Sunday, November 30, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: The EU versus the UN - who makes the rules?

In today’s speech on the European Union, previewed in this morning’s Times, Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, will make a surprising and telling point.
It is that many of the rules handed down to British businesses and consumers by Brussels have often (and increasingly) been in turn handed down to it by higher powers. This means, he argues, that we would have more influence outside the EU than within it. We could rejoin some top tables.
One example is the set of rules about food safety: additives, labelling, pesticide residues and so on. The food rules that Britain has to implement under the EU’s single market are now made by an organisation that sounds like either a Vatican secret society or a Linnean name for a tapeworm: Codex Alimentarius. Boringly, it’s actually a standard-setting commission, based in Rome.

Mike Butler: Landlords and smoke sensors

Four deaths in two house fires two weeks ago got tongues wagging about smoke sensors, landlords, and property warrants of fitness, but the war of words raged in a largely fact-free environment.

The Fire Service’s investigation manager Peter Wilding demanded compulsory smoke alarms in rental properties after three young people died in a house fire in Hamilton -- even though it was not known whether there were smoke detectors in that dwelling and what caused that fire.

Wilding’s call brought further demands from the crack-down-on-landlords brigade that not only should landlords install smoke sensors, they should ensure that sensors continue to function and be responsible for replacing batteries.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Karl du Fresne: Labour picked the right leader

Initial reaction to Andrew Little’s election as Labour Party leader was mostly dismissive. 
Critics pointed out that he couldn’t win his home town seat of New Plymouth and was lucky to squeak back into Parliament at all. They also made much of the fact that Little won the leadership contest by the narrowest of margins and wasn’t the choice of his fellow MPs.
We were repeatedly reminded that without union support, Little’s bid would have failed – choice propaganda material for the Right, given older New Zealanders’ memories of the damage done by militant trade unionism in the 1970s and 80s.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Richard Epstein from the US: Obama's Amnesty Problem

On Thursday November 20, President Obama delivered a controversial address to the nation on the contentious subject of immigration. In it, he outlined his plan to grant amnesty to some 3.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States. 

Recent polling data suggests that the President is sailing in choppy waters. The opposition stems in part from concern about the abuse of presidential prerogatives and in part from the unpopularity of his pro-immigration policies. Democrats have remained relatively silent on the matter. Republicans, meanwhile, have decried his unilateral executive action, which bypasses Congress, and are now considering the political and legal options to either block or slow down the President’s initiative.

The stars are aligned for a major shake-up of immigration policy. Without question, the pressures on immigration policy are intensified by the forces that shape the global economy.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Kevin Donnelly from Australia: ‘Chalk and talk’ teaching might be the best way after all

Seventy teachers from the UK were sent to Shanghai to study classroom methods to investigate why Chinese students perform so well. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from teaching methods the UK has been moving away from for the past 40 years.

The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bruce Moon: What really happened at Waitangi on that day

It is time to set out what really happened at some critical moments on New Zealand's history.

From Hobson's brief from the Colonial Office, 14th August 1839: "The Queen ... disclaims ... to govern them ... unless the free intelligent consent of the natives, expressed according to their established usages, shall first be obtained."

At Waitangi on 5th February 1840 in his opening remarks, Hobson stated "You yourselves have often asked the King of England to extend his protection unto you.  Her Majesty now offers you that protection in this treaty ... But as the law of England gives no civil powers to Her Majesty out of her domain, her efforts to do you good will be futile unless you consent. (Our emphasis)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Karl du Fresne: Unfortunately, the migration door swings both ways

I’ve recently been reading a book by the English journalist A A Gill. The Golden Door is a book about America – a country that fascinates Gill, and in which he finds much to like.
Gill’s observations about immigration particularly resonated with me. Writing about the great wave of humanity that left Europe for America in the 19th century, he cites some striking statistics.

Between 1800 and 1914, 30 million Europeans emigrated to the New World. If that doesn’t sound a big number, consider it in this context: Ireland lost one in four of its population, Sweden one in five. Five million Poles, four million Italians and three million Germans crossed the Atlantic.

Viv Forbes: Carbon Capture and Burial – a Biocidal Policy

There are four non-toxic gases-of-life in Earth’s protective atmospheric blanket. None should be captured and buried.

The most abundant is nitrogen – 78%. If there was no nitrogen there would be no plant or animal protein and a very different world.

Next most abundant is oxygen – 21%. Without oxygen most of today’s animal life would die within minutes. Both nitrogen and oxygen can moderate climate by absorbing surface heat and transferring it aloft by convection.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Steve Baron: A $25.7m blunder waiting to happen

I suspect the government is about to make a huge blunder. They are investing $25.7 million in a flag referendum but they have made a crucial mistake in selecting the voting system to decide the referendum. As my mother always told me, if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly—especially when spending this amount of money on a significant issue.

A briefing paper issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Bill English) has recommended the use of the First-Past-The-Post (FPP) voting system in the first referendum. This referendum will choose from a potential list of three or four flags that will go up against the existing flag in a second referendum. Using FPP in the first referendum is a disaster waiting to happen and could cause ongoing derision for generations to come. 

