Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ron Smith: More on academic ranking

I cannot resist a footnote to my last posting. It has now come to my notice that the latest world university rankings, which placed Harvard first, Oxford and Cambridge Universities joint sixth, and the University of Auckland 143rd (the only New Zealand placing), placed Alexandria University of Egypt, just behind at 147th. Alexandria University was also fourth-ranked in the world in the category of ‘citations’, which probably skewed the overall assessment, very substantially.

The explanation for this rather surprising outcome turns on the presence in Alexandria of a particularly enterprising academic, Mohamed El Naschie, who apparently published, during the review period no less than 320 of his own articles in a scientific journal of which he was also the editor.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Owen McShane: National Policy Statements Need Close Watching

A common complaint has been that the RMA was let loose on the Public without Government providing sufficient National Policy Statements to keep council on the straight and narrow. There is an old saying "Be careful what you wish for."

The Quality Planning web site announces that the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS) will replace the NZCPS 1994 on the 3rd December, 2010. The NZCPS 2010 sets out policies on coastal issues including protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes, planning for subdivision, use, and development, protection of biodiversity and water quality, and management of coastal hazard risks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tim Ball: There Is No Water Shortage

There is no shortage of water. Amounts available vary regionally and change over time as precipitation amounts vary. Demand also changes with increases in population and economic development. Crude estimates indicate water use per person per day is 15 liters in undeveloped countries and approximately 900 liters in developed countries. Throughout history humans have developed remarkable techniques and technologies to deal with these issues. Few of these attempted to reduce demand, most worked to increase supply.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ron Smith: Of Politics and Scholarship

In August of 2008, the New Zealand Centre for Political Research published a review of mine on the subject of the New Zealand system of academic assessment: Performance-Based Research Funding (PBRF), and its manifest defects and absurdities*. I was reminded of this a few nights ago when I was present in the Great Hall of Parliament to see the launch of a new book, Palmer: The Parliamentary Years, by a colleague, Raymond Richards. The Palmer biography is the product of more than ten years’ work and is a substantial piece of scholarship, which has received very positive reviews and has already been nominated for a New Zealand Post Book Award. At 470 pages it is also substantial in a more literal sense. For those interested in the history of the 1984-90 Labour Government, this account of the crucial role of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, firstly, as Deputy Prime Minister and then, as Prime Minister in his own right, is absolutely essential reading.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lindsay Mitchell: The Spirit Level comes to NZ

The New Zealand Herald reports NZ academics and analysts broadly supported the Spirit Level thesis that,

"The greater the gap between rich and poor, the more likely people will grow up a drug user, a criminal, less educated, obese, pregnant while a teenager, even less trusting of others."

Allan Peachey: Great Principals Must Be Great Teachers

I found what I thought was a particularly insightful description of leadership in a book that I have been reading recently. The book, incidentally, is ‘Spinning Wheels: the Politics of Urban School Reform” by Frederick M. Hess. The description is from Tom Kean, a former governor of the State of New Jersey in the United States:
"True leadership takes time. A desert thunderstorm strikes with a flash and a roar, releasing all its water and energy at once. But the flashes quickly fade, and the water is mostly lost in runoff. Effective leadership takes the time to allow efforts and skills the chance to sink in, as opposed to the flash-flood phenomenon of high-visibility attempts at quick fixes."

President Vaclav Klaus: The Climate Change Doctrine is Part of Environmentalism, Not of Science

It is a great honor for me to be here tonight, getting a chance to deliver the inaugural lecture of the Global Warming Policy Foundation to such a distinguished audience. Even though it may seem that there is a whole range of institutions both here and overseas which bring together and support those who openly express doubts about the currently prevailing dogma of man-made global warming and who dare to criticize it, it apparently is still not enough. We are subject to a heavily biased and carefully organized propaganda and a serious and highly qualified forum here, on this side of the Atlantic, that would stand for rationality, objectivity and fairness in public policy discussion is more than needed. That is why I consider the launching of the foundation an important step in the right direction.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mike Butler: Tribunal’s twisted history

Research into the life of the first New Zealand Company colonist to step ashore at Petone on January 22, 1840, made me read a lot of 19th century New Zealand history -- both that written close to the period, and the substantial re-writing done by the Waitangi Tribunal from the late 20th century on. The First Colonist - Samuel Deighton 1821-1900, which is advertised on this website, draws upon his letters and other primary sources, early settler histories, biographies, more recent histories, and Waitangi Tribunal reports. I expected tribunal reports to deal with history, but I did not expect them to be finely crafted arguments in support of the claims they purport to investigate. Taxpayers should be outraged that a government-funded body is writing a new history in which the Crown is depicted as deceitful, settlers rapacious, and Maori as helpless victims in need of compensation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ron Smith: Sheep and Nuclear Waste

