Saturday, October 31, 2009

Seeing victims everywhere

(This is not an anti-feminist rant!  Far from it.  It is more a rant on how some women are letting the side down!  So start showing some blog etiquette and bloody read the blog before going off at me. )

She has a look on her face as if she's perpetually confronted by the ghost of Benny Hill. She is convinced that at least one half of the population is out to get their filthy hands on her. That she herself has nothing to fear is not just ironic, but the heart of the matter.

The Constitutional Feminist is a new creature. Germaine Greer is not a Constitutional Feminist, for she can provide opinions that are intelligent. By contrast, the Constitional Feminist feels it her duty to stick her stupid beak in wherever a woman is so much as a bit player in the game. Routinely passing herself off as a "researcher", an "academic" with a "special interest" (that special interest being "women"). She is no different, in reality, to a horny teenage boy - not interested unless there are girls involved. Had she been moved to write anything at all on the events of September 11 2001, it would probably have been a lament for all the dead women, along with a diatribe toward al Qaeda for not trusting females to carry out the hijackings. She views the tale of humanity as nothing more than Adam vs Eve.

A little while ago, one such individual blogged a tense piece, outraged that she was unable to buy clothing for her daughter that was age-appropriate. (I don’t want to tell you who this blogger was because the author drives me to murder with the useless diatribe. I refuse to give the blogger any marketing. But it involves an appendage at the end of a limb and, ironically, a receptacle to observe one’s sexiness). This is normal as the Constitutional Feminist is always ready whenever the issue is the "sexualising" of women (women looking sexy, presumably with the aid of a shiny reflecting receptacle). She has a big problem with females who appear sexually alluring, and it's an opinion one might have thought she herself would surely be too embarrassed to make public. When the anti-sexy lobby is at long last championed by one who is, herself, gorgeous, that is the day I will begin to consider that maybe this isn't all about jealous little girls.

Not that I am unsympathetic. I have strong memories of what it was like at fourteen (indeed, sometimes even now), when I wished my features were as beautiful as those on display in the magazines. My escape hatch, rather than wearing "sexualised" clothing, was bizarre clothing and dyeing my fringe bright red (punk rock from a respectable family), a scene where looking ridiculous was the very point, and from beneath such a deliberately ugly facade I scowled at the "Beautiful People", as if they were somehow lesser than me for simply having won nature’s raffle. I grew out of it – very much so – extraordinarily so - but the ghost of that childish envy still visits me occasionally, when I see Halle Berry and re-imagine my life with her looks upon it. A psychologist might observe the clothing I wear these days - drab, quaint, or boringly sensible - and conclude that such clothing serves the same purpose as the robes of punk.  It is an exemption from the contest I know I can’t possibly win, disguised as my personal preference, which, of course, has nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with the difficulties of cleaning off dried vegemite.

The Constitutional Feminist is evidence that "adulthood" is largely an urban myth, that one never fully abandons the desires and insecurities of youth, but simply learns to camouflage them among more serious matters and motivations.

Whatever else she might be, The Constitutional Feminist cares very much about the impression she makes. It follows that she cares about how other women are perceived beside her – her daughter, for example - but one shouldn't be fooled into thinking such concern is at all intellectually noble. It is the rage of teenage envy, fermented by years and fortified by time, and therefore seemingly mature, but not. Maturity has nothing to do with years. It is earned, gradually, with each acceptance of little injustices that the young cannot understand. The Constitutional Feminist scratches those itches with feminism, a notional factory that takes sour grapes and turns them into principles. One doesn’t have to grow out of feminism as one must grow out of punk, or a childish inferiority complex.

But the other irony of a life lived in theatrical indifference to the male species is that The Constitutional Feminist does not know men anywhere near as well as she thinks. It wouldn't occur to her that when a man sees a sexy picture of a women he does not necessarily presume her to be without intelligence or honour. Nor would it strike her that men are less likely to objectify the person in photographs than The Constitutional Feminist is likely to disrespect them - that many men, unlike herself, seem to know the difference between a magazine and a woman. It would be totally beyond The Constitutional Feminist to imagine such a thing as a man who doesn’t judge a women by her livelihood. She presumes everyone to be like herself - a freelance magistrate, narrow and shallow, dismissive of those who don’t play by her morals.

Too often, Constitutional Feminism is an opening for a type of politicised evangelism. Take the Australian Women’s Forum, for example. Dig beneath the veneer of feminism that dolls up their website and you find a solid god-fearing bedrock that looks less of a feminist think tank than a conservative Christian lobby group whose overriding priority is to criminalise abortion. Such people masquerade as academics and concerned intellectuals when in fact they are more like products of a politicised nunnery, blindly enslaved to an ancient text and angry at the knights who never came knocking.

Which wouldn’t be worth mentioning if The Constitutional Feminist was a fringe dweller, or just a sister doing it for herself. But feminism has become the bogus justification of power for the thick and envious.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Waiting at the yellow light

I was going to suggest that the dearth of blogs from me lately was because of my devastation at my marriage collapsing, but the reality is I was stuck in traffic.

Submissions close today for the Kapiti highway options.  An interesting press release from Chris Turver marked the event:
More than 3,000 individual submissions on the government’s plans for a four-lane expressway through Kapiti have been received by the New Zealand Transport Agency – and staff are still counting.

Chris Turver, an advocate for the expressway to be constructed on the existing Western Link Road road route between Raumatiu South and Peka Peka understands the total is a record for a public consultation process on a government roading plan outside Auckland.

He says the response reflects the huge interest in Kapiti in getting it right and he hopes the majority of the 3,000 responses to date will be in favour of the Western Link Road which has already been supported by a 2,100-signature petition.

The petition, organised by Mr Turver and KCDC Councillor Ann Molineux, ran for just three weeks and was delivered yesterday to NZTA Board chairman Brian Roche, with a copy to Transport Minister Steven Joyce.
Interesting times.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweeping generalisations

Because the above intellectual is clearly in the USA, I will guess he is not a supporter of the Melbourne Moran gang family.  Even so, I fear for my children.

There are people in the world whose intellect will remain at a child's level forever because they weren't born to parents who encouraged them to read, who simply weren't sufficiently interested in the world around them to do any more than make excuses for what they don't know, rather than summon what little curiosity they possess and research things for themselves.

As quoted on the National Geographic Magazine site:
  • over 80% of Americans have not read a book since high-school;
  • over half of Americans can't find any given state on a map;
  • nearly all Americans interviewed could not find most foreign countries;
  • almost half of American teenagers have no idea what the Second World War was about, and don't bother asking who won, when it was fought, or any of the details;
  • nearly half of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth;
  • nearly one-quarter of Americans do not know that the United States landed a man on the moon in 1969;
  • almost half believe you can drink antifreeze if you're stuck in the desert; and
  • over half believe the earth is 6,000 years old.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ten unusual playgrounds from around the world

Playgrounds have come a long way since the early days of hot, steel slides and open-backed infant swings. Safety is a big issue on today’s playgrounds, but, thankfully, so is imagination and ingenuity.

1. Nishi-Rokugo – Tokyo, Japan.
In Japanese, Nishi-Rokugo means Tyre Park. The Kawasaki plants are located not far away, so it’s possible they donated the 3,000 tyres that make up the dinosaurs, monsters, bridges, slides, swings, and all the loose ones there for kids to stack and hop on. But this sand-bottom park is hardly just for kids. Parents can haul tyres up specially designed tyre steps and tube down wide concrete slides.


2. The Fruit and Scent Playground –Liljeholmen, Sweden
A banana slide, strawberry spinners, a pair of cherry swings, an orange see-saw and a watermelon jungle gym are all part of this unusual, small park in the south of Stockholm.



3. Clemyjontri Park – Fairfax County, Virginia
Not just the name is unusual. This is one of the few playgrounds in the world where children with disabilities can play side-by-side with able-bodied children. The entire park is equipped with ramps for wheelchairs and the ground surfaces are specially designed with a non-slip material. The park is named for Adele Lebowitz’s (a major donor) four children: Carolyn (CL), Emily (EMY), John (Jon), and Petrina (Tri). Mrs. Lebowitz and her husband were also sponsors of a local children’s television show, The Pick Temple Show, in the 1950s. The star of that show, a clown named Bozo, was played by Willard Scott. Bozo, who later morphed into Ronald McDonald.


4. Pruessen Park – Berlin, Germany
Is this the only playground in the world created specifically for seniors?  Anyone under 16 is not allowed inside Berlin’s Pruessen Park, nicknamed the “Playground for Grown-Ups.” The equipment is specifically designed for people over five feet tall and caters to Germany’s fastest growing age demographic.



