Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas eve in Otahuhu

OK, so we might not believe in Santa, but this lot playing 'Jingle Bells' should be all the Xmas spirit you need.

Kilisimasi Fiefia

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Seasons greetings from Spider and me

Sunrise over Mangere Bridge

Snapped at 6.29am, 20th December. I'm not often up at this time but this almost made it worth it.
Coffee and a buttery pastry at Elske in Newmarket definitely made it worth it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yay!! Baby chickens

Today we replenished our stock of chooks. This lot came from Precious Poultry, the supplier of the previous lot seeming to have vanished off the face of the earth. 
Of the last lot (see here) the two Austrolorps have done well but the two Wyandottes, to cite the literature, failed to thrive (actually, they died).
Black Austrolorp. This chicken has her own gravitational pull.
Our grey girl: still limping but doing well.

Included in the new batch are two Sicilian Buttercups. Honestly, how could you not love something called a Sicilian Buttercup? We also got a black Wyandotte-cross, and another black Austrolorp. Here they are showing off their stuff.
One of the two black chickens. They look pretty much the same.

White-headed Sicilian Buttercup

Black-headed Sicilian Buttercup. Also an escape artist.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Argy bargy over the CBD rail loop

The political football that is Auckland's Central Rail Loop continues to be kicked back and forth between the Auckland Council and central government. The funding background is that up until the 2009 Government Policy Statement on land transport funding (the that gave us the Roads of National Significance),* metro rail projects were paid for through the national land transport fund. In the interests of freeing up more money for roads, this funding option was removed so that projects such as the CBD rail loop must now be funded either locally (most likely though rates) or by central government.

Aucklanders from both ends of the political spectrum, not unreasonably, think the government should stump up for the central rail loop. Auckland's ratepayers are mystified as to why they should cough up when they pay into the land transport fund. The government, for its part, remains deeply in the financial pooh from its own economic mismanagement, so is crying poor. Accordingly, they have gone to great lengths to justify not paying, of which this example of weaselification from the Ministry of Transport is but one instance. 
Dreaming...of Auckland public transport
As part of the tedious, unnecessary delay the Auckland Council and the government agreed to commission an independent report on the necessity or otherwise of the rail loop. This was released yesterday (here), and argues that the the rail extension "delivers the highest number of people, involves the smallest land take and has the most beneficial impact on car commuters and freight. It is the only headline option with any capacity after 2041." (p7) Got that, central government petrolheads? It will deliver benefits to car communters and freight.

Not surprisingly, the Minister of Transport, or Stephen Joyce (whichever is in charge), has dismissed the report, saying it "falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast tracking of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL)."

The best response to this nonsense (in our view) has come from Heart of City's Alex Swney. Admittedly, there's some self-interest at work since the central city will benefit from the addition of new stations and additional residents. In an interview with Radio NZ this morning Mr Swney let fly. Here's the transcript:
It's very very hard to talk to someone who won't listen. I don't want to be too harsh on Gerry  - perhaps he's just got his mind focused too much on Christchurch and Christchurch's problems. Auckland has some huge challenges. We're going to add the population of Christchurch to Auckland over the next 30 years. That comes with a huge range of challenges for us and they aren't going to be delivered by more tarmac and more cars. This [the CRL] is a modern solution for a modern city with huge growing pains. Auckland is getting highly brassed off when Wellington continues to say "talk to the hand". It's patronising to call this project a valiant [attempt], and it's a waste of taxpayers money when you will go and put huge taxpayer's resources and ratepayers resources together to deliver this report and seemingly dismiss it off hand like that. It's just - dare I say it? - it's immature.
We are bemoaning the fact that a generation ago we didn't begin this project when Dove Meyer Robinson first mooted it, and here we are stuck. We've still got Wellington and Auckland scrapping between themselves. Auckland has reached way over the half way mark, way over the Bombay Hills towards Wellington to come up with a collective response and I must say it's getting galling for Aucklanders to get the push back still, a generation later.
A modern solution for a modern city
Bravo, Heart of the City.
This might unsettle the stomachs of Auckland's normally Tory-voting middle classes, but transport funding needs to be an election issue. Metro rail funding needs to be put back into the national land transport fund from which it was removed in 2009, and  the roads of no significance need to be pushed back to, oh, about 3000.

*Please bear with us, gentle reader. New Zealand's land transport funding system is Byzantine and highly politicised.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Desk of Power

We all have symbols of our own power relevant to us in our world. Some seats of power are more visible and just plain powerful than others, for example actual thrones, the Speakers chair, or a seat on the Security Council. Others are more symbolic, say being Prime Minister of New Zealand, when everyone knows the real power lies elsewhere.
For us lesser mortals, our symbols are far more modest and personal, but still they exist, eg possession  of the TV remote control.
Animals, too, have symbols of power: the ability to pee on someone else's lampost, poop in someone's flowerbed; the plum spot in the sun, or perhaps just something to give a bit of height.
Thus, we present the Desk of Power. One creatures rubbish is another's path to earthly glory.

