NZers views on local government

May 25th, 2015 at 4:45 pm by David Farrar

LGNZ have had Colmar Brunton do a large survey of NZ residents and businesses on local government. The initial results aren’t complimentary but it is a smart move by LGNZ to do such research, because it provides a benchmark to try and improve against for their member governments.

The survey is here. Some extracts:

  • Performance rated 28/100
  • Local leadership rated 26/100
  • Communication and interaction rated 32/100

The bottom three areas for the public are:

  • Trust to make good spending decisions
  • Value for rate dollars spent
  • Managing finances

Councils need to learn to live within their means. Rates should stay constant, except for inflation and population. Annual increase of 3% to 10% are antagonizing the public.

The five most important services for the public are:

  1. Roads 45%
  2. Town facilities and amenities 42%
  3. Water supply 30%
  4. Rubbish/recycling 26%
  5. Sewerage/wastewater 18%

So Councils should focus on the basics above, and do them well.

Again a very good initiative by LGNZ doing this research, Hopefully Councils will take it into account.

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The al-Qaeda application form

May 25th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Here’s a translation of the al-Qaeda application form. This is not a hoax – it was recovered from bin Laden’s office. What hilarious is it is so corporate. Here’s some of the questions:

  • Any hobbies or pastimes?
  • What is your favorite material: science or literature?
  • Do you know any workers or experts in chemistry, communications, or any other field?
  • Have you been ever convicted by any court? When, and who convicted you? What was the offense?
  • List the types of passports you possess. Did you use a real or forged passport for your current travel?
  • Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?
  • What objectives would you would like to accomplish on your jihad path?
  • Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?

I wonder if the next step is a Myers-Brigg type test!

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Another Uber reason

May 25th, 2015 at 3:15 pm by David Farrar

I’be blogged before on how much I’m enjoying Uber – their booking app, the ability to see where the car is, and the automatic payment to your card.

But I’ve now got another reason. On Friday grabbed an Uber and the car smelt a bit of smoke (it was a driver who is also a taxi driver, not a dedicated Uber driver). So when the app asked me for feedback I gave it 3/5 only and commented about the smokey smell.

30 minutes later I had an e-mail from Uber apologising and saying they will talk to the driver, saying that doesn’t meet their standards. Great customer service.

And also impressive is that the next day I got an automated e-mail from them asking me to rate the quality of their response.

Compare that to trying to complain about a taxi driver to their company!

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Calling a spade a spade

May 25th, 2015 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

HEY you! Latte-sipping hipster of Newtown or Fitzroy. You’re worse for the environment than a fleet of trucks.

Look at you, sitting there in your wholefood cafe, munching on your kale salad (yum!) and whingeing about why your city can’t be a freewheeling bicycle utopia like Paris. You just don’t get it.

This is the entirely unflattering view NSW’s Roads Minister Duncan Gay takes of Australia’s inner-city residents, as he rails against (or, should that be “roads” against?) their extremist pro-train agenda. …

He used a forum on freight in Sydney yesterday to slam Australia’s “anti-road zealots”. (Stack hats on, hipsters, coz you’re about to cop it from Mr Gay.)

“I’m increasingly concerned by the vocal anti-road movement in Sydney and elsewhere which revere dogma over reality,” he said.

“They conveniently forget that thousands of commuters each day need to drive to rail and bus stations, ferry wharves, hospitals, schools, shopping centres and sporting grounds.

“They forget their groceries, whitegoods, furniture and mail are delivered by road. I’m yet to see a freight train back into a shop in Newtown or someone hitch a ride on a tram with their newly purchased 400L fridge from Harvey Norman.

It’s a good point.

I enjoy walking and cycling when I can. I am a regular bus user, and enjoy train travel. But these are complementary methods of travel to roads, not substitutes. There are times when nothing but a car is practical.

I’m in favour of investment in cycleways, dedicated bus lanes, and even the Auckland City Rail Loop. But my observation is that many of the champions for these things are not doing it because they are pro-rail or pro-cycling but simply because they hate roads and cars.

I want a Government that invests in all forms of transport which are economically viable, not just the ones someone personally approves of.

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ACT’s latest newsletter

May 25th, 2015 at 1:31 pm by David Farrar

ACT rate the Budget speeches in their latest newsletter. Now they’re hardly disinterested observers, but there certainly are a lot of people who think Little’s speech was appallingly bad. Their ratings:

  • Bill English 7/10
  • Andrew Little 1/10
  • John Key 8/10
  • Metiria Turei 4/10
  • Winston Peters 5/10
  • Te Ururoa Flavell 6/10
  • Peter Dunne 6/10
  • David Seymour 7/10

They also refer to something which may be more significant:

ACT’s Board has unanimously rejected an approach by the hapless Don Brash (no joking, this is too good for us to have made up) for Williamson to join ACT’s caucus.  “My own party don’t want me no more” is not an attractive pitch. For similar reasons, what poor country would accept him as ambassador?

