Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

School of thought: On the dangers of intellectualism

Monday, February 16th, 2015

– A discussion going on here in New Zealand about the role of intellectuals in society.  But, I think it is relevant for any advanced western society especially now as business-centric neoliberalism is in its ascendency and seriously needs questioning.

– dennis

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The recent uproar over comments by writer Eleanor Catton (here) showed that there are still dangers in being a public intellectual in New Zealand. Some Kiwi thinkers talk about their experiences with Philip Matthews.

What happens when you lift your head above the parapet? You must be prepared for the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism.

“Public intellectuals need to be as tough as Special Olympics athletes,” says David Rutherford, chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission.

He should know. Not because he considers himself a public intellectual – in fact, he does not – but because he came to the commission after running Special Olympics in Asia Pacific.

Yet he knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of official opprobrium for speaking his mind. Despite being government-appointed, by then justice minister Simon Power, he has taken public flak from Prime Minister John Key and MPs Nick Smith and Gerry Brownlee for his commission’s stance on spying, Christchurch red zones and democracy.

Rutherford is in a rare, sometimes difficult position as a state-funded fly in the ointment. Critical public intellectuals? Despite excusing himself, he sees the need.

“While New Zealanders are pragmatists who value common sense I also think most of us know we need people who challenge our thinking and the status quo.”

This need has become enormously topical in the wake of the response to writer Eleanor Catton’s comments at a literary festival in India last month. Catton talked about New Zealand’s “neoliberal” orthodoxy, the reluctance of our authors to pen manifestos, the general underfunding of the cultural sector and the tensions that come when individual artistic success is somehow “owned” by the rest of the country.

Key did not like it and criticised her tenuous Green Party affiliations. In an infamous segment on Radio Live, broadcaster Sean Plunket attacked Catton as “ungrateful” and suggested that state funding, whether it comes from arts body Creative NZ or a job at a tertiary institution, should buy the New Zealand government unquestioning promotion abroad.

Everyone with an opinion waded into the debate. Which was good and healthy.

But a greater issue went mostly unexplored. Do we have public intellectuals? If so, who are they and how do they feel now about what they do?

So we set about identifying a dozen public intellectuals, some established and some lesser-known.

They were sent standard questions about whether they considered themselves public intellectuals, what the role involves, the risks of being public and their assessment of support from universities, media companies and the general public.

Only one declined. Psychologist and broadcaster Nigel Latta resisted applying the label to himself and opted not to join the discussion, as “I think this whole incident has been completely overcooked so I’ll politely decline the offer rather than contribute to the already overboiled pot”.

Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci defined intellectuals as those whose work is based on the possession and exercise of knowledge. New Zealand writer Bruce Jesson said that the role of an intellectual is to be a critic of society as well as a servant of it and saw no difference between being a servant and a critic.

Gramsci and Jesson’s lines appear in the introduction to Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand, which is almost 10 years old but highly relevant to the Catton debate.

The anti-intellectual strategies of former prime minister Robert Muldoon, who mocked intellectuals as “snobs” and “ivory tower types”, are close to those practised by Key and Plunket.

And when academic Laurence Simmons wrote in the introduction that “while we revel in the global branding of our sporting heroes, our adventurers or our show-business successes, we shrink from acknowledging the influence and legacy of our thinkers who question the way things are”, he all but predicted the Catton story.

If the Catton furore had a prequel it was the art and media controversy around New Zealand’s installation at the Venice Biennale in 2005.

The exhibition by the et al collective was repeatedly misrepresented in the media and as it was part of et al’s art practice to not speak directly to media, misunderstandings accumulated.

Stung by the bad publicity, Creative NZ commissioned a major report and opted not to return to Venice until 2009. From now on, the “creative team” should include people with “recognised public relations skills”, the report said.

The Venice report found that “one prominent New Zealander stated that the ‘deliberately obtuse manifesto was hard to understand’ and went on to explain that the New Zealand public like it straight up and down and are impatient with things that are perceived as too hard to understand”. Anti-intellectualism was taken as gospel and applied as a marketing strategy.

As in the Catton story there was an idea that if the government has funded art, the artist is obliged to do positive tourism promotion abroad. Was Venice about art or New Zealand Inc networking?

That was under Helen Clark’s Labour government but belittling of academics and experts has also been a feature of Key’s government. Besides Rutherford and Catton, there was the time architecture writer and presenter Kevin McCloud was dismissed as “a tourist” by Brownlee when he offered opinions on the Christchurch rebuild. Leading academic Dame Anne Salmond was attacked as “shrill and unprofessional” and “high and mighty” by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson when she opposed spying legislation in 2013.

Even Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes was told to “stick to acting” by Key when she voiced an opinion on climate change in 2009.

But none of the previous criticisms generated anything like the coverage accorded to Catton. Partly this was because of Catton’s international status as a Man Booker Prize winner, partly because she responded so calmly to her critics on her blog and partly because the conversation raised deep issues about intellectual discourse in New Zealand.

University of Otago politics lecturer Bryce Edwards thinks that Catton emerged with more fortitude than ever and that it was Sean Plunket who lost face. He sees the Catton story as a lightning rod for wider discontent about politics and the media.

Salmond, in her response to our questions, says: “Some fundamental matters act as flashpoints, where debate spirals out of control.

“This is partly because some groups with vested interests do not welcome public scrutiny of their activities and actively seek to suppress it. This happened in the Dirty Politics saga, for example.”

Salmond believes that “the tone is set from the top”. In attacks on Catton and some journalists, “the responses have been quite vicious and designed to damage people’s lives and careers. The quality of public debate in New Zealand is increasingly nasty and that’s a matter for concern.”

Some of our media is courageous and some is obsequious to those with wealth and power. As for our universities, “they are increasingly required to dance to the tune of vested interests, from politicians to corporate funders”. This is dangerous for democracy and works against creativity, innovation and the free flow of ideas, Salmond adds.

Economist Gareth Morgan dislikes the term “public intellectual” but concedes that he has been working in the public eye since 1982 and has lately enjoyed the luxury of applying his research skills and resources to subjects ranging from climate change, public health, fisheries management, tax and welfare, and obesity to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Morgan has estimated that five years of work on his Treaty book will have personally cost him $600,000 by the end of 2015.

“In order to educate myself I research and write a book and then share those learnings with the public at large, often starting a national conversation on the topic.”

One great example was the national conversation Morgan started about the threat of cats to native birdlife.

And while others must wear criticism from politicians, media or the public, Morgan seems immune. He believes his experience as a public thinker has been largely positive.

“My experience is that the public love the conversation. Further, I find that when we become well-informed, the public is incredibly rational and balanced. Eventually it steers our politicians in the right direction.”

Writer and investigative journalist Nicky Hager generously opened his discussion by listing others he would name as public intellectuals. The Dirty Politics author rates political scientists Bryce Edwards and Jon Johansson, economists Rod Oram, Bill Rosenberg, Brian Easton and Marilyn Waring and science lecturers Mike Joy and Nicola Gaston.

“There are plenty of people who will defend those in power,” Hager says.

“My picture of a public intellectual is someone who is willing to challenge established interests and ideas on behalf of the public, and provide a counter narrative.”

When Dirty Politics appeared, Hager was attacked as “a screaming Left-wing conspiracy theorist” by no less than the prime minister.

He says it is “sadly common” for those who speak on public issues and are attacked to then bow out of public life.

“Large numbers of people in New Zealand are pushed out of public roles and effectively lose their freedom of speech in this way. That is a large part of what Dirty Politics is about.”

In Speaking Truth to Power, Hager argued that the “tall poppy syndrome” is the establishment’s way of cutting down critics rather than the authentic response of the man or woman on the street. Not anti-intellectualism but “a punishment of alternative views”.

