Threnody – a poem, song or speech of mourning or lamentation; a dirge.
One of the most difficult speeches to do well is one paying tribute to people who have died.
It is so easy to resort to platitudes or clichés, to apply saccharine and in doing so neither honour those who have died nor comfort those who remain.
Today’s speech by Governor General Lt Gen Sir Jerry Mateparae at the commemorative memorial service for Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris is a fine example of how to do it well.
. . . We gather to remember the service of three young New Zealand soldiers, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of New Zealand and for the mission to Afghanistan.
We gather to join with their families, friends and their mates-in-arms, particularly from Crib 20, to share in the grieving, to recall their sacrifice and to celebrate their lives.
These three young soldiers represent the best traditions of New Zealand’s contribution to resisting tyranny and to bringing peace and stability to conflict-ridden lands.
Although we live in this settled part of the world, New Zealanders understand this calling well. We have always sought peace and negotiated settlements to international disputes. We understand the imperatives of collective action against tyrannies and evil regimes.
And we understand that when all other options have been exhausted, principled words must often be backed by principled action. We are proud of our Kiwi tradition of standing up for what is right and for doing what is right.
At times like this, with 10 New Zealand soldiers having lost their lives in Afghanistan – five in a matter of weeks – it is natural that we question why we are there. In a democracy, it is right that we can and should ask questions.
The three young soldiers we mourn today knew well the risks of service in Afghanistan. It is a place where safety can never be guaranteed, and it has a tortured history of conflict that stretches back many centuries.
They also knew of the positive contribution the Provincial Reconstruction Team is making to the lives of the people of Bamyan province. They have rebuilt hospitals and roads. They have helped deliver education and health programmes. They have helped the local people rebuild their provincial government and establish their own security. They have helped them rebuild their lives.
It is easy to talk of a positive contribution from afar. Those who have served in Bamyan have seen it. They have seen it in the faces of the Afghan people they meet every day. They have seen it in the bright eyes of the children they meet, the boys and girls who play in the street, who can go to school and who can look to the future. The three we mourn today saw and knew the good that they were making to the lives of others, both as a team and as individuals. . .
I now turn to the families: Sarah Erb, Luke’s partner, and Lynn McSweeny, Luke’s mother and their wider families; Geoffrey Fosbender, Jacinda’s partner and Joyce Baker, Jacinda’s mother, and their wider families; Sandra Harris, Richard’s mother and the wider Harris family.
There is nothing I can say that can replace your loved ones. There is nothing I can say that will erase the painful grief that burns in your hearts for those whose lives were tragically cut short.
What I can say is that those you lost served with great honour. They demonstrated at the highest level courage, comradeship, commitment and integrity, which are the values the New Zealand Defence Force holds as central to underpinning its ethos.
They are fine examples of ordinary New Zealanders who answered the call of service. They were, as the late Sir Leonard Thornton, Chief of Defence Staff in the 1960s and 1970s noted, in the tradition and character “of the Kiwi solder at all levels—responsible, resourceful, compassionate and professionally competent.” . . .
The speech is worth reading in whole. I chose to highlight this portion because in the past week there has been a lot of ill-informed comment about the worth of the work the PRT is doing.
This extract shows those serving in it are making a positive difference, albeit at a very high price.
Wet winter helping to spread killer kiwifruit infection – Jamie Morton:
The wettest winter some kiwifruit growers have seen is hampering efforts to stop Psa-V, at a time when the vine-killing disease is attacking New Zealand’s most popular variety.
The disease, which has ravaged gold kiwifruit orchards throughout the country since its discovery in Te Puke two years ago, is now being seen in a spate of serious cases among the green variety that makes up the bulk of the industry.
More than 60 orchards have notified industry group Kiwifruit Vine Health of possible Psa-V, and it is feared the disease could eventually reach up to half of New Zealand’s green kiwifruit growers. . .
Two Beef + Lamb New Zealand farmer directors are meeting with the project partners involved with the Tri-Lamb Group which has a goal to get more Americans eating lamb.
