Archive for July, 2012

An explanation of the New Zealand medical system

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

– I wrote this piece to explain to Americans how differently the New Zealand medical system works from the one Americans are familiar with.

– Dennis
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Politics: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Written by Bill McKibben for Rolling Stone Magazine

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.
Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.
Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world’s nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn’t even attend. It was “a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago,” the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls “once thronged by multitudes.” Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.
More – search for the title line with Google…

Mass burials – should we look?

Friday, July 6th, 2012

– I watched a show tonight that took place in Spain.   But it could have been Syria, Chile or Cambodia.  or any number of other places.   They were digging up a mass grave that dated from Franco’s time and the people buried there had probably been killed in 1936.

A person was asked if they thought there was value in digging these folks up and they offered the opinion that they didn’t think so.   It was the past and long ago.  We should just forget it and get on with today and life.

So wrong

I couldn’t have disagreed more.   Every strongman, every dictator, every despot should know that their crimes against others will not be forgotten.   They should know that misusing their power against others who cannot defend themselves will not quietly go away.   There will be no place to hide.

To me, it is abhorrent that it took so long between the years of the killing fields and when Pol Pot and his  Khmer Rouge cronies were tried.   Abhorrent  that Pinochet was able to hide from international judgement for so many years.

When the dust settles in Syria, those at the top of the now Syrian government should be held until all the atrocities are enumerated and then they should be judged and punished according to their complicity.

Qaddafi got a rough judgement and so should everyone who abuses their power and abuses other people like this.   And these judgements should come sooner than later.

Everybody in one of those graves had a name, had a mother, loved someone and was loved by someone and had dreams and a future.   Everyone of them had a right to express their differences with the government of the day without it costing them their lives.

It still goes on today and it should not.   We yammer on about our compassion for human rights and justice but so much of it is just talk.   The kind of talk and hang wringing that gets done when we’re really obsessing over the geopolitical consequences or the effect it may have on trade.

And, while we’re talking, we can hear on the radio that they are marching men right now into the stadium at Srebrenica – and few of us that day were much in doubt as to what was next.   But the politicians just keep on talking.    Talk, talk, talk while people were dying.

Spain, Rwanda, the Katyn Forest – you name it – the lists go on and on.

It is wrong.   And those who do it, or those stand silently by while it is done, should be punished every time, without fail, to send a message for all who are yet to consider making such a decision.

Personal – a bit more …

Thursday, July 5th, 2012


My younger son, Chris, has been  here in New Zealand now for six weeks and he’s decided that he loves the place and is going to arrange permanent residency here, if he can.

This is one the best things that could ever have happened for me.

I love New Zealand and I’m very happy to be here as a permanent resident.  But my family all remained in the U.S. on the other side of the planet.  And I’ve missed them and I’ve felt my separation from them deeply.

Originally, in 2006, my second wife, Sharon, and I were going to immigrate here together.  But for a series of complex reasons, that didn’t work out.  And so I came alone  in 2009 and she stayed and we divorced.

At 64 now, I’ve made a new life for myself here in this wonderful and isolated bit of the world.   But, it’s been a series of harrowing years between the beginning of the journey back in 2006 and now.

Prostate Cancer (which I beat), a divorce, the loss of our joint land (25 acres)  and business (a nursery), the February 2011 earthquake here; which took my beautiful and fully paid for executive apartment in Christchurch, a heart attack (which I also survived).  It’s been an emotional and intense few years.

But the Beloved gives as well as takes and I’ve found a new relationship here with a wonderful and intelligent Kiwi woman named Colette.  She’s shared her home and life with me since the earthquake and that arrangement has worked out brilliantly.

She’s calm and (thank you, Jesus) hasn’t an ounce of drama queen in her.   Straight and true as the day is long.


She feels and she cares but with deep reason and thoughtfullness.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that she very probably saved me from depression and possible self destruction during my darkest days.

And now comes my son.   Full of energy and enthusiasm, he’s landed here with both feet on the ground.   He’s found a wonderful partner (with whom he’s living now) and he’s gotten excellent job prospects and all in such short order that he’s truly amazed me.  I think he’s going to make a success of life here in this beautiful place.  Certainly all the signs are favoring him and that desire.