This will be interesting, if correct.

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Economics from a different Labour candidate

May 25th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A commentator at The Standard said:

The second biggest NZ political deception of a lifetime is Labour claiming that our country cannot afford to keep the retirement age at 65. Money is created electronically by keystrokes by the Reserve Bank. How can we run out of money to pay super at 65?

Now normally what a blog commenter says is of no importance. But this commenter was in fact an official candidate for the NZ Labour Party. He’d be a Labour MP if they had got enough votes when he stood.

The fact someone with such economic illiteracy can get through candidate selection is a worry. He thinks money can just be created by keystroke by the Reserve Bank, without realising doing so would devalue the currency massively so that it becomes worthless. If one could just create new money by central bank fiat without bad consequences, then every nation on earth would do it.

This is not Economics 101. This is 3rd form economics.

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CIS says Australia has given up

May 25th, 2015 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

The Centre for Independent Studies looks at the Australian Budget and isn’t impressed:

In Budget 2015, the government has waved the white flag on attempts to reduce the size of the state. It has given in to the vested interests calling for your tax dollars.

The budget is littered with references to the fairness of paying more tax, and hands out government largesse to the middle class. It is little wonder that government spending is at almost record high levels. Excluding the 2009-10 budget at the height of the GFC, government spending as a percentage of GDP is at its highest level since the recession in the early nineties. Net debt will exceed $300 billion inside two years and gross debt will now peak at nearly $600 billion — and that’s if we are lucky.

The government’s so-called credible path to surplus is built on artificial assumptions of a return of economic good times and rising tax revenue through bracket creep. Spending remains far above the level of the Howard government. It is even above the level of the Gillard / Rudd governments. It is disappointing that those in charge no longer believe in the benefits of small government.

In NZ spending as a % of GDP is dropping. It peaked around 35% and is now around 30%. I think 25% would be a good level to end up at.

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Guest Post: Educational Aspiration in Crisis

May 25th, 2015 at 11:30 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Alwyn Poole:

In New Zealand it is acknowledged that a University Education is an important pathway to change socioeconomic outcomes. Back in October 2014 Professor Stuart McCutcheon noted:

Each year, some 10,000 ordinary, mostly young people leave the University of Auckland armed with a new degree or diploma. Their qualifications will lead to them having lower unemployment rates, higher salaries and better health outcomes than those whose education terminated at school. The lifetime salary benefit of a degree is estimated to be in the range $250,000 to $500,000. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11350829)

You would therefore think that any major disparity in University Entrance results would have opposition politicians, teacher unions and educationalists raging – and parents on the street.

The PPTA used to campaign on this. In a 2009 report they stated:

New Zealand has a tail of students with low academic achievement. Although internationally standardised test data for literacy, numeracy and science show New Zealand does very well in terms of its average performance, we have high quality but low equity achievement. Almost all of the students “at risk” are found in state schools, the highest proportion of which is in lower decile schools. The skewed nature of educational disadvantage correlates with family income and ethnicity. However, there is increasing evidence that genuine solutions can be found to reduce this problem.

http://www.ppta.org.nz/events-info-forms/doc_view/582-secondary-education-and-the-economic-crisis

The Labour Party manifesto in 2011 acknowledged the problem:

Some children are missing out on a quality education. A good education is a human right and we will work to make sure the most vulnerable students don’t miss out: Māori, Pasifika, children from low-income families, children with special needs, victims of bullying and violence, and those who struggle to achieve academically and don’t have a clear post-school pathway to work or higher education.

https://www.labour.org.nz/sites/default/files/2011%20Labour%20Party%20Manifesto.pdf

However, after the 2011 ACT/National agreement to introduce Charter Schools as a small part of a solution to address the problem for priority learners the issue stopped being of importance. Any effort to point it out might be seen as an endorsement of a policy that the Opposition and associated unions had chosen not to like. Since that moment almost all of their protest energy has gone into trying to eradicate Charter Schools as opposed to trying to find solutions to the huge disparities in the outcomes of young people in NZ. This expensive, false, and misdirected protest finally reached the point of outright comedy when Labour and the unions raged about how a Charter School spent money from multiple sources on a waka. They currently say very little about the outcomes for priority learners in many of our high schools. These schools that receive tens of millions of dollars every year. They have tied their own hands with the mantra of “world-class” that they dreamed up to imply that there was nothing to see here and no need for change. They have fallen silent about inequitable outcomes when this generation needs them to stand strong.