Central South Island Director, Anne Munro and Southern South Island Director, Leon Black are in Idaho, representing New Zealand sheep farmers alongside their fellow Tri- Lamb Group representatives from Australia and the United States.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand CEO, Dr Scott Champion said the collaborative promotion by the three sheep producing nations is built around the understanding that the profitability and sustainability of the lamb market in the US is important for farmers in all three countries. . .
Federated Farmers is highlighting how everyone can make a difference to whether bees are healthily ‘fat’ or sickly skinny.
“Just like with all livestock, the health of bees reflects the protein and energy sources available to them,” says John Hartnell, Federated Farmers Bees spokesperson and an exporter of bee products.
“Good protein and nectar produces fat bees and in nature, fat bees are healthy bees. Federated Farmers I guess is standing up for the right of bees to become fat.
“We are keen to work with anyone and everyone to provide positive environments for the honeybee to flourish.
“After several years’ work, Federated Farmers Trees for Bees now has ten regional planting guides available for anyone to create a bee friendly space. While they are available from a number of websites, all you have to do is type “trees for bees” into Google. . .
Varroa is not the only threat to our honey bees – Bruce Wills:
In 2000, the sum of all fears for New Zealand’s beekeepers took place when the Varroa Destructor Mite was confirmed in Auckland.
A mere six years later, Varroa had jumped the Cook Strait to reach Nelson and progressively, over the past six years, has spread south.
This year it reached as south as you can travel in mainland New Zealand; Bluff. If it wasn’t for human intervention, the economic and agronomic effects of Varroa would be like Foot & Mouth disease.
Our economy and farming system depends on honeybees and a pollination workforce involving some 430,000 hives.
While people may judge the bee industry by the honey they purchase at a farmer’s market or the supermarket, that is a drop in the bucket.
The real value of honeybees is as pollinators par-excellence. . .
By reaching Bluff in the 12 years since the Varroa Mite was first confirmed in Auckland, one of the world’s worst bee threats is close to completing its colonisation of New Zealand.
“Has Varrora had an impact on New Zealand? Absolutely,” confirms John Hartnell, Federated Farmers Bees chairperson and a major exporter of bee products.
“If it wasn’t for human intervention, the economic and agronomic effects of Varroa would be like Foot & Mouth disease. Our economy and farming system depends on honeybees and a pollination workforce involving some 430,000 hives. . . .
“That should give pause for thought as we celebrate the Honey Bee this week and the massive contribution this mighty insect makes to us all. The value of pollination alone is conservatively estimated at $5 billion each year.
The forest and wood processing industries are moving quickly on a strategy to transform the sector.
The Wood Council (Woodco) has just given the go-ahead to a $400,000 research-based initiative which aims to get the highest value out of every cubic metre of timber harvested. Known as Woodscape, it is modelled on a major study carried out for the Canadian forest products industry in 2009.
“In the next decade we will see an increase in the harvest. We are determined to extract the best value we can from this resource and reinvigorate our sector,” says Woodco chair Doug Ducker. . .
Rural services leader PGG Wrightson Limited (NZX: PGW) has announced an improved operating performance with earnings before interest, tax and depreciation (EBITDA) for the year ended 30 June 2012 at $55.2m compared to $49.4m in the year ended June 2011.
Operating revenue was up 7.2% at $1,336.8m compared with $1,247.2m for 2011, while net profit after tax (NPAT) was at $24.5m, a $55.2m turnaround from the 2011 loss of $30.7m. A substantial turnaround in net operating cash flow to $58.6m (2011: $4.9m) reflected a strong focus on working capital and particularly debtor management, while enabling the company to reduce bank debt. Net interest costs were reduced to $13.8m from $28.1m for the prior period . .
In 2011 one barrel of New Zealand’s first Albariño wine was made by Coopers Creek Vineyard and praised by wine critics. The second vintage has just been released and in its very first outing has been awarded a Trophy at the prestigious Bragato Wine Awards, held during the wine industry’s annual conference. The Select Vineyards Gisborne Albariño 2012 is available in restaurants and fine wine stores nationally. . .
As a young boy enters a barber shop the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.”
The barber puts a two dollar coin in one hand and three fifty cent coins in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?”
The boy takes the $1.50 and leaves.
“What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!”
Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of a dairy with an ice cream. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the three fifty cent coins instead of the two dollars?”
The boy licks his ice cream and replies, “Because the day I take the two dollars, the game is over!”