He believes that New Zealanders are open to and appreciate the work of public intellectuals, even if they might not use the term.

“There is a wide appetite for intelligent discussion and ideas. But there seems to be little active support and the media in particular should do more to encourage them. The media could start using thoughtful and informed people for commentary instead of people offering celebrity and ignorant controversy.”

Remember the incest gaffe?

Former ACT leader Jamie Whyte knows how it feels to be personally attacked for dissenting views.

Within weeks of assuming the party leadership, Whyte was ridiculed for his belief that the state should not intervene if adult siblings wish to marry. He quickly learned that what is acceptable for rational but politically naive philosophers is taboo for politicians.

Attracting ridicule is an inevitable risk, he says. Sometimes it is deserved, he adds.

Even the public intellectual label “rightly attracts ridicule because it is pompous and suggests that some kind of authority comes with it. None does. No one’s opinions are worth any more than the arguments or evidence that supports them,” he says.

“Vilification is also a risk. If you discuss sensitive topics, such as race, sex and religion, you are likely to upset people. Some will accuse you not only of being wrong but of being wicked. I notice a trend towards arguing not about what people have said but about whether they should have said it.

“Many people seem to believe they have a right to go through life undisturbed by being confronted with views contrary to their own.”

So is New Zealand hostile to intellectuals? Not especially. Whyte sees that English-speaking countries generally have a healthy scepticism about public intellectuals compared to continental Europe.

“Politics is no more intellectually downmarket here than in the UK, US or Australia. Perhaps there is less commentary from intellectuals on TV but that mainly results from the lack of think tanks and similar organisations that aim to push ideas into the media.

“The lack of these organisations results from our small population. To put the matter in perspective, you might ask whether life is better for a public intellectual in New Zealand or in Kentucky, which has the same population.”

– To the Original:  

 

An insider’s story of the global attack on climate science

Friday, January 24th, 2014

An epic saga of secretly funded climate denial and harassment of scientists.

A recent headline—”Failed doubters trust leaves taxpayers six-figure loss“—marked the end of a four-year epic saga of secretly funded climate denial, the harassment of scientists, and a tying-up of valuable government resources in New Zealand.

It’s likely to be a familiar story to my scientist colleagues in Australia, the UK, the US, and elsewhere around the world.

But if you’re not a scientist and are genuinely trying to work out who to believe when it comes to climate change, then it’s a story you need to hear, too. Because while the New Zealand fight over climate data appears to finally be over, it’s part of a much larger, ongoing war against evidence-based science.

From number crunching to controversy

In 1981, as part of my PhD work, I produced a seven-station New Zealand temperature series known as 7SS to monitor historic temperature trends and variations from Auckland to as far south as Dunedin in southern New Zealand.

A decade later, while at the NZ Meteorological Service in 1991-92, I revised the 7SS using a newhomogenization approach to make New Zealand’s temperature records more accurate, such as adjusting for when temperature gauges were moved to new sites. For example, in 1928, Wellington’s temperature gauge was relocated from an inner suburb near sea level up into the hills at Kelburn, where—due to its higher, cooler location—it recorded much cooler temperatures for the city than before.

With statistical analysis, we could work out how much Wellington’s temperature has really gone up or down since the city’s temperature records began back in 1862 and how much of that change was simply due to the gauge being moved uphill. (You can read more about re-examining NZ temperatureshere.)

So far, so uncontroversial.

But in 2008, while I was working for a NZ government-owned research organization—the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)—we updated the 7SS. And we found that at those seven stations across the country, from Auckland down to Dunedin, there was a warming trend of 0.91ºC (1.63ºF) between 1909 and 2008.

Soon after that, things started to get heated.

The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, linked to a global climate change denial group, theInternational Climate Science Coalition, began to question the adjustments I had made to the 7SS.

Rather than ever contacting me to ask for an explanation of the science, as I’ve tried to briefly cover above, the Coalition appeared determined to find a conspiracy.

“Shonky” claims

The attack on the science was led by then MP for the free market ACT New Zealand party, Rodney Hide, who claimed in the NZ Parliament in February 2010:

NIWA’s raw data for their official temperature graph shows no warming. But NIWA shifted the bulk of the temperature record pre-1950 downwards and the bulk of the data post-1950 upwards to produce a sharply rising trend… NIWA’s entire argument for warming was a result of adjustments to data which can’t be justified or checked. It’s shonky.

Hide’s attack continued for 18 months, with more than 80 parliamentary questions being put to NIWA between February 2010 and July 2011, all of which required NIWA input for the answers.

The science minister asked NIWA to reexamine the temperature records, which required several months of science time. In December 2010, the results were in. After the methodology was reviewed and endorsed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, it was found that at the seven stations from Auckland to Dunedin, there was a warming trend of 0.91°C between 1909 and 2008.

That is, the same result as before.

But before NIWA even had time to produce that report, a new line of attack had been launched.

Off to court

In July 2010, a statement of claim against NIWA was filed in the High Court of New Zealand under the guise of a new charitable trust: the New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust (NZCSET). Its trustees were all members of the NZ Climate Science Coalition.

The NZCSET challenged the decision of NIWA to publish the adjusted 7SS, claiming that the “unscientific” methods used created an unrealistic indication of climate warming.

The trust ignored the evidence in the Meteorological Service report I first authored, which stated that a particular adjustment methodology had been used. The trust incorrectly claimed this methodology should have been used but wasn’t.

 

Enlarge / The New Zealand weather wars in the news.
The New Zealand Herald

In July 2011, the trust produced a document that attempted to reproduce the Meteorological Service adjustments, but it failed to do so, instead making lots of errors.

 

On September 7, 2012, High Court Justice Geoffrey Venning delivered a 49-page ruling, finding that the NZCSET had not succeeded in any of its challenges against NIWA.

The judge was particularly critical about retired journalist and NZCSET trustee Terry Dunleavy’slack of scientific expertise.

Justice Venning described some of the trust’s evidence as tediously lengthy and said, “It is particularly unsuited to a satisfactory resolution of a difference of opinion on scientific matters.”

Taxpayers left to foot the bill

After an appeal that was withdrawn at the last minute, late last year the NZCSET was ordered to pay NIWA NZ$89,000 (US$74,000) in costs from the original case, plus further costs from the appeal.

But just this month, we have learned that the people behind the NZCSET have sent it into liquidation as they cannot afford the fees, leaving the New Zealand taxpayer at a substantial, six-figure loss.

Commenting on the lost time and money involved with the case, NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan said, “On the surface, it looks like the trust was purely for the purpose of taking action, which is not what one would consider the normal use of a charitable trust.”

This has been an insidious saga. The trust aggressively attacked the scientists instead of engaging with them to understand the technical issues, they ignored evidence that didn’t suit their case, and they regularly misrepresented NIWA statements by taking them out of context.

Yet their attack has now been repeatedly rejected in Parliament, by scientists, and by the courts.

The end result of the antics by a few individuals and the trust is probably going to be a six-figure bill for New Zealanders to pay.

My former colleagues have had valuable weeks tied up in defending against these manufactured allegations. That’s time that could have profitably been used further investigating what is happening with our climate.

But there is a bigger picture here, too.

Merchants of doubt

Doubt-mongering is an old strategy. It is a strategy that has been pursued before to combat the ideas that cigarette smoking is harmful to your health, and it has been assiduously followed by climate deniers for the past 20 years.

One of the best-known international proponents of such strategies is US think tank the Heartland Institute.

