Word of the day


Youthfullities – childish japes or games.

Sowell says


She Looks Like Me


Rural round-up


Wool growers too have something to cheer about as dairy leads the charge in brightening farmers’ prospects – Point of Order:

City dwellers,  preoccupied by  Covid,  may not  have  observed  that the  country’s export  economy is  being  sustained  by   its  primary  industries.  Last  week  came  the  news that  Fonterra had  signalled a  record payout to its suppliers, pumping  $13.2bn into the  regions.

Some analysts think that may be on the conservative side and  the final payout will surpass  $9kg/MS.

In  any  case,  the  ANZ commodity  price index lifted  2.8%  in November,  pushing  it into new  territory.  The  bank’s economists, noting that dairy prices  led the   charge, reported they  were  supported  by strong  gains  in  meat.

Again,  because  of the  preoccupation with the pandemic,  it may have  gone  unnoticed that meat  exporters achieved record returns  in the season ended in September. Total export receipts for beef and sheepmeat  equalled the record returns of 2019–20 and were 17% up on the five-year average. . . 

Chisholm getting a real buzz out of breeding Southdown sheep – Sally Rae:

Matt Chisholm is the new ram on the block in the world of stud sheep breeding – and he could not be happier.

On Monday, Chisholm – a familiar face on television and an advocate for mental health, having publicly opened up about his struggles with depression – will head to North Otago to sell a ram from his newly established Southdown stud The Land.

The Cordyline Southdowns ram fair will be like no other, held in the grounds of Brookfield Park, a Heritage New Zealand category 2 listed property which featured in the New Zealand House and Garden tour in 2019.

Built on the outskirts of Oamaru by renowned local architect Thomas Forrester for original owner John Gilchrist, the first mayor of Oamaru, it is now owned by Jennifer (JJ) Rendell, who since buying the property in 2003 has created an imaginative garden retreat surrounding a restored Victorian homestead. . .

New funding to assess impact of on-farm planting on beneficial insects :

Plant & Food Research and co-investment partners welcome the $2.2 million of Government funding for a new project ‘Beneficial Biodiversity for the Greater Good’, just announced by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

The $3.2 million, five-year research programme aims to understand the impact of native plantings on beneficial insect diversity and abundance on a range of farm types. It seeks to design plantings that optimise pollination and decrease pests on farms, without creating pest reservoirs.

“We’re grateful for the Government support through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, which will fast-track our research efforts significantly,” says Plant & Food Research lead researcher Dr Melanie Davidson. . . 

Unique partnership to enhance soil health and test regen-ag :

New research on farms across New Zealand will measure and provide farmers tools to enhance soil health, including identifying where regenerative agriculture practices can make a difference.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor today announced a unique partnership between food producers Synlait Milk and Danone, science provider AgResearch, and the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. The project will study soil health on 10 farms in Waikato, Canterbury and Otago over five years, to determine the impacts of changes in soil health on production, farm resilience and the environment, including climate change.

Soils underpin New Zealand’s food and fibre sector and managing for healthy soils improves the natural capacity of soil to sustain plants, animals, and humans. However, assessment of soil health on farms is not routinely measured in New Zealand, and so practical tools are needed to help farmers understand the detailed state of the soils and how best to manage them. . .

New Zealand National Fieldays Society’s annual report to reflect a changing world :

New Zealand National Fieldays Society (NZNFS) released its Annual Report following a virtual Annual General Meeting of Society Members held on Saturday. The new format report uses an all-inclusive approach to reflect the evolution of the organisation and reframe its wider impact.

Historically, the Society has provided an Economic Impact Report on its flagship event Fieldays® followed by a constitutional Annual Report – separate documents telling the Society’s story from different perspectives.

However, as the Society and the global landscape have evolved, a new approach to tell a more holistic story has been identified. The new-look report is also a step forward in aligning the economic analysis with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) guidelines. . .

Leading Australian producer picks New Zealand’s Redford software to transform operations:

Australia’s largest processor and packer of potatoes and onions, Mitolo Family Farms, has engaged New Zealand fresh produce software provider Radford Software to streamline operations across the entire value chain, from soil to supermarket.

Radford Software chief executive officer Adam Cuming said he was delighted that South Australian-based Mitolo Family Farms had chosen Radfords to support its next phase of growth.

“Onboarding a customer of Mitolo’s calibre reinforces our international growth strategy as we continue to focus on building client relationships across Australia and into the North American market,” Mr Cuming said. . .

Stifling free speech


The Free Speech Union, of which Karl du Fresne is a member, asked him to write about the modern-day heresy trial initiated by the Royal Society of New Zealand following complaints about a letter written to the Listener in which seven respected academics very civilly challenged the idea that matauranga Maori – traditional Maori knowledge – should be given the same status as science.

