Everest Base Camp Day 1

April 6th, 2014 at 10:00 pm by David Farrar

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I’d read in Lonely Planet that Kathmandu Airport can be chaotic for domestic flights where yiu may queue there for hours and then suddenly have five minutes to check in, and board etc. It seems they don’t really schedule flights, just queue them up.

However we struck luck. Left Kathmandu Guest House (which was great) at 5.30 am and sailed through the airport in under five minutes to be on board our plane by 6 am. However just as we were about to take off, fog closed Lukla Airport. While disappointed that we had to head back into the terminal, I was glad they were not going to try and land in fog as Lukla Airport is known as the most dangerous airport in the world. There have been seven crashes in just the last ten years with 36 fatalities.

Anyway the dog lasted only an hour and we were boarding again by 7 am and away.

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Some great views of the mountains from above the clouds.

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And after all my worry, a fairly smooth landing and we’re at Tenzing Hilary Airport. The elevation is 2,840 metres.

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You can see here a plane taking off. The runway is only 460 meters long and it is a sheer drop at the end. I think taking off will be more terrifying than landing!

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At the start of the path is this gate to Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who was the first Nepalese woman to make the summit of Mt Everest in 1993. Sadly she died on the descent when the weather turned bad.

Incidentally the first woman of any nationality to make the summit also had it hard. Junko Tabei climbed it in 1975. On her way up she got buried by an avalanche and was under snow for six minutes until she was dug out.

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This is the start of the track. Later on it is much much rougher as you climb over rocks everywhere.

The first day is a net drop of 300 metres or so. However there is still lots of uphill also.

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Some nice colour.

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There is a golden rule. Never ever get between a yak or any beast and the edge. This part is very busy and we had to give way dozens of times to different beasts.

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A memorial cairn carved on the rock.

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A troop of mules.

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Quite a few settlements along the way.

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One of three bridges we crossed. Quite stable actually.

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You always pass to the left of the many religious monuments.

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Then we got to Phakding. I wasn’t walking in this gear as it was quite a warm day earlier on and you get hot walking. But once you stop walking it starts to get really cold.

Around 12 kms, so only a half day to get here. The elevation here is 2,610 metres.

Also love the quility voice on the billboard!

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The room we’re in. Pretty basic but comfortable. It even has its own toilet which is luxury for out here. The quality of the accommodation declines significantly as we ascend, I’m told. So this is the five star version! No heating so will get very cold at night.

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I liked this lone tree at the edge.

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The view from the end of the town. We cross down into there tomorrow and at the far left you can see the path ascending up. Tomorrow will have around 1,000 metres of vertical ascent.

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Kathmandu

April 6th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m in Nepal. Currently in Kathmandu, but about to fly to Lukla to start a 17 day trek to the Mt Everest Base Camp and back, along with four other Wellingtonians.

There will be no Internet (or electricity!) in some of the areas we pass through, so very little blogging for the next two to three weeks. There should be the occasional guest post, but not much from me. I won’t be clearing e-mails during this period either, and will be deleting all e-mails unread when I get back as there will be so many of them. So if you want me to read something, send it to me after 29 April.

Anyway have had a day and a half in Kathmandu, and a few photos starting with the most important one.

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This photo is a huge relief as Malaysia Airlines lost my bag (yeah, I know at least they didn’t lose the plane !) and for around 20 hours I was in a state of minor panic. On most trips losing your gear is a hassle, but not a disaster. Just go out and buy some clothes for two days. But if my bag didn’t turn up within 36 hours I would not have been able to do the trek – or would have had to try and buy a huge amount of gear and clothing and (legal) drugs. So was very very relieved when the bag turned up the next morning.

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Like many Asian cities, the electrical wiring is chaotic. By coincidence there are several power cuts a day. In fact as I type this there has been no power for 90 minutes. As it is 4 am, I guess not many have noticed!

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They have some great bookstores here. Will buy a few books after the trek, but no not this one – it isn’t autographed!

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One of the many temples at Basantapur Durbar Square. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Over two dozen temples, many hundreds of years old.

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This is the courtyard where the Royal Kumari, or living goddess, makes an occasional appearance. A young girl (the current one is aged four) is selected to be a living goddess for four years, and is worshipped at various festivals. seeing her is meant to bring good fortune. After she retires as a living goddess, she returns to her family. Few of them ever go onto marry. I guess being married to a former living goddess would be challenging! Especially as their every wish must be granted when they are a goddess!

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A statue of the monkey god.

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There is a purpose to this photo! Look at the size of the heels on her. Massive.

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Nothing stops a determined tree.