Milk in schools: saving the government's butt

News today that Fonterra is extending its milk in schools programme to all schools, with the lucky recipients getting 180ml per day of low-fat milk. This is very kind of Fonterra - sort of - but really throws into sharp relief the government's own lacklustre performance in dealing with hungry children. That is, they haven't.
The Herald's article contains this snippet:

Education Minister Hekia Parata congratulated Fonterra for the initiative. "As a Government we continue to encourage business communities and other agencies to work together with our school communities to grow the momentum of raising achievement for five out of five kids,' she said. "This is a great way to add value to our children's lives as they spend their hours getting a great education," she said.

Ms Parata's full press release is here.
We think this is what she meant to say:
Education Minister Hekia Parata welcomes Fonterra’s nationwide ‘Milk for Schools’ rollout to all New Zealand primary schools today.

“I congratulate Fonterra and its Federated Farmers owners for this great initiative. As a Government effectively operating as a subsidiary of Fed Farmers we are relieved they are helping us to work together with our school communities to grow the momentum of raising achievement for five out of five kids. This helps distract from our own inaction,” says Ms Parata.

“It is exciting to see the Fonterra pilot programme at Northland primary schools has had huge success, and at so little cost to central government. This is a great way to add value to our children’s lives and to Fonterra's future marketing and brand recognition strategy. Well done Fonterra.”

The programme will operate on an ‘opt-in’ basis for interested primary schools. Schools opting in will receive a daily serving of 180ml of low-fat milk for each participating child each day. Fonterra will also provide fridges to keep it cool and an associated recycling programme.

In addition, the Government provides a fruit in schools scheme, even though it desperately tried to terminate it a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, officials pointed out it was the only fruit many children were getting, and culling this programme would have been a Really Bad Look. Even for a National government. All decile one and two primary and intermediate schools are able to opt into Fruit in Schools, and we are comfortable with the fact it does not in any way shape or form compete with Fonterra's product or market sector. Around 480 Decile 1 and 2 schools currently participate, seeing around 96,806 children receiving one piece of fruit per day. Make the most of it, you kids, you won't be getting anything else any time soon.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett also applauds Fonterra.

"As we move to make receipt of the one piece of fruit per day conditional on the child's parents or parent working full-time, we hope the Fonterra programme will fill an already huge gap. Thank you for saving our butts, Fonterra. Who said philanthropy doesn't work?"

Adios, Fatboy, the cat with 999 lives

We got Fatboy and his sister in February 2000 from the free-to-a-good home box when he was about 6 weeks old. His sister died shortly after, and in time it transpired that what had probably killed her was a feline AIDS virus, which Fatty also had in his system. The virus was the defining feature of his life as it made him susceptible to illness and infection, especially in his earlier years.
Fatty and his best girlfriend ever

He liked to scrap with us as a kitten, and unfortunately for the Dearly Beloved in particular, this led to a habit of randomly slashing passers by, which he did for some years. Less so with me, as I was the one who let him under the blankets on cold winter nights.
When he was about a year old, he went missing. He was found down the back of the section a couple of days later with his tail broken. We kept him inside and although we shut the cat door so he couldn't push it out, he figured out how to put his claw under the flap and pull it then sneak out through the gap. He was gone for about six days, during which time we gave up and got Winkle:

Winkle's another story...but the day Winkle turned up we heard this almighty howl at the front door and there was Fatty. 
He needed surgery on his tail:

Over time the hate he seemed to have against the world didn't diminish. Here's what happens when Pets Go Bad:


Next, he got a lung infection. The vet took x-rays and had this very sympathetic look on her face when she showed me the x-ray, saying usually if you can see the second tier of airways it means they're full of water and the whatever-it-is is probably on the way out. You could see Fatty's entire lung system. When they went to investigate further, he jumped off he vet's table. I recall the vet saying 'usually when they do that we don't worry because they can't go anywhere. He took off out the door and we had to chase to get him back.' 
Somehow, he lived.
And not too badly, at that:

Chicken kebab? Why, yes.

