Celebrating winners

October 3, 2018

My farmer spotted these signs in Sydney a couple of months ago:

They were part of a campaign to raise money to help drought-stricken farmers.

”Would we get that sort of support in cities here?” my farmer asked.

When relatively few people now come little closer to farms than a glance out a window as they drive down a main road, and the anti-farming lobby is so vocal the answer could well be no.

But this gives me hope:  the ODT opines that the All Blacks are not our only winners: 

. . . Rugby experts suggest New Zealand’s winning formula is not as dark an art as our black jerseys suggest. Instead, they say, it is a result of hard work and good management, of understanding what the fundamental parts of rugby are, and ensuring players from a very young age learn those basics. In other words, cleverness and hard work.

So can we not dominate a global industry with our cleverness and hard work the way we dominate rugby? Imagine the benefit to New Zealand, to our economy, to our employment rate, to our tax take. The answer of course is obvious: we do. In farming
.

I’m a fan of Fred Dagg and Wal Footrot but sad that those images are close to reality for too many people who don’t know farmers and understand farming.

Our farmers are the All Blacks of international agriculture. Our livestock herds roam farms of natural grass, grass fed by little more than rainwater and manure. The resulting products are the envy of the world, yet our farmers compete on price with factory farmers from other nations, despite receiving none of the tariffs and subsidies many of our competitors do.

Our world-renowned horticulture industry employs thousands, sending prime produce across the globe despite the genuine tyranny of distance implicit in an industry where fresh is considered best
.

I wonder if there is still a lingering snobbery about people who get their hands dirty that means at least some urban people don’t recognise the many skills food producers need and excel at?

The irony is when the All Blacks win their innovation, hard work and brilliance is celebrated. When our farmers win, day after day, year after year, it seems a growing portion of New Zealanders feel nothing but resentment that farming is not just swaying grass and wildflowers. Instead they see a dark industrial evil, polluting rivers, producing emissions and ruining landscapes. Clearly there is an image problem needing fixing.

Mistakes have been made in the past which will take time to repair; and some by accident or deliberately, are still not using best practice.

But those are the minority. Most farmers take their responsibility to look after their stock, their land, waterways and the wider environment, and to treat their staff well, seriously.

Of course, animal welfare, land-use and pollution are serious issues; that is not up for debate. But it is hard to imagine another economically equitable industry without its own unwanted by-products.

Farming requires the landscape to remain covered in photosynthesising plant life. It is spread around the country, ensuring the ongoing existence of hundreds of small communities. In New Zealand, farming is cleaner, kinder and more efficient than virtually anywhere else on earth. It provides healthy, active, well-paid outdoor employment for thousands of Kiwis, and pays for the employment of many thousands more in support roles, including this country’s world-leading agricultural-science industry.

Thankfully many New Zealanders do still value what farming offers New Zealand. They know we are, as a country, world champion farmers and we are immeasurably better off because of that. It is right and natural to celebrate the exploits of our rugby players as they continue to do us proud on the international stage. But let us not forget that it is not the only international stage we excel on. Our farmers are proof of that.

This is high praise.

It is heartening to know that the hard work of farmers, their staff and the many people who service and supply them is recognised and celebrated.

 

 


The other families

October 1, 2018

The costs of the Pike River recovery agency are high and rising:

Pike River Recovery Agency has spent $2.5 million in its first financial year, including nine staff paid more than $100,000 a year.

And its boss warns that re-entering the West Coast coal mine, the site of a 2010 explosion that cost 29 lives, might cost millions of dollars more than its original $23 million budget, as the complexities of the operation become apparent. . .

And what of the human cost, not just for the families who always feature in the news, the ones who want the mine re-entered; what of the other families who don’t?

This letter to the editor of The Listener is from one of the other mothers:

My son died in the PIke River mine accident and I couldn’t agree more with the views of Heather Levack (Letter July 28). Not all the 29 families seek recovery of any remains. I am vehemently opposed to it for many reasons, cost being one of them.

My understanding is  the $23 million budget quoted is for only for re-entering the drift and not the actual mine where it is presumed any remains are.

Millions of dollars have already been spent. Any more should go on the living – perhaps on health services in Westland and elsewhere, or on education or on low-cost housing.

I was disgusted but not surprised when Pike River was used for politically before the last election, the present situation being the outcome .

Lack of sensitivity and compassion is distressing to most who are affected by these tragedies. . .