5. Zabeel Technology Park – Dubai
Dubai’s Zabeel Technology Park has two zones featuring futuristic technology and alternative energy exhibits, a series of high tech interactive displays, and a maze modeled on the solar system.

Picture 3

6. Takino Hillside Park – Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, Japan
The Children’s Playground in the Takino Hillside Park in Japan borrows ideas and images from nature. Varied lighting and sound conditions create a unique sensory experience for kids. Check out the cool net play tool in the rainbow nest dome. You can see how a lot of the park is built into, and under the hill.



7. St. Kilda Adventure Playground – Adelaide, Australia
St Kilda Adventure Playground is one of Australia’s best known parks and covers 4 hectares along the beautiful South Australian seafront (not that I am biased). The park opened in 1982 and recent upgrades include a wooden castle, a small maze, and a submarine, nicknamed “The Yellow Submarine.” The park's biggest attraction is the beached pirate shipwreck, which is especially popular with dolphins and other sea wildlife.

8. Teardrop Park – New York City, NY
Located between residential buildings in Battery Park City, and built for a whopping $17 million, the park features prominent rock outcroppings, geologic formations, a secret path, a bluestone ice wall, a humongous, almost dangerous looking slide, sandboxes, water play areas, a reading space with rock seats, and places to rock hop.

9. Yerba Gardens – San Francisco, California
The rooftop at Yerba Gardens in San Francisco is home to one of the most elaborate playgrounds ever constructed. Aside from the ice-skating rink, bowling center and the 130,000 square feet of open space to play in, the playground includes a beautiful 103-year-old hand carved carousel. The Zeum carousel was constructed in 1906 but could not be installed in San Francisco as originally planned because of earthquake issues. It was eventually housed at Luna Park in Seattle, where it was the only piece of equipment to survive a horrific 1911 fire. The city of San Francisco bought the carousel from a collector in 1998 and restored it to its original condition. It now serves at the centerpiece in Yerba Gardens



10. Playground – Boadilla del Monte, Spain
Spanish architects Eduardo Navadijos and Csaba Tarsoly designed this stunning modern playground with the intention of giving children inspiration to pursue their dreams in an airy and cool environment.




Return your failed genius to sender for a full refund

As any suffering parent knows, for the past decade DVDs ingeniously called "Baby Einstein" flooded the market and the presents under the Christmas tree.  Some parents embraced the freedom to shove their little budding university educated 2 year olds in front of the television, without any guilt that they might turn their children into television-addicted zombies.  Who needs the commitment of a Montessori education when you can just turn on the television and put in a DVD with the word "Einstein" in it?  Brilliant!  (Let's conveniently ignore that Einstein himself was apparently not an obvious genius as a child.)

After a while, it dawned on some parents that - Shock! Horror! - watching shapes, annoying songs, colours, and badly drawn cartoons did not guarantee their child a place in university at 5 years old.  So, naturally because this happened in the USA, now Disney (who foolishly bought Baby Einstein in 2001) finds itself having to offer refunds to any parents who bought its Baby Einstein videos and found their babies did not become instant geniuses the way a name like "Einstein"  might possibly suggest.

Baby Einstein sells USD200 million worth of products a year.  About a third of all American babies/infants apparently owns one of its DVDs.  Giving their parents refunds represents a quantity of money that might rival Obama's healthcare package, and a lot of embarrassment. What made Disney budge? According to the Times:
Last year, lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.”
Did anyone force these parents to buy the DVDs?  While it may be appropriate to remove "educational" from the marketing, surely Disney has no responsibility to refund money. Parents asking Disney to refund their money on infant entertainment because all of a sudden "research shows" that TV is bad for children (hasn't it always been bad? This is hardly new) is basically the parents asking Disney to take the same kind of helicopter-style care of them that they are taking of their children. How can there be any claim of raising children capable of critical and independent thought when lawyers are pushed to sue a clever marketing plan? Doesn't the very fact that this lawsuit was brought in the first place constitute the parents' admission that they bought the DVDs because of what the marketing said without giving it any thoughtful consideration of their own?

Now I need to put in a little waiver here.  Those who know me are aware that I don't have a television in my house - well, I do, but it lives in a cupboard only because it just doesn't look good in my newly decorated house.  But I have no objections to children watching television.  I don’t think watching a little TV is going to turn any kid into a dullard. But to think that watching TV is the key to education, rather than, say, reading a book, letting the kid dig in dirt, splash in the tub, discover that sand tastes bad, or bang on a pot is a sad indictment on those parents who believed the Baby Einstein DVDs were going to make a difference to their child's education.  While a "little TV" might not turn anyone into a problem child, it does go against how the brain develops. We live in a 3D, not a 2D, environment. A child is not, or should not be, a passive inhabitant of their 3D environment.

So, now I wait to see who is going to ask for a refund on the basis their child is not a genius?  Picture the scene in the crowded Walmart (screamed in an American accent, possibly from the midwest):  "Look at my kid!  Did you ever see such a dumb, thickarse excuse for a human being?  I gave him this "genius" dvd with the word Einstein in the title, and what do I get?  Braindead Thicko Boy!  I want my money back!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Protecting children from evil will not make the world less evil

Once upon a time, in a far away land called EwwKay, a a parenting site polled 3,000 parents about the stories they told their children. A significant proportion of them said they refuse to read certain traditional fairy tales to their Precious Widdle Darlings, finding the stories either too ominous or not politically correct enough.

Quoth The Telegraph:
Favourites such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Rapunzel are being dropped by some families who fear children are being emotionally damaged.

A third of parents refused to read Little Red Riding Hood because she walks through woods alone and finds her grandmother eaten by a wolf.

One in 10 said Snow White should be re-named because "the dwarf reference is not politically correct"

Rapunzel was considered "too dark", and Cinderella has been dumped amid fears she is treated like a slave and forced to do all the housework.

It is horribly sexist to tell little girls that their greatest happiness can be found in marriage to a handsome prince. Moreover, do we really want to scare the kiddies with stories of grannies who turn out to be big bad wolves? Should Cinderella not be rejoicing in the fact that her father married more than once - and how very lookist to notice that the two awful stepsisters are ugly.

More than a quarter of the parents surveyed now reject fairy stories in favour of books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I have nothing against this book, which is a good preparation for life in today's obese-obsessed world. It is a charming book, in which readers are invited to open flaps and see that the caterpillar has consumed a list of sensible fruit and vegetables. However, having read it about 250 times to my children (multiply all figures by three), I can say that it is extraordinarily boring and utterly unmemorable.

I am, however, happy to read fairy stories to my children for hours. Who are these parents who think that they are helping their children by withholding knowledge of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother's fascinating teeth, of Hansel and Gretel, of Cinderella or Rapunzel? These stories, which are replicated in almost all the cultures of the world, have been part of the shared experience of childhood for generations.

Many of them were collected up by the ingenious German brothers, the Brothers Grimm, during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The Grimms were interested in the origins of European languages. However, in the course of their research, they realised there were rich folk stories handed on from generation to generation in the country districts of German-speaking Europe. They found much which horrified them, just as it would shock social workers today - incest, child murder, bullying, abuse of all kinds. They found many stories of babies abandoned in the Black Forest villages, teenage pregnancies, and many abusive parents or grandparents among the boot-faced Teutonic peasantry.

The point is that the stories were not a way of covering these things up. They were a way of articulating fears and coming to terms with them.

Our national cultures, our sense of who we are as groups, are sustained by great myths. Our religions are a set of shared stories. Fairytales are also an absolutely vital part of our shared life together - only this time not as big cultural or national groups but in the most basic group of all: the family. Twenty-first century women have advanced beyond the fantasy that they are kitchen drudges who will one day turn into princesses by capturing the heart of the most handsome prince in the world, but that does not mean we would live richer lives without any knowledge of these stories whatsoever. The lessons given out by fairy stories are not bad ones, whatever some timid parents might feel

Goldilocks was idiotic to invade the three bears' house, and learnt a useful lesson about other people's property in the process.

The story of Snow White, even when sentimentalised by Walt Disney, remains one of the most enchanting ever told, but it is also useful. The apple offered by the witch versus the drug offered by a friend before a night out clubbing.

Rapunzel is, if I can use a tired word, "empowered" by her lovely long hair. The envious older woman tries to hold her back. How many daughters know that to be true when they think of the possessive part of their own mother's love for them? By literally letting her hair down, Rapunzel escapes and finds happiness. That is not just a fairy story for millions of girls who have escaped the constraints of a tyrannical mother/witch. It is what really happens.

Children are born into a world of fear. We do them no service by trying to eliminate that from their lives.  Denying the existence of evil is never healthy – children can come up against the real thing all too soon. How can you teach your child to avoid bad people if such terms are not even in their lexicon? How will these parents deal with their preteen wanting to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s books?