Enlarge / The first in a planned series of anti-global warming billboards in the US, comparing “climate alarmists” with terrorists and mass murderers. The campaign was canned after a backlash.
The Heartland Institute

Just to be clear: there is no evidence that the Heartland Institute helped fund the NZ court challenge. In 2012, one of the trustees who brought the action against NIWA said that Heartland had not donated anything to the case.

However, Heartland is known to have been active in NZ in the past, providing funding to the NZ Climate Science Coalition and a related International Coalition, as well as financially backing prominent climate “skeptic” campaigns in Australia.

 

Enlarge / An extract from a 1999 letter from the Heartland Institute to tobacco company Philip Morris.
University of California, San Francisco, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library

The Heartland Institute also has a long record ofworking with tobacco companies, as the letter on the right illustrates. (You can read that letter and other industry documents in full here. Meanwhile, Heartland’s reply to critics of its tobacco and fossil fuel campaigns is here.)

 

Earlier this month, the news broke that major tobacco companies will finally admit that they “deliberately deceived the American public,” in “corrective statements” that would run on prime-time TV, in newspapers, and even on cigarette packs.

It has taken a 15-year court battle with the US government to reach this point, and it shows that evidence can trump doubt-mongering in the long run.

A similar day may come for those who actively work to cast doubt on climate science.The Conversation

This story originally appeared on The Conversation.

– My source:  

– Research Thanks to Alan T.

 

No single rain drop thinks it is responsible for the flood

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

– That little saying is a favorite of mine.  

– Here’s a story from my city, Christchurch, New Zealand, that will illustrate the problem quite well.

– If you will, please, read the story below and then at the end I will tell you how it is all going to turn out – and you will see the point of the saying that “No single raindrop thinks that it is responsible for the flood”.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Big shakeup coming for Chch hospitals

New Zealand’s private healthcare system is set to be shaken up by the imminent arrival of a new hospital in Christchurch.

Forte Health, the multimillion-dollar specialist, short-stay hospital owned entirely by surgeons, is two months from opening and is already causing controversy.

The newcomer’s 25 shareholders are all specialist surgeons – absorbing every urologist in Christchurch, half of the city’s orthopaedic surgeons and most of its ear, nose and throat specialists, The Press understands.

Concerns have been raised about Forte’s shareholder-surgeons having a vested interest in shepherding patients towards their hospital for personal gain and health economists have criticised Forte’s short-stay model as “cherry-picking” the private market.

Christchurch’s two existing private hospitals are feeling the squeeze from Forte and will inevitably lose millions of dollars in revenue once it opens.

St George’s and Southern Cross hospitals both have 10 operating theatres in Christchurch and Forte will be adding another four into the mix, while gunning for the biggest volume of surgery in the market.

Forte is targeting the less-complex day surgeries from four key specialties: Ear, nose and throat; urology; gynaecology; and orthopaedics.

St George’s Hospital chief executive Greg Brooks said Forte’s arrival raised some difficult questions about the future.

Brooks was already investigating other potential revenue streams to help ease the loss of day surgeries.

“The challenge from our perspective is that as surgeons they can direct patients to their hospital and so it is a real risk for us,” he said.

Auckland University health economist Professor Toni Ashton said if a patient goes to a Forte surgeon for a consultation “of course they are going to direct them into their business, they are the shareholders for goodness sake”.

This new surgeon-shareholder business model will force Christchurch’s existing private hospitals out of the competition for day surgery, Brooks said.

And, if this model gains momentum, surgeons across the country could view it as a “vehicle for income opportunities” and this could lead to an upheaval of private healthcare in New Zealand, he said.

“We are all waiting to see what will happen.”

Forte Health chairman David Barker said the hospital had grown out of the earthquake-damaged Oxford Clinic and that it would be “replacing and enhancing competition” in the private market that was lost as a result of the quake.

Forte surgeons would continue to operate in the public sector and at the city’s other two private hospitals, he said.

The shareholder-surgeons were aware of their ethical responsibilities and would only direct patients toward Forte “if their surgery is suited to that environment”, Barker said.

Ian Powell, a senior doctors’ spokesman speaking in a personal capacity, said Forte was defining a niche within the market by targeting less complex surgeries, but “if I was in St George’s chair, I would see that as cherry-picking”.

The cost of running short-stay facilities was considerably less to other hospitals and New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Peterson said Forte’s costs must reflect “that they are a lower-risk facility”.

“If they are charging the same rates for a lower acuity facility, I might have some concerns about that,” he said.

Southern Cross Hospitals chief operating officer Tau-Loon Ho said there had been recent increases in specialist owned short-stay clinics aimed at providing less complex care, but “what is concerning is the increasingly high cost of simple procedures being undertaken by many of these facilities”.

Academic Dr Michael Gousmett, who is an expert on charitable hospitals, said Forte would also put pressure on the public sector by “spreading our surgeons too thinly on the ground”.

Yet, CDHB chief executive David Meates said the establishment of Forte Health would not have any significant impact on the public sector.

The new hospital is expected to open on January 20.

QUALITY CARE OR PRIME CUT?

It is the lull before the storm for Christchurch’s private-health sector.

Come January next year, a new multimillion-dollar, glass-encased surgical hospital in Kilmore St will open its doors and cause a huge upheaval in the region’s health arena.

Forte Health is poised to enter the private-hospital realm with a small army of 25 specialist surgeons as its shareholders.

It will be targeting the biggest volume of surgery in the market – the short-stay, less-complex procedures – from four key specialties: ear, nose and throat, urology, orthopaedics and gynaecology.

It is understood all of the city’s urologists, at least half of its orthopaedic surgeons and all but one ear, nose and throat surgeon are shareholders in the venture.

The three-storey hospital will have 14 patient beds, four operating theatres and in excess of 100 staff and clinicians.

It is the most competitive beast to enter Christchurch’s private-health sector and, with the countdown on for open day, the city’s two existing private hospitals, St George’s and Southern Cross, are starting to sweat.

The newcomer will soak up hundreds of surgeries and million of dollars of revenue from their books.

Forte is less than two months off opening and questions have started to circle on the ethics of a private hospital owned entirely by surgeons who will have a vested interest in directing patients toward their hospital for financial gain.

Health economists and experts also query the way the new enterprise appears to be “cherry-picking the private sector” by targeting the easiest operations.

“This is a significant issue for us,” St George’s Hospital chief executive Greg Brooks said.

“The challenge from our perspective is that as surgeons they can direct their patients to their hospital and so it is a real risk for us.” Brooks said.

“What we need to be able to do is counter that by being able to provide good quality facilities so that the surgeons are encouraged to deliver their care here.”

Both St George’s and Southern Cross would struggle to compete for day surgeries against Forte because “our ability to influence the patients’ choice of selection is very small because the surgeon always meets the patient”, Brooks said.

This would leave St George’s and Southern Cross with the day-surgery leftovers and the more complex patients that Forte did not have the ability to care for.

St George’s was already actively looking at “diversification of revenue streams” to mitigate the birth of Forte, he said.

“You have to accept that competition comes and you have to adapt the business the best you can.”

If Forte’s shareholder-surgeon model gained momentum “and surgeons view this as a vehicle for income opportunities for the future”, it might be replicated all over New Zealand which would have a massive impact on our country’s health sector, Brooks said.

“We are all waiting to see what will happen.”

Southern Cross Hospitals chief operating officer Tau-Loon Ho said there had been a recent increase in the number of specialist-owned, short-stay facilities that were “geared toward the lower-cost, less-complex end of the spectrum”.

The cost of running such facilities was considerably less than more comprehensive hospitals, but “what is concerning is the increasingly high cost of simple procedures being undertaken by many of these facilities”, he said.

Forte Health was born out of the closure of the Oxford Clinic after it was damaged in the earthquakes.