Recently the NCEA and UE qualifications data was released for 2014.

In terms of UE a sample table is as follows (referenced from NZQA published tables).

School Name Decile 2014 UE Roll Based Pass Rate
Northland College 1 12%
Tamaki College 1 10%
Southern Cross Campus 1 18%
James Cook High School 1 7%
Mangere College 1 12%
Papakura College 2 9%
Huntly College 1 6%
Fairfield College 4 17%
Flaxmere College 1 5%
Melville High School 4 15%
Edgecumbe College 3 0%
Opotiki College 1 12%
Otorohanga College 4 6%
Tokoroa High School 2 15%
Te Kuiti High School 3 14%
Ruapehu College 3 8%
Wanganui City College 2 9%
Rangitikei College 3 18%
Wairoa College 2 12%
William Colenso 2 16%
Makoura College 2 7%
Mana College 2 10%
Naenae College 2 18%
Some Comparisons
Glendowie College 9 65%
Howick College 10 48%
St Kentigerns College 10 77%
Pakuranga College 8 65%
Epsom Girls Grammar 9 81%
Rosmini College 9 74%
Wellington Girls College 10 81%
Samuel Marsden Collegiate 10 93%

The discrepancies in outcomes speak for themselves but it is worth reading the above table two or three times to really get a handle on it. This is a blight on our society and that almost no one is talking about it and/or reporting on it has me flummoxed. I won’t name them here but two lower decile school Principals who stated that UE and University wasn’t for “their kids” must, I hope, have had their statements taken out of context.

Keep in mind also that these are the roll based statistics for Year 13 students. It says nothing of the children in these schools that have left through attrition in previous years – i.e. the actual percentage of any cohort achieving at that level is even lower.

Schools in New Zealand are set up and funded to bring about progress, development and change. Blaming the circumstances of the children, or the surrounding area, isn’t an option as a society, and it doesn’t help. The reason we have state funded schools should be to ensure that education can precede changes in circumstance. If we were to wait for social equity before we felt we could educate children we will be throwing a portion of another generation on to the heap. With education, being Left or Right does not help.

In saying that, there is no denying the disease. We have to look for massive aspirational approaches to overcome this. It should be all hand on deck for these young people. Twenty years ago I was studying for a Masters degree in Education and all of the talk was about how to overcome the outcome problems for Maori, Pasifika and lower socio-economic children. The difference with today is that at least twenty years ago it was being talked about.

Solutions have to be found. There are a lot of tyre-kickers in education in NZ. People who criticise outcomes, criticise attempts at solutions, attack all manner of people who are doing the job but do nothing to assist. The kids who are missing out don’t need theoreticians – they need on the ground solutions. The vast majority of those solutions involve people and not flash buildings. People who understand the new learning paradigm understand that all children, given quality teaching/coaching, repetition/practice and opportunity can develop remarkable skills and knowledge sets. These young people need to be surrounded by adults who understand aspiration and change.

I know these aspirations are worthwhile. I managed to get through one of the decile 1 schools listed above and get to University. I had three teachers in that time who communicated to me that it was possible and I was unsophisticated enough to believe them.

What are some of the solutions within the school system that are worth discussion?

– Communities need to take this on and need to militant about it. Every community needs to demand schooling that generates results that allows their children to move into the higher levels of education in roughly equal numbers as any other community. Passive acceptance of the status quo should not be an option.

– Revisit bulk funding and give Principals in schools much more discretion on how they spend their money. They know the children, families, and locality so allow them more say in provision.

– Differentiate teacher salaries across the deciles. Pay a premium to teachers working in decile 1 – 3 schools to bring about change. If there is not a will to differentiate for results by teacher then incentivise the whole school for externally evaluated improvements. Allow the Ministry and management to bring financial and other incentives for bringing about great outcomes for kids. If it is acknowledged that working in some of these schools brings a different level of challenge then reward people who take it on and succeed.

– Children in the lower decile schools are not having special exam conditions applied for. Of the 5454 students with exam help last year only approximately 330 were from decile 1 schools – as opposed to 1440 from decile 10 schools. Something is significantly amiss here that needs to be fixed immediately.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/68447944/teenagers-with-learning-difficulties-missing-out

– These students don’t arrive at Year 13 from a vacuum – continually revisit the base and the provision there – particularly in the subjects the Universities have designated as key. Ensure that all primary school teachers can teach Maths, English, and Science well and a start would be to have strict entry qualifications to teacher training in those areas (e.g. at least level 3 NCEA).

There will be other suggestions out there that can make a difference. It is time to get things done.