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Shiva the Destroyer.

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I love this portrayal.

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Hundreds of wild dogs run and lay around the place. Some, like this one, look very cute. But you never ever pat them as the chance of getting rabies from a dog bite is far too high.

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Yes he is heading straight for me. He seemed to take an interest in me and walked directly over to me, and then stopped next to me. Was a bit wary of patting him with those horns.

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Then we went to see Boudhanath which is one of the holiest Buddhist sites. I love the eyes, that make it so friendly.

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Inside one of the temples.

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One of the three million gods they have.

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This is the wheel of life. I like the depictions of the different heavens and hells. Lots of people being boiled in a pot down below.

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Then we went to Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple for obvious reasons. I liked this cute scene. However again no matter how cute, stay away as many have rabies.

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A big array of monkeys making their way over a roof.

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This was somewhat unusual. We saw a public cremation. Many families cremate their deceased here at the temple. This is meant to happen within three hours of death. You can see the body wrapped up being transported.

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Then it is set alight, starting at the mouth!

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And a cremation in full flight. Rather unsettling watching it. At the end, the ashes are swept into the river below. That’s one river you definitely do not want to fall into!

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A victory for intolerance

April 6th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Tech workers in Silicon Valley are debating whether Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich got the comeuppance he deserved or was himself a victim of intolerance when he resigned under pressure this week amid outrage over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

It was intolerance. He wasn’t a campaigner or political activist. He dared to make a $1,000 donation in 2008 to a cause that is now unpopular – and got hounded out of his job for it.

Mozilla co-founder Eich, who invented the programming language Javascript, donated US$1000 in 2008 to support Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in California. Voters approved the measure, but it was struck down last June by the US Supreme Court.

In 2008 Barack Obama was also against same sex marriage.

When I blogged on this issue a week or so ago, some moron on Twitter did a comparison to someone who is a member of the KKK. Yes to some on the left, not being a supporter of same sex marriage is just like being a supporter of the KKK and lynching black people.

I’m a right winger who campaigned hard for same sex marriage. I’m thrilled it has been introduced in NZ. But I don’t judge those who had a different view.

On Friday, news of Eich’s departure prompted a backlash on Twitter. Many suggested Silicon Valley was intolerant of people with views outside northern California’s liberal mainstream.

Even Rarebit’s Hampton Catlin said he had not anticipated the issue’s escalation and was saddened by Eich’s resignation.

“We absolutely believe people should be allowed to have personal opinions, but we also believe that we are allowed to disagree and to try and change someone’s mind by expressing our own personal story,” the Catlins said in a statement.

I think it is horrific that Eich was forced out of a job after two weeks – not for anything he did in the job or since being appointed. But due to a six year old donation. It was a victory for intolerance.

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Views on private prisons

April 6th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday looks at the private prison debate:

The news of a declining number of people returning to jail comes as work gathers pace on a new $300 million private prison being built at Wiri, South Auckland, due to open next year.

Currently, the country’s only other privately operated jail is the 960-bed Mt Eden remand prison in Auckland.

Critics believe the construction of a for-profit facility signals a move towards more of the public system being placed in private hands. Even libertarians believe law and order is the most basic function of government. Surely justice and prisons are the last things we should privatise?

As I have previously blogged, almost all our prosecutions are done by private law firms. It’s been this way for decades. If you think the private sector has no role in providing services in the justice sector, then to be consistent you should be advocating for Crown Law to hire hundreds of extra lawyers and take on all prosecutions itself.

He believes Serco has learned from teething troubles he encountered during his time at Mt Eden. By its second year in charge, Serco had vastly improved its performance and was meeting 95 per cent of the targets set for its six-year deal.

The latest report is here. Mt Eden is outperforming most public prisons on (not having) prison escapes, positive drug tests, violence rates and rehabilitation and also exceeding its targets on reducing assaults, positive drug tests and complaints.

In the face of problems overseas, why are we building a $300m private facility at Wiri? The New Zealand Government will be locked into a 25-year contract, for which Serco is obliged to outperform public prisons by 10 per cent – meaning it will have to show a 27.5 per cent reduction in reoffending, the same as at its Mt Eden operation.

Excellent. Set a higher target for the private prison. If reoffending drops then everyone is a winner.

Jacinda Ardern, Labour’s Corrections spokeswoman, warns that future governments may have to prop up private prisons because of the long-term contracts. “The secrecy surrounding the deal with Serco is a concern,” she adds. “Would Government have to start injecting vast sums of money into the private sector if things started to go wrong? We should be spending money on cutting crime and making the streets safer, not building more expensive prisons.”