Consumer magazine has the dubious honour of winning its second Bent Spoon award from the NZ Skeptics for continuing to promote homeopathic products as a viable alternative to evidence-based medical treatments.
In its September 11 2011 review of anti-snoring products, Consumer consulted a medical herbalist who was quoted as saying that “all homeopathic remedies may work wonders for one person and do nothing for another” and that “homeopathy is best prescribed on an individual basis, after extensive consultation”.
Homeopathy is known to exploit the well-recognised placebo effect where the body heals itself in many cases. Any “wonders” worked can be attributed to that effect, as homeopathic solutions are made up solely of water – a fact not known by 94% of New Zealanders purchasing such products.
“Yet again Consumer has failed to point out that there are no active ingredients in a standard homeopathic product,” says Skeptics media spokesperson Vicki Hyde. “Surely this should raise consumer protection alarm bells, akin to someone buying a microwave and receiving a cardboard box which they´re told will heat food via the cosmic power of the universe if you think hard enough…”
Consumer did note that another expert had pointed out that “the efficacy of homeopathic remedies had not been demonstrated convincingly in evidence-based medicine.” This caveat was not adequate as far as the NZ Skeptics were concerned, particularly as the homeopathic products had a prominent place at the head of the list.
“We´ve seen the homeopathic industry use selective quotes as part of their marketing and advertising strategy to get unwitting customers to pay $10 for a teaspoon of water. No doubt Consumer´s inclusion of homeopathic products will be used to boost business, despite the admission by the NZ Homeopathic Council that homeopathic products have no active ingredients. Disturbingly, Consumer´s expert doesn´t seem to be aware of this admission, stating that `extra´ active ingredients could help.”
A number of people had raised concerns about Consumer´s willingness to feature such dubious products, with one nominator saying that the article had “destroyed Consumer NZ’s reputation as a organisation New Zealanders can trust”. . .
Skeptics also awarded a couple of bouquets:
* Margo White, for her health columns in the New Zealand Listener
“It´s great to see informed writing on health issues, based on research and evidence, rather than the large amount of low-grade items we usually get based on press releases and thinly disguised advertorial material,” says Hyde. . .
* Whanganui District Health Board member Clive Solomon, for supporting evidence-based medicine as the core focus for hospital care . . .
Skeptics’ website is here.
Soldiers can’t hide in embassies – though they can be ordered to rescue hostages from them, as the SAS was in Kabul last August. Soldiers can’t make grand speeches from the balcony, safe from capture or attack. They can’t claim diplomatic immunity when it suits or seek the protection of their enemy’s enemy to avoid being brought to book. They can’t recklessly publish whatever they choose, heedless of whom it may harm or betray, then join “the club of the persecuted”. . .
. . . Soldiers just do what soldiers have always done. They go where they’re sent. And fight when they must. They obey orders, do their duty, as it is given to them, and serve their country’s interests, in wars great and small, sometimes popular, sometimes not.
Because soldiers cannot choose their battlefields, any more than they can hide in embassies. They cannot tell their governments or their commanders they’d rather fight in Florida than in Bamiyan province. They can’t claim diplomatic immunity halfway through a battle or ask their enemies to “renounce” the “witch-hunt”.
What they must do, unlike those who hide in embassies, is confront the very essence of themselves. They must discover every ounce of fear in them and every skerrick of courage too. Because soldiers in Bamiyan, like soldiers on the Somme or on the island of Crete, know they are doing the most dangerous thing that anyone can.
For which they are not well paid. Not when compared with those who run websites and hide in embassies. But there is something every soldier can claim that those who pursue the protection of presidents or seek the sanctity of victimhood will never understand. More clearly than those who choose to hide, soldiers have the measure of themselves. They understand the consequence of choice, the meaning of duty and the character of courage.
Those are not fashionable things in this WikiLeaks age. Better to build a pedestal and put yourself upon it than defend a charge of rape. Better to claim “protection from oppression” than face the music. Better to hide than risk the battle. Better to blame everybody else for your circumstance than confront a lack of courage. . .
Apropos of this, Keeping Stock wonders if there’s a link between Wikileaks and recent action from the Taliban in Afghanistan.