Monday, September 30, 2013

Geno 2002-2013

Today we had to put down our beautiful old dog, Geno. He had been slowing down for some time due to his arthritis, and in the last couple of weeks he had a great deal of trouble moving, and had gone off his food. Even this morning's chicken barely tempted him.

Geno was, as a friend put it, one of the dog world's nice guys. He joined our little family in 2002 after we found him wandering the street one stormy night on the way back from getting takeaways. He followed us home, quickly became best mates with Fausto, our other dog, and stayed. Here they are a couple of years later. At this stage, Geno still had all his tail. 

We estimated Geno to be about 6 months old when we got him. He had nicks and cuts on his face and neck and we suspected he had been involved in fights. In fact, like so many so many dogs mistakenly identified as pitbulls, he was a lover not a fighter and we often referred to him as our pitbull school dropout.

Which isn't to say he didn't enjoy a scrap when the opportunity presented itself. One morning he spied another dog walking up the street, bolted out of the house through the cat door (I still have no idea how he managed this) and decided to start a fight with said dog. This resulted in us having to hastily pull on our dressing gowns and race up the road to get him while all the neighbours came out to see what the commotion was about. Another time he slipped his lead at some shops and had a crack at a German Shepherd. I was upset and mortified, more so when a woman with bad teeth and grimy track suit pants said 'Lady, can't you control your dog?' No dear, evidently not. But he was good with people, good with kids and over the years he got less scrappy with other dogs.

Like other lab-mixes, Geno was greedy. His all-time favourite food was duck heads from the Hong Kong BBQ up the main shopping centre. The Asian chap who owned the shop at the time thought it highly entertaining to chuck the dogs a duck head each and watch them get snarfed in seconds. Duck bones are not soft like battery cage-chicken bones but Geno still managed to munch them, including the bill, like popcorn. Many years later, he was still trying to head down the main street of Otahuhu to see if someone would throw him a duck head.

In 2011 Fausto died and shortly afterwards we got Spider. Geno was a great mentor for Spider and they too quickly became best mates. The last two years of his life, getting out and about with Spider, going new places and meeting other dogs were the best of his life. Nevertheless, he was slowing down and he suffered in the cold.

Eventually he slowed down so much he barely had any forward momentum on his walks. He always loved his walks (he seemed to have superior mind control that induced us to take him for walks) and this last week when we have gone out without him, he has just looked sad. A greedy dog that loves his walks, off his food and with arthritis too painful to walk more than a couple of hundred metres? This is no quality of life for your best friend. 

Geno, our beautiful gentle boy, you will be much missed, and not just by us. You are a well-loved Otahuhu icon and others will miss you, too. To paraphrase John Rutter, may the Dog God bless you and keep you. Somewhere warm, with no firecrackers and as many duckheads as you can eat.  
The Last Duckhead
Geno, 29 September 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quote of the day

As reported in the Herald, this from Acting Prime Minister Bill English: "it does show how out of touch the pale, male and stale Labour Party is."

This took us a bit by surprise because if you go onto National's website to view their MPs they do strike one as rather more white and male than perhaps the general population. But are they any better or worse than the pale, male Labour party? A quick headcount of the two party's MPs revealed the following.

National Labour
TOTAL MPs 59 34
% Male 74.6 58.8
% Female 25.4 41.2
% European 83.1 73.5
% Maori 8.5 11.8
% Pacific 3.4 8.8
% Asian/Other 5.1 5.9
Neither are doing particularly well in the 'Asian' department (Asians now make up 18-20% of the population), but overall Labour is quite a lot less white and male than National. Someone should remind Mr English about people in glasshouses not throwing stones. 

(PS I may have misidentified an MP or two. Even though it's not a clever thing to do in New Zealand, I have just taken it that someone who looks European is European unless I know otherwise. I don't think it matters enough to influence the overall result.) 

Friday, September 13, 2013

More rheumatic fever in Northland

Remember the government's Better Public Services targets and how they were going to cure all manner of ills up to and including a reduction in the incidence of rheumatic fever in children? The targets were criticised at the time for failing to address underlying problems such as lack of jobs or affordable childcare, but that hasn't stopped us wasting a bunch of money on them. 

One of the targets that came in for the heaviest criticism was that aiming to reduce rates of rheumatic fever in children. First, let's be clear:  no one wants rheumatic fever in our communities. It's a disease of poverty and should have gone the way of smallpox. It is an indictment that is in New Zealand at all, even worse that it is present at levels seen in developing countries. The key reason children get rheumatic fever is that they live in cold, damp housing. If we want to get rid of rheumatic fever, we need to ensure children live in decent housing that's not overcrowded. How hard is that?

Too hard, it seems. The government's preferred method of dealing with high rates of rheumatic fever was throat swabs. According to the Ministry of Health:
If you live in a high risk area or are Māori or Pacific and have a sore throat, please see a doctor or nurse quickly. There are throat swabbing programmes running in many primary and intermediate schools in high risk areas. If your doctor or nurse thinks you may have strep throat, you’ll be given antibiotics to clear up the infection before it can develop into rheumatic fever. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics to stop the infection.
In order for this to work, you need to know you live in a high-risk area; you may need to see a doctor after-hours which you may not be able to afford; and your child's school needs to have a throat swabbing programme. It also assumes that even if everything else goes to plan, you can afford to fill out the prescription. To be fair, the Ministry is also offering 'housing-related interventions' through its Healthy Homes Initiative in Auckland, but this only applies to people living in state houses.