Losing a child in tragic circumstances and living with and accepting that loss is not alleviated by the unwelcome intrusion of those who wish to ‘use’ those circumstances . . My son’s death for me is neither about political grandstanding nor entertainment – Marion Curtin. 

Michael Wright interviewed this mother for a story on bereaved  parents who want to let the past be:

When it got really bad, Marion Curtin would turn on Concert FM. Any sort of music worked, really, but Curtin was a devout Radio New Zealand listener, so the public broadcaster was her first choice. It wasn’t the music she was interested in so much, though. Over on RNZ National the words ‘Pike River’ could be uttered at any moment. On Concert FM, you only needed to avoid the news bulletins.

Curtin, from Christchurch, has spent almost eight years in quiet opposition to what the public could be forgiven for mistaking was the united front of the Pike River families. For most of that time, a group of victims’ family members have fought for accountability over the tragedy and lobbied governments to re-enter the mine to recover the bodies of the 29 who died there, including Curtin’s son, Richard Holling​.

Their efforts have commanded considerable media coverage. This month, stories have focused on the efforts of experts in reviewing options for possible re-entry into the mine drift.

It’s not hard to find stories in favour of re-entry. The Listener letter, this story, and a long ago email read on breakfast TV are the only ones I’d come across before this which give the view of the other parents, those who oppose the idea of attempting re-entry.

Curtin finds the idea abhorrent.

“I don’t understand [the pro-re-entry] view. To me it’s an irrational one. Why they think there are bodies to bring out just beggars belief as far as I’m concerned. The amount of money that’s been spent I think is disgusting. To me it’s just sacrilege. It’s like grave-robbing. It’s awful.”

Mostly, Curtin has kept her counsel on this. Occasionally she has spoken to the media, or written letters to the editor of the Press . But maintaining a public opposition to a prevailing view isn’t easy.

“It’s very hard to go against what is perceived as the majority,” she said. “Because I would much rather not be doing it. I do it to stop an inaccurate picture being painted of ‘the families’. It’s very seldom that someone speaks up and says to them ‘enough’s enough’.”

Curtin has been resolute throughout that the explosion was an accident and retribution against Pike River bosses was pointless. As soon as the re-entry question was raised, she was against that too. Though she received some “positive” feedback when she did speak publicly, she isn’t in contact with any other like-minded bereaved families. Her two daughters and wider family share her view. . .

It was some comfort after the deaths of our two sons to know that no-one was at fault.

Those grieving the loss of the men killed in Pike River don’t have that comfort and the strong wish of some of them to find answers is understandable.

But at what cost and not just in dollar terms?

The re-entry has been politicised by Labour and New Zealand First which is despicable.

Would they have done so if media coverage had made it clear that the campaign for re-entry was not supported by all the families?

Would knowing that the on-going publicity makes matters worse for some of the families have influenced public opinion? Would that in turn have stopped the politicalisation of the tragedy?

All the re-entry planning has done is prolong the agony for all the families – those wanting to let their dead be and those wanting to find answers.

But what if someone gets up the drift and finds nothing? Will the pressure then be to enter the mine itself?

What if someone dies in the attempt?

The living should never be put at risk to recover the dead.

Had there been more balanced coverage, the public support of the agitating families would have been more muted and that might, just might, have stopped the politically motivated and misguided support for a re-entry attempt.


Fake news grows when gatekeepers go

September 18, 2018

Mainstream news outlets have gatekeepers.

They’re the people who decide what is real news and what is not.

They’re human and so not perfect.

They can let their bias colour decisions and, not knowing what they don’t know, let the wrong story through without at least some balance from the right one.

But they are still there to draft off deliberate and dangerous fake news.

Social media doesn’t have gatekeepers and without them fake news grows and spreads.

Lies, defamatory comments and accusations and false statements not only get published they go viral, infecting the world with untruths and fiction purporting to be facts.

In when anti-1080 activism grew  noisy and got uglyHayden Donnell  shows how it’s done:

. . .What caused the sudden escalation? Part of the answer can perhaps be traced back to October last year, when anti-1080 leaders held a think-tank near Nelson. There the lawyer Sue Grey gave a presentation on how to mainstream the movement. Grey has been a leading spokesperson in the medicinal cannabis movement, which has gained political traction and overwhelming public support in recent months, and she drew on her experience with that cause to outline a new anti-1080 strategy. Activists couldn’t rely on getting mainstream media coverage, she said. She proposed taking a different tack – co-opting stories about issues completely unrelated to 1080 to spread the anti-1080 message.