So, these are the cards I find spread before me now as I prepare to go and revisit the U.S. for 10 weeks.

I have a wonderful partner and friend here in Colette who shares her house and life with me and who has given me the ungrudging freedom to go on this journey to resurrect and renew my family ties and my many U.S. friendships.

And I’m leaving my son here now building a new life for himself.  And in the process, he is so deeply enriching my life by my knowing that one of my beloved blood kin is now sharing this New Zealand life and experience.


This Blog is primarily about the mess this world is in.  That such things deeply concern me any reader here will know.

But you should also know, friends, that I am a deeply grateful man to be alive now, in this time in history and to be living the life I have.

– Dennis



Wednesday, July 4th, 2012


For those of you who hate it when I talk about personal stuff here on my Blog, you should crawl under your desks now.

And, for the rest of you, I’d like to share that I am off next week on a trip to the U.S. for 12 weeks or so.   I plan to visit with friends and family and travel up and down the west coast from Southern California to British Columbia couch surfing and enjoying the warm weather and all of those who are near and dear to me.

I don’t know how much I’ll be posting while I’m on the road and I think that if I do post, it’ll probably be more about my personal experiences during my travels than it will be about world issues.  But then, I did mention that it is My Blog, yes?   (smile).

If any of you, my readers, like to wax pontifical over a beer or a glass of wine and if you live within 100 miles of the coast between Southern California and Southern British Columbia and if you wouldn’t mind a good chin wag, then drop me a note for I am, above all else, a social creature that likes to hear his own voice woven in with others in good conversation.


– Dennis


The greedy are everywhere…

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

– In the U.S., in Europe, and even here in my beloved New Zealand.

– They put on suits, they carry a briefcase, they do ‘deals’ and it all looks brilliant and magical.

– But, sometimes, someone goes behind the scenes and traces some of this ‘business’ and finds that a lot of it is ‘funny business’.

– What would you think of an investment company that did big deals for the purpose of making profits for their investors and, when the dust had settled, the deals were done and all the contracts and the fine print were all read out and traced – you found out that the bankers and the company’s principals made far more profit from all of the money shuffling than any of their poor investors did?

– I think it stinks.   And yet I also think that many business types live and thrive in just this way and consider themselves brilliant,.  And that they consider the rest of us as just their sheep in need of a shearing and too dumb to know we’re being hard done by.

– This bit of fun happened here in New Zealand though the business itself reached around the globe to London as well.  

– No matter.  In fact, all the better.   The more abstract, the further afield, the less normal people can relate to the doings, the better.   Big money moving in the shadows.

– Here in New Zealand, the National Government, under John Key, a former Wall Street type, wants to sell public assets to raise money.   After reading this expose on the investment company, EPIC, I’ll be most curious to  ‘follow the money’ when the Key government does begin to sell those assets.  

– Who will be doing the deals and who will be making enormous profits from the fees along they way?  Why do I suspect that they will be business types like Key?  Types who are telling themsleves all along the way that the fact that they are getting rich is only incidental to the good they are doing for the country.

– Yeah, right.

– Dennis

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The rather curious case of Epic’s fee payments

(this from an opinion piece by Tim Hunter)

OPINION: After years of study, there is growing acceptance that homo sapiens has evolved into two distinct branches. One comprises the vast bulk of humanity, the other comprises individuals known as bankers.

Although superficially alike, the latter can be distinguished by their skin, which is thicker than normal. It also has special properties giving unusual adhesion to most forms of money.

In tests using a drained swimming pool filled with Zimbabwean currency, bankers were found to emerge from the pool with up to 25 per cent more cash sticking to them than the non-banking control group.

Scientists initially hypothesised an epidermal layer of tiny hooks, like Velcro, to explain the effect, but now favour a theory of electro-magnetic attraction at the cellular level.

Edinburgh University’s department of parapsychology is also testing observations that bankers can detect the contents of a wallet within a range of about five metres, even through stud walls.

These attributes are an advantage in financial transactions, and Chalkie reckons there could be something like this going on in an investment structure called Equity Partners Infrastructure Company (Epic). Basically, Chalkie’s study of accounts and documents with small print suggests Epic has paid out millions more in fees to bankers and their ilk than it has to its investors.