Unless there is an absolute clear preference (50%+) for just one flag (highly unlikely) in the first referendum, using the FPP voting system may actually mean that the LEAST
favoured flag could win and that really would be a disaster.

Mike Butler: Ngapuhi report reason to can tribunal

A report by the Waitangi Tribunal that argues Ngapuhi chiefs did not agree to cede sovereignty is deeply flawed and provides further evidence that the tribunal should be abolished.

The report that was released on Friday, He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti The Declaration and the Treaty: The Report on Stage 1 of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry, is the first stage of the tribunal's inquiry into Far North treaty claims and looks at events before 1840. (1)

Ngapuhi leader David Rankin, a descendent of chief Hone Heke who was the first to sign the treaty, said that the tribunal's emphasis on the Declaration of Independence, which a few had signed in 1835, as being the basis of their relationship with the British, is a lie and that is not what the tribunal was told. (2)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: Ants, altruism and self sacrifice

I find it magnificent that a difference of opinion about the origin of ants between two retired evolutionary biologists, one in his eighties and one in his seventies, has made the news. On television, the Harvard biologist EO Wilson called the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins a “journalist”, this being apparently the lowest of insults in the world of science; it was taken as such.

I know and admire both men but having read the relevant papers I think that on the substantive disagreement between them Dawkins is right. Which is just as well, I shall explain, or we would need many more poppies for the Tower of London.

Before plunging (briefly) into the arithmetic of genetic relatedness within ant colonies, let me first pose a simple question: why do people care for their children? Raising children is expensive, hard work and intermittently stressful, but most people consider it rewarding in the end. What do they mean by that?

Kevin Donnelly from Australia: Funding no education fix

A prevailing myth of Australia’s left-leaning education establishment is that increased funding of government schools leads to improved educational outcomes.
Analysis of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment international tests across the past 14 years, however, shows increasing expenditure is not the solution.
The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2000, analysing results for 25 countries, including high-performing nations such as Japan and South Korea, concludes: “There seems to be neither a strong nor a consistent relationship between the volume of resources invested nationally and student outcomes.”

Richard Epstein from the US: Republicans Won. Now What?

In the aftermath of the decisive Republican sweep of the midterm elections, the question on everyone’s mind is how the Republicans will govern now that they control the Senate and have a larger cushion to work with in the House. The overall objective seems clear enough: find ways to whittle down the size of government so as to reverse the current trends, perpetuated by the Democrats, of higher taxes and greater regulation. This objective will also help reverse the decline in household income in the midst of an era of slow economic growth.

The Republicans must consider both the ends and the means. The ends chosen should be determined by a consistent theory of the relationship of the individual to the state. To a classical liberal like myself, this means a limited government focused on social order, national defense, infrastructure improvement, and regulation of private monopoly, while limiting federal programs of wealth transfer and income redistribution. 

The guiding light in this venture is to reduce government subsidies that alter the balance of competitive forces, and to lighten the burden of regulation across the board by cutting back on the endless sets of permits that must be obtained before engaging in any economically productive activity.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Frank Newman: The good oil on interest rates

Last week the Reserve Bank issued its latest review of the Official Cash Rate (OCR). As expected the OCR remained unchanged at 3.5%.

The last rise was in July. At that time the consensus amongst interest rate watchers was for a rise in the OCR before the end of this year. Now the consensus expects interest rates to remain at current levels until September next year. Some are of the view that the next rise could be even further out.

With annual inflation running at about 1% and the heat coming out of the Auckland property market, there appears to be little need for the Reserve Bank to clutch the interest rate levers just yet. Contributing to the lower inflation are falling oil prices, a weaker global economy, and lower ACC charges.

Muriel Newman: The Danger of Cannabis

As Professor Beasley explains, smoking cannabis is far more harmful to human health than smoking tobacco cigarettes. In terms of cancer risk, smoking one cannabis joint is the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes, and in terms of the risk of lung disease, smoking one cannabis joint is the equivalent of smoking up to 5 cigarettes.

Given the significant health and safety risks associated with cannabis use, why don’t our health officials and community leaders speak out more strongly about the dangers of this drug? Is their silence the reason that New Zealand has one of the highest reported rates of cannabis use in the world, with about three-quarters of the population having tried cannabis by the age of 25?

Why don’t the public service advertising campaigns that highlight the risk of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes warn young people of the dangers of smoking cannabis?

Richard Beasley: Cannabis and the lung

New Zealand has one of the highest reported rates of cannabis use, with about three-quarters of New Zealanders having tried cannabis by the age of 25, and nearly 10% cannabis-dependent by this age.

The potential adverse effects such as the dependence syndrome, impaired adolescent psychosocial development and mental health, and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes are well recognised.  