“You don’t have to wait for a story about 1080 to put a comment about 1080,” she said. “You know – here’s [a story on the fact] the prime minister’s in Vietnam – well put a comment ‘what’s the prime minister telling them about putting 1080 in our food?’. And you can actually sort of divert the whole story.

“There’s all sorts of things you can do to pick up on momentum and people are going ‘hang on, where’s all this 1080 stuff coming from’.” . . 

This sort of thread-jack happens on blogs too. An activist sees a post on x and uses it as an opportunity to write a comment that sides tracks with but what about y.

The tactics she outlined almost perfectly match a sea change in how anti-1080 activism is practised online, and particularly on Facebook.

I had my first encounter with the online anti-1080 movement last month after watching a live news video where Phil Twyford and Kris Faafoi glumly announced new rules governing wheel clamping. When I looked at the video’s comments section, almost no-one was interested in clamping. Nearly every comment was the same message, repeated over and over: Ban 1080.

I found out the comments had their roots in a single Facebook page: Operation Ban 1080. The 60,000-member group  was encouraging members to take advantage of Facebook’s easily evaded moderation tools to get their message heard on unrelated videos.

It was like Grey said in her seminar: they weren’t waiting for stories about 1080 to post a comment on 1080. They were diverting news stories on unrelated topics. They were being more noisy, and creating more trouble. . .

The dark side to that is familiar to anyone who’s watched fringe groups flourish on social media in recent years. Where Operation Ban 1080 would previously have had to go through gatekeepers to get their message heard – opening themselves up to scrutiny and countering opinion – on Facebook they were allowed to run wild. Emotive posts accusing 1080 of wholesale environmental destruction were actually rewarded by Facebook’s algorithm due to their high engagement. False posts or doctored photos showing native birds or deer “poisoned by 1080” went semi-viral. Lies could be posted without counterargument, and any objections were confined to other parts of the site.

“You get this snowballing crescendo of hysteria and conspiracy and science denial and hyperbole where, in order to keep on getting the likes on Facebook, each statement has to be more fantastical, more hyperbolic than the last,” said Dave Hansford, the author of Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the Fight to Save New Zealand’s Wildlife. “This is the whole fake news phenomenon. They used to be happy with simply misrepresenting studies or cherry-picking research or just denigrating scientists … but more recently that clown car has just like careered off this on-ramp to crazy town. People are no longer concerned with keeping even one fingertip still on a fact anymore. Now they’re happy to just make shit up.” . .

That nails it and deserves repeating:

This is the whole fake news phenomenon. They used to be happy with simply misrepresenting studies or cherry-picking research or just denigrating scientists … but more recently that clown car has just like careered off this on-ramp to crazy town. People are no longer concerned with keeping even one fingertip still on a fact anymore. . . 

In crazy town, facts don’t matter, conspiracy theories grow and emotion trumps science.

Facebook and Twitter are particularly good seed-beds for growing fake news making it too, too easy for its proponents to spill their venom from their echo chambers to infect a wide network.

They go too far on-line which encourages followers to go too far in real life, as the anti-1080 protesters did last week.

But what happened next showed the downside of that increasing radicalisation. Fake 1080 pellets were thrown onto the steps of parliament, prompting a debate between environment minister David Parker and anti-1080 protesters. Then dead birds were laid outside parliament. Though protesters originally claimed the animals were killed by 1080, tests later showed they appeared to have died from blunt force trauma. A police complaint was laid. Public tolerance for the anti-1080 protests quickly waned.

To Hansford, that shows how the same forces behind the rise of the anti-1080 movement also contain the DNA for its demise. While the increasingly radical online activism has won supporters to the cause, it also increases the chance of someone taking the violent online rhetoric literally and doing something so harmful it ensures the anti-1080 movement is booted out of the limelight and back into the fringe conspiracy dustbin, he said. “It could end in tragedy and if it keeps going there’s a good chance it’s going to. And on that day, public support for the anti-1080 movement evaporates.”

They have already gone too far:

Department of Conservation staff are facing a torrent of online threats and abuse following a recent spike in anti-1080 protests. . .

Last year they went even further, loosening wheel nuts on DoC cars and making threats to staff safety.

But still the lies travel further and faster than the truth without the gatekeepers to stop the infection.

In the face of that we have to vaccinate ourselves against the fake news virus with sceptisism and science, and follow Edgar Allan Poe’s advice to believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.

 


Warwick Roger – 1946 – 16.8.18

August 18, 2018

Warwick Roger, one of New Zealand’s best journalists, has died.