What secrecy? The contract for the management of Mt Eden Prison is on the Corrections website. And it’s a silly statement that means nothing to say we should spend more money on cutting crime, not building more expensive prisons. It isn’t a choice of one or another. The Government is spending heaps more on rehabilitation which cuts crime, and the crime rate is dropping significantly. However some of the existing prisons are almost falling apart and their facilities are ancient. Having a more modern prison like at Wiri will assist rehabilitation. So it is not a choice of one or another.

Private prisons, by their nature, have a vested interest in crime rates staying high. That’s according to Dr Jarrod Gilbert, University of Canterbury sociologist and gang expert. “It costs more than $92,000 a year to keep a prisoner locked up in New Zealand, so there has to be a conflict of interest when it comes to rehabilitating people if you are making money from them being in your facility.”

Oh what nonsense. Their contract requires them to reduce reoffending rates. They don’t get paid if they fail.

Does Dr Gilbert also argue that private law firms should be banned from being crown prosecutors because they have a vested interest in keeping crime rates high?

One recent convert to the private system is Mike Williams, former president of the Labour Party and chief executive of penal reform organisation the Howard League.

“We have the second-highest incarceration rate in the world behind the United States and have had a sky-high rate of reoffending,” he says.

“It is time to bring some new thinking into the system and the new focus on having less people return to jail is welcome. It is an experiment that is worth a go.”

Even the hardline Sensible Sentencing Trust is behind Corrections Minister Tolley’s drive to cut re-offending. “If private companies can do a better job of turning criminals into decent human beings, then we are all for trying it,” says spokesman Garth McVicar.

If Mike Williams and Garth McVicar agree on something, then that says something.

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A massive change in RMA consenting on time

April 6th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Amy Adams announced:

The 2012/13 Resource Management Survey shows the Government’s first phase of RMA reforms aimed at improving consenting processes are paying off, however further reform of our planning frameworks is still required.

The survey of how well councils are implementing the Resource Management Act shows that 97 per cent of consents were processed on time for the 2012/2013 period, compared with 95 per cent in 2010/2011.

“This is a vast improvement from the 69 per cent of resource consents processed on time in 2007/08,” Ms Adams says.

Only 3% are no longer processed on time, compared to 31% under Labour. The non-compliance rate by local authorities has dropped by 90%.

When National left office in 1999, the compliance rate was 82%. This dropped to 69% by 2007/08 under Labour. Since then the trend has reversed thanks to the law changes made by National and generally opposed by Labour.

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General Debate 6 April 2014

April 6th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Has it turned to just mindless bashing of Countdown?

April 6th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

On the original allegations against Countdown, I’ve praised Shane Jones for the work he did in exposing their allegedly ugly tactics of asking for retrospective payments from suppliers. I don’t think such a practice (if it happens) should be condoned.

But yesterday, it turned into almost a smear campaign against Countdown. They were accused on TV3 of everything from threatening a select committee, to bullying competitors also, to bullying Councils to shock horror selling Lotto tickets.  I think a line has been crossed, and we are now just seeing a degree of mindless bashing.

Let’s look at the various stories, starting with the Mad Butcher stores:

Now, chief executive of the Mad Butcher Michael Morton told The Nation Countdown does not just bully its suppliers but also its competitors.

“I believe they have a cultural billing within the whole organisation,” he said.

“If you look to the information that came out and the allegations that were made about the supply and the tactics that were done there. The fact that when we do any comparative advertising to them, we get smashed with lawyers letters. They come down like a sledge hammer.”

There’s a key fact missing from that story. As much as I love the Mad Butcher, in this case his (former) stores are the bad guys. You see their advertisements were found to be false and misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority:

The Mad Butcher’s advertising that claimed to have cheaper meat than Countdown has been labelled “misleading” and “likely to deceive”.

Earlier this year, The Mad Butcher ran print, television and radio advertisements claiming “Jo from Onehunga”, a randomly selected shopper, paid 30 per cent more for lamb chops, schnitzel, mince, pork chops and eye fillet steak at Countdown than at The Mad Butcher.

But an Advertising Standards Authority decision released on Monday upheld the complaint of Progressive Enterprises Limited, which owns Countdown.

The decision said the ad was not comparing like for like as no basket shop was undertaken by Jo, four out of five products in the Countdown basket couldn’t be purchased at the time, and 1kg meat packs couldn’t usually be bought at Countdown.

The Countdown prices given were from Onehunga, and weren’t reflective of national pricing, it said.

“The advertisements made comparisons that were likely to mislead or deceive consumers,” it said.

“The advertisements falsely claimed a price advantage in this instance.”

