Sunday, 21 March 2010

Commonsense prevails

On Friday night there was a boxing event in Melbourne, Australia, which had been heavily promoted as a "pay to view" programme by Sky Channel in New Zealand. In one corner was Shane Cameron, a New Zealand heavyweight of some note, apparently, in boxing circles. In the other corner was one John Hopoate, a former ARL rugby league player-come-boxer who is best known in Australasian sporting circles for his suspension-earning practice of inserting his finger up (rugby league) opponents' bums. Following all the promotional brouhaha, it was reasonable to assume there would have been, at the very least, a report in the sports pages of the daily newspaper on Saturday. But nope, not a mention. Googling revealed a very short report  on a sports website, to the effect that Hopoate had been disqualified in the second round. No, not for digital penetration, but for "continual holding". For the benefit of those who, like the writer, are uninitiated in pugilistic matters, I take it this means hugging one's opponent in order that he cannot punch. If that's the case I don't blame him. I would do the same. My point is not the boxer's tactics or the result of the fight, but the complete failure of Sky Channel's attempts to generate public interest in what the newspapers seem to confirm, by their lack of reporting, as being a non-event. Which affirms my contention that media promotion sets out to create news, rather than report it. In this instance, Sky Channel's efforts failed miserably, which suggests that in some cases at least, the public are not as gullible as media folk think.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

What do Harvey Norman and South Westland have in common?

South Westland, despite being one of the world's most beautiful wilderness areas, is also one of the most remote regions of New Zealand.

So it's very unlikely that Harvey Norman will be opening a store there any time soon. Yet, today I discovered that Harvey Norman and South Westland have something in common: sandflies.

South Westland has swarms of the winged variety at certain times of the year. So much so that if you leave the safety of your vehicle without first slapping litres of insect repellent all over the exposed regions of your body, you're likely to resemble a baboon's backside the next day and be off work with an insatiable itch for the following week or two.

Today, I was a long way from South Westland, but I did visit a Harvey Norman store. A bad move on a Monday afternoon, which I suppose is just about the quietest time of the week for them. Therefore, swarms of hungry salepeople were descending on each hapless potential customer. I was there for eight minutes. I was approached by twelve different salespeople.

I prefer South Westland, where at least you can try to swat the sandflies away. In either instance, you can run for the safety of your car, which is exactly what I did at Harvey Norman.  

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Who would have thought.....?

In the 1950s and 60s, my family owned a truck by the same maker and of the same vintage as the 1937 Chevrolet car on the left. It was our only vehicle, serving as the workhorse for a small rural business and as the family car. It was old and it wasn't worth much, but in those times it was the best that my family could afford.

The price tag on this car (photographed just a few months ago) is almost $20,000. That would have been ten thousand pounds in the fifties and early sixties, and it was a sum of money that most people could only dream about. You could retire in luxury for that much money, or buy four or five houses. Who would have thought that when an old '37 Chevy became even older, it would be worth a fortune? Or that one day you could trade it in on a sparkling modern car and get enough change to go on a world tour?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Ahead of its Time?

My good friend Ed in The Land of the Free sent me this link to a video filmed 84 years ago of an invention which I should have thought would have been a real winner in its day and might even be useful today.

It is reported as being invented and demonstrated in the video by none other than Henry Ford, so one would think that its failure to kick on was due to factors other than lack of marketing know-how or financial backing. Perhaps it was ahead of its time?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Tsunami Alert

New Zealand has been on tsunami-alert for the last 24 hours. There were some unusual tidal patterns during that time, but nothing to cause any damage or panic. I should think it served as a good test run for the Civil Defence organisation, which seemed to perform efficiently in monitoring the situation, disseminating information and giving appropriate warnings to the public.

New Zealand has a very long coastline, a half of it east-facing with no land barriers between it and the west coast of South America. The public here are well informed about the risk of tsunami following earthquakes in (or off) South America. Yet, incredibly, there were still those who ignored yesterday's warnings and blithely continued with their Sunday beach-walking, surfing and swimming. One fellow facing a television camera was asked why he was there. "Just having a look at what's going on. If anything happens, I'll run like hell!" he said, then laughed maniacally. Then there was the blonde bimbo in a bikini. "Well, there's so many warnings, y'know, an' nothin' ever happens, does it?" So many warnings? Well, in 60-odd years, I don't recall more than perhaps three or four tsunami warnings.

A couple of worrying things occur to me. First, how many more lame-brains are going to ignore warnings next time, knowing that no life-threatening tidal event eventuated on this occasion? Second, what sort of a message is being delivered by television crews on the beaches, themselves disregarding Civil Defence warnings for no other reason than to film non-essential interviews?

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Tiger-watchers

Boy, am I getting fed up to the back teeth by the news media's fixation with Tiger Woods's private life. I cannot see one good reason for any person on this Earth, other than those individuals directly affected, to have any interest in what this person does (or has done) anywhere except between the first tee and the eighteenth hole of a golf course.

Media folk would argue that there is huge public interest and that they are simply catering to that interest. My view is that there is huge public interest only because the news media generated it in their own pecuniary interest. Unfortunately that says as much about the intellect of the media's audience as it says about the media's greed.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Big reward for little effort

For years, I avoided doing anything about a difficult little dry strip on the east side of the house. It was under the eaves, a long way from a hose-tap and the very ordinary soil was littered with builders' rubble. Then in early Spring a few wildflower seeds came my way, so I lightly forked the area over and threw them in. Now I'm thinking it was well worth the twenty minutes' effort I put in.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Wildlife in the bathroom

Look what greeted us in the bathroom this morning!