(Note: I would also have a concern that too rapid a transition to computer based qualifications may exaggerate the gaps further.)

Alwyn Poole

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Stupid

May 25th, 2015 at 10:45 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government has been urged to consider restricting sales of nicotine electronic cigarettes to pharmacies, in a blog to be published today by public health experts.

But an opponent of medical-style controls says doing that would impede access to a device that has huge potential to reduce smoking harm.

So these experts think it is a good idea to have cigarettes available from any dairy or supermarket, yet a substitute product that is probably 1/100th as harmful to be restricted to pharmacies.

No need to take them seriously again.

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Finally Ngāpuhi negotiations to commence

May 25th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Finlayson has announced:

The Crown and the Tūhoronuku Independent Mandated Authority (Tūhoronuku IMA) have signed Terms of Negotiation and are ready to begin negotiating a Treaty settlement for the benefit of all Ngāpuhi, Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Christopher Finlayson announced today.

Tūhoronuku IMA is the mandated representative of Ngāpuhi, New Zealand’s largest iwi, for Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations.

“This is an important milestone for Ngāpuhi,” Mr Finlayson said. “We can now begin genuine conversations with hapū about their specific concerns and work towards a settlement that will provide all Ngāpuhi with a strong social and economic platform for the future.”

This announcement is particularly significant given that today also marks the 20thAnniversary of the signing of Tainui’s Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

“Tainui provides an excellent example of just what an iwi can achieve for its people post-settlement,” Mr Finlayson said.

This is the last major settlement. There has been years and years of delay as a few hapu oppose the mandated authority, but the reality is 76% of Ngāpuhi who voted, voted in favour of the mandate. That’s an overwhelming mandate (3:1). If you insist on 1005 agreement, then there would be no settlements ever.

Northland is a very economically depressed area. A settlement could make a significant difference to the region, let alone the members of Ngāpuhi. And anyone who has studied history will know many wrongs were done by the Crown. On average the settlements are worth probably just 1% of the estimated value of lost properties, so they are not unaffordable. In fact they have averaged just over $50 million a year.

If this negotiation proceeds to settlement, then the historical settlements will be close to finished. Most Iwi who have settled have not tried to relitigate historical grievances, but have focused on using the settlements to put their Iwi on

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Good move Lincoln

May 25th, 2015 at 9:15 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Lincoln University believes the country’s first fee-setting agreement for domestic students will ensure more are attracted and retained on its campus.

As of next year, the university near Christchurch will become the first in the country to offer domestic students a set price for the duration of their degree. Most universities increase fees by the maximum four per cent each year.

It has been commended by the sector and students’ associations.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of international and business development Jeremy Baker said more students would consider enrolling because of the increased security and no surprises.

“It’s basically a contract, if you come to Lincoln, we won’t increase the price on you whilst you’re at Lincoln.”

“As long as they make good academic progress, students will pay the same set tuition fee for the degree programme they enrol in, with the fee remaining the same each year for the minimum time it takes to complete the qualification.”

The university – with 3500 students currently – had been planning the idea for about three years. 

The set price introduced for international students in 2014 was well-received – with their numbers rising 46 per cent this year – and it was decided domestic students should benefit too.

“What we have been doing is trying to fund a way of still sticking within the rules but giving more flexibility and security for students.”

“We think it’s a good deal for both parties.”

The university was “pretty confident” it would not cause too many issues financially, he said.

“We will lose some money, but we will also gain the certainty of having those students.”

 

That’s a smart move by Lincoln, and may put pressure on other universities to do the same. Offering a fixed fee for the duration of a degree will attract students, but also incentivise them to pass, as if they fail then their fees may increase to the level set for new students.

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Messina on why Labour lost

May 25th, 2015 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

Jim Messina was Obama’s 2012 campaign manager and also a campaign adviser to David Cameron. He writes on why Labour lost:

Was it Messina’s data-focused approach that won the day, or was it down to the personality of David Cameron vs. Ed Miliband? ‘All elections are always about the candidates and we had the better leader,’ he says. ‘We had a leader with a clear agenda who had taken very difficult steps and the economy was benefiting from that.’

But Messina does not have many positive things to say about Labour’s messaging either. ‘To this day I can’t tell you what Labour’s message was other than I guess we don’t like the Tories. But until the famous Ed Rock or Ed Stone, you sort of had no idea what they were running on and when you are trying to do that five days before, you’re in deep, deep trouble.’

The research conducted by Crosby backed up his polling on the Tories’ message of economic stability. ‘CTF were saying it and then people on the doors were hearing it is that people believed that Cameron had taken tough steps, things were starting to get better and that Miliband wasn’t offering anything new and that combination made it very, very difficult for them to win.’