I’m sorry, but no sympathy. You tried to deceive consumers about your prices, and your competitor complained your advertisements were false and misleading. That isn’t bullying. That’s just good sense.

Then the next bash was shock horror they sell Lotto tickets:

Labour MP Shane Jones has again taken aim at Countdown, raising concerns about lotto sales at the supermarket’s checkouts.

Lotto tickets are being sold despite new evidence that people spend less on food when there is a big jackpot.

You can now buy lotto at the checkouts in 100 Countdown supermarkets around the country. That makes buying a ticket more convenient, but Mr Jones says that is the problem.

“With Countdown putting a one-armed bandit at every Countdown checkout counter, you’re bringing gambling into the community,” says Mr Jones.

That’s just pathetic. I’ve been buying lotto tickets at New World for over a decade.  Why is it fine at one group of supermarkets, but not another? This is just smearing Countdown.

Mr Morton says the lotto jackpot should be capped, and Mr Jones agrees the jackpot can get too big. But he says the availability is the real problem.

“I really want to have an immediate review of the Gambling Act,” says Mr Jones. “Is it really in society’s interests to have lotto and gambling available at every checkout counter in the Aussie-owned supermarket?”

Now we’re getting effing ridiculous. Shane Jones wants to cap the size of the jackpot for Lotto? He should go join the Green Party.

And he think lotto tickets can be sold in supermarkets, so long as they are not owned by Australians? This is just xenophobic bashing.

And to answer his question, yes it is in society interests  that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who enjoy Lotto can buy tickets conveniently for it. Apart from the enjoyment they get from it, money from Lotto funds Sport NZ, Creative NZ, the NZ Film Commissions and thousands of community groups. They get almost $200 million a year from people voluntarily playing Lotto.

Then we have Jones making things up about a threat:

Labour MP Shane Jones has accused Countdown of threatening a parliamentary committee with legal action, amid an investigation into extortion allegations.

Mr Jones made the allegations on The Nation this morning, claiming a letter threatening legal action against the commerce select committee is “around”.

But both Countdown and the committee deny the existence of a threatening letter, the latter labelling Mr Jones’ allegations “obviously” wrong.

“I am not sure how Shane knows about that… but he is obviously wrong,” commerce select committee chairman Jonathan Young told NZ Newswire.

The so called threatening letter merely asks for a transcript of the last hearing – which is a routine request.

And finally we had complaints that Countdown are appealing against decisions imposing hours on beer and wine sales that are more restrictive than the national default hours:

Well in many cases they fighting against what a lot of councillors do and that is to limit the sale of alcohol in supermarkets. The default position is from seven a.m to 11 p.m. Most councillors in New Zealand are adopting a nine a.m to nine p.m approach and in some cases Countdown in particularly and Progressive have appealed that on the basis that they want it to be open to 11 p.m.

I actually support Countdown on this issue. All you do by restricting beer and wine sales to 9 pm is annoy a lot of late night shoppers who can’t buy a bottle of wine with their groceries. Many Councils are falling into the trap of not distinguishing between specialist bottle stores and supermarkets. If you go to a bottle store at 10 pm, you are almost inevitably buying alcohol to drink immediately. But if you are buying alcohol from a supermarket at 10 am, then it is generally not for immediate consumption. The retail data shows very few people buy just alcohol from supermarkets after 9 pm. They are doing their regular shopping, and just happen to include some beer or wine with that.

So it is quite reasonable for a supermarket to question decisions made by local politicians, if they are not actually going to reduce alcohol harm – and instead just punish supermarket shoppers and supermarkets.

As I said at the beginning, Countdown’s alleged behaviour towards suppliers appears to have been bad, and that is now being investigated by the Commerce Commission. But all these other complaints are looking a a bit pathetic to be honest. Complaining that your misleading ads were complained about or that Countdown sells lotto tickets is just whining.

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A cat cafe

April 5th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

WOULD you like some kitten with your coffee?

Feline company is exactly what one of London’s newest cafes is offering — and stressed-out city-dwellers are lapping it up.

“People do want to have pets and in tiny flats, you can’t,” said cafe owner Lauren Pears, who opened Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium last month in an area east of the city’s financial district.

“There’s not many places in London you can just curl up with a book and chill out with a cat or two on your lap,” she said on Friday. “I think that’s what our success is down to.” …

The cozy English tea room, named after Alice’s cat in Alice in Wonderland, charges customers 5 pounds ($9) for two hours of kitty company. Coffee and afternoon tea — sandwiches, cakes and scones — are on the menu at an additional cost.