The private clinic was run off the shareholder-surgeon model and, when it needed to relocate, other specialists in the city saw this as an opportunity to join forces and build a multimillion-dollar “larger and more comprehensive short-stay facility”, Forte Health chairman David Barker said.

The new hospital would be “restoring some competition in the private-hospital market which was lost as a result of the earthquakes”, he said.

The hospital’s surgeon-shareholder model was not an ethical issue as surgeons were aware of their responsibilities.

Patients would be directed to the most appropriate facility for their care, Barker said.

Surgical costs were still unknown for Forte but, Barker said, “we want to be efficient in all aspects, not just clinical but also financial”.

Senior doctors’ spokesman Ian Powell said Forte was smart to focus on the less complex procedures, but this could also be deemed as “cherry-picking the market”.

Powell, who is the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists but was speaking in a personal capacity, said the private sector entered the market only when it could see a demand and “like a corner dairy, they will only put products on shelves that they know will sell”.

If the facility was set up only for easy, low-risk procedures, its prices should reflect this, Powell said.

Other hospitals around the country were run off the shareholder-surgeon model and there were strong ethical guidelines around this, he said.

“If they are deliberately directing people to use private services because of their personal advantage than that’s a no-no and, if people behave naughty, or in a way that’s unprofessional, they can put their employment with the DHB at risk.”

Professor Tony Blakely, of Otago University’s department of public health in Wellington, said there was a best- and worst-case scenario with the arrival of Forte.

The best-case scenario was that the new venture would provide cost-effective services in the most efficient manner possible.

The worst-case scenario was that it “merely serves to boost specialist incomes, divert specialists away from public delivery of services and cream skims off easier patients”.

To the original article:  

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– After reading the story, you can see that this is going to be good for the physicians that setup the new private hospital and it is going to be bad for the public healthcare system which is going to inherit the tougher in-patient cases while losing the more profitable out-patient cases.

– But, as an American, speaking from our history, I can tell you it will get worse than that in time.

– After these 25 doctors own this private hospital for a while and it becomes obvious that it is a successful and going concern, then either the urge to take it public will become irresistible or some existing corporation with deep pockets will simply come along and buy the entire thing.  

– In either case, the owner physicians will stand to make a huge chuck of money and the organization itself will pass into the hands of a public for-profit corporation.

– Sadly, we’ve seen this cycle in the U.S.  

– Originally, a few decades ago, most U.S. doctors had their own private practices.  But, after a time, running their own accounting, acquiring and owning their own medical equipment (very expensive) and each having his or her own office staff and quarters became burdensome.  

– So they began to band together into group clinics with shared medical equipment and receptionists.  They farmed their accounting out to specialist medical accounting services and they got down to just having to have one or two nurses on-staff.

– Eventually, they were ‘noticed’ by large American corporations who realized that these clinics were absolute ‘cash cows’ and they started to buy them up.  This buying up has now consolidated most previously independent medical practices in the U.S. into medical corporations.

– The doctors in the clinics were persuaded to join this consolidation by money and how easy life was going to be for them post-acquisition.   No staffing worries – it would all be handled by the corporate mothership.  No equipment worries.  Nice offices were provided.  All the insurance and other logistical nightmare would all be sorted out for them.   All they had to do after the acquisitions was to come into work and be doctors and see patients.   What a sweet deal.

– But, of course, the darker side was that corporation’s primary reason for existing was and is to maximize the return on their shareholder’s investments in them. 

– And implementing such maximization involves a few simple ideas:  minimize costs and maximize profits.  All good?  Then go around and repeat again.

– Hence the bean counters arrived and now every medical procedure, like an MRI or an optional lab test, had to be ‘justified’,  Justified not only on the physician’s thought that it was going to be a necessary part of the diagnosis but on the basis of whether or not it was justified in terms of being cost effective.  Is there a cheaper way?  How many patients might be lost they don’t receive the procedure or test?   How many can we lose and it still will be an acceptable rate?   And etc.

– I know a physician in the U.S. who was my G.P. for two decades and who became a friend of mine as well.  

– We were discussing this one day and he told me that each time he prescribes an MRI to investigate some issue or other, he has to fill out 30 minutes worth of paper work for each procedure to justify it and its the costs.   And since he is booked (mandated by the corporation for efficiency reasons) to see a new patient every 20 or 30 minutes all day long, there’s rarely any time during the work day to fill these papers out.  So, if he wants to order the tests, then he has to stay over at the end of the day to do the paperwork.

– He said that some days he’s just exhausted at day’s end and because of that, if a case is really marginal and the patient might be OK without the MRI, he might just skip it.  

– He told me that he worries that one or two of the folks he skipped might have received a life-saving diagnosis, if they would have had their MRI.  And thus they died unnecessarily.  And that this played on his conscience and he felt it was a direct result of medicine in the U.S. being turned into a for-profit corporate exercise wherein decisions were being made on a cost basis rather than on a patient health basis.

– So, when I say that the new private Christchurch Hospital will be worse that most folks can imagine now, this is what I mean.  

– Each doctor in the new hospital obviously sees a nice opportunity to make money by doing this.  And thus begins the dance that will end badly.  

– Thus I say, “No single raindrop thinks it is responsible for the flood“.

– How long will the New Zealand Public Health System be able to subsidize private hospitals like this?  

Why do I say ‘subsidize?  

– Because when the new hospital grabs up all the easy out-patient work and leaves the public system with all the harder and more costly in-patient work, that is an indirect but very functional form of subsidization.  The easy money goes to the private hospital and the public has to pony up for the addition cost born by the private system.

– We in the U.S. have been down that road before and New Zealanders should be warned by our example. 

 – dennis

 

Two-year anniversary of the Christchurch Earthquake – 22 Feb 2011

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Several people today, on the two-year anniversary, have published retrospectives about the Christchurch earthquake of February 2011 and what happened to them then. 

I’ve decided to resurrect something I wrote not long after the quake and to republish it here today in honor of the two-year anniversary and to add a bit of a postscript to it describing some of what’s happened since then. 

Hope you enjoy it. Be warned, it’s a long read.

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After an intense eight days, I managed to reconnect to the Internet and get my computer running. As many of you are aware, we had a major 6.3 earthquake here in Christchurch, New Zealand, at mid-day on Tuesday, February 22nd. The epicenter was six miles/10K southeast of the city center and 3 miles/5k deep. That’s’ very close and very shallow and it was, to say the least, a major event for all the 300,000 people who live here. 

We expect the death toll to approach 240. Compared to some recent events like Haiti, that doesn’t sound like much. But the difference is, of course, building codes crafted for safety and followed when building. 

But, even so, we had two large buildings pancake entirely and the tallest building in town; a 26 story hotel, is leaning badly and will have to be destroyed. In the Central Business District , 30% or more of the buildings have been destroyed or will have to be taken down. The entire center of the city, called the Four Avenues area (several square miles), is entirely off-limits and cordoned off by military and police. 55,000 people are off work because of the cordon. At this time, they are still digging bodies out of the rubble. 

I was lucky to have taken the day of the earthquake off and I was riding my motorcycle when it happened. The ground shook so badly, that I thought I had a flat tire and stopped – but it kept shaking. When it finally stopped, I rode onto my apartment building to see what had happened and everyone was outside. 

There didn’t seem to be much damage at first glance but closer inspection revealed several disquieting things. There were large and widespread liquefaction pools in the park across the street. A walk down below into the parking garage revealed water gushing up from the base of the support columns and that the concrete garage floor was serious bowed up from pressure beneath. Upstairs, at the base of the building I lived in, there was serious damage to the supporting concrete and its internal rebar was exposed. Everyone was standing out in the parking lot talking and waiting for the aftershocks. 