NZ Labour’s message seems also to be mainly we don’t like National, and no new policies.

Could he seem himself returning to Conservative HQ in future? ‘I would love to, I really believe in Prime Minister Cameron and I adore his team, I think Andrew Feldman and Lynton, those guys are all some of the better people I have worked with so it would be an honour to work with them again.’

What about working for say Boris Johnson, if he is leading the Tories in 2020? ‘Well we’re only three days after the last one! I think I’m going to go to sleep for a couple of weeks.’

Interesting that a Democrat would work the Conservatives. I understand it was mainly because of his admiration for David Cameron.

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General Debate 25 May 2015

May 25th, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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This is what the Greens are against

May 25th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I was listening to a ted Talk while running. It was by Pamela Ronald who is a plant geneticist. I got quite angry while listening to it, because it highlighted how the Greens and others are battling against science that is feeding millions of people.

You can view or read her talk here. The key extracts:

Now, the same month that my laboratory published our discovery on the rice immunity gene, my friend and colleague Dave Mackill stopped by my office. He said, “Seventy million rice farmers are having trouble growing rice.” That’s because their fields are flooded, and these rice farmers are living on less than two dollars a day. Although rice grows well in standing water, most rice varieties will die if they’re submerged for more than three days. Flooding is expected to be increasingly problematic as the climate changes. He told me that his graduate student Kenong Xu and himself were studying an ancient variety of rice that had an amazing property. It could withstand two weeks of complete submergence. He asked if I would be willing to help them isolate this gene. I said yes — I was very excited, because I knew if we were successful, we could potentially help millions of farmers grow rice even when their fields were flooded.

Kenong spent 10 years looking for this gene. Then one day, he said, “Come look at this experiment. You’ve got to see it.” I went to the greenhouse and I saw that the conventional variety that was flooded for 18 days had died, but the rice variety that we had genetically engineered with a new gene we had discovered, called Sub1, was alive. Kenong and I were amazed and excited that a single gene could have this dramatic effect. But this is just a greenhouse experiment. Would this work in the field?

Now, I’m going to show you a four-month time lapse video taken at the International Rice Research Institute. Breeders there developed a rice variety carrying the Sub1 gene using another genetic technique called precision breeding. On the left, you can see the Sub1 variety, and on the right is the conventional variety. Both varieties do very well at first, but then the field is flooded for 17 days. You can see the Sub1 variety does great. In fact, it produces three and a half times more grain than the conventional variety. I love this video because it shows the power of plant genetics to help farmers. Last year, with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, three and a half million farmers grew Sub1 rice.

This is what the Greens have spent 20 years opposing, and still oppose.

Now, many people don’t mind genetic modification when it comes to moving rice genes around, rice genes in rice plants, or even when it comes to mixing species together through grafting or random mutagenesis. But when it comes to taking genes from viruses and bacteria and putting them into plants,a lot of people say, “Yuck.” Why would you do that? The reason is that sometimes it’s the cheapest, safest, and most effective technology for enhancing food security and advancing sustainable agriculture.I’m going to give you three examples.

First, take a look at papaya. It’s delicious, right? But now, look at this papaya. This papaya is infected with papaya ringspot virus. In the 1950s, this virus nearly wiped out the entire production of papaya on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Many people thought that the Hawaiian papaya was doomed, but then, a local Hawaiian, a plant pathologist named Dennis Gonsalves, decided to try to fight this disease using genetic engineering. He took a snippet of viral DNA and he inserted it into the papaya genome. This is kind of like a human getting a vaccination. Now, take a look at his field trial. You can see the genetically engineered papaya in the center. It’s immune to infection. The conventional papaya around the outside is severely infected with the virus. Dennis’ pioneering work is credited with rescuing the papaya industry.Today, 20 years later, there’s still no other method to control this disease. There’s no organic method. There’s no conventional method. Eighty percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered.

And the Greens would say best to let the papaya industry be wiped out. They’re basically against vaccinating plants and crops!