Lady Dinah’s opened on March 1, and is fully booked until the end of June.

Ms Pears raised more than 109,000 pounds through a crowd-funding campaign to get the cafe up and running. Despite more than a year of planning permission delays and figuring out how to maintain health and safety standards, she says the hard work has been worth it.

The 11 resident kitties were donated by people leaving the country who could no longer look after them. Kitty welfare is paramount: the cats get regular breaks away from people, and staff have been trained by animal behaviourists to care for them.

That’s a great idea. No surprise they are booked up for three months. I love in an apartment block that bans pets, and miss not having a cat. I’d definitely go to a cafe with cats.

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Monopoly house rules

April 5th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

NO RENT collection while in jail, double the dough for landing on Go and clean out Free Parking if your luck takes you there are among five made-up Monopoly rules Facebook fans voted in for future editions of the board game.

Several thousand people weighed in on “house rules’’ over 10 days of recent debate and a year after Hasbro Inc. added a cat token and retired the iron in a similar online stunt aimed at keeping the 79-year-old game fresh. …

The winning house rule for landing on Go means players get 400 Monopoly dollars instead of the official 200. As for Free Parking, official rules call for absolutely nothing to happen when a player lands there. Under the house rule, any taxes and fees collected are thrown into the middle for a lucky someone who lands on that corner square.

Rounding out the five winners are that players must travel around the board one full time before they can begin buying properties, and collecting 500 bucks for rolling double ones.

Off memory we always played four of the five house rules – no rent in jail, double for landing on go, taxes collected on free parking and no purchases in your first round. The only house rule I had not heard of was the $500 for double ones.

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The power of educational leadership

April 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

A little over six years ago, Selwyn College in Auckland was struggling.

The Government took over its governance after poor student achievement results, a bitter fight for control by opposing parent groups and the resignation of its long-serving principal.

This week, the decile 4 school, which has long had a multicultural roll and special emphasis on the arts, is celebrating the release of stellar NCEA results that underline a remarkable transformation.

Last year, 93 per cent of Selwyn students sitting NCEA Level 1 passed. Pass rates at Level 2 were 94 per cent, and 90 per cent at Level 3.

Compare that with the 2006 pass rates: 39 per cent at Level 1, 47 per cent at Level 2 and 49 per cent at Level 3.

That is an incredible change, and a great one.

Leading education expert Professor John Hattie has described the progress as some of the most marked he had seen.

“It is the evidence that leads to these comments. And it is stunning. And that this was achieved in such a short time shows what can happen with inspired, passionate leadership with a laser focus on students.”

This must be one of the more successful interventions, and shows what great leadership can achieve from the commissioner and principal.

Many parents used to avoid Selwyn College like the plague. Now it’s role is growing.

Better use of each student’s achievement data, new and renovated buildings, improved teaching practices and a central focus on academic performance were cited as reasons for the improvement.

Selwyn now assigns each student a teacher to act as a mentor to help make sure their study will open doors to university or the workplace.

Selwyn is only a decile 4 school. Some claim that socio-economic background of students is the main determinant and use that as an excuse for poor performance. This shows what you can achieve when you stop making excuses.

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9/10 in 49 seconds

April 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

NZ Herald quiz here.

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Providing a legal and sought after service

April 5th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

A fiercely anti-abortion lobby group is putting pressure on the National Party not to select an experienced doctor whose job has involved authorising and performing abortions.

Right to Life said the potential selection of medical practitioner Rosemary Fenwicke as a candidate in Wellington Central “would have serious consequences for the National Party at the forthcoming election”.

Abortion is legal in this country, and regardless of one’s personal views on it, I don’t see any issue with a candidate being a doctor who has performed a legal service that women have requested.

Right to Life spokesman Ken Orr said: “The National Party would be most unwise to nominate Dr Fenwicke for the Wellington Central electorate or any other electorate, or even for a place on the National Party list.

“Those in our community who defend a culture of life would be deeply concerned should Dr Fenwicke be nominated as a candidate for Parliament.”

He claimed that she supported abortions at any time during pregnancy “for any reason, or for no reason”.

I don’t believe that to be true. Can Orr provide a quote?

Dr Fenwicke has previously been the target of conservative MPs who unsuccessfully tried to prevent her from being elected to the Abortion Supervisory Committee in 2007.

Independent MP Gordon Copeland argued at the time that her appointment was a conflict of interest because in her roles as a consultant and surgeon she had power to both authorise and perform abortions.

The committee’s latest report in December showed abortion rates were at their lowest in 20 years.

The Wellington Central seat has been held by Labour since 1999. Labour MP Grant Robertson won it in 2011 with a 6376-vote majority over National’s candidate Paul Foster-Bell.