I concluded that the buildings were very likely fatally damaged and I went upstairs to gather what I could. Two bags of a minimal set of clothes, my passport, checkbooks, coat, bathroom items and a few other essentials. While I was doing this, my friend, Colette, had walked from her work at the courthouse a quarter mile away to see how I was. But I was upstairs and missed her. I came down with my bags and texted her and she text-replied that she was now walking to her house in Hoon Hay; about an hour’s walk away. I spent some time talking with folks in the parking lot of my complex and then I went down and retrieved my second motorcycle from the parking garage below and brought it up. It had been thrown to the floor by the force of the quake and the handle bars were bent but still drivable. Water was beginning to fill up the garages, below.

I took off then to drive to Colette’s house to see what sort of shape it was in. That was one amazing ride. Destruction was on all sides. Water and sand and silt filled many of the roads from liquefaction. Cars and anxious people were grid locked everywhere in their efforts to get home to their loved ones. My motorcycle made it easier to weave in and out of traffic but it was also very dangerous as people were very distracted. At one point, I fell in behind an ambulance with its siren on which was slowly clearing a way through and I just followed in its wake. It took me 45 minutes to make the 15 minute ride and Colette and I arrived at her place at just about the same moment. 

Her battery powered radio said that the quake had measured as 6.3; Apparently a lighter event than the September 4th event at 7.1. But, this one was a lot closer and shallow. The water and power were off there but her place seemed to have suffered no obvious damage. Her son, Jonathan, arrived after a long and harrowing drive up from Ferrymead and, while we were all talking about the event, a major aftershock hit. It was big enough that I stood under a doorway and wondered if her house would stand it. The ceiling light over her dining room tore loose and smashed down onto the glass-topped dining room table.

I left then by foot to walk back to my apartment complex to try recover my 2nd motorcycle and to begin to pull more stuff out of my apartment. I strongly suspected that if the building was fatally damaged, as I suspected, then the authorities would be by before long to red-sticker it and then all access further would be blocked; perhaps forever until it was demolished. But, given that the disaster was city wide and serious, I estimated that I had some hours and maybe even days before such restrictions were put in place. 

Colette and I agreed that when I got there and had a brought down a load of stuff from my apartment and had it ready for transport, I’d text her and she’d drive over and we’d load it up in her car to take to her place. There was no point in her trying to come over immediately in her car, however, as the city’s streets were still in utter chaos. 

It took me an hour and ten minutes to walk back. It was an amazing walk for the entire distance. Some areas had sustained no damage and there were others where entire rows of shop fronts were just tumbled down. Sirens, cars, anxious people, water and silt everywhere. By the time I passed Hagley Park near my place, a helicopter landing area had been set up out in the open space for emergency transport. I also walked by the hospital and I could see a lot of folks sitting out on the grassy areas around it. I assumed that some of the wards had been evacuated. 
Back at my apartment complex, many people were still standing about in the parking lot. A few were actively bringing things down from their units but many were just standing around drinking beer and thinking that the damage was not that bad and that we’d all just go back upstairs in a bit and it would be over. 

My unit is in the B Block on level 5. New Zealanders call the ground floor 0 whereas in the US, we call the ground floor 1. So in Kiwi terms, I was on the fifth floor but in the US, we’d say I was on the 6th. Not an inconsequential distinction since I was now about to start climbing up and down the six flights of emergency stairs over and over again. The elevators were off as well as all sources of power and water. The only thing that seemed to be functioning were high-pitched alarm warnings that were repeatedly squealing on every floor and within every unit – as if we hadn’t noticed there was a problem. 

This began several hours of intense packing and carrying. I’m sure I made over 20 trips up and down. And, there was a lot of triage style decision making as I went along. I took the most important things first and then tried to work my way down. After two hours, I sent a text to Colette asking her to come over now to load up if she could. And then I pressed on. I never heard from her so I texted again in 15 minutes. And then repeatedly after that ever trip down; and still got no reply. 

At that point, the phone systems and cellular systems were massively overloaded in the city and very little was getting through. Sometimes partial messages came through four and five times in a row. I tried calling her land line and the system told me it didn’t recognize the number; which was an amazing response. I kept carrying and soon I had quite a lot of stuff gathered up in the parking lot in piles next to my 2nd motorcycle. 

Finally, I called her land line one more time and it went through and she answered. She’d been texting me as well but with no response. She agreed to head over and I continued to carry things down. I was pretty sure that I probably had two car loads down in the parking by now (she’s got a small hatchback). 

After 30 minutes, I began to watch for her as I continued to carry. I went up and down many times and my legs were seriously aching. After an hour and a half, she still hadn’t arrived and I was getting worried about what had happened to her. And, it was verging onto rain and all my stuff was sitting exposed in the parking lot. Computers, clothes, and cardboard boxes full of my life. 

Finally, she arrive on foot. Without proof that she was a resident in the area, she’d been unable to get her car through the police cordons which had closed off the center of the city so she’d finally had to park a very long distance away and walk in.

We got on my 2nd motorcycle and rode back to her car, and then left the motorcycle there and brought the car back in (I had a driver’s license proving I lived there). 

Now, it was raining in earnest and I was deeply worried about my things. There was no worries about looting though as I knew many of my neighbors who were milling about in the complex’s parking lot. We loaded up everything that we could in her car and stashed the rest under a partial overhang for rain protection and took off for her place. Each trip through the city was an amazing and different experience. The city was like a bee hive that had been kicked. At this point, we had no idea of how bad the destruction had been over more into the business core. 

At Colette’s place, we unloaded my stuff into her garage. In her house, there was still no water or power. So, after a few minutes, I suggested we might as well go back and pick up the rest of my stuff since there wasn’t much we could do at her house in the dark and cold. 

On each trip, we encountered roadblocks and at each roadblock, what was allowed and not allowed changed according to who you were talking to at that moment. On one trip in the pouring rain we couldn’t go east on Harper Avenue because the bridge over the Avon was damaged and we’d fall in. So we had to take a complex detour around into Papanui. But, an hour and a half later when we returned, the traffic was flowing both ways on Harper. I’m not saying this by way of complaint – it’s just that the level of confusion and misinformation throughout the city was very intense and everyone was trying to do their best in the midst of a huge city-wide disaster. 

We returned to the complex and most of the people in the parking lot had cleared away due to the rain. Some, like my friend Raj and his partner, were still trying to decide if they should try to sleep there that night without water and power or not. The aftershocks were still coming fairly regularly and some were quite big. With no water or power in the rain, the buildings were just large dark hulking masses. 

We loaded my remaining stuff and took off again for yet one more cross city drive. When we returned to Colette’s we found the power had come back on which was unexpected and lovely. We could make now tea to warm ourselves and have something to eat. The water, however, was still off. 

That night, we tried to sleep but we didn’t sleep much. Every 20 minutes or so, there’d be another aftershock. The violence of some of them was strong and as I lay there, I wondered how strong they’d get and if I’d have to seek shelter on the floor beside the bed. You could hear some of them coming from a distance like a low train rumble and others hit you suddenly like a slap under the house. Some were deep or distant and rumbled far away while others were shallow. You could feel the earth settling and resettling on a scale that was, and is, very hard to imagine. It make one feel very small indeed. 

Colette’s talked about having survivor’s guilt over the fact that while so many lost had their homes, she’d come through unscathed. The emotions for everyone run high in something like this. 

Death, acts of quiet heroism, anguish, fear and grief mixed with human compassion and caring gathered around all of us in all proportions amid the many scenes of destruction. 

Watching how a ‘civil’ society responds to something like this is also an education. Yes, there were looters and con-artists out immediately but they were the tiny minority. 