So given its head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with poor quality housing, it was not surprising - but still discouraging - to hear on Radio New Zealand's news this morning that rates of rheumatic fever in Northland have not only not fallen but seem to be up from last year. Unfortunately, this item was tucked away in the Te Manu Korihi news whereas it really needed to be part of the main news, and the Minister hauled in for questioning (maybe he was later). 

It's clear this National government dislikes social housing, and is bailing out of providing it as fast as it can. But is it really cheaper to leave low-income families to the vagaries of the housing market then pick up the pieces through the health system, including heart operations, and children who may be impaired for the rest of their lives? The government bangs on incessantly about working across sectors and improving efficiencies, so let's see some. Because what we're doing isn't working.  

Post-script: A visiting Swedish paediatrician and MP, Dr Anders W Jonsson, has been quoted as saying that until he came to New Zealand he had never seen a child with rheumatic fever in his life. New Zealand used to rank with the likes of Sweden in its children's healthcare, but baby won't you look at us now.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Forget the propoganda: people are staying on welfare longer

It's been a recurring theme of this government that sustained economic growth is just around the corner: a little bit of red-tape cutting here, a bit of deregulation there, and pretty soon you're moments from resuming or even surpassing normal growth. Which would be great if it was true. But now, four years after the 'green shoots' of economic recovery have withered and died, the New Zealand economy is still haemorrhaging jobs and the number of panhandlers on Queen Street has not diminished, at least not that anyone would notice. (And no, being homeless is not a 'lifestyle' that is chosen by more people coincident with economic hard times.)

In the end, it is the availability of secure jobs that determines people's economic and social wellbeing and this apparent recovery ain't generating any. As previous posts (see here and here) have noted, unemployment is not falling and labour market participation is declining. One way to assess distress in the labour maket is how long people have been unemployed. This data is available for other countries, notably the US, but not, so far as we're aware, for New Zealand. So we've had a look at the benefit data to try to get a proxy assessment of how long people have been unemployed: mostly people leave benefits when they find work so the two are closely - though not perfectly - matched. 

As an aside, Spider and I are strictly amateurs when it comes to labour market economics which raises the question where are the real labour economists? Doesn't real-world research get funding, or are other-worldly problems more pressing?    

But back to our story: In times of high unemployment people tend to be out of work for longer, and the longer people are unemployed the harder it is for them to re-enter the labour market. An analysis of benefit data at three different periods (December 2004, 2008 and 2012)  is shown in the table below. These dates were randomly selected - you could pick any dates or more of them. What we're interested in here is to see if there is a pattern. 

Percent of beneficiaries on a benefit for <1 year, 1-4 years, and >45 years. (Figures for December quarter.)
We see that in December 2004 25% of Domestic Purposes beneficiaries (DPBs) had been on that benefit for less than one year. In 2008 when the economy had higher rates of employment almost a third had been on a benefit for less than a year. By 2012 less than a quarter had been on a benefit less than a year, but 36% had been on a benefit for more than four years, up from 31% in 2004. In other words, despite moves to force them into work, high unemployment has meant more DPBs are staying on a benefit for longer. A similar pattern can be seen with Sickness (SB) and Invalids (IB) beneficiaries. For those on an Unemployment benefit (UB), the proportion on a benefit for less than a year has slumped from 83% in 2008 to 76% in 2012. The proportion on a benefit from 1-4 years almost doubled, from 12% to 21%, but the proportion on a benefit for over four years has decreased. Since it is this group that has the greatest difficulty finding work, it seems likely that these individuals no longer receive a benefit either because they have failed to meet their work test obligations or have not re-applied for their benefits. In fact, one of Spider's other girlfriends recently told us WINZ staff had been directed to target long-term beneficiaries to get them off a benefit. While the fall in those receiving a UB for over 4 years is good press, it is unknown whether these long-term unemployed have moved into sustainable paid employment. I'm guessing...not.

So what are these people doing for money? Who knows? But the longer periods people are spending on benefits, despite the enormous state and propaganda resources poured into getting them off welfare, suggests that the work is simply not there. Perhaps we need and actual job creation strategy and not the ideologically-driven deregulation agenda National has followed since coming into office. Having people fall through the social safety net can only contribute to New Zealand's infamous income inequality. Is this really what we want? Think carefully before you answer: the evidence shows high levels of soeconomic inequality mean your kids will find it easier to fall between the rungs of John Key's ladder of opportunity than to claw their way back up.   

Monday, September 2, 2013

Spider's new cousin

Introducing Mr Flint. Mr Flint is an SPCA dog (SPCA Kawerau) and is described by his Mum as 'a bit of a goober'. His favourite things are his bed, food, toys, seagulls, belly rubs and cat poo. All of which suggests he's a normal puppy. We're very excited and can't wait to meet him.

Here's a couple of snaps:
Another one for the dead duck file

At the beach, just lookin' cute.