I would like to think these parents will come to their senses and we will all live happily ever after. However, I suspect this is but a fantasy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dr Seuss, the Blogger visionary

I always knew Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr Seuss) was a man ahead of his time.

The following excerpt is from "Scrambled Eggs Super", published in 1953.

Previously in the story: Peter T. Hooper is travelling everywhere to track down eggs for a miraculous breakfast he's planning to make..........
I went for the kind that were mellow and sweet
And the world's sweetest eggs are the eggs of the Kweet
Which is due to those very sweet trout which they eat
And those trout ... well, they're sweet 'cause they only eat Blogs
And Blogs, after all, are the world's sweetest frogs
And the reason they're sweet is, whenever they lunch
It's always the world's sweetest bees that they munch
And the reason no bees can be sweeter than these...
They only eat blossoms off Beezlenut Trees
And those Beezlenut Blossoms are sweeter than sweet
And that's why I nabbed several eggs from the Kweet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recommended new blog

Very interesting blog here about the virtues of alcohol and what we lose if governments restrict ("Return to Prohibition?") its sale because of the actions of a few individuals.  It's written from a the viewpoint of a food and wine lover who worked in the wine industry.  Well worth a read.

Socialist seduction techniques

Again, certain people have chosen to ignore blog etiquette.  This morning, an unnamed councillor (nah, bugger it, it was Lyndy MacIntyre), somehow worked out who OM is, and contacted OM directly to discuss Ostrich Economics.


Ostriches and bad blog manners before I've had my (non-organic, non Free Trade) coffee?  Bad.  Very bad.

The far Left ostriches in Kapiti have a deeply immature habit of using rhetoric and subtly manipulative language to push its causes.  Start with a literal truth steeped in emotion (or make it emotive: "think of the children!/trees!/environment!") that most sane people will agree with.  Then, hide the substantive truth.

Where is the intellectual rigour to lift the cloak on this dishonesty?  That democratic voice is suppressed.

When discussing the Western Link Road and the expressway options put forward by the Government, phrases are used by the Kapiti ostriches, such as "we care" about the environment so "we want to lead" the roading decision.  An assumption is made that people want the Council to "do something".

See how the literal truth conveys the substantive untruth.  The literal truth - "we care" about the environment - is used as a bait.  If you accept that bait, you will therefore accept the rest of it.  It is true that many people care about the environment.  The substantive untruth is that the Council should be out in front, leading this roading issue, and ergo, presumably seeing itself as leading the world on climate change with ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Statements such as, "the people of Kapiti don't want it, so the Government should accept that," are untrue, or at the very least, completely untested.  There is no evidence that Kapiti Coasters (or Kapitians?) support any particular option in overwhelming numbers.  No poll has been taken.  The Council and the likes of Lyndy MacIntyre assume support when it is nothing more than turn outs to meetings held by high profile individuals pushing one agenda to orchestrated campaign activists.

At the same time, they remain opposed to hearing views that do not support their stance, particularly those steeped in intellectual rigour.  To hell with democratic voice.  Of course, you will never hear them utter that literal and substantive truth.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sustainable Economics vs Ostrich Economics: the apparent confusion

As a trained economist, I should know by now not to read anything put forward by people claiming to be "sustainable" or who believe in "peak oil". And, sure enough, today there is more head-in-the-sand/we-want-standstill-traffic-every-Friday-and-public-holiday/more-than-one-anecdote-equals-data/cow-pat-economics press releases from a councillor (with a union background - but of course!!) in Kapiti.  This from Lyndy MacIntyre, a ward councillor.
The road to nowhere

Last week, two months after the Minister of Transport announced he would ram a motorway through our community whether we want it or not, councillors voted on a KCDC submission.
You mean, after the council wasted decades of time and money on building a road that was supposed to take traffic off the state highway, but ended up looking like a goat track?  After the council allowed its decisions to be driven by the personal politics of a Mayor and the preferences of property developers?  After the Government made it very clear that the state highway north of Wellington is a road of national importance and the council still did nothing?

Perhaps some people in the community are sick of traffic sitting at a standstill every Friday, every public holiday, and every time there is an accident on the narrow two-lane bridge into Waikanae.  Perhaps there are some evil capitalist businesses that want to move their freight more efficiently on a roading network.
Determining the KCDC position has been a hard road to travel. Councillors were faced with responding to a Ministerial edict that is not about benefiting our community, but all about getting from Wellington to Levin 12 minutes faster, and accommodating the trucking industry.
It was only a "hard road to travel" because the Mayor and her councillors decided this would be an opportunity to push their preferred views, did not bother to talk to people who may have a differing view to them, and based their opinions on the views of a vocal view, rather than those who are DIRECTLY affected. For many people and businesses who make the regular trip between Wellington and Auckland, 12 minutes off the travelling time to Levin would be brilliant when calculated over a year.

And, anyway, the edict was never about tourism to Kapiti.  It is about creating an effective roading network and identifying the roads of national importance.  The entire purpose of this exercise is to move traffic through Kapiti.  You always go on and on and on about how you want to retain Kapiti's small town, community feel.  Ensuring people don't stop here is a very effective way to do that.
The council submission concludes that building a motorway through Kapiti is a total overreaction to our transport issues. Even Opus, the company tasked by Government to develop the state highway plan, identifies the issue as "peak traffic demand".
Oh, so you actually WANT the traffic to be sitting at a standstill ever Friday/public holiday/whenever there is an accident up the line!  Dumb me!  Here I was, thinking that because you call yourself "environmental" you would prefer that traffic moved, rather than sit still for hours on end with engines idling.

Remind me again what it is about you that is "environmental"?
The submission, endorsed by councillors in a seven to three vote, takes a much-needed sustainable approach. It demolishes the NZTA argument for a motorway and concludes that peak congestion issues can be addressed by investing more in public transport, building a two-lane Western Link Road and making incremental improvements to the state highway. I supported this recommendation with the amendment that four-laning SH1 would happen "as and when is necessary".
What's sustainable about it?  The council has now endorsed four-laning the current state highway, which would result in 400+ homes being fully or partly demolished, over the Sandhills Motorway option that would result in 40 homes being affected, but these people knew about the designation anyway.  PLUS the forging ahead of a two-lane Western Link Goat Track, the purpose of which is....... er........ gosh, I don't know.  Please tell - the purpose of the Western Link Road was to take local traffic off the state highway.  If a highway is upgraded, it is unlikely locals are going to choose to travel on a meandering suburban street over the quick route.

And I would happily wager a bet with you that "making incremental improvements to the state highway" would end up being astronomically expensive, and a complete waste of money when the whole thing could just be sorted out once.
Four-laning SH1 has huge implications for the Paekakariki community. In this whole debate there has been no discussion about what happens in the southern end of the district. Many Paekakariki residents have asked me what will happen south of McKays Crossing if there is a four-lane highway through the entire district? The answer of course is a massive bottleneck, and the same issue arises if the entire SH1 is four-laned.
And this is based on what traffic modelling?  Of course, this would not be an issue if/when Transmission Gully is ever built.  Or if the residents of Paekakariki just faced reality, concede they live on State Highway 1 and not a back road, stopped trying to reduce the speed limit through the district, and allowed the road to be four-laned.  Or considered the merits of a local road that linked it with Kapiti through Queen Elizabeth Park (shock!  Horror!  The poor native trees that apparently cannot be replanted!).
We can make immediate sensible improvements to SH1 to address traffic flow and safety issues, but we don’t need to create a defacto expressway on SH1.
From this comment, I can only assume that you have never travelled on the State Highway through Kapiti.  If you had, you would have noticed the many houses dotted all along its route, with driveways that end directly on the State Highway. You would have noticed the many fast food outlets that have drive-through facilities and with entrances and exits on the State Highway.  You may notice the local roads, lots of them, that have Give Way intersections with the State Highway.  You have also possibly noticed that the road is, in parts, narrow and winding and is terrifying with the quantity of trucks at times.  And, finally, it may have also escaped your attention that a combination of all the above, plus a demographic that is largely elderly and terrified when driving in tiny cars around large trucks, culminates in traffic jams for hours every Friday night, at the start and end of every public holiday, and whenever there is a frequent accident at the Waikanae bridge.

So, in response to your vacuous comment, you actually do need to create an expressway through Kapiti.  Your proposed safety improvements on the current road will never be sufficient, and in fact are outdated already.
We should give the rail improvements and the Western Link Road a chance to reduce peak-time congestion, while  incrementally making improvements to SH1. Improvements could include an underpass at Te Moana Road, replacing traffic lights with roundabouts, slip lanes for properties with SH1 entrances, left in and left out onto the highway, tidal lanes, and four-laning where appropriate.
Ahahahaha!!!!  That's so funny!  What rail improvements?  Do you mean the train carriages that would make some communist states laugh at the antiquity?  Do you mean the double tracking of the track to Waikanae.  Remind me, are we talking about the same rail service that is being increasingly shunned by people because it is not always a cost effective alternative to fuel and parking in Wellington, and is so unreliable that people fear for their job security when they catch it?  And are we talking about freighting goods on this rail network that currently travel by road because this is a more cost effective and quicker option than rail?  And always will be?