The real picture there in Christchurch in those terrible days was that it wasn’t every man for himself but more that everyone was looking out for each other when they could. The emergency folks were out immediately and worked for days without rest even while they had no idea of the state of their own homes and little knowledge of their loved ones. it was ‘Civil’ in that folks obeyed directions and pulled over to let the ambulances through. The search and rescue folks from the US and Japan and other countries who came in the days following the quake said that they had never encountered better civil disaster coordination organization. People worked incessantly to get the water and power back on as soon as humanly possible. Centers were set up and manned immediately for the homeless. The Mayor said over the radio, “Check on your neighbors and help them” and it wasn’t a cliché. 

The next morning after the big quake, on Wednesday, we went back over to my apartment again and Colette came upstairs with me and we began to pack up more stuff for transport. Everything in my kitchen cabinets had been tossed out onto the hard floor and sugar was mixed with pills and glass shards as well as tools and silverware. It was a huge mess. My bookcases had also dumped their contents all the way across the room. 

She gathered up everything salvageable from the kitchen and from the drawers of my desk while I packed various other things. Again, we made multiple trips up and and then, in the mid-afternoon, it became obvious that the authorities had arrived and were about to restrict entry to the buildings. 

On my next to last trip I was told by a police officer that I couldn’t enter the building again. But Colette has talked to another officer at about the same time and had determined that what the law actually said was that until the building had been officially assigned a red ‘no-go’ sticker, that the authorities present could only ‘advise’ you not to enter rather than prevent you. 

This was an important distinction for me because I’d just realized just minutes earlier that I’d failed, in all my previous trips, to get a box that was critical. It contained a lifetime of slides and all my family photographs that had been passed down to me from previous generations. I talked to another police officer to make sure of my facts and then I went back to the gate where the officers weren’t letting folks in anymore. 
I explained what was still up there and that I needed to, I had to, go up one more time. And I explained that I was aware of what the law was in this case. The policeman tried to bluff me but I told him that if he was going to stop me, then he was going to have to arrest me. I was nice, not confrontive, but firm. Finally he relented but said I had to be in and out as quickly as I could; and I agreed. And thus, my family photos were saved as well. 

At Colette’s, when we’d returned with the last of the stuff, the water had come back albiet with very low pressure – but it was on, so that was nice. We could have showers. The tap water however, if consumed, had to be boiled according to the authorities. Pipes were broken, sewage was running loose, and there was too much danger of cross over. 

Thursday dawned and we’d slept better; maybe we were getting used to the aftershocks. 

After some rearranging of things (my stuff was scattered everywhere), we went on a motorcycle ride to see what had become of the city and to revisit my apartment complex; even though we couldn’t get in. We found that physical security there was loose and we could still walk into the complex’s parking lot as well as into the parking lot of The George Hotel next door. 

A half dozen folks were still in the complex gathered at the two small isolated apartments near the front car gate. They were drinking beers and having a barbeque. They said they were ‘guarding’ the place but I suspect some of them were just there because they didn’t know where else to go and because the authorities hadn’t tightened the security cordon and ejected them yet. But the main part of the complex (the high-rise buildings) was definitely off-limits. 

In the coming days, we took numerous motorcycle rides through the various parts of the city and revisited the apartment complex repeatedly. With each visit, the physical security cordon grew tighter. The entire Four Avenues area, which is considered to the Central Business District (CBD) of Christchurch, was cordoned off with police and military. It became common to see armored personnel carriers rolling down the street or parked across intersections. 

By Friday, the authorities decided that two of the apartment complex towers; A & B, might fall down in a large aftershock so an additional restriction was placed around them and Park Terrace Road from Bealey on the north to Armagh on the south was made a no-go zone. Also, a 6 PM to 6 AM curfew was imposed for the entire Four Avenues area with arrest-on-sight orders issued. In the deeper interior of the CBD, near where the two buildings had pan-caked and surrounding the 26 story Grand Excelsior Hotel, which had acquired a highly visible lean during the initial quake, addition ‘no-go’ zones were imposed. 

By Saturday, no one was left in my apartment complex. 

With each ride, we visited different areas. Once, we went up Avondale to my friend Roy’s house to find him sweeping up. He thought his house would probably be condemned. All around the edges, the foundations had shattered. We tried to visit my friend Dorien’s place but I wasn’t willing to take the motorcycle through the huge puddles blocking her street without knowing what was under them and how deep they were; so we rode on. 

We rode down through Ferrymead on the way to the beach communities. It reminded me of driving in third-world cities where road repair are often very badly neglected and everyone just drives where ever they must to avoid the holes and garbage piles. In places, the remains of brick buildings would just lie in ruins. Entire walls would be fallen away in other places. 

By now, crews of people, many of them part of volunteer student armies, just went where ever they were needed and began to shovel up all the liquefaction sand and silt up into piles on the sides of the roads. Everywhere, people had painted warnings on the roads of holes or dips or rises. 
Down by the beach, a Christchurch icon, Shag Rock, which had stood in the shallow surf, was shattered into fragments. 

Further along, the backs of houses were caved in by the rock and dirt slides that came down the cliffs above them. A number of people had died in these places. We stopped to see our friend, Steve who lived in the area, but he was out. His apartment looked fine though he told us later there was no water or power. He’d been involved in some of the early rescues when the cliffs had fallen onto the houses not far from his place. When we were there, I think he was still out doing volunteer work. 

It’s now 12 days since the quake. It took me 8 days before I got my DSL switched over to Colette’s (she’d had dial-up before) and before I got my computer connected up so I could get and send E-Mail. Prior to that, I sent a few things out on Facebook via dial-up and I had an E-Mail address I’d setup on my iPhone. A few of you will have communicated with me via those mediums. 

When I did open up my E-Mail, I had so many messages of concern – people asking how I was and what could they do. It was really quite a beautiful thing to see how many friends care about you. Many of you reading this are part of that group – thank you! 

Indications are that my apartment will be demolished – though the issue hasn’t had a final decision made. I’ve filed claims with the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and with State Insurance who had my policy covering the things inside my apartment. It’ll take a good long time to see how the entire insurance picture unrolls; years, perhaps. This was a big hit for a small country. We’ve yet to convene a meeting of the Body Corporate for my apartment complex, Park Terrace (for US readers, that’s like a Condominium Association). The BC had the insurance policy that covered us all and, as you can imagine, everyone wants to know if we’re going to get 50 cents on the dollar or full value for our losses. 

The company I work for was in the high rise BNZ building just beside Cathedral Square. If you’ve seen pictures of Christchurch and the earthquake damage, you’ve likely seen the ruins of the Cathedral. Our building appears from the outside to be OK but it’ll likely be weeks, if not months, before that part of the city is opened again. In the mean time, those of us who’ve begun to return to work, have setup to work from home or from other employee’s homes or from small make-shift offices. Fortunately, most of the services we provide to customers are provided from server systems sitting in US based server farms – far from Christchurch. 

I’m staying now with my friend, Colette, and it looks like that may work out to be a long-term thing – and I’m happy about that. Most of my personal stuff has been saved. I’ve had a big loss but I’ve also been fortunate. If I’d been working that day, I might well have been sitting at lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes that was decimated by falling masonry – many were killed that way. 

So, I have a good place to stay and people around me that care about me. And it looks like my job will continue. It could have been far, far worse. 

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Postscript: I’m republishing the text, above, on the two year anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake. And here’s a bit of what’s happened since:

The City of Christchurch is still badly damaged. People talk about the city now being into the ‘rebuild’ phase. Personally, I have my doubts. Yes, some things have been built and signs of life are definitely appearing in many formerly bleak locals. But, there are still more buildings coming down than are going up and large expanses are still standing forlorn and empty where formerly buildings stood. 

