrid Bergman, Swedish actress, was born (d. 1982).

 

1915 Nathan Pritikin, American nutritionist, was born (d. 1985).

1918  Bapaume was taken by New Zealand forces in the Hundred Days Offensive.

1923 Richard Attenborough, English film director, was born.

1924 Dinah Washington, American singer, was born (d. 1963).

1929 Thom Gunn, British poet, was born (d. 2004).

1930  The last 36 remaining inhabitants of St Kilda were voluntarily evacuated to other parts of Scotland.

1943  German-occupied Denmark scuttled most of its navy;Germany dissolved the Danish government. 

1944  Slovak National Uprising – 60,000 Slovak troops turned against the Nazis.

1949  Soviet atomic bomb project: The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, known as First Lightning or Joe 1, at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. 

1958 Lenny Henry, British writer, comedian and actor, was born.

1958 Michael Jackson, American pop singer, was born (d. 2009).

1958  United States Air Force Academy opened in Colorado Springs.

 

1966  The Beatles performed their last concert before paying fans at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. 

1970  Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. Police riot killed three people, including journalist Ruben Salazar.

1982  The synthetic chemical element Meitnerium, atomic number 109, was first synthesized at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt, Germany.

1991 Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union suspended all activities of the Soviet Communist Party.

1991  Libero Grassi, an Italian businessman from Palermo was killed by the Mafia after taking a solitary stand against their extortion demands. 

1996  Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801, a  Tupolev Tu-154, crashed into a mountain on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, killing all 141 aboard.

1997  At least 98 villagers were killed by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria GIA in the Rais massacre, Algeria.

2003 Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the Shia Muslim leader in Iraq, and nearly 100 worshippers were assassinated in a terrorist bombing, as they left a mosque in Najaf.

2005  Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the U.S. Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, killing more than 1,836 and causing over $80 billion in damage. 

Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia


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