Now, take a look at this pest feasting on an eggplant. The brown you see is frass, what comes out the back end of the insect. To control this serious pest, which can devastate the entire eggplant crop in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi farmers spray insecticides two to three times a week, sometimes twice a day, when pest pressure is high. But we know that some insecticides are very harmful to human health,especially when farmers and their families cannot afford proper protection, like these children. In less developed countries, it’s estimated that 300,000 people die every year because of insecticide misuse and exposure. Cornell and Bangladeshi scientists decided to fight this disease using a genetic technique that builds on an organic farming approach. Organic farmers like my husband Raoul spray an insecticide called B.T., which is based on a bacteria. This pesticide is very specific to caterpillar pests, and in fact, it’s nontoxic to humans, fish and birds. It’s less toxic than table salt. But this approach does not work well in Bangladesh. That’s because these insecticide sprays are difficult to find, they’re expensive, and they don’t prevent the insect from getting inside the plants. In the genetic approach, scientists cut the gene out of the bacteria and insert it directly into the eggplant genome. Will this work to reduce insecticide sprays in Bangladesh? Definitely. Last season, farmers reported they were able to reduce their insecticide use by a huge amount, almost down to zero. They’re able to harvest and replant for the next season.

Yet despite this, the Greens still fight against the science.

Now, I’ve given you a couple examples of how genetic engineering can be used to fight pests and disease and to reduce the amount of insecticides. My final example is an example where genetic engineering can be used to reduce malnutrition. In less developed countries, 500,000 children go blind every year because of lack of Vitamin A. More than half will die. For this reason, scientists supported by the Rockefeller Foundation genetically engineered a golden rice to produce beta-carotene, which is the precursor of Vitamin A. This is the same pigment that we find in carrots. Researchers estimate that just one cup of golden rice per day will save the lives of thousands of children. But golden rice is virulently opposed by activists who are against genetic modification. Just last year, activists invaded and destroyed a field trial in the Philippines. When I heard about the destruction, I wondered if they knew that they were destroying much more than a scientific research project, that they were destroying medicines that children desperately needed to save their sight and their lives.

This is the point at which I got angry. You should be angry also.

Some of my friends and family still worry: How do you know genes in the food are safe to eat? I explained the genetic engineering, the process of moving genes between species, has been used for more than 40 years in wines, in medicine, in plants, in cheeses. In all that time, there hasn’t been a single case of harm to human health or the environment. But I say, look, I’m not asking you to believe me.Science is not a belief system. My opinion doesn’t matter. Let’s look at the evidence. After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the crops currently on the market are safe to eat and that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky than older methods of genetic modification. These are precisely the same organizations that most of us trust when it comes to other important scientific issues such as global climate change or the safety of vaccines.

The Greens argue you must trust the scientific consensus when it comes to climate change (and they’re right) but they hypocritically argue against science when it comes to genetic engineering, fracking or basically anything that doesn’t sit well their their near-religious Gaia viewpoint. They don’t believe in science. They just use it when it aligns with their beliefs.

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Midwives advocating against vaccinations

May 24th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Expectant parents are being advised against vaccination by the very nurses and teachers who are supposed to give babies the best start in life.

The Immunisation Advisory Centre has received complaints of midwives and pregnancy class teachers trying to dissuade families from giving babies the MMR jab, despite overwhelming medical evidence that immunisation saves lives.

Dr Nikki Turner, the centre’s director, said some of the advice was “jaw-dropping”.

Women are being told vaccines are dangerous, unsafe or don’t work. In other cases there is no discussion of vaccine benefits. 

Any medical professional who lies about vaccines should face disciplinary action.

NZ College of Midwives advisor Lesley Dixon denied there were any midwives providing bad information. When told of midwives sharing anti-vaccine articles with expectant mums, Dixon said: “Women find the midwife that works for them.”

The College of Midwives time and time again seems to think their role is to defend all midwives, rather than uphold professional standards. At first they deny any midwives peddle anti-immunisation propaganda, and then when told there are some, just casually say people have a choice. They express no concern at all that their members are spreading information that may kill babies.

Parents were often not aware that having the whooping cough or flu vaccine during pregnancy also provided protection for the newborn baby, she said.

Whooping cough has caused four infant deaths over the past four years. A woman and her baby also died after contracting the flu in September 2013.

“Their deaths may have been preventable if the mothers were vaccinated,” Turner said. “It would be useful to have curriculum standards so if people chose to teach outside the curriculum you can challenge them.”

You expect nonsense from people who are not health professionals. But very disappointing to have so called health professionals giving such discredited advice.

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Ireland votes yes

May 24th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Ireland is the first country in the world to approve same sex marriage by popular vote. In all other countries it has been the legislatures or judiciary.

Ireland is a profoundly religious and Catholic country, but they have voted 62% to 38% in favour of a constitutional amendment to allow same sex marriage – a landslide result.

Of the 43 electorates, 42 voted in favour. The votes in favour ranged from 75% to 49%.

Ireland is 84% Catholic and only 8% Atheist.

The text is:

Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

In 10 years time, I doubt there will be a single western country that doesn’t allow same sex marriage and the next generation will look back on the days when it was banned with the same puzzlement as today’s generation regard segregation in the US.

ausmarriage

This graph (HT: Mark Textor) shows the massive change in just ten years in Australia.  In the US support is at around 60%. Again, it won’t be an issue at all for the next generation.