Mr Foster-Bell – who entered Parliament on the list in April – is seeking the nomination to represent National in Whangarei.

I can’t comment on who may seek that National nomination for Wellington Central as it is during the period when names can’t be revealed. But what I will say is that I don’t think someone’s day job should be a reason for people not to vote for them. Their views on political issues is a quite valid consideration, but I don’t think their job is.

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The Titford case

April 5th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Ansell writes:

There has been a major breakthrough in the Allan Titford case. And sadly (but typically) every newspaper, TV channel and radio station in this country, in accord with the state’s wishes, is covering it up.

Before you read the affidavit below, bear in mind that the woman writing it, Sheryll Titford, along with her husband, Allan’s brother Brian, doesn’t like Allan. She has always supported her former sister-in-law, Susan Titford (Cochrane).

(And before you conclude that Allan must be guilty if his brother and sister-in-law don’t like him, wait till you hear what Sue’s brother Dennis Cochrane has to say about the dishonesty of his sister Sue — but that’s the subject of another post.)

This is what makes Sheryll Titford’s voluntary affidavit so remarkable. Despite being a friend of Sue’s, Sheryll has been moved by her conscience to do the right thing by Allan.

Sheryll’s affidavit reveals that Sue told her that her (Sue’s) father, Graham Cochrane, confessed on his deathbed to burning down Sue and Allan’s family home at Maunganui Bluff.

I don’t know enough about the case to draw conclusions myself. But if there is an affidavit that contradicts evidence given in court, then the authorities should investigate it, in case there has been a miscarriage of justice.

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General Debate 5 April 2014

April 5th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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F is for Freedom

April 5th, 2014 at 5:06 am by David Farrar

The NZ Initiative hits F in their economic alphabet:

Trying to explain economic freedom to someone living in an economically free country is like trying to explain to a fish what water is. Like a fish in water, when we are free we rarely stop to consider what freedom is, why it is important to our livelihood, and what would happen if it was ever taken away.
 
Fortunately, New Zealand consistently ranks near the top of international indices measuring economic freedom. But this also means that we might take it too much for granted.
 
In its broadest sense, economic freedom is the ability for individuals to autonomously arrange their economic affairs and pursue greater prosperity. More specifically, it is the ability to exercise personal choice, participate in voluntary exchange, compete in markets, and enjoy the use of one’s property.
 
The choice to start a new business in any given field is an example of economic freedom. As is the ability to choose from ten different brands of bread at the supermarket. When you are able to sell your bike on Trade Me at whatever price you wish, this is also an example of economic freedom.
 
There is a role for government to play in economic affairs, but that role is limited. For the most part, it is to provide the legal structure to protect property rights and enforce contracts.
 
Of course, very few governments stick to those core functions. There are many other tasks that governments have taken on, such as the provision of roads and infrastructure, education, and health, to name a few.
 
But the more the government’s role is extended, the more economic freedom is threatened and diminished. The government harms economic freedom through corruption, over-regulation, taxation, and restrictions on voluntary exchanges.
 
While tax policies, subsidies, restrictions on foreign investment, or regulatory reforms by themselves may be undertaken with the best intentions, they all limit economic freedom. This has real material consequences. One only needs to observe the difference between North Korea and South Korea.
 
According to empirical research, high degrees of economic freedom are positively correlated with greater economic growth, higher average incomes, greater gender equality, higher life expectancy, and less poverty.
 
The value of economic freedom over crowd-pleasing government policies is only truly appreciated when it is gone. We should never take it for granted. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

The link between economic freedom and prosperity is well documented.

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The return of the start menu

April 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In an apparent effort to shore up support for its Windows software, Microsoft announced at a developer conference here that it’s bringing back the Start menu and will offer certain versions of its operating system for free.

The Start menu, which Microsoft eliminated when it released Windows 8 in 2012, will return to Windows in an update, the date of which was not announced. 

Getting rid of the start menu probably is their worst ever design decision – and there’s been a few!

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Why criminal histories should be shared

April 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The tragic deaths of two Dunedin children shot by their father Edward Livingstone earlier this year could have been prevented if New Zealand and Australian police shared information on criminal convictions, TVNZ has reported.

Livingstone killed his two children Bradley, 9, and Ellen, 6, at their mother’s home in Dunedin in January, before turning the gun on himself.

TVNZ reported tonight that Livingstone had previously been convicted for arson in Sydney, after trying to burn down his then-girlfriend’s house when she broke up with him.

The incident occurred 30 years ago.