I see you have probably never worked as a roading enginner.  Granted, neither have I.  So perhaps the glaring gap I'm seeing here is a complete and utter lack of common sense.  This is not "sustainable".  It is extremely unsustainable  As always, economic naivety and a lack of English ability, masquerading as sharing, caring policy, is alive and well in Kapiti.
A second motion supporting council’s fallback position of an eastern motorway was passed with the mayoral casting vote. I did not support this motion as I believe it offers support for an unacceptable motorway proposal, and undermines the council’s preferred  package.

Over the past few weeks I have talked with hundreds of residents from my ward.
Presumably you only spoke to those residents who agree with your stance.  I, for one, have been actively collecting petition signatures and can vouch that there are also several hundred residents in your ward who think your views are, well, "s***" (as stated by a 90 year old resident who you didn't talk to).
I really appreciate those who take the time to contact me to share their views and talk over these hugely important issues. The overwhelming view is that motorways are not the solution and we can and must find a more sustainable solution. But it is true that people feel powerless in the face of a Government determined to have its way.
No, again I must differ.  The Government, you may recall or have possibly conveniently ignored, initially presented two options.  They then listened to the concerns raised by affected property owners and tabled a third option - a brilliant option: The Sandhills option, which affects far fewer properties and goes along an existing roading designation, is the cheapest to construct and is the quickest to construct (yes, sometimes upgrading an existing road is not the quickest or cheapest option, but your lack of economics nous probably didn't realise this).

Conversely, the Council has had decades to construct a road that would take local traffic off the State Highway.  Instead, it has chosen to delay the process by small minded, private agenda politicking.  The Council has repeatedly ignored the rights of private property owners over the rights of property developers and the school of choice for Mayoral grandchildren.

The only way these affected resident have been able to effect any change to council decisions, and the only way the residents have been privy to private discussions between council officers and property developers that directly affected their properties, has been through official processes, such as OIA requests, complaints to the Ombudsman, complaints to the Auditor General, judicial reviews, press statements to national media, repeated meetings with Ministers of the Crown and MPs.  This is what being powerless in the face of government is.  Your ratepayers should never have to go through this.
I don’t underestimate the power and confidence of this Government. But that doesn’t have to mean saying yes to something that is wrong for our community, wrong for New Zealand and wrong for the planet. Let’s say no to motorways and let’s say yes to a sustainable solution.
Again, I LOL and PMSL.  While you are at it, let's also say a resounding YES! to longer traffic jams!  YES! to more accidents along dangerous stretches of roads!  YES! to more people leaving Kapiti in a quest for a place that is more accessible to Wellington's CBD!  YES! to economic disaster as businesses fold due to an inability to efficiently transport goods through the capital city to Auckland, and vice versa!

You are deluded if you think your views are "sustainable".  Learn the meaning of the word as a first step.  To assist you, I can immediately think of three definitions:
1. (Economics) capable of being sustained;
2. (Life Sciences / Environmental Science) (of economic development, energy sources, etc.) capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage; and
3. (Economics) (of economic growth) non-inflationary.

None of your ideas achieve any of the above.  The only thing I can think you possibly mean is sustainable means do nothing?  I think, perhaps, you are confusing "sustainable" with "ostrich"?  I can think of two definitions that might aid you:
1. A large, swift-running flightless bird (Struthio camelus) of Africa, characterized by a long bare neck, small head, and two-toed feet, and a tendency to spend long periods of time with its head in the sand.
2. One who avoids reality by refusing to face it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A question for train platform designers

Witnessed today at the Paraparaumu Railway Station: a person in a wheelchair turned his wheelchair to face the doors of the approaching train. The wheelchair suddenly lurched forward - I'm not not sure if brakes were on or failed - just as the train came into the station. Thankfully, the actions of about five people who threw themselves at the wheelchair, and prevented the man from falling under the train.  It was all over in less than 10 seconds.

Between today's incident, and the sickening footage of the baby in Melbourne, I would like to know why these platforms must slope towards the train?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Strungling with global warming denialism

I do not want to share this with anyone I respect.

Historian and apocalyptic climate scaremonger, Robert Manne, has rewritten history:
In recent times, the phenomenon of denialism has come to be called, in Australia at least, the phenomenon of scepticism. This change in language seems to me to be both dangerous and wrong.
He appears to be saying that initial warming doubters were first dubbed "denialists", and that the sceptic tag came later.  I would argue that he has this the wrong way around.
Scepticism is in general, as it should be, a positive word, denoting scientific or humanistic curiosity and in particular the presence of an open mind. That is not the mindset of those who are now denying the reality of climate change.
Behold the presence of an open mind.  Manne also acknowledges, and fully supports, a Holocaust connection to the "denialism" slur:
Denialism, a concept that was first widely used, as far as I know, for those who claimed that the Holocaust was a fraud, is the concept I believe we should use.
So he’s not a denialism denialist. Among other highlights, Manne claims that the threat of climate change is greater than that presented by WWII (and more difficult to overcome) and that how we deal with global warming will “determine both the human future and the future of the earth".

Manne also invents the word "strungle".

Don't bother reading any of it.

Global Warming Melted My Homework

From an article in a newspaper from Jakarta. Link to come....
Cirebon School Ceiling Falls on Students' Heads

Dozens of elementary school students in Cirebon, West Java were injured after the ceiling of their classroom collapsed on Wednesday. The two-floor building was built with state funds and had been in use for just three months. However, the cracks on the ceiling had been noticeable for some time. The steel beams used to support the ceiling had expanded over the summer. School headmaster Sukhemi blamed the contractor who built the school, and said the builder should take responsibility for the accident. Dedi Windiagiri, the head of the Cirebon school board, denied that the contractor was to blame. Climate change, he said, was the true cause of the accident.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why stop at one fisk?

My apologies to Liberty Scott. He very rightly, and very brilliantly, fisked Sue Kedgley over an issue that is literally on my doorstep and that has dominated my life, and pretty much destroyed a lot of it, ever since we moved to the Kapiti Coast.

The proper thing for me to do would have been to quickly add weight to Liberty Scott’s blog. But in my defence, I am just so very depressed over the Kapiti roading issue now, having discovered that the Mayor has resurrected an entranceway proposal that would go through my house (despite the council repeatedly voting against it) and whenever the Mayor and her loyal friends and former lesbian girlfriends speak up, I am reduced to a crying mess. A useless state to be in when I am also trying to get on with my life.

But Liberty Scott’s fisking was brilliant. Why stop at Sue Kedgley? Ever since Jenny Rowan, the Lady Worship Mayor Of The Ugliness That Is Kapiti, came into power, the obnoxious view is that it is acceptable to disregard advice provided by council to its ratepayers, and to demolish homes and ignore any principles of natural justice. It is never about the people. It is all about the kanuka trees and the Mayor’s grandson’s school. By the way, that’s the kanuka trees that would never be there had the Sandhills Motorway been built decades ago. And the school that knew about the roading designation when it purchased the land.  Hypocritically, these people also brag about their union credentials and their people-hugging past.

Life isn’t easy for people in Kapiti who purchased their property based on council information, who are not lesbian and former girlfriends of the Mayor, and who do not send their children to the same militant Steiner school that the Mayor’s grandson attends. While the sanctimonious greenies have their estates protected by the mayor and her council slaves, reasonable greenies - who, let it not be forgotten, also have mortgages, care about their children’s future, don’t necessarily use disposable nappies, and – most importantly - pay rates - are directly and devastatingly affected by the peculiar greenie tenet of putting the environment ahead of people. The salvation of a few kanuka trees overrides any personal property rights, a concept that is surprisingly difficult to explain to those who call themselves green, but who are actually just thick. They have yet to explain to me how demolishing homes is environmentally superior to constructing a road on a designated route.

I cannot reconcile the principles espoused by the greenies involved in this when so many people’s properties will be affected by what they are proposing. The roading designation for the Sandhills Motorway option has existed longer than many of them have been alive. The people who have purchased their properties along (or, in some stupid instances, on) the roading designation, have done so knowing full well that a roading designation exists. So why penalise the sensible people among us for this?