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Is there any point to Rewa going on trial?

May 24th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Phil Taylor writes in the HoS:

Malcolm Rewa murdered Susan Burdett. No other conclusion is possible.

He was the only assailant at her Papatoetoe home on the night of 23 March, 1992, when she was battered and raped.

He expertly got in and let himself out like the cat burglar he was, as he did in his attacks on so many other woman.

We know Rewa was there because his semen was in her body. …

The detective in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Steve Rutherford, since retired, put his finger on it in the weeks after the murder, telling media: “We believe that the person who had sex with her, murdered her.”

The Privy Council panel that in March quashed Pora’s convictions for rape and murder, went this far: “The man who raped Burdett was undoubtedly Malcolm Rewa,” Lord Kerr said.

I think there is no reasonable doubt Rewa murdered her.

Solicitor-General Mike Heron, QC, has ruled out putting Rewa on trial a third time, telling the Privy Council after it quashed Pora’s convictions that “no exceptional circumstances exist to justify lifting [the] stay” put on the Rewa murder prosecution 16 years ago by his predecessor after a second jury couldn’t decide about murder.

For the sake of Burdett’s family, and for justice, we say he should rule it back in.

He is already in jail for her rape. Is the cost of a massive trial worth it, when the practical impact is nil? It would be nice for the family to have it judicially confirmed that Rewa was both her killer and rapist, but Rewa has a sentence of preventive detention for his 24 rapes and is never going to be released from prison anyway.

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Police will love this app!

May 24th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Cannabis users looking for someone to share a joint with have a new app that lets them find like-minded smokers around the world.

The creator of the Who is Happy app, a Brazilian epilepsy sufferer who wants the drug decriminalised, says his software is a kind of “Foursquare for stoners”, comparing it to the app that allows users to rate restaurants and other places they visit.

“The app is the first global platform of its kind allowing cannabis consumers to connect and unite to promote happiness while de-stigmatizing and hopefully decriminalising cannabis use around the world,” Paulo Costa said.

Users who anonymously log their location will see a green cloud appear on the app’s map, covering a 1-km  radius. They can then check to see if others are partaking anywhere nearby, or elsewhere in the world. A greater number of users increases a location’s “happiness” quotient.

I can see this app becoming very popular with undercover police officers – a way for people to tell the Police to come and arrest them!

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General Debate 24 May 2015

May 24th, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Just desserts

May 24th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Back in April I blogged that I had little sympathy for Chris Roberts who was arrested after he tweeted onboard a flight:

“Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)” his tweet read.

It turns out he did more than tweet about hacking planes – he actually did it – and often.

Stuff reports:

A security researcher hijacked an airplane’s engines after hacking its in-flight entertainment systems, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Chris Roberts, a well-known US security researcher, told FBI agents in February that he’d hacked in-flight entertainment systems on over a dozen flights and on one occasion hijacked an aircraft’s thrust management computer and briefly altered its course. 

“[Roberts] stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” FBI agent Mark Hurleywrote in a warrant application filed in April and obtained by technology publication Wired on Friday. 

The FBI seized Roberts’ computers and questioned him after he was escorted off a United Airlines flight last month, because he’d posted a tweet — apparently in jest — hinting he could tap into the aircraft’s crew alert system and cause passenger oxygen masks to drop. 

According to the document, during interviews in February and March, Roberts said he’d compromised in-flight entertainment systems on 15 to 20 flights between 2011 and 2014. Each time he’d pried open the cover of the electronics box located under passenger seats and would connect his laptop to the system with an ethernet cable. He’d also scan the network for security flaws and monitored communications from the cockpit. 

I have even less sympathy for him now. Taking over a plane by hacking is not a world different from taking it over with a gun.

Details of the warrant emerged as United Airlines launched a new program that will reward researchers with up to one million frequent flyer miles when they report to it new security flaws in its apps, websites and portals but not in-flight systems. 

The program takes a leaf from bug bounties run by Google and Microsoft, which collectively paid millions of dollars last year to researchers.

That’s a good idea. A true security professional would have immediately reported any vulnerability.

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Ford say mobile phone bans can be counter productive

May 23rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Car maker Ford believes that “hyper enforcement” of mobile phone laws could be contributing to more accidents.

In New Zealand, drivers drivers can not use hand-held mobile phone while driving unless it is an emergency situation, but the global leader for Ford’s infotainment interface, Jeff Greenberg, has said the onus should be on car makers to reduce mobile phone-related accidents with smarter technology.