The authorities and the public (and the press) are all still debating about what the new city will look like and the matter is still mostly undecided. There’s a contingent there in Christchurch who want a green, beautiful and livable city. And there are the folks who will be fronting the money to build whatever’s built. And the latter group sees the problem though eyes that measure most things on the dollar-return-per-square-meter yardstick.

The government’s got its oar in, the insurance companies are having their say, the city council, the public, the press, the new agers, the anarchists, and Uncle Bob Cobbly. Everyone’s talking and not much is getting done, in my opinion.

My apartment complex is an instructive case. None of us in the 103 units were ever able to live there again after February 22nd, 2011. For a long time, it was thought the buildings might be repairable. But then the two June 2011 quakes came and then, finally, the big one hit in late December 2011 – and that put paid to it all and the EQC declared it too badly damaged to repair and even had two of the five buildings pulled down on an urgent basis (that’s when they just take them down; contents and all).

It’s two years on now and the insurance and Body Corporate negotiations over the destroyed apartment complex are still going on. I’m hopeful that we may see a payout in the next six months but, in truth, I am not holding my breath.

I moved into Colette’s place the day of the quake on an emergency basis. And, two years later, we’re still living together and it is, and has been all along, an excellent relationship.

My employer, SLI Systems, hung on and found temporary quarters in Syndham. I stayed with them until January of 2012. They were great employers and people. But at 64, my heart was no longer in working on other folk’s convoluted and long-in-the-tooth software. I still love programming but I only want to work on my own stuff and to be able to do the way I like it. 

Fortunately, I have enough income to make that call. These days, after a long rest (of 10 months) from programming anything other than a coffee machine, I’m once again back into programming and am deep into developing an app for the iPhone / iPad market and having a blast figuring out the Apple paradigm.

I’ve been back to the U.S. three times in these two years for a total of four months total there, over to Ozzy several times for vacations and off for five days to Rarotonga once. So, it’s not been a bad time for me.

Currently, my partner, Colette, and I are living temporarily up in Wellington, New Zealand, for four months just to give ourselves a break from Christchurch.

So, the earthquakes in Christchurch have had a profound effect on my life. New beginnings and endings, as they say. Eventually, I’ll get paid out for the apartment; which I’d free-held, and I’ll put that away into term deposits and use the interest to live on while I play at programming and at being retired. I would have never guessed that my life would look like this two years ago.

Thanks for reading along.

– dennis

Personal – 28 January 2013

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

– I correspond with a lot of folks in a Yahoo Group called Expats-in-New-Zealand.  These are wanna-be immigrants to New Zealand, folks who’ve just arrived and folks who’ve been here for years – all in a big discussion about what it is like to be an immigrant to New Zealand.   Most of the folks are Americans though many other countries are represented as well.   FYI, of all the folks who immigrate to NZ, only about 3% are Americans.

– Below, is a piece I recently wrote and posted on the Yahoo group summing up my experiences in NZ.  It was in response to a flurry of such pieces in which folks were discussing what they liked and what they didn’t like about New Zealand and about how much the experience has been as they expected and how much of it has been a surprise.

– Not everyone who immigrates, stays.   I’ve heard that as many as 30% of folks return to where they came from for various reasons.  It is, after all, not always greener on the other side of the fence.

– In any case, these were my thoughts and I thought I’d share them here on Samadhisoft as well.

– Cheers

-Dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

All,

My New Zealand immigrant story.

I secured, with my then wife, a resident’s visa in 2006 and finally moved here permanently (sans wife) in 2009.  It’s a long story about the wife but the simplest explanation is that she changed her mind and I did not.  I will, however, be forever grateful to her because I would have never secured the right to immigrate here without her as she was younger and better educated.

Be all of that as it may, I’ve been here permanently since 2009 in Christchurch.

My story is different than a lot of folks, I suspect.  When the residence visa was granted us in 2006, I was 58; already past the use-by date of 55.  When I shifted here permanently in 2009, I was 62.  Now I’m 65 and I’ve got Social Security from the USA and a Gold Card here in NZ.

On the good side, I free-held a nice apartment then in Christchurch.  On the bad side, I was ending a 20 year marriage that I thought was going to be for life.

But I had, and still have, good friends here.  People, other American immigrants, that I’d met through this group in 2006.  Friendships that have endured all this time and become central in my life.

Then came the Christchurch earthquakes and I lost the apartment and all the patterns of my life were tossed in the air – just as I was beginning to feel some daylight following the ending of my marriage.

But, life has a way of smiling upon fools.  A Kiwi lady I’d been dating prior to the quake took me in as a temporary measure and we are both living together still today and it has become a wonderful relationship and the emotional center of my new life.

I’ve always liked people and I find it fairly easy to meet and get to know new folks.  So, my circles have grown.   My original US expat friends are still my core group.  Colette, my partner, has introduced me into her extended family and friends.  I’ve met people through meditation groups, through a men’s group, through open mike poetry readings, and through motorcycle riding.  I worked as a programmer for nearly two years with a Kiwi high tech company, SLI Systems.   I met many Kiwis there as well as other immigrants like myself.

My younger son has come over and has a work permit, works in Christchurch and now lives with a beautiful Kiwi women on a farm not far outside of the city.

So, with some rough patches, my new life here has worked out well for me.  But, as I said, my story is a bit different.

Most of the people who come here from the US are more into the central part of their life and careers.  Their careers are mid-stream, they have children and mortgages and they are still building their finances.

I came nearer the end of my life and career – though my health is still excellent.   My finances, between what the apartment was worth and what I get from the US Social Security, mean that I can live simply but well without having to work anymore.  My partnership with Colette has also helped in that.   She owns her house free-hold and is near the end of her career with the New Zealand Ministry of Justice and, by sharing our finances, we are both empowered.

It’s been with some sadness that I’ve watched others come to New Zealand and then depart again for a variety of reasons.   But, I don’t think there are mistakes.   Just events we experience and learn from.  A couple with the last name of Rice left because they found a glass ceiling over their heads at the University.  Another couple, Mike and Cara left because Mike couldn’t find a pathway to use his considerable artistic talents.  There have been others and each story is different.

Today, it’s Curtis and Amy from Wellington who are heading home.

I’ve dealt with the fact that I have many people I still cherish back in the USA by resolving to go home once a year for a month or two and to see all of them.   And, for the last two years, I’ve done this and will continue to.  I drive all up and down the west coast sleeping on couches and sharing stories of where we are now, in our lives.   Those bonds, build of a lifetime’s love, are too important to me to let them wither with distance and inattention.

As a fact, I deeply love the US and its people.   But, just as certainly, I detest the politics, the corporations and the politics with a passion.  It is, in my mind, an empire in collapse from within riven by the greed of those who are looting her.  But, like all such things in history, when you are in the middle of living it, it is very difficult to see clearly.

I’m here, probably, for good.   I never say never because, as I’ve found so clearly in my own life, life can turn on a dime.   But, for right now, that’s what I’m thinking.

Colette and I have made plans to go and see some of this amazing world while it’s still intact and while we can.  And as I said, I can get by without working if I’m careful.   Colette will be able to maintain well if she works on contract work for about six months of the year and then she’ll be free to play the other six.   So, our plan is to spend three to four months a year each year in a different foreign city.  Perhaps, two cities a year.   This year, we’re spending four months here in Wellington while things wrap up for her with her government job (she’s been made redundant).   Then, in June, we’re off for  month in the US while I visit my peeps.

And then, for July, August and September, we’ll be in Paris living frugally in a small apartment.   Shopping each day in the local markets, walking the city, seeing the many museums and just generally ‘being there’ as a way of seeing directly what it’s like to live there.