The current move by the Kapiti council furthers this hypocrisy. Rowan, backed by Sue Kedgley, and Winnie Laban (let’s ignore the point that most of the affected part of the district is not in Winnie’s electorate) is now supporting four-laning the state highway (a move that will result in around 400 people being directly affected) AND a two-lane Western Link Road. The whole point of the Western Link Road was to take local traffic off the state highway. If you upgrade the state highway, people are going to choose to travel on that over a 50kph goat track. Why create further local roads when perfectly adequate roads for local traffic already exist? Do one or the other. Not both. Oh, but I forget – you must waste money! In that case, this idea of yours will achieve that.  You thieving, unethical excuse for a Mayor.

By utilising Sue Kedgley, the Mayor has ensured journalists will receive moral direction and sensational copy. This means that rather than holding the council to account, Kedgley has allowed the council to go without scrutiny or criticism.

I am now going to send off my submission and hope NZTA sees beyond the rhetoric of a vocal minority who have access to bored Green MPs, and does what is best for Wellington, for Kapiti, and for traffic travelling through the district – build the Sandhills Motorway, and build it soon. It is the safest, cheapest option, that – get this greenies – has the least impact on people and property. I am also going to take a moment to cry over what I had hoped would be a lovely life on the Kapiti Coast, but what in fact has turned out to be a soul destroying nightmare.

I'm sure there must be a council in NZ that doesn't treat its ratepayers with such disdain?  And may Kedgley, Laban and their respective parties stay well out of power for many years yet.  Their breathtaking disregard for people and their families and homes is disgusting.  They should be ashamed of their hypocritical stance that puts people last.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Goodnight Kiwi

Am I the only one who missed the news that two New Zealand zoos (Wellington and Auckland) want to import two tumour-free Tasmanian devils?  Don't zoos in New Zealand have a habit of letting animals go walkabout, and taking a long time to recapture the escapists?

Strewth! Tell me you are kidding?!? Yes, I know extinction is sad (sometimes), but tell me you don't honestly want to develop a breeding programme for these beasts? Have a closer look at the name. (Hint: the devil might explain a lot.)
Wellington Zoo’s Simon Eyre says New Zealand wants to assist in protecting the vulnerable marsupial in any way it can.
Sounds like a worthy plan. Take them out of Australia.  Good idea.  I support that 100%.

Problem is, though, I now live in New Zealand.

Earnest New Zealand zookeepers, I offer you a warning: if one of these ugly devils manages to escape - just one - fear for your pets, your ankles, and the future of New Zealand's meek, defenceless wildlife (what there is of it, anyway). It won't take one long to enjoy a large tucker. They’re aggressive, heartless, cold-blooded, bloody ugly (even before facial tumour) killers. They have very few redeeming features, other than that they are unique to a certain geographic location.

Goodbye cute, cuddly little Kiwi birds.

The REAL story behind the proposal to ban P

I have some inside knowledge.

The Chief Science Advisor, a charming man wearing a neat bow tie, welcomed the Prime Minister into his office.

"We're engaged in a major programme of research on the genetics of degenerative disease in child bearing turkeys with the common cold following prolonged used of pseudoephedrine.  It's an important topic," said the Chief Science Advisor, and the Prime Minister nodded, as if to convey that he, too, was heavily involved, and had read the briefing paper and so understood what his Chief Science Advisor was saying.

"Yes," agreed the Prime Minister.  "Very important.  Indeed.  So important for the economy, in fact.  What with Christmas coming up."

The Chief Science Advisor threw him a glance.  Now they moved deep within the inner sanctum of the Beehive to the laboratories, where the humming centrifuges and bubbling flasks attested to a high level of research activity.

"MgP2HP20P + HgPSOP4 = P," explained the Chief Science Advisor, pointing to a vat of curiously coloured powder.
"P?" asked the Prime Minister.
"MgPCO2P = P," responded the Chief Science Advisor.
"O," said the Prime Minister.  "I....."
"O?" asked the Chief Science Advisor.
The Prime Minister stroked his chin.  "Perhaps."
"Definitely," interjected the Chief Science Advisor.  "PHP2POP +PNaPCl3P = PPPpppPPPP+PP."
"P?" probed the Prime Minister.  "Why?"
"Because PPPpppPPPP+PP," the Chief Science Advisor explained, as simply as he could to a non-scientist.

The Prime Minister exploded in anger.  "Will you stop saying P all the time!!!  It's getting really irritating!"

"P?"  the Chief Science Advisor queried.

In a thunderous rage, The Prime Minister grabbed the nearest beaker and smashed it over the head of his Chief Science Advisor.  He then destroyed any evidence of his (now former) Chief Science Advisor with a Bunsen burner.

The next day, a press release was issued from the Prime Minister's office:
The Prime Minister proposes banning pseudoephedrine in the fight against P.  The ban is part of a wide-ranging plan to fight P, using the full force of the government's arsenal, as P is wrecking lives, wrecking families and fuelling crime.
The banning of other P-related products will be considered in due course. 

A lesson for politicians (esp Jenny Rowan) on investment vs spending/theft

I no longer have the energy to blog about the Kapiti roading debate. There's not much more to add from me. Sandhills Motorway good. Jenny Rowan get lost. Especially with your latest attempt to compare the Kapiti roading issue with the Samoa tsunami, you rude, offensive excuse for a human.

OK, so clearly the Samoa reference made me bristle. But I bristle further when politicians, especially, it seems, the likes of Jenny Rowan, throws us a dangerous word, that is little understood by the masses: investment.

So, here is today's lesson. Listen carefully, Rowan, for if you make this mistake one more time, I may be moved to more libelous activity.

Having just spend $281,000 of ratepayers' money on developing an engineering submission, that was then rejected by Council itself, we are told that such "investment" is necessary for economic analysis.

So, if it is an "investment", presumably I will get a return that has increased my investment's original value?

Of course not. The problem lies in that I did not get to choose how I invested my own money, where or how I invested it, and I have no say in whether I reinvest it. And, even if the Council stuffs up the "investment" of my money, it faces no financial penalties or hardship.

But, unfairly, I do.

If I had a say on my investment, and I chose to invest it in this way, I would admit that I made a mistake, and I would learn from this for future investment decisions. But, Jenny Rowan, you gave me no choice as to how my money would be invested. Is it fair, then, to penalise me for your misuse of my funds? Funds that were never intended for investment? No, it is not. It is theft. But you get away with it because you know I have no right of compensation.

Jenny Rowan, and most other politicians, display zero understanding of basic economic terminology. "Investment" is not the same as "spend". When you, Jenny Rowan, buy your fags, you are not "investing"; you are spending. When you buy engineering analysis for a submission (and claim it is "economic advice"), you are not "investing"; you are spending. When the government (hopefully) builds the Sandhills Motorway, it is not "investing"; it is spending.

Get it right. Stop lying to me about how you are using my money, and stop this dishonesty. You have clearly demonstrated that you do no know the principles of investment, and, therefore, you do not know what is best for me or the other ratepayers in this district. Your use of ratepayers' money is corrupt.

Sadly, economic illiteracy won't go away when I vote Jenny Rowan out of office (not that I ever tried to vote her in), because politicians conveniently ignore the difference between investment/spending/theft.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let's keep it unreal

Karl Lagerfeld has a point.

Naturally, there was outrage when fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld recently said only “fat mummies” object to skinny models on the catwalk, but I think his point about the growing pressure to put “real” women in magazines and fashion shows wasn’t so off the mark.

It's not supposed to be real. And that applies to men too.

If you want to look at a “real” woman or man, stand in front of the bathroom mirror, then ask yourself, “Do I belong on the pages of a fashion magazine?” I’d hazard a guess the answer is a resounding, “Oh Good God, No!  At least, not with a little tweaking, anyway.”

That doesn’t mean you’re not gorgeous, beautiful, handsome, very sexy even. It just means that on the odd occasion we fork out $10 for a glossy, if we’re stuck looking at people just like us, it's a waste of money.

Body image is obviously a sensitive subject. There are those who will try to argue that the fashion industry is responsible for an epidemic of eating disorders.  Some say yummy mummies put too much pressure on women to lose weight after pregnancy, or teen stars are why ten-year-olds want a bra - the "sexualisation" of children.

Give me a break!

There are arguments to support all these perspectives, but if you're going to argue that it's as simple as skinny = bad/curvy = good, or fantasy = bad/real = good, then you are kidding yourselves.

Last month commentators, including Mia Freedman, sang the joys of emancipation when American Glamour magazine published a picture of a woman with her belly hanging out. It did not have the same effect on me. I do not feel a strong need to see my own flab, let along another woman’s.

I’m probably not the only one, which might explain why the picture was on page 194.

Lagerfeld’s fabulously bitchy comments were in response to the announcement by a German magazine that its January issue would feature only non-models.

He said: "These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly." I grant he could be wrong on that point - there’s a world wide, intelligent debate underway about body image and how to deal with it.