He invited anyone interested in free speech to republish the article, and I am doing so.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in a liberal democracy – as important, even, as the right to vote, since people’s ability to cast an informed vote depends on them first being able to participate in free and open debate about political issues and ideas.

This is one of the crucial factors that distinguishes a true liberal democracy such as New Zealand from authoritarian “pretend” democracies such as Russia, where people are allowed to vote but are denied access to information and opinion that doesn’t conform to the agenda of those in control.

Accordingly, the Bill of Rights Act, passed by a Labour government in 1990, states that every New Zealander has the right to freedom of expression, “including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”. The wording is similar to that of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, except that the UN declaration goes a step further by asserting the right to “hold opinions without interference”.

Even before the Bill of Rights Act made it explicit, free speech was a right that New Zealanders took for granted. They exercised it (and still do) every day in letters to the editor and on radio talkback shows.

Yet a perception has grown in recent years that New Zealanders’ right to speak freely and to hear or read all shades of political opinion, short of those that incite violence and hatred, is under sustained attack. Concern at the fragility of free speech rights led to the formation this year of the Free Speech Union, which has drawn support from across the political and ideological spectrum.

One celebrated case involved the Canadian “alt-right” (so-called) speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were barred from speaking at a council-owned Auckland venue in 2018. The excuse used for denying them a platform was that the event might be disrupted by protesters.

Activists quickly realised they could force the cancellation of speeches by people they didn’t like simply by threatening protest action – a tactic sometimes referred as the heckler’s or thug’s veto.

A similar pretext, fear of disruption, was used by Massey University to cancel a speech by former National Party leader and Reserve Bank governor Don Brash, although it’s hard to imagine anyone less likely to incite trouble than the unfailingly civil Brash. Emails released under the Official Information Act subsequently revealed that the real reason Massey’s vice-chancellor banned Brash was that she didn’t want the university to be seen as “endorsing racist behaviours”. In other words, she didn’t agree with Brash’s opinion on the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Southern-Molyneux controversy is still being played out in the courts, the crowd-funded Free Speech Union having gone all the way to the Supreme Court in a test case aimed at preventing public authorities from using the supposed threat of disruption as an excuse to “de-platform” speakers.

In the meantime, other developments have reinforced the perception that freedom of expression in New Zealand is imperilled. The feminist group Speak Up For Women (SUFW), which advances the unremarkable view that only people born female can call themselves women, has been barred from holding meetings in public premises and had a prominent advertising billboard taken down in central Wellington. Some newspapers refused to accept their ads.

SUFW’s struggle to get its message across in the face of determined opposition from trans-gender activists illustrates that the defence of free speech cuts across the usual ideological and political lines.

People who identify with the radical left have found themselves on the same side as conservatives and libertarians in pushing for the right to say what they think. The Free Speech Union’s supporters, for example, include veteran leftists Matt McCarten and Chris Trotter.

In the latest outbreak of the speech wars, the action has shifted to a new and worrying arena. Seven respected university academics found themselves blacklisted in July after they wrote a letter to The Listener challenging the notion that matauranga Maori – which can be defined as the traditional body of Maori knowledge – should be accorded the same status as science, as proposed by an NCEA working group preparing a new school curriculum.  

In an unprecedented pile-on, more than 2000 fellow academics, urged on by professors Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles, signed a letter denouncing the Listener Seven and implying they condoned “scientific racism”.

The response went well beyond legitimate disagreement. The sheer weight and vehemence of the denunciation sent an unmistakeable message to the academic community: express dissent at your peril.

More alarmingly still, two of the Listener Seven are now being investigated by the Royal Society – an organisation dedicated, ironically, to the advancement of science – and may be expelled.  

What started as an academic debate has thus taken on the character of a heresy trial. Even more ironically, one of the professors under investigation, Garth Cooper, is a Maori who has earned international acclaim for his achievements in Maori health.  

Once again, the Free Speech Union has stepped up by creating an academic freedom fund to help defend the two accused. If the complaint against them is upheld, union spokesman Dr David Cumin says, academics will inevitably feel less safe expressing honestly held views on contentious issues.

The union accuses universities and research institutions of trying to muzzle the very people whose job is to ask questions. “Academic freedom is under attack.”

The bottom line here is that science and academia need people who challenge accepted wisdom, otherwise we would be stuck forever in the status quo. But in New Zealand in 2021, the price for deviating from approved orthodoxy is punishment and ostracism.

Toby Young wrote about the witch hunt in The Spectator and concludes:

Remember, the only thing necessary for the triumph of intellectual intolerance is for believers in free speech to do nothing.

And John McWhorter, writing on more indigenous anger from New Zealand about real science concludes:

. . . I shouldn’t have to point out that scientists who defend their discipline and the knowledge it produces should under no circumstances be put in danger of their jobs, careers, or reputations simply for defending the toolkit of science as the best way to understand nature.