The pioneering magazine editor, Warwick Roger, has died at the age of 72.

Once described as the best New Zealand journalist of his generation, Mr Roger changed the face of magazines in this country.

He worked at several newspapers, becoming a feature writer and columnist, before being appointed in 1981 as founding editor of Metro – the country’s first glossy city magazine. . .

The NZ Herald has tributes from journalists here.


So bad so soon

June 19, 2018

How did it get so bad so soon?
It’s a mess of ministers
acting like goons.
My goodness how the
mess has grewn.
How did it get so bad so soon?

With apologies to Dr Seuss, how did it get so bad so soon?

Audrey Young writes that Jacinda Ardern will forgive Winston Peters for anything, even the unforgivable.

A National MP joked this week that the Opposition didn’t want things to get so bad under Jacinda Ardern’s maternity leave that the country was desperate for her return – they just wanted a medium level of dysfunction.

That threshold was almost reached this week even before the big event, and things got worse as the week wore on.

Ardern’s faith in Winston Peters being able to manage the inevitable bush fires that will flare when she is away must be seriously undermined given that he and his party have caused many of them.

A series of accidental and deliberate mishaps has raised questions about a series of important issues including basic coalition management, ministerial conventions, the application of the “No Surprises” policy, and when a minister is not a minister. .  .

Stacey Kirk calls it a three ring circus with one ringmaster at the centre .

Consensus government in action, or a bloody awful mess? 

It’s difficult to characterise the past week as anything but the latter and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may be worried about whether she’ll have a Government to come back to when she returns from maternity leave. . .

Patrick Gower wants the old Kelvin Davis back.

Patrick Gower on The AM Show. Credits: Video – The AM Show; Image – Newshub.

Kelvin Davis is a “wounded man walking” who better watch out, says Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower.

The Corrections Minister on Wednesday announced plans for a new prison, but appeared to be unaware how many of its inmates would be double-bunked.

Corrections boss Ray Smith interjected after Mr Davis froze, confirming Newshub’s suggestion it would be around half.

“I get nervous before interviews,” was Mr Davis’ explanation, when asked about it on The AM Show. . . 

Duncan Garner describes government MPs as misfit kids.

. . .It’s taken them three minutes to look as shabby, arrogant and as broken-down as a third-term government suffering rampant hubris and pleading to be put out of its misery.  . .

Sue Bradford thinks the Greens are in mortal danger.

The Green’s water bottling decision exposes potentially fatal flaws and complacency at the heart of Green Parliamentary operations 

The Green parliamentary wing seem to be clueless about the mortal danger they face following news this week that their own minister, Eugenie Sage, has signed off on the sale and expansion of a water bottling plant at Otakiri Springs. . . 

Hamish Rutherford writes with Winston Peters in charge everything could be up for grabs.

. . . These are extraordinary times. Suddenly, with a Government already battling to keep business confidence up, with a story that the economy keeps on rocking, it seems as if everything is up for grabs.

We are now being handed lessons that have been coming since Peters walked into the Beehive theatrette on October 20 and announced he was forming a Government with the Left.

A Government so broad that the issues on which there is division become so amplified that they could almost appear to outnumber ones where there is consensus.

Where previous coalitions since the creation of MMP managed to keep together because the centre of power was so obvious, the timing of Peters’ action will be further unsettling. . . 

Health Minister David Clark has been accused of trying to gag a health board chair.

A leaked voicemail message appears to show Health Minister David Clark attempting to gag top health officials over the woeful state of Middlemore Hospital buildings. 

Clark has rejected the accusation, which has stemmed from audio of him telling former Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Rabin Rabindran it was “not helping” that the DHB kept commenting publicly.  

Emails suggest he also attempted to shut down the DHB from answering any questions along the lines of who knew what, and when, about the dilapidated state of Middlemore buildings. . . 

Peter Dunne asks is the coalition starting to unravel?

Almost 20 years ago, New Zealand’s first MMP Coalition Government collapsed. It was not a dramatic implosion on a major point of principle, but was provoked by a comparatively minor issue – a proposal to sell the Government’s shares in Wellington Airport – and came after a series of disagreements between the Coalition partners on various aspects of policy.

There has been speculation this week in the wake of New Zealand First’s hanging out to dry of the Justice Minister over the proposed repeal of the “three strikes” law that the same process might be starting all over again. While it is far too soon to draw conclusive parallels, the 1998 experience does set out some road marks to watch out for. . . 