I think it's one of New Zealand's 70 something species of native weta which apparently made its entry overnight through a partly open window. I really would like to think its appearance is due to my "no spray" regime in the garden over the past three years and that this is evidence of my garden becoming home to an ever increasing amount of insect life. Alas, I fear that is not the truth of the matter (although I'm sure the insect population is increasing). I think this handsome visitor probably hitched a ride on a trailerload of firewood that my neighbour brought in from a forest in the country and parked in his driveway overnight. It has been released gently and lovingly amongst some rhododendrons. Perhaps it is bearing eggs and will populate the garden with its progeny!

For the record, the body is about one and a half centimetres (three quarters of an inch) long - a mere miniature compared with some of the giant species in the New Zealand bush.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

What is important news and what is not?

The importance placed by the news media on some news items in preference to others is, in my estimation, a disgrace.

Today, the Otago Daily Times , a major New Zealand daily newspaper, featured as its front page lead story a news item about the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) toughening up on its checking of  long term claimants' continued eligibility to receive benefits. The support stories on the front page were about a local winemaker being nominated for an international award and the possibility that some ornamental trees in the Dunedin CBD may have fallen victim to a fatal fungal disease.

Meanwhile, news of an Ethiopian airliner crashing into the Mediterranean with 90 people on board was deemed important enough to warrant only a brief mention at the foot of page 6, which is the world news page.

Is the loss of 90 human lives not more important than a possible tree disease, a nomination for a winemaking award or an insurer's claim verification practices? 

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Scientific illiteracy

55% of Australians prefer a God-guided or biblical account of the development of human beings over Darwinian evolution, an Australian science communication researcher was reported in The Otago Daily Times as saying. Now, I lived and worked in Australia for 12 years and I didn't see any evidence that our Aussie friends are a particularly god-fearing bunch, so I can only conclude that the survey was conducted outside the Waggawagga Methodist Church at 11am on a Sunday or that the majority of respondents thought that "Darwinian" referred to residency in the Northern Territory's capital city.

As a Kiwi writing about Australians, I favour the latter explanation, but lest any Americans who might happen upon this post should be feeling smug, the same report says that only 40% of Americans believe the Darwinian account of evolution.

Okay, okay, New Zealanders are not all that rational either. According to a Massey University survey, 39% of Kiwi adults believe fortune-tellers can predict the future. There is no mention, however, of fortune-tellers setting up their tents at racetracks alongside the bookies. Apparently their entrepeneurial skills don't match their fortune-telling expertise.

If the surveys are accurate, my greatest worry is that one day I might have to face trial by a jury of New Zealanders (or Australians or Americans) with my defence depending their ability to digest scientific evidence!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

...and still the bee doth toil

Late evening in my garden.
The wind doth blow, the rain doth fall, and still the bee doth toil.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Public Holidays

Today is officially recognised as a Public Holiday in New Zealand. In this particular year, it doesn't matter much to most folk, because it falls on a weekend anyway. But it does matter to those whose job requires them to work, because the law of the land requires their employers to pay them at one-and-a-half times the usual hourly rate and also requires that they are allowed a day off in lieu at some later date. It matters to employers for the same reason.

I wonder how many countries have a public holiday on January 2, simply because it happens to be the day after the first day of the year. It doesn't happen across the ditch in Australia and I don't imagine it happens in too many other countries.

There are other public holidays which seem superfluous as well (although I have no problem with my employer being required to pay me for staying home). The Queen's Birthday holiday is celebrated on the nearest Monday to June 4, because June 4 was the birthday of one of QE2's uncles or great uncles (I think). Does anyone really care a toss, or consider it a significant date?

I would wager that most New Zealanders have no idea that October's Labour Day commemorates the introduction, at some time in the country's obscure past, of a universal eight hour working day (which, incidentally, hasn't been recognised for God knows how many years, either in law or common practice). My understanding is that in earlier days, working folk and their families flocked to communal picnics, organised by respective trade unions, on this holiday, but not many people living today would even remember that.

The founding of each respective New Zealand province is celebrated by a day off work for those in each province on a date unique to their place of domicile and is called Anniversary Day. Never mind that provincial government was abolished in this country more than a hundred years ago and there is no longer any clear definition of geographical provincial boundaries. In my "province" (Otago), Anniversary Day falls in April, so many employers, schools, etc tack it onto Easter weekend, making the officially designated date a curious phenomenon when some institutions are closed and some are not (likewise the Tuesday following Easter Monday).

And then there's Waitangi Day, which is just too complex and controversial to even try to explain!

My solution, which, sadly, is not going to happen because the present system of public holidays is firmly entrenched in Kiwi culture, is to abolish all of the aforementioned holidays, give every employee an extra week's annual leave to be taken at a time of their choice and add a week to school, college and university holidays. Business operators would be in favour as short weeks are not conducive to good business.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Drookit Dug

A very clever post "Doug versus Dog" on Doug Green's Blog reminded me of this amusing pub sign photographed in Fife, Scotland a few years ago. I'm told the name translates to "the drunken dog".