Lagerfeld went on to say fashion was about, "dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women." It’s an inelegant argument but it shouldn’t be immediately shouted down.

Imagine if our entire internal lives were all about reality. No dreams, no aspirations and no fantasies. For all but a few of us it would get pretty old pretty quickly.

When I shop for lipstick, I do not want someone reminding me that it isn't going to make me look even a tiny bit more glamorous and sophisticated.  And don’t even bother trying on that dress because the best you can hope for is "real".

How you were treated you as a kid, what your friends look like, how they act, and how your partner treats you, has a much greater influence over how you feel about yourself than any amount of photographs of Heidi Klum you may be exposed to.

Fantasies are not a bad thing. Mothers who worry about the effect they might have on their daughters just need to teach them there’s a difference between real and unreal.

Removing the fantasy altogether won’t change a thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

216 years per stab, to be served concurrently.

Not sure how coherent this blog will be.  I am rarely so angry that I wish death on anyone, but I am raging at the news item that the psycho Clayton Weatherston (my god, I can't even type that beast's name without feeling sick) is appealing his conviction - not the length of the sentence, but the actual conviction.  All attempts at a non-emotional blog are out the window.  I just can't be calm.  I would like to think that his lawyers have advised him to appeal in the secret hope that the sentencing judge will not be Justice Potter, and that the Devil Incarnate (there, that's better) will instead be locked away for even longer than the original sentence.

Or am I being too charitable to his lawyers? Alas, I fear it may be more a case of respecting the rights of murderers over victims.

But I am speculating, particularly given the lack of detail in the news item.

Under what conceivable circumstances could the original conviction be thrown out?  Especially as Devil Incarnate took the stand to defend his own actions, never addressed the questions put to him, and prolonged the trial.  He spoke for himself.  He provided his justification for his actions.  He was witnessed committing the murder, and admitted it to the police and in the court.  It was heard by a jury, who deliberated, and reached a verdict.  I cannot think of ANY reason why it is necessary to appeal this conviction.  Other than both he and his lawyers are deluded that he was provoked to manslaughter, rather than premeditated murder.

My heart goes out to her family.  My anger with all this is heightened by the Devil Incarnate receiving legal aid for his defence, and Sophie Elliot's family having to remortgage their family home, among other financial burdens that they had to incur to meet their legal expenses.  Then the trial was delayed.  Then it was shifted to Christchurch.

Enough with their suffering!!  Enough with everyone's suffering!! (Except, clearly, Devil Incarnate and his lawyers.)  And enough with the legal aid.  To appeal is disrespectful to the court, to the jury, to the public who may have to live with him, and to the public who have paid for his legal fees.

I cannot bear to have this drawn out any longer.

I wait with baited breath to see if the Court of Appeal denies him leave to appeal.

If not, I wait with baited breath to see if reports of a bounty on him are true.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize for Potential [update]

In case there was any dispute on the politicisation of the Nobel Peace Prize, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. Let us take a moment to reflect on Obama's glorious efforts for peace.

1. Stability in Iraq no, let us move on from that one.

2. The flight against terrorism should probably say something here........
The wars still drag on with no end or even promise of an end in sight, and there has been some sabre-rattling over Iran from his administration lately. So, can't find an example there, either.

3.The elimination of nuclear and germ weapons
........oh this is very hard.

Perhaps to qualify for a Nobel Peace Prize, all one has to do is not blow anything up for a year and you are best pals with Gandhi.

What a cheap prize this is. Obama took office less than two weeks before the 1 February nomination deadlines, and, despite that not being reason enough to disqualify him, he has not made the kind of exceptional effort that something with the prestige of the Nobel ought to reward.

The Nobel Committee Chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland, has responded to the criticism:
If you look at the history of the Peace Prize, we have on many occasions given it to try to enhance what many personalities were trying to do.
Before he took office, the situation was so dangerous.  Step by step, he has given the message to the world that he wants to negotiate on all conflicts, strengthen the UN, and work for a world without any nuclear arms.

And so far, he has achieved.......... actually, if the purpose of the Prize is to talk, he has achieved a lot.

Perhaps there were no other obvious candidates?  Except, maybe, Zimbabwe "Prime Minister" Morgan Tsvangirai, jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia, the Afghan women's rights activist Sima Samar.......Take Jagland's  justification for why Obama won the prize, and it is easy to apply the same principles to these people (with some words changed, obviously) and reach a different conclusion to Obama as winner.

Initially I was puzzled that Obama didn't also win the Nobel Prize for Literature.  But then I remembered: he's written two books.

All my favourite bloggers have blogged well on this, but my award goes to Oswald Bastable

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rewarding for expected behaviour

I caught a snippet of information on the radio just now that police in Auckland have offered over $800,000 in rewards in the past few years in an effort to solve some crimes, but have not paid out a cent. (Apparently this came from the Herald, but I haven’t been able to find a link.)

I usually despise the idea of rewards for such purposes. If someone has information that could help solve a crime, then it is up to the person to determine if it is in their moral duty to divulge this. And, without wanting to get into a deep and meaningful on morality, my view is that this duty to divulge exists if the liberty of others – personal or property - is at stake.

Unfortunately, the snippet of information didn’t get into the detail that I was interested in: why has not a cent has ever been paid out? Did the police solve all the crimes without anyone coming forward? I doubt it. If not, how many crimes that had rewards attached to them were solved, and how were they solved? Or can I cynically wonder if people came forward with information, but the police found a loophole to avoid paying out?

Rewarding for desired behaviour is nothing new, whether it be in a parenting capacity, training an animal, supervising staff (although the management one is dodgy territory that is perhaps better saved for another deep and meaningful blog), or rewarding for information.

A while ago, we had six sheep that frequently escaped from their paddock. I found a happy home for the three ringleaders, but that still left me with three sheep who now had a taste for freedom. One day, a neighbour witnessed an escape, and returned the sheep to us. I thanked him by giving him some chocolate brownies. Despite extensive fence improvements, this continued for three days in a row. Returning runaway sheep always resulted in a small plate of brownies. As soon as I could, I went to the farm shop and got some serious “real-farmers-use-these” fencing supplies, but while I was out, the sheep escaped again. Again, the neighbour returned them. But, because I was out buying proper fencing stuff, my husband was at home and, not knowing the procedure, no brownies were forthcoming, no alternative reward was provided, and no explanation was given. My husband was a little perturbed at the neighbour’s reluctance to leave despite the profuse thank you and sorry and reassurance that the fence would be mended that very day.

When I heard this, I wondered if the neighbour would return the sheep the next time they escaped. He might be disinclined to, but what if there had never been any reward? Would returning the sheep not be the right thing to do?

(Before anyone throttles me for chanting off research even though I ranted in a previous blog about how I hate people who do just this, I am justifying me doing so here because I am in no way stating that the research given below is conclusive. But I concede that I am using the research to my advantage to illustrate my point.)

Some clinical psychology studies (for references, see Warneken, F., and Tomasello, M. (2008) Extrinsic rewards undermine altruistic tendencies in 20-month-olds, Developmental Psychology, 44 (6), 1785-1788 DOI:10.1037/a0013860) assert that children as young as 14 months old will spontaneously help others for no reward. Conversely, a 1973 study of 3 to 5-year-olds (Lepper, Greene and Nisbett (1973)) claimed that these kids spontaneously drew pictures, however, if they were given a reward for drawing pictures they would not do any further drawings unless a reward was offered. Which begs the question all parents will now be asking, and one I am also asking in the context of the police unpaid rewards: does offering a reward actually suppress the natural inclination to do good things?

In the Warneken, F., and Tomasello, M. study referenced in the previous paragraph, 48 German toddlers (aside from the fact that all German toddlers are well behaved, I believe the results are still relevant) averaging 20 months of age were put in a room (one at a time) with a parent and an experimenter. The experimenter sat at a table in the corner, apparently doing an unrelated task like placing balls in a basket or clipping napkins together. The experimenter pretended to drop one of the objects on the floor, and reach for it while looking at the toddler, waiting up to 30 seconds for the toddler to help her by picking it up. Eight of the children refused to leave their parent (possibly immigrants?), and ten did not complete the task (ditto? Apologies, but I have never witnessed a disobedient German child), but 36 became reliable helpers, returning the object to the experimenter five times.

Of the 36, each time they helped out, 12 were given no reward or praise, 12 were thanked verbally, and 12 were rewarded with a cube they could use to activate a fun toy.

Next, the children were tested to see if they would continue to help the experimenter without a reward. Since the 36 toddlers were very reliable helpers, the task was made a little more challenging. Before the experimenter dropped her object, the toddler was presented with an exciting new toy. He would have to leave this toy in order to help out, and no reward was given. This was repeated nine times. Nearly all of them were willing to help even when they had a new exciting toy to play with.