Then there was the several operations to fix his eye. The feline AIDS had been instrumental in him developing an ulcer in one of his eyes. We tried several times to fix it but all that happened was I made a massive contribution to the vet's DNA replication's college fund. Fatty spent the rest of his life with no tail and a runny eye, and still got the girls:


Then came the fish bone incident. We knew something was up because he stopped eating and was having difficulty breathing. The initial examination didn't pick anything up but watching him shortly after I realised he had something in his throat and took him to the vet. They had to anaesthetise him to take the x-ray and while he was under they pulled out a massive piece of fish vertebra that had got lodged in his throat. It was about 8mm across and because it had been there for some days his throat had got infected and ulcerated. This required that he be hospitalised. When we went to see him there was a sign on the cage saying that he was only to be handled with a vet present. On the way out I mentioned to the receptionist that we had been to see him and she said "Fatty? He's a charmer". (Not).
In short, we could have painted the house or put another room on with what was spent in vets bills.
He was a major contributor to ridding the neighbourhood of rats. Incidents such as this were not uncommon:



 Finally, there were several years of peace and quiet and good health. There was a moment earlier this year when he got an infection that meant he needed to go back into hospital for a couple of days but somehow he stared down death yet again and bounced back. It was during this later period he terrorised Spider into treating cats with some respect. Fatty understood in a visceral way that the best defence is offence, and attacked Spider within minutes of him coming into the house for the first time.
But the latest brush was to be the last. Somehow, he injured his back left leg, and the subsequent nerve damage left him much restricted in his movement. An x-ray showed two lower vertebra had fused, and that this was also making movement difficult, plus the inflammation was causing him some pain. We had trouble medicating him because if he thought he was going to get medicine he would take off for a couple of days at a time, which he did. 
After a week of losing mobility in his hindquarters and not eating, we made the painful decision to put him to sleep. The hate was undiluted till the end: the day before, barely able to move and weak from lack of food, he sat on the inside of the catdoor and spat and hissed at the dog who was on the other side. This photo was taken a couple of hours before we took him to the vet, and he still looks like he's rip your liver out and eat it if he wanted. But he was still handsome :


Adios, Fatty, early morning philosopher, neighbourhood tyrant, and late night under-the-covers snuggler. We will miss you, my friend.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Suitable employment

Recent changes to the Social Security Act require that sole parents on a benefit must now accept any offer of 'suitable employment' (15 hours per week when the youngest child turns 6 or 30 hours per week when the youngest turns 14) or have their benefit cut off because, you know, work is good for people in every way, and the job market is - ahem - bouncy
Cropped cover of Steely Dan's 1972 classic "Can't buy a thrill"
It's been a concern for some time that some Work and Income staff seem to think 'suitable employment' includes massage parlour/escort agency work for women. More telling is the fact that dealing with WINZ has proven so onerous some mothers have gone into parlours - or worse, just out onto the street - of their own accord. Prostitution has probably always included mothers among the profession's ranks, but as a trend this seems like a zero-sum game from a societal point of view - a bit like shoving people off benefits to only have them turn up panhandling on Queen Street the next day. Parlour/agency/street hours aren't exactly child-friendly and the work is potentially dangerous and damaging to ones physical and mental health. Still, any job's a good job, right?
Facing a different set of obstacles, a young tradesman friend with a teenage daughter has recently been found 'suitable work' by the nice folk at WINZ. Except that:
  • it's not an actual waged job. The tradesman is a subcontractor and submits an invoice at the end of two weeks. No room for disputes there, then. Oh, and the pay comes at the end of the following fortnite, in other words there is no income for four weeks;
  • the pay is low and out of this comes tax, ACC and an allowance for holidays and sick days;
  • because the tradesman is a subbie there is no holiday or sick days: if you don't work you don't get paid, hence the need for pay to cover these costs. Which it doesn't;
  • this assumes people will pay their taxes and have an accountant, or can do the paperwork themselves. What was that about a tax shortfall in the last fiscal update?
  • there is no guarantee of 40 hours a week work. This extends to tradespeople the idea widely used in the junk food industry that workers must be on site but are not guaranteed any work. The so-called employee just has to wear any shortfall;
  • if our young friend comes off a benefit he will be eligible for Working for Families tax credits but if it all goes pear-shaped he will find it very difficult to get back on a benefit. Opportunities for fathers are somewhat limited in Auckland's massage parlours and escort agencies so we could think of this as a double disadvantage.
How is anyone supposed to budget under these conditions? How is the stress of not knowing whether there will be enough income to pay the rent good for anyone? How does this gel with the government's stated concern for vulnerable children?
This is not the bright, shiny, prosperous economy we have been promised for 30 years. This is a sharecropper society, and like the sharecropper society of the South the only constants are insecure income and debt. Not the flash debt of white-collar criminals, but the petty, grinding debt of overdue rent, overdue power bills, and money borrowed to keep the car on the road. 'Suitable employment' should mean people can live with some measure of dignity. Pity about how that seems to be increasingly reserved for the rich in New Zealand.