Greenberg said the current strategy of simply banning mobile phones had encouraged motorists to be more discrete.

“You see this regularly with hyper enforcement – people who would normally hold their phone up high to text (gestures phone at eye level), which is still bad by the way, are now holding their phone down near their lap and completely taking their eyes off the road,” he said.

“There can be unintended consequences to being overly vigilant. That’s what our concern is: that whatever policies are adopted, that we really think through the unintended consequences to make sure we don’t make the problem worse.”

A valid point. A better approach would be car manufacturers making it easier for cellphones to pair with the native car systems.

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Cash incentives work to reduce smoking

May 23rd, 2015 at 3:13 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Would the promise of an US$800 (NZ$1075) payout motivate you to quit smoking? And if so, what’s the most effective way to dangle that reward?

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania sought to answer those questions, with help from more than 2500 smokers who either worked for the US pharmacy chain CVS Caremark or were their family members or friends.

They found that financial incentives greatly improved the odds of kicking the habit. Compared with a control group that was offered “usual care” – including smoking cessation guides from the American Cancer Society and referrals to local anti-smoking resources – those who also were offered the prospect of a payday were far more likely to be smoke-free six months after their quit dates. The researchers also discovered that the type of incentive offered could make a big difference in a smoker’s chances of success, according to their report published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The detail being:

People who had their own skin in the game had the greatest odds of success. Among those who were willing to make a US$150 (NZ$201) deposit that they could earn back by remaining smoke-free, the quit rate at six months was 52 per cent. That blew away the 17 per cent quit rate for those didn’t put up any of their own cash. It also bested the 6 per cent quit rate for those in the control group who only got usual care.

So by far the best results come when smokers stand to both gain money if they stop smoking, but also lose their own money if they don’t.

But the researchers said it’s not clear that the skin-in-the-game approach was the best way to go. Though the results were much better, smokers were far less likely to give it a try. Only 14 per cent of the study participants assigned to a deposit-based program were willing to fork over their money. In comparison, 90 per cent of those who didn’t have to shell out agreed to participate in their part of the experiment.

When the researchers took this into account, the success rate for the simple reward systems beat out the success rate for the deposit systems by margin of 16 per cent to 10 per cent. That was a statistically significant difference, the study authors wrote.

It is logical that fewer people are willing to put up their own money. But if they are, then it is more successful. So offering both programmes would seem to be the best thing to do.

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Lord Ashcroft analyses the UK election result

May 23rd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Two interesting blog posts of Lord Ashcroft – the results of his post-election poll and a speech he gave to a post-election conference.

Some data from the poll:

  • Conservatives lost among under 55s, and won massively with over 65s. Labour got just 21% of over 65s.
  • Conservatives won in socio-economic classes AB and C1, tied in C2 and lost only in DE.
  • The most important factors in how people voted were trust of motives and values 75%, preferred promises 62%, the leader 45%
  • Most important issues were the NHS 55%, economic growth 51%, immigration 41%, cutting deficit 30%, cost of living 25%, welfare reform 20%, Europe 18%, schools 13%, environment 9%, crime 6%
  • 46% say austerity needs to continue, 30% say austerity was needed but no longer and 24% say austerity was never needed
  • Even 60% of Labour voters say austerity and spending cuts were needed

 

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Parliament 23 May 2015

May 23rd, 2015 at 11:10 am by David Farrar

The House remains urgency and is sitting from 9 am to 1 pm, 2 pm to 6 pm and 7 pm to midnight until the following bills are dealt with.

The KiwiSaver Budget Measures Bill proposes to remove the $1,000 KiwiSaver kick-start contribution paid to all new enrollees in the KiwiSaver scheme, effective from 2 pm on 21 May 2015.

The Border Processing (Arrivals and Departures) Levy Bill amends the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Customs and Excise Act 1996 to introduce levies to fund the direct and indirect costs of activities carried out by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the New Zealand Customs Service relating to the processing of people arriving in and departing from New Zealand.

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Canon Media Awards winners

May 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Some winners from last night’s Canon Media Awards:

  • Best Blog – Jarrod Gilbert
  • Best Website – nzherald.co.nz
  • Newspaper of the Year – NZ Herald
  • Weekly Newspaper of  the Year – Sunday Star-Times
  • Reporter of the Year – Jared Savage
  • Junior Reporter of the Year – Talia Shadwell
  • Politics Reporter – David Fisher
  • Business Reporter – Matt Nippert
  • Best columnist – humour/satire – Deborah Hill Cone
  • Columnist of the Year – Michelle Hewitson
  • Wolfson Fellowship – Shayne Currie

Congrats to all the winners.

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