Michael Reddell writes on how the government is consulting on slashing productivity growth.

 . .  I have never before heard of a government consulting on a proposal to cut the size of the (per capita) economy by anything from 10 to 22 per cent.  And, even on their numbers, those estimates could be an understatement. . . .

Quite breathtaking really.   We will give up –  well, actually, take from New Zealanders –  up to a quarter of what would have been their 2050 incomes, and in doing so we will know those losses will be concentrated disproportionately on people at the bottom.   Sure, they talk about compensation measures . . 

But the operative word there is could.  The track record of governments –  of any stripe –  compensating losers from any structural reforms is pretty weak, and it becomes even less likely when the policy being proposed involves the whole economy being a lot smaller than otherwise, so that there is less for everyone to go around.  The political economy of potential large scale redistribution just does not look particularly attractive or plausible (and higher taxes to do such redistribution would have their own productivity and competitiveness costs). . . 

And the Dominion Post lists mis-steps and mistakes and concludes:

. . .Some of this has been simply amateurish.

Such things are often a sign of a government that has outlived its mandate and begun to implode around the core of its own perceived importance. In its tiredness it can trip over the most obvious hurdles.

This Government is barely nine months old. It needs to find its feet, and quickly.

Has there ever been a government that has attracted this sort of criticism just a few months after gaining power?

How did this government get so bad so soon?


Mike Petersen Ag Comunicator of Year

June 14, 2018

The New Zealand Guild of Agricultural Journalists announces:

The current New Zealand Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, Mike Petersen, is the 2018 Ravensdown Agricultural Communicator of the Year. This was announced at a dinner in Hamilton last night, when he was presented with a trophy and a cash prize.

This is the thirty-second year the Agricultural Communicator of the Year title has been awarded, and is the second year of involvement by sponsor Ravensdown.  This year there were six people nominated and the decision was reached by a panel of 10 judges from around the country.

Mike has been described as a superb communicator and always able to deliver his messages in tune with his audience in any location anywhere in the world.

Mike has been involved in leadership positions within the agri-food sector for nearly 20 years. During that time, he has been elected to positions on industry organisations representing farmers such as chair of Beef + Lamb, and the ability to communicate effectively has been a core component of these positions.

He has travelled the length of the country speaking to hundreds of meetings over the years, providing the opportunity for farmers to engage with their organisation and discuss opportunities for the sector.

Over the past five years he has spent a considerable amount of his time in the role of New Zealand Special Agricultural Trade Envoy. This is a ministerial appointment to advocate for the dairy, sheep, beef, horticulture and wine industries in their efforts to improve market access and trading environment.

In this role, he travels offshore about six times per year to all markets of the world where New Zealand is looking to improve market access and market reputation. He speaks to numerous conferences and meets with the complete range of stakeholders from farmers, industry groups, corporates, officials, ministers and Prime Ministers dispelling myths and promoting the New Zealand agri-food sector.

As New Zealand Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, he also presents to numerous conferences and events in New Zealand, reports back to industry following his travels and responds to many media requests for interviews and commentary on all issues relating to trade.

The Ravensdown Agricultural Communicator of the Year award is administered by the New Zealand Guild of Agricultural Journalists and Communicators, and recognises excellence in communicating agricultural issues, events or information.    Guild president Elaine Fisher said the Guild is delighted to partner with Ravensdown in offering this long-standing award, which recognises excellence in communicating agricultural issues events or information.

“This year’s winner, Mike Petersen, epitomises all that it is to be a highly effective communicator for our primary industries. He has advocated on behalf of sheep and beef farmers, promoted Māori agribusiness, and effectively represents New Zealand’s primary industries on the international stage, all underpinned by his background as an award-winning Hawke’s Bay farmer.

Taking communications even further, Mike also shares his knowledge and skills with the next generation of leaders through working with Young Farmers, university students, Nuffield and Kellogg scholars. The Guild is pleased to join with Ravensdown in honouring Mike as the 2018 Ravensdown Agricultural Communicator of the Year,” Elaine said.

Regarded as the premier award for agricultural communicators, the Ravensdown Agricultural Communicator of the Year is also the most valuable prize the Guild offers. Ravensdown provides a prize of $2,500 for the winner, part of a sponsorship package of nearly $6,000 for the Guild. The additional funding assists with administration costs for the award, including the awards dinner in Hamilton.


Tweet of the day

May 31, 2018

This was the drug company’s response to Roseanne Barr who blamed sleeping pills for her racist tweet which led to the cancellation of her TV show.


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