He also assaulted a flatmate during the same incident, ripping the phone from his girlfriend’s hands to prevent her from calling police, TVNZ reported.

New Zealand judges were unaware of Livingstone’s past conviction and behaviour when he appeared before the courts for twice breaching a protection order against his ex-wife, Katharine Webb.

Three months before Livingstone shot his children, the 51-year-old was discharged without conviction for breaching a protection order against his family for a second time.

We can’t know if this extra info would have made a difference, but it could well have. Even though it was 30 years ago, the behaviour was so extreme I think a Judge would have taken it into account. Having said that I think a second breach of a protection order should be jail anyway.

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France’s unbeatable deficit

April 4th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

AP reports:

France’s new finance minister says he wants to renegotiate the speed at which France cuts its budget deficit to limits set by the European Union.

Michel Sapin told French radio station France Inter on Thursday that the 3 percent deficit France has promised its European partners to achieve by 2015 remains the target, but that the “rhythm” at which it is achieved should be discussed.

Sapin, who is taking over as finance minister from Pierre Moscovici, says renegotiating the target “is in the common interest of Europe.”

France missed its deficit target last year and has repeatedly pushed back the date by which it will bring its finances into line with European limits. Its deficit last year was 4.3 percent.

The joys of tax and spend policies.

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Overseas travel on the benefit

April 4th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

3 News reports:

More than 21,000 people have had their benefits cut since rules around overseas travel were tightened, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says.

More than $10.5 million has been saved since July last year by suspending the benefits of those who chose to travel, Ms Bennett says.

The largest group of suspensions applied to nearly 11,200 people on job seeker benefits, followed by more than 4800 sole parents.

More than 1750 people had their benefit suspended for multiple overseas trips.

The figures don’t include people receiving superannuation.

Hard to be looking for a job when you’re overseas!

Almost 5000 people have had their benefits cancelled because they failed to reconnect with Work and Income eight weeks after their departure from New Zealand.

Ms Bennett said although the rules are tighter, they still allow for overseas travel on compassionate or health grounds in certain cases for job seekers.

People without work obligations may in most cases travel overseas for up to 28 days.

Sounds reasonable.

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Caucus room now a war room

April 4th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour leader David Cunliffe has ejected MPs from the caucus room to turn it into a war room, moving all key political staff into a vast open-plan office.

National has a war room also. It isn’t at Parliament though. It is at National Party HQ, where the staff are funded by members and donors – not by taxpayers.

Of course parliamentary staff always play a significant role in election campaigns, but for my 2c the campaign should primarily be driven from the party HQ.

The new strategy office is the brain-child of chief of staff Matt McCarten and is aimed at making sure the party is co-ordinated and quick on its feet. Labour MPs will now be sent downstairs to a smaller room for their weekly meetings.

I guess that is the good thing about having so few MPs – you can fit into the smaller room :-)

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General Debate 4 April 2014

April 4th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Tracking planes

April 4th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An aviation industry group is creating a task force to make recommendations this year for continuously tracking commercial airliners because “we cannot let another aircraft simply vanish” like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. …

The aviation mystery has highlighted the need for improvements in tracking aircraft and security, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade association for the world’s airlines meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief that an aircraft could simply disappear,” said Tony Tyler, the director general of the group whose 240 member airlines carry 84 per cent of all passengers and cargo worldwide.

“We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish,” he said in announcing the high-level task force to make recommendations on tracking commercial aircraft.

I strongly agree with this, and not just  because by the time this post appears I’ll be on board a Malaysia Airlines flight to (hopefully) Kuala Lumpar!!

I’d even go further and say modern aircraft should have drone capability where their airline can take over control via autopilot if a plane diverts from its intended route without good reason.

But the Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s biggest pilot union, warned that live-streaming of information from the flight data recorder, as an alternative to the current black boxes, could lead to the release or leak of clues that could make pilots look bad before all the facts about an accident are known.

The pilots union have a lot to answer for when it comes to safety. They’re the reason the black box only records the last two hours of conversation, which means for MH370 even finding the black box may not help us know what happened. Their concern about people judging pilots prematurely should be a distant second to safety.

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NZ No 1 for social progress in the world

April 3rd, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A Washington-based think-tank has found that New Zealand is the most socially advanced country in the world.

The Social Progress Imperative, whose advisory board is led by Harvard economist Professor Michael Porter, has put New Zealand first out of 130 countries based on 54 indicators of social progress.

The country tops the world on indicators of personal rights and freedoms, and comes in the top four for water and sanitation, access to schooling and tertiary education, and tolerance and inclusion of minority groups.