New Zealand is a wonderful place, and I love it, but many of its residents have got to stop pretending that there are multiple ways of knowing that can be taken as science! There is no special “Maori science”; there’s just “science.”

The irony of the indiganti’s cries of racism over science is that their indignation is racist.

Tech troubles could have been avoided


Sir Ian Taylor’s letter to the PM shows he is understandably less than impressed with the government’s technology:

. . .I am not sure whether it was his office that provided you with the official response to the inevitable questions that were asked about how a site that had almost two years to be readied for its reopening, crashed within seconds.

Wherever it came from, the answer you were provided with was not great.

Your exact words were: – “We had anticipated that this may potentially be an issue – we just ask people to be patient.”

How were we meant to interpret that from someone who has the full backing of the entire government civil service behind them – “Sorry but this is your fault. You shouldn’t have logged on when we said you could. You should have known it would crash; we did!”

If the problem was anticipated why wasn’t it fixed before the site went live?

Why didn’t the people designing the system make sure there would be no problems?

Such incompetence in the private sector wouldn’t be tolerated, why is it in the public sector?

The missteps on the technology front, as far as the Covid response has been concerned, are becoming too numerous to count, but here are some to consider as your advisers continue to turn down offers of help.

An MIQ booking system that meant that someone who wanted to go to a cricket match in Australia has the same chance of getting a spot as someone who hadn’t seen their family for two years! An MIQ system that people with money could pay someone else hundreds of dollars to jump the queue for them. An MIQ system that came up with a Virtual Lobby that allowed you to make up as many passports as you liked because it wasn’t actually linked to the passport database.

A Vaccine Passport system that allows people to download a pdf that can be altered using standard editing software. A Vaccine Passport system that does not require a photograph to confirm you are the person holding the passport to help make the job of overstretched staff at vaccine mandated venues easier.

And now, the acknowledgement from our PM that you are happy for them to launch sites that they expect to crash. Really! This is our money you are spending – where is the accountability?

I don’t profess to be an expert on many things, but I think I have earned the right to have a voice when it comes to technology. We have built and launched a number of websites over the years. One of the latest was an interactive golfing platform called Tourcast which launched flawlessly with hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users accessing video, real time 3D graphics and data, for any player, on any hole, for every shot in a golf tournament.

When we launched it, to a global audience, we did not “anticipate” that it would crash. Our client did not “anticipate” that it would crash, and our users definitely did not “anticipate” that it would crash. Nor did we ‘anticipate’ that it would win an Emmy Award – but it did.

With the government site that crashed on Wednesday we are talking about a reported user base of 15,000 people accessing a site that you had two years to get ready!

This from the Ministry that continues to turn down genuine offers of help from businesses that are becoming increasingly frustrated by the “thanks – but no thanks” responses we get from your advisers. . .

Is it control freakery or a special kind of stupid that prevents people in the MInistry from knowing what they don’t know and seeking help from people who know much more?

Whatever it is, it’s not confined to technology.

And on a separate – “thanks but no thanks” note, were you aware that on July 10th 2020, in reply to an offer from the CEO of a US-based medical company (who has been coming to New Zealand for over 20 years) to discuss an FDA EUA approved, PCR equivalent, 98 per cent accurate, on the spot, Covid molecular test that could be self-administered and took just 30 minutes to provide a result, Dr Bloomfield’s team sent this response:

“I thank you for your offer of assistance to the New Zealand Covid-19 response. We are currently examining a large number of testing methods and protocols to determine their reliability and appropriateness. We are not seeking further tests or testing methods at this time.”

We will never know what was meant by “a large number of testing methods” because that level of information is not forthcoming from the MoH. What we do know is that Dr Bloomfield’s decision to commit to one, logistically top-heavy, nasopharyngeal test that now has people waiting for days to get a result, has meant that we have one of the least effective testing regimes in the world.

The test his team declined to even discuss has now been trialled and is being used with great success in Singapore, Canada, Israel, Taiwan, and the United States, where President Biden has just acknowledged the importance of testing by announcing that no one will be able to enter the US who hasn’t had a negative result within one day before boarding their flight.

I almost missed my flight to LA because it took three days to get my official test result, so getting to the US from New Zealand just got harder because your officials still believe they don’t need our help.

In less than two weeks, the Aucklanders who are double vaccinated or have had a negative Covid test within 72 hours will be free to travel throughout the country again.

The risk of at least some of them bringing the disease with them would be much, much lower if all of them had to have a negative test just 30 minutes before travelling.

If the politicians and the bureaucrats had listened to the people who know more than them and accepted their help this would have been possible.

But they didn’t.

Last summer they were congratulating themselves and telling us how lucky we were to be enjoying a Covid-free summer.

Had they listened to the experts congratulations might have been in order for another Covid-free summer.

But they didn’t listen and it won’t be Covid-free.

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