– Definitely, you should read more here…

Crisis forces dismal science to get real

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

– Just a few days ago, I wrote about an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch section.   This article, acknowledged what I think is a deep and unavoidable truth about the world.  And that is that all our economies are based on models that insist on indefinite growth for the model to succeed.

– And, I said, any eight year-old knows that you cannot go on creating more and more stuff on a stage of finte size.  Common sense tells you the stagewill fill up and you will come to the end-game.

– So here we have an article about an ongoing deep angst in the world of economists about how their models are failing to predict the ups and downs of the world’s economy.   Hand wringing and questions about the deep assumptions being taught at the various schools of economics abound.

– And not one WORD about the most fundamental issue of all.   That ALL their models depend on indefinite growth to succeed and that this is just impossible.   Give me strength!

– Dennis

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As economics teachers struggle to make sense of a post-crisis world, they may have an unlikely army of helpers: ants.

In September 2008, the same month that Lehman Brothers collapsed, the Argentinian ants became the unwitting stars of a German television show that set out to illustrate collective efficiency. To the frustration of the show’s producers, the insects ended up showing how easily rational expectations can go awry.

The ants – Linepithema humile – had a choice between a long route and a short one to get to a pile of food. In theory, their chemical communication and millions of years of evolution should have led them to work out the short route.

They chose the long one, and most kept using it even though some had found the shorter path. “The Germans were furious,” said economics professor Alan Kirman, whose neuroscientist friend and colleague Guy Theraulaz ran the experiments in the south of France.

Kirman, professor emeritus at Aix Marseille University and France’s Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, has started to use the footage in a talk he gives about modern economic thinking. The insects were far from efficient, he said, but reached their goal in the end.

“I think the economy is a lot like that.”

There lies a hint of the revolution that is building at the heart of academic economics, particularly in Europe.

As the euro zone crisis deepens, economists in France, Germany and Italy have been forced to turn away from classroom theories and look at the real world – from insects to financial markets, from banks to brain scans – to better understand what’s going on.

An increasing number of teachers argue that the textbooks, some by experts who didn’t see the crisis coming, are divorced from reality, inconsistent, dull, and, in a crisis that has gripped the globe for more than four years, even dangerous.

“A crisis is a wonderful opportunity in some sense,” said Kirman. “If it weren’t for the fact that millions of people are suffering as a result, what better time to be an economist, because now you can see what’s going wrong with our theory.”

– More…


Elephants Down Under

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

– Great piece on the difference between politics in the U.S. and those in Australia and New Zealand.

– Dennis

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By Thomas Friedman, New York Times

I’ve learned three things visiting New Zealand and Australia: There is a place in the world where rugby is front-page news. There is a place in the world — the Auckland airport — where the restrooms have digital clocks in the entryway telling you hourly when they were last cleaned and when they will be cleaned again. And there is a place in the world where moderate Republicans still exist — unfortunately, you have to take a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to get there.

Indeed, to go from America — amid the G.O.P. primaries — to Down Under is to experience both jet lag and a political shock. In New Zealand and Australia, you could almost fit their entire political spectrum — from conservatives to liberals — inside the U.S. Democratic Party.

Or as Paul Quinn, a parliamentarian from New Zealand’s conservative National Party, once told a group of visiting American Fulbright scholars: “I will explain to you how our system works compared to yours: You have Democrats and Republicans. My Labor opponents would be Democrats. I am a member of the National Party, and we would be … Democrats” as well.

For instance, there is much debate here over climate policy — Australia has a carbon tax, New Zealand has cap and trade — but there is no serious debate about climate science. Whereas in today’s G.O.P. it is political suicide to take climate change seriously, in Australia and New Zealand it is political suicide for conservatives not to.

In Australia and New Zealand, “there are plenty of climate skeptics in politics, but they know it’s a political loser to say so,” explained the Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding. “This became the case after Australia suffered its worst-ever drought, lasting more than a decade.” Now, “there is strong public acceptance of the basic scientific conclusion that the climate is changing and humans are a significant contributor.”

– More…

– Research thanks to Amy G. and Cara H.