However, the response from toddlers who had been rewarded previously was different. When no rewards were offered, these children helped only about 50 percent of the time:
Percentage of children helping with no praise = approximately 90%
Percentage of children helping with praise = approximately 80%
Percentage of children helping with reward = approximately 50%

Children who had previously received rewards helped the experimenter significantly less often than either the group that received only praise or the group that received no praise.

Warneken and Tomasello concluded that rewarding children for altruistic behaviour causes them to be less likely to be altruistic in the future.

The study bothers me a bit, and I would make some points in the toddlers' favour.

1. They had learned to play a game where both they and the experimenter had clear roles. The child helped out, and the experimenter gave them a prize. However, halfway through the game, the rules changed for the kids, and suddenly the experimenter was not living up to her part of the bargain. Was it the reward, or the betrayal that caused the child's behaviour to change?

2. Would the results be different if a different experimenter was used for the second (no-rewards) part of the test? Someone who was not part of the original "pick up object = get reward" game?

Obviously, the ideal would be for children to feel that altruistic behaviour is a part of peaceful co-existence with others, and that they will learn that it is in their long-term interest. If they do nice things to another person, they will be seen as kind, and others may help them in return some day, but if they don't, that's no big deal and shouldn't be the motivator for helping someone.

Surely, the key is:
a) whether the altruist perceives that they're being taken for granted (for me, that's when the neighbour takes no action; for the toddlers, it's when they get less than the expected reward; for the person with crime-solving information, it’s perhaps the fear of the process that follows); and

b) whether it matters to the individual (on poppy day appeals, there are people who will buy a poppy but refuse to wear it; for the person with crime-solving information, it’s determining whether they feel a moral duty to come forward).

I don’t expect my neighbour to run after my sheep. But at the time, I felt a plate of brownies politely conveyed and acknowledged the gratitude. I just overdid the rewards. I am guilty of overdoing rewards with my children too.

I am only speculating without knowing the full reasons behind why the police have not paid a cent of reward money out, but are people lured to reveal their crime-solving information if a reward is on offer? Or has the reward carrot been dangled too often without paying out, thereby diluting the effectiveness?

Is it possible that by introducing a reward, you introduce the idea that the activity is not pleasurable or expected, but difficult and burdened? For example, I am typing this blog out of my altruistic desire to share my vast knowledge with strange people who read blogs all day. If you pay me to type this blog, then I am being compensated for having to think of something to post, to type it, to check that the spelling and grammar are correct, for the fact that my eyes get tired... and I doubt you would ever pay me enough.

For the person with crime-solving information, will they come forward out of an altruistic desire to share their knowledge, or will they decide that it is all too hard to go through the system and any retribution that may follow, and let karma prevail?

Is it a poor message to reward people, whether they be adults or children, for what they should be doing anyway?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bollywood dancing, anyone? Or is Finance for Females more your thing? [update]

I posted this ages ago, but am reposting it in light of Labour's hand-wringing over the end of taxpayer funded night classes (

As my children get older, and money gets rarer as they start to eat more, grow faster, destroy everything, I thought I would be inventive and do community education classes in sewing.  I've missed out on getting into the course every term since the middle of last year; even though I tried to enrol well in advance, the classes were always full.

So I'm perplexed that the classes have now been suddenly cancelled, apparently solely due to the cut in the Government subsidy for community education. In fact, all the classes have been cancelled. On enquiring, it seems that no one running the classes thought to ask the enrolled participants if they were willing to pay more and to keep the classes going. The classes were always over-subscribed. There was always a waiting list. Surely there would have been a few participants who would have been prepared to pay a bit more to keep the classes going?

But it seems there are also a fair number of previously enrolled participants who are assuming that no subsidy should equal no classes, rather than taking the view that the classes be repriced to meet the market demand.

The expectation that "the Government will provide" is deeply ingrained in the average New Zealander's psyche. And there is a high level of economic naivety from the socialists that the Government can afford to provide a high quality of healthcare, infrastructure, justice, welfare, and education (well, clearly not economics education, but I digress), and still have enough money left over to enable us all to do courses in intensive Russian and Rock Climbing for Women.

At any point, have those doing the heartfelt bleating considered that their lessons were being paid, in whole or in part, by other people through taxes?

Is there honestly an expectation that it is acceptable for people who, say, reconstruct the brain and face of a road crash victim, or clean up the operating theatre afterwards, pay their taxes so that other people can enjoy a few night classes in concrete shell mosaics?

I admit I'm only giving the extreme examples of the courses available (I'm not lying. See, but surely those running the courses that are well attended, such as sewing for beginners, or introductory Spanish, can be in a position to price their fees accordingly. Yes, the price may go up slightly, but then, over time, there is a possibility it may well go down, and people are presumably getting what they pay for.

I've vaguely paid attention to the pleas on various media. "Let the subsidies continue," they all say. "I really enjoyed the Intensive French for First Time Travellers night classes that I was taking ahead of my holiday."  I remain unmoved by your plea. You want it, then you pay for it, or you learn to live without it. It's surprisingly easy to do - maybe not as satisfying for you, but I'm sure the operating theatre cleaner will be happier knowing his/her money isn't going towards your French lessons.

In a moment of inspiration, it took me all of 2 hours to find 14 other dedicated people who were committed to learning to sew, to meet a couple of tailors to discuss the proposition of holding classes, to confirm a venue,  numbers, day, time, and fees, and even collect most of the money from people up front. And, here is the most interesting thing: after paying the tailor for tutoring costs, basic sewing threads and fabric for each student, and venue costs for one day a week for the next 8 weeks, IT IS LESS EXPENSIVE PER PERSON THAN THE NIGHT CLASSES.  Granted, people offering their services, equipment, or facilities were willing to do so at a reduced rate in the hope that this would be the start of something more profitable down the track.  But it was damn easy to arrange because there is enough demand for the classes.

So stick that in your spool and sew it, you socialist whingers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ladies and Gentleman, we are experiencing some turbulence

Have a read of the following news item from this morning's Dominion Post, and then be grateful the same flight crew was not in charge of this Boeing 747 landing at Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong's old airport) Landing at Kai Tak Airport....
A mid-air scuffle between pilots and crew of an Air India flight at the weekend did not endanger the 106 passengers on board, said a spokesman for the airline which has ordered an inquiry.

Two pilots and two crew members have been grounded following the incident on a Sharjah-Lucknow-Delhi flight, said Jitender Bhargava, which began as a heated exchange on a charge of sexual harassment against the pilots by a crew member.

Blows were also exchanged in the scuffle that spilled into the cabin late on Saturday night, according to media reports.

"At no stage was safety compromised. It was a clear case of indiscipline," Bhargava said.

"Our report is still awaited. We will decide on the course of action when it is ready," he said, adding that Delhi police were also investigating.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Lettuce.

From Meet Britain's new healthy eating guru on today:

Forget all the pizza and doughnuts - the British government wants fans of The Simpsons to ditch junk food and eat more healthily.

The Department of Health is spending £640,000 to sponsor episodes of the long-running US cartoon series broadcast on Channel 4, as part of its Change4Life campaign.

Before the start of the sponsored shows, cartoon characters pretending to be the members of the dysfunctional animated family are shown sitting on a sofa tucking into ice cream and chips which then morph into more healthy alternatives.

The government hopes that viewers will realize they should follow that behavior, and not the beer-swilling, doughnut-guzzling diet of Homer Simpson and his family.

Public Health minister Gillian Merron said the aim was to produce new and innovative ways to reach the target audience..

The Simpsons are a much-loved, close-knit family facing some of the everyday challenges that modern day families go through," she said in a statement.

"Whilst they certainly make some questionable choices about how they go about things, they provide a popular and engaging way to get the message to real-life families about simple ways of improving their diet and activity for a healthier lifestyle."

Memo to British Government: it's a CARTOON.  The whole joke is that Homer Simpson does not eat healthy food.  This is why he is overweight and has regular heart attacks and has no physical stamina whatsoever.  If Homer Simpson lost weight, that would be the end of the show.  If you bothered to watch The Simpsons, you would see that it is already very effectively pushing the healthy eating message.  You are preaching to the converted.

Give the £640,000 back to taxpayers.  That would be a more constructive use of the funds.

The plural of anecdote is not data

A fundamental problem with the world today is the arrogant use of research findings to suit one's ends. To take an education example (because that’s what I have just been subjected to and what has me riled now), just because you might choose a different approach to mainstream education does not make you or your children "better" or "superior" (and how ironic that you think like this), and will not necessarily make the children better human beings at the end of their education experience. Just because I choose to send my children to a state-run school does not make me a bad parent, and does not mean I don’t care enough about my children's education.