That’s excellent. We’re not No 1 in everything but when you take all 54 indicators together, we’re at the top.

The top 10 countries are:

  1. New Zealand 88.24
  2. Switzerland 88.19
  3. Iceland 88.07
  4. Netherlands 87.37
  5. Norway 87.12
  6. Sweden 87.08
  7. Canada 86.95
  8. Finland 86.91
  9. Denmark 86.55
  10. Australia 86.10

It scores a low 28th on nutrition and basic medical care partly because of a relatively high death rate for women in childbirth, 35th for health and wellbeing partly because of high obesity and suicide rates, and 32nd for ecosystem sustainability.

So definitely still more work to do in some areas.

Think-tank director Michael Green, a London-based economist and author ofPhilanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World, said New Zealand’s placing as the world’s most socially advanced nation contrasted with its 25th place in GDP per person.

“In terms of converting economic output into quality of life, New Zealand is doing really well,” he said.

It would be good to also lift the GDP.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said: “This report is great news and it backs up what we all know – that we live in a fantastic country.”

Labour social development spokeswoman Sue Moroney said New Zealand’s high scored reflected “Labour’s progressive agenda” in building up public health and education over many decades.

Interesting that Paula just says it reflects well on the country while Moroney tries to have her party claim credit for it!

In terms of the three major category groupings, NZ was:

  • Opportunity 1st
  • Foundations of Wellbeing 6th
  • Basic Human Needs 18th
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Very disappointing – no tax cuts

April 3rd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The May Budget will have no plans for tax cuts, Prime Minister John Key confirmed yesterday, and he sought to dampen expectations that there would be anything significant in the future.

I’m very disappointed that there will be no tax cuts. Hard working New Zealanders deserve a boost to their after tax income.

In no way do I expect tax cuts for the 2014/15 year as the surplus is so small. But I was hoping that the Government would signal tax cuts in the future years.

When the Government’s accounts move into surplus, Governments have basically three things they can do with the surplus.

  • Increase spending
  • Reduce tax levels
  • Pay off debt

I believe a good Government does all three. If for example your projected surplus is $4 billion you might increase spending by $1 billion, reduce taxes by $1 billion and retain a surplus of $2 billion to pay off debt.

We’ve yet to see the size of any future projected surpluses, but if they are projected to be greater than say $2 to $3 billion (which allows contributions to resume into the NZ Super Fund) then tax cuts are affordable and desirable. And I want to see National commit to them.

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Watkins on economy

April 3rd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

 It speaks volumes about David Cunliffe’s bad week that on the day John Key delivered his pre-Budget speech, it was the Labour leader who copped it on the street over the Government’s failure to make a big dent in unemployment.

To be fair the gentleman in question abusing the Labour leader didn’t seem a fan of either major party.

Labour’s headache, six years on, is that National has been hugely effective at painting the Clark-Cullen years as a decade of tax and spend, compared with its own narrative of scrimping and fiscal prudence.

The reality, of course, is not quite as straightforward – despite the “zero” Budgets, government spending has continued to rise each year under National. But there is no dispute that when it came to power, the country was staring down the barrel at a decade of deficits and skyrocketing debt.

More than a decade of deficits. That was the original projection, but the revised forecasts were for a permament structural deficit that never went away – meaning debt would grow and grow and grow until the inevitable happened – as in Europe.

The May Budget will show that National has done a remarkable job of turning that around by bringing forward the return to surplus by some years and lowering the debt trajectory.

That it has done so by reining in spending, rather than slashing and burning and introducing austerity measures as seen in Europe and elsewhere, makes that feat even more remarkable.

It’s almost harder to do it by just restraining new spending, rather than cutting existing programmes. It’s politically easier, as people protest a spending cut more than not increasing spending. But from a government point of view, finding enough money by hundreds and hundreds of small efficiencies is harder work than just slashing a couple of programmes.

But the counterfactual – that a Labour government would not have responded to the global financial crisis in a similar fashion – can never be proven or disproven.

I don’t quite agree here. Sure you can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. But you can judge Labour off its own press releases, statements and speeches. For five years they have consistently opposed and condemned every single move of fiscal restraint the Government has done. They battled against any reduction at all in public service numbers. They decry any efficiency gains as cuts – even if the money saved goes into frontline services. They opposed the reductions in KiwiSaver subsidies. And almost without exception all their policies are to spend massively more. The one noble exception is their superannuation policy.

So I don’t think it is unfair to judge Labour on the basis of their own statements. If we accept they believe what they say (a big call I know), then one can only conclude that there is no way New Zealand would be heading back into surplus next year if they had been in Government,

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