In contrast the potential for habitual cannabis smoking to cause adverse respiratory effects is less well recognised, in part because there has been less research undertaken in this field. In some respects this is surprising, as the usual way to take cannabis is by smoking, and it is known that cannabis smoke contains many of the same constituents as tobacco smoke, including higher levels of some carcinogens. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Karl du Fresne: When a whanau places itself above the law

If you had to name the vital principles underpinning our civilised, democratic society, what would they be?
One would surely be the rule of law, which provides a framework by which injustices are dealt with, disputes resolved and the weak protected against the powerful.

Respect for the rule of law is one of the factors that distinguishes liberal democracies from countries where despots rule, and where justice, if it exists at all, is administered very selectively.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Barend Vlaardingerbroek from Lebanon : No more emailing of Irish jokes

I won’t be sending any more Irish jokes to my mates via email – certainly not from my workplace email. One of the recipients might rat on me by forwarding a particularly pungent sample to a thin-skinned member of the Irish Anti-Defamation League who then slaps it on the internet with my name alongside it, thereby inciting a hue-and-cry against me that could see me lose my job and being black-listed for the rest of my life.

Admittedly, this is not a likely scenario, but there is a serious side to my jocular narrative: I am indeed going to be more careful about what I put in my private emails. I have been known to make some scathing comments about various groups and individuals (which of us hasn’t?) which in retrospect I would prefer to remain cosily entre nous between me and the intended recipient. Maybe I should have a jolly good look at the people I send emails to – is there a potential back-stabber among them, someone who maybe has the huff with me and would just love to drop me in it?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ron Smith: Scholarship and the 'end of days'

Over all of the last week, the airwaves and print media have been telling us that humanity faces an unprecedented challenge due to the increasing use of fossil-fuels.  The carbon dioxide produced by these carbon-containing materials is progressively accumulating in the atmosphere, where it causes the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’.  The inescapable consequence of this is destructive sea-level rise, an increasing incidence of weather calamities (hurricanes and floods), and particularly a rapid increase in average global temperatures.  

All this from the Secretary General of the United Nations, an internationally-celebrated railway engineer (Dr Pachauri), and numerous experts from home and abroad.  Interestingly, these experts did not include anybody who had any contrary opinion on the thesis as a whole, or on any particular claim.

The crucial question to ask about this most recent spate of claims about imminent climatic disaster is whether it is to be taken as an essentially scientific claim about how things are, or, rather, whether it simply reflects an essentially middle-class liberal unease, about the consequences of human civilisation on the global environment, which has coalesced into a political movement. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pat Palmer: Air quality PM10 standards and health in Christchurch

In May the Press published a summary of a Ministry for the Environment (MfE )report extolling the improvements in health which have been achieved in New Zealand by the reduction in concentrations of PM10 in the air we breathe. 

The report said an 8 per cent nation-wide reduction between 2006 and 2012 resulted in 14 per cent fewer deaths and 15 per cent fewer hospital admissions from man made air pollution. Other reports from the Ministry say that respiratory health is the main effect. These numbers came from a model relating numbers of premature deaths and hospital admissions to measured or estimated concentrations of PM10.

What the Press (Fairfax NZ) report did not say was that the health impacts were not derived from hospital records or mortality statistics (which seems strange seeing that one of the contributors to the report was the official Government Statistician). This is "I say so" science. The sort the church authorities relied on to prove the sun went round the earth each day. Not the "You can see so" science of Galileo and Copernicus.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mike Butler: More on the big climate lie

The United Nations repeated its Big Lie today in yet another report that breathlessly asserted "the gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace”.

But first, look at what former broadcast meteorologist John Coleman says. The founder of the Weather Channel, who produced a video explaining the history of the man-made global warming hoax, says that if there were evidence of man-made global warming, he would have dedicated his life to stopping it.

Environmental activists now call it “climate change” instead of global warming because the warming has stopped, Coleman added, and US$4.7-billion in taxpayer money is funding “bogus reports” and “bogus research.”

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mike Butler: Maori students avoid gravy train

Victoria University’s business school axed its Maori business programme because of little interest from Maori students who overwhelmingly opted for mainstream commerce programmes, the Dominion Post reported.

In 2012 there were 10 Maori students in the Maori Business programme and 360 in mainstream commerce programmes, according to Dean of Commerce Professor Bob Buckle.

No details of Maori business programme papers were available in the notice posted on the university’s website dated October 16, 2014, apart from a note that the School of Maori Studies there offers a major in Maori Resource Management, alongside other courses, that cover material similar.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Frank Newman: Relentless planners and you

Planners are never satisfied, and never give up. Central and local government have departments full of them - all charged with the task of regulating what landowners can't do on their land. Increasingly, permitted use rights once held by landowners are being replaced with discretionary rights exercised by council planning staff (and enforced at the landowners cost).

Underlying it all is preservation and a (false) presumption that landowners can't be trusted to do the right thing for future generations. Fortunately, Neanderthals had a more enlightened view of innovation and preservation.

Planners are dangerous people - dangerous in that they elevate their own perceptions of the world above those they are supposed to serve. In an ideal world landowners would be protected from such people by their elected representatives. They are our line of defence against socialist planners and the like of radical environmentalists such as the Department of Conservation (DoC); that's why we elect them.