Don’t come whimpering to me with claims that "research shows" why alternative education is better for whatever reason. If that's what people want for their children, then fine. I detest that these same people can’t see beyond their blinkered view on life and see the same thing from another perspective (again, the irony is not lost on me). Instead they are just so sad and disappointed that you are selling your children’s education short.

Before you inundate me with why alternative schooling is the only way to go, I will give a brief statement as to why you shouldn’t bother. Homeschoolers and Steiner people can just go away. I've looked into them as options and rapidly discounted them. I’m no longer interested in what they have to say, but – here’s the thing – I still respect your right to do what you want, just don’t expect me to accept it for me or my children. For some reason, the Steiner people, at least those in Kapiti, are militant. I have enormous respect for the Montessori style of education because the literature I received from them showed strong scientific analysis from different viewpoints for and against Montessori education, and relied on the parent making their own intelligent assessment of the information. It was refreshing.  Having said that, my children do not go to a Montessori preschool, but only because I would ideally like to continue with it beyond preschool and there is no Montessori school anywhere near us.  Instead, I have chosen a state-run kindergarten where the teachers have acknowledged the Montessori principles in education.

My respect for anything diminishes rapidly when people throw vacuous statements at me. Today, I learnt that "research shows that longer school terms and shorter term breaks are beneficial for parents and children". How convenient. So am I harming my child by not letting them have longer terms and shorter breaks? No. The statement only shows a limited understanding of analysing and evaluating conflicting scientific research. If, in fact, it is scientific, as in many cases it comes down to a belief that more than one anecdote equals research. I can also point to research and, if it is more helpful to you, many anecdotes, that show that there is actually nothing wrong with the New Zealand state run education system – it’s what you make of it, and some children may in fact benefit from shorter terms and longer holidays, or may not be affected by it at all. Perhaps the statement should be rephrased to: "research that supports our particular philosophy shows blah blah blah."

Statements about "research" are so often used in an arrogantly cavalier manner. I'm also not saying that observational data does not have a place or is not meaningful. But there is rarely, if ever, any evidence shown of harm, just a great deal of information that points to the possibility of harm that leans heavily on untested hypotheses.

It's completely possible to find research that suits whatever objective you are trying to push. Such as vaccines lead to autism, epidurals lead to c-sections, formula rather than breastfeeding leads to food allergies, longer school terms lead to better children. I can easily find research that counters your claim, or at the very least pours scorn on your assertions. Until you can back your research with scientific evidence for and against, I regard you as being nothing more than a cult.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dreaming of the Rosenbaum House tonight

A rant with a difference tonight, and I'm treading on dangerous ground because I am not an architect, and have never pretended to be.

I've just been poring through the real estate magazines, looking for somewhere reasonable for our family.  But nothing compares to what I think are the greatest houses ever built, both by Frank Lloyd Wright - Falling Water and, my personal favourite, the Rosenbaum House.  Yes, yes, I know Falling Water leaks and has mould issues, and that the original construction was rushed and the concrete cantilevers sagged, but that's not really so different from my current place.  I absolutely love the design of the building and have never tired of staring at it for hours.  Then I tagged along to an architecture lecture with my first boyfriend, discovered that Falling Water would be the case study for the term, and I was hooked (to the lecture, not the boyfriend, and I didn't become an architect - this is probably a good thing).

I went on a tour of  Falling Water when I worked in the United States and decided that I would love it even if there was no water.  I had always admired this house.  And then, on a whim, I decided to visit the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama.  I fell in love.  The design is so simple, and yet so appealing with the living areas at one end, the bedrooms at the other end, and a "hub" in the centre with the kitchen - an area where any family instinctively gravitates.

When we looked at building our own place a few years ago, I decided I didn't want a place with as many steps as Falling Water (heavily pregnant with a broken ankle might have influenced this), and I asked an architect if he could create something like The Rosenbaum House, and make it north facing with rammed earth or mud bricks.  He laughed at me.  This is never a wise thing to do.  I paused briefly, puzzled at his mirth but lost interest in pursuing it any further with him when he said he had never heard of it and wasn't interested in looking at it and showed me a prefab thing with a toilet directly facing the front door.  That was the end of our relationship with the architect.  No love lost there.  But that was also the end of our plans to build my dream mock-Rosenbaum House.  Two more children quickly followed and our savings disappeared.

So here's my rant.  The houses in every Property Press I've looked through in the last 3 years - all of them - are rubbish.  They either face the wrong way, or don't have enough windows, or are unimaginative prefab things, or are old and look decrepit, or look like former state houses, or appear to have a toilet directly facing the front door (is this a NZ standard?).  The options in Wellington are dire.  Guess we won't be viewing any houses this week.  Perhaps I need to lower my standards.

So, if you are bored and want to see what proper houses look like, have a nosey  (click on Architectural Tour and begin the tour) and, my personal favourite, and (it's my favourite so it gets two links.  It's worth two links.)

Risk paranoia

Not PC has an interesting and thought-provoking blog on "adventure kindergartens" that takes a more rugged approach to outdoor play ( I commented on his blog, but, as you can see, felt the need to blog further on this.

Compared to the stance taken by many towards our children – sometimes at the behest of the Min of Education and the Department of Labour – the idea of allowing our children to partake in adventurous activities that might toughen them up is radical. Gosh, our children may even come home muddy! (Trust me, this seems to be a big thing.) Or, worse, have a scratch! Poor little Jimmy (name changed to protect identity), came so close to death with that scratch! Imagine if it had become infected? He may have died from septicaemia.

Or not. He more probably just learnt that when he jumps from a high bank onto a piece of driftwood, he may struggle to balance and he may fall. Moreover, assuming he lived through the scratch, next time little Jimmy will know that he either has to land differently, or not jump onto an unstable surface.

I can’t really comment on whether parental risk perception has changed from when our grandparents grew up (and I say that because many grandparents seem just as risk averse as the parents, from my observations), but I suspect the risk aversion is now leaning more towards risk-paranoia. I do not mean to use this blog to boast, but my boys have "free range" of our farm – which has many dangers - but with just one clear rule to ride their bikes everywhere other than the driveway (we live on a busy State Highway, so it is not the place to overshoot the driveway). Aside from that, though, they can do as they like and get as dirty as they like, and they seem to be the better for it. They are active and healthy; they understand their strengths and limitations; they have an insatiable interest in the outdoors, and an innate understanding of how humans and animals co-exist in the same environment. In turn, they and I have always had little patience with parents who rush off to the doctor over the tiniest scratch or bruise. Yes, I get many disapproving stares and comments when I take my bruises/band-aided/scratched boys out, but they are still healthy, energetic and, despite appearances at times, well co-ordinated (they quickly learnt how to catch the cricket ball). These are not attributes that are always learnt in the safety of a well-padded playground or in front of the TV or x-box.

However, the thinking these days seems to be that humans are not good at objectively assessing risk. Psychology Today has a great article about how humans commonly misperceive risk, and are afraid of all the wrong things ( Instead of fearing real, permanent damage that may happen during a birth gone wrong, many have a greater fear that little Jimmy might scratch himself, or get dirty. To take this example away from adventurous children for a moment, this thinking extends to not worrying about the catastrophic results of contracting an infectious disease, and instead focuses on the smaller risk of a bad vaccine reaction (or - before you "vaccinations cause autism" people deluge me - the more common, but not severe or permanent risk of a mild complication). It does not help that there is a plethora of books and websites, and bombardment on the news of tragic events, which magnify (intentionally or otherwise) small, hypothetical, or nonexistent risks and minimise real and larger ones.

We are now so used to thinking in terms of preparing for the very worst and the least likely scenarios, that that we do not realise how overbearing and ridiculous our safety measures have become. We are so concerned about safety that we forget what we are giving up for our children: freedom, resourcefulness, learning the value of hindsight and using common sense, or believing that common sense has any value at all.

Instead, we are deferring to government intervention and regulation to spell this out for us. The big danger in this is we think we can avoid all problems, and we end up believing that if something does go wrong, someone is to blame. This is paralysing for parents and children. Yes, I know it is completely normal to worry about your children and to want to protect them at every opportunity – many times I have had to suppress shrieks of horror and look away, and had to restrain my own urge to lock the children in the safety of their bedrooms. However, to do so denies the child the opportunity to learn the thrill of mud, and the art of continuing despite small setbacks.

I look forward to seeing how much support this idea for "adventure kindergartens" gets, especially from the safety wowsers who have dominated playground rules to date. I also wonder if this idea will ever gain traction in countries where civil law suits are more common than they are in New Zealand. The blame and risk paranoia culture is a hard one to break, even if it is for the best.