Greenpeace and other activists recently spent almost a week chaining themselves to railway lines, dressing up as sheep and blocking roads in a determined, but ultimately fruitless effort to block a shipment of nuclear waste from France to Germany. It would have been much more in the interests of German tax payers and energy consumers (not to mention the German police) if they had spent only a fraction of the time they devoted to the imaginative planning of fresh stunts, to attempting to understand the nature of the material whose transportation they condemn and the extensive arrangements that are made for its safe storage and ultimate disposal. Here are the basic facts for those interested in nuclear power and the use of civil disobedience by those who oppose it (and I speak as one who has actually been to the plant in France, where the material originated, and to the Gorleben facility, where it now is). And if any reader has a friend in Germany, it might be a kindness to pass this on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mike Butler: Disingenuous or dim?

Pressure from the Coastal Coalition seems to be having an effect on Tukituki MP Craig Foss, who, in his latest Backing the Bay newsletter, calls us to look at the “true facts” about the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill. Anyone who uses the phrase “true facts” is probably in the habit of dealing with “false facts”, so his little bit of finger wagging about “misinformation being put about by people who should really know better” could well be applied to the National Party, the source of most misinformation on this issue.

Allan Peachey: Quality Principals the Key to Quality Education

In my last column I wrote about Michelle Rhee and her attempts to rescue the Washington DC public school system from endemic failure, and her focus on the view that effective teaching can overcome all types of disadvantage and poverty. And she wanted a situation in which a school principal would have to assess the effectiveness of a teacher without tenure to determine their ongoing employment. Of course, one of the most frequently raised arguments against performance pay for teachers is that principals are not competent enough or cannot be trusted to assess the effectiveness of teachers. That is a contention that I encountered often during my career but one I never accepted as having validity.

Owen McShane: Large Scale Cities require Small Scale Advisors

Large multinational consulting and engineering firms have been taking over much of the work that was traditionally done "in house" by public bodies and by local government in particular.

While privatisation was a great idea when first proposed – and still is in many cases – in recent years the privatisation process has been largely taken over by these large consulting firms who have no interest in increasing efficiency and every interest in milking the system.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ron Smith: Ends and Means: The defence review of 2010

The recently published Defence White Paper is an extraordinary document. On the one hand, many of the threats and challenges that are likely to confront New Zealand over the coming twenty-five years (the stated review period) are well-identified. On the other, it is clear that the progressive cuts in capability that took place over the last twenty-five years will not be reversed and, indeed, further cuts are envisaged. How can this be? At least Prime Minister Clark claimed to see a ‘benign security environment’, in which formal defence reviews were not required and, in which requests for further expensive ‘toys for the boys’ were to be resisted but, in the present case, there is an apparent recognition of need, which is seemingly matched by a marked reluctance to do anything about it.

Michael Coote: A Phoney War over the Foreshore and Seabed

The phoney war between the National Government and the racist Maori Party over the foreshore and seabed hotted up recently. A bogus screaming match erupted over whether the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill (MCA) should state explicitly that Joe and Jane Public were entitled to free access to the foreshore and seabed.

This was a mere smokescreen calculated to distract New Zealanders from what really should be worrying them about MCA.

Allan Peachey: Revolutionising Public Schooling

The other day I came across the name Michelle Rhee. I knew it was a name I had come across sometime in the past. A bit of a memory search and I recalled where it was. It was a “Time” magazine article back in 2008. Rhee had been appointed Chancellor of the Washington DC School District, one of the poorest performing school districts in the entire American public school system, with falling rolls and achievement levels year on year.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Frank Newman: How much are the Super-City Councillors really worth?

It didn’t take long… the new Auckland supercity councillors wanting to be paid more, despite being paid a base salary of about $80,000.

When I was first elected to the Whangarei District Council in 1995 we were paid $16,000 a year. I can’t recall any councillor moaning about their salary. Most accepted the role was essentially one of community service.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mike Butler: The Ngati Kuia settlement -- healing old wounds or making new mistakes?

Another South Island tribe, Ngati Kuia, has resolved historical grievances with the Crown over an area in which overlapping tribal interests have led to an earlier settlement creating a further grievance and a recommendation for compensation. The settlement, signed at Canvastown on the Saturday afternoon of Labour weekend, consists of $24-million in commercial redress, an apology for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the return of culturally significant sites and other crown properties. Since the Ngati Kuia settlement has had no scrutiny by politicians or commentators, and since it was released in a news dead zone, here are the facts and some comment.