After that, we’re back to Christchurch.  The next year?   We’re not sure yet.   Montreal, Canada, Vancouver, Canada, Florianopolis, Brazil have all been discussed.   Maybe even Cuba?  In 2014, I’ll have my NZ citizenship which I’ve been waiting patiently to acquire.

Life has been good here in NZ though I do have my gripes.   Why does Steinlager cost $15 a six pack here and $6 in the US and Britain?   There are many economic anomalies like that which makes me suspect that under all their good-natured Kiwi masks, their lie some skanky good-old-boy networks here cornering markets and suppressing the sorts of competition that keep prices low.  No proof, of course – just suspicions.  Book prices?   Give me a break!

And then there’s John Key and the Nationals wanting to always put business interests to the top of the pile and to disassemble the social nets.   Sell the asserts, trim the education programs and sign onto free trade agreements with economic sharks like the US – putting NZ freedoms and self-determination at risk.  Don’t get me started.

But, the one thing to say about NZ is that it’s better here than in the US.   Just today, I read that in the US in the next few days, a law is coming into effect that will make it illegal for folks to break the ties that make their cell phones dependent on one network.   After that, if you have a phone (that you own outright) that is tied to the AT&T network, for example, you will not be able to liberate it without breaking the law.   Isn’t that sweet – for the networks and the phone manufacturers?

I want to mention one other thing before I end this long piece.

Part of the reason I’m here is that I love NZ.  Another part is that I detest the US’s politics and economics, as I said.

But there’s still a third reason and that has to do with the fact that I think the world’s getting unstable; environmentally and politically.  There are a lot of meters creeping up into the red zone.  But they are moving so slowly that it is easy to get used to the rising sounds of impending political and environmental doom and gloom and to just take them all for granted.

But I believe, at some point not too far (5 years .. 20 years?), the wheels are going to come off and there’s going to be a major global reset and many millions are going to die.  Quite some time ago, when I first became aware of all this, I decided that very probably one of the best places one could find themselves and their families would be right here in NZ.  The low population, the high food production, the physical isolation, and the strong infrastructure all tell me that if chaos begins, New Zealand may be able to hold the remnants of civilization together while the rest crumbles.

Something else to think about if you are thinking of where you might want to end up.

Thanks for reading my story.

Cheers,

Dennis Gallagher

2006 Seattle -> Christchurch

Personal – 26 Nov 2012

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Such good news.   My son, Chris, was granted a one-year work visa for New Zealand today.   We are all really happy about that!  Yay!

dennis

Global Warming and New Zealand

Monday, November 12th, 2012

– The New Zealand Listener Magazine has an editorial in their September 22-28, 2012  edition entitled:

GLOBAL WARMING – Record droughts, hottest US summer ever & Arctic sea ice vanishing – What does it mean for New Zealand?

– It makes a lot of good points and I recomend reading it if you are a New Zealander.

– It repeats a point that I’ve made on this Blog for a long time.  And that is that sooner or later, the same factors that brought me, and numerous other new immigrants to NZ, are going to become apparent to greater and greater numbers of folks and the rush to immigrate to NZ is going to be on.

– There will be, in the not too distant future, a lot of reasons to run away from other locations out in the world.  Rising sea levels, water shortages, food shortages, extreme weather and widening social chaos will be among those factors.   We’ve had economic and human rights refugees in the past.  These will increase in the future and to their numbers will be added environmental refugees.

– Right now, NZ is not in bad shape.

Our beautiful refuge

– We generate the majority of our energy needs from benign sources such as hydroelectric and geothermal.

– We also generate two or more times the food that we consume which is why we can do a handsome amount of agricultural exporting.

– We are also protected from the worst of the weather changes because our climate is strongly buffered by the fact that we are an island nation in the midst of a huge surrounding ocean.

– We also have a fairly homogeneous culture which is good.   It means that we, as a people, have fairly uniform ideas about how things should work.

– And, finally, we are protected from unwanted and forced immigration by that same ocean that surrounds us.   Australia is the closest and they are 1000 miles away  and most of the increasingly desperate world lies beyond them on the far side.

– But we will not remain in good shape if we don’t, as a nation, look out for ourselves.

– Should we let foreigners buy farmland here?

– The authors of the article think not and I agree with them.  If push comes to shove in a nastier future and we need the food that grows here to survive, we will not be happy if a significant portion of it belongs to folks from overseas and they want to ship it home to their own people.

– Should we let offshore folks own significant portions of our industries and our means of production?   I think not.  If the world gets tough, they won’t be asking ‘how can they help us with those things’.  They will be asking how those things can be used to help them.

– Should we let large numbers of folks immigrate into NZ from cultures significantly different from ours?  Currently, we are not split, say, over common law verses Sharia Law or whether women should be first class citizens here or not.  Or whether or not everyone should be able to practice their own religion so long as they leave other folks alone.  But, if we don’t watch our immigration rates and types, this situation could get away from us.  For a more detailed discussion of these ideas see here: 

– It is indeed sad that we might need to start thinking this way.  Is seems so isolationist and selfish and New Zealand has always been a compassionate and generous nation.

– But, tough times are coming.   The question is not ‘if‘ but simply ‘when‘.  And the question is not, ‘is it going to be bad?‘.   The fact is that it is going to be bad and the estimates of how bad it is going to be are only getting worse as we, as a world, keep continuing along without reacting to the dangers ahead.

– Please read the article.

– We in NZ are probably going to be some of the very luckiest people on the planet when the wheels come off because of our physical isolation, our low population, our excess food production capability and our well organized society.    But those factors are not going to be enough to save us  if we don’t look out for ourselves.

– The Arabs have an expression that comes to mind here:  “Trust in God, but tether your camel.

– dennis

– Late breaking:  Chinese want to buy into Fonterra.  See

 

 

The new face of how corporations dominate governments

Monday, October 15th, 2012

...that's the way you do on the M. T. V.

I’ve been watching developments with the proposed Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) between the United States, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and Malaysia.  Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines have also expressed interest in joining.

The TPP negotiations have been largely held in private so people here in New Zealand have only a small idea of what our government is putting out on the table as negotiating chips.  The same is apparently true in the U.S. and and I would strongly suspect it is also true in the other negotiating countries.

Trouble in America

In the U.S., various groups are speaking out against the TPP.

In May 2012, a group of 30 legal scholars, critical of the Office of the United States Trade Representative‘s “biased and closed” TPP negotiation process and proposed intellectual property-related provisions, publicly called upon Ambassador Kirk to uphold democratic ideals by reversing the “dialing back” of stakeholder participation and to release negotiating texts for public scrutiny.

On May 23, 2012, United States Senator Ron Wyden introduced S. 3225, proposed legislation that would require the Office of the United States Trade Representative to disclose its TPP documents to all members of Congress.  Senator Wyden said,

“The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like HalliburtonChevronPHRMAComcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. […] More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a model of transparency. I disagree with that statement”.

Let’s get that straight.  HalliburtonChevronPHRMAComcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America can all see the current texts of the negotiations – and we cannot?

Trouble in New Zealand

 

At a public forum on 6 July 2011, legal experts in New Zealand presented their concerns that the agreement could undermine law regarding Maori culturegenetic modification, copyright, and remove the subsidized medicine New Zealanders have access to through Pharmac.

More about this in a moment.

The Investor-state arbitration provisions

But perhaps the most worrying of the potential problems are the Investor-state arbitration provisions of the TPP that have been revealed from leaked documents.   This is from the Wikipedia article on the TPP:

The leaked draft treaty also caused a stir among anti-globalization groups that are opposed to investor-state arbitration, which permits foreign investors to bring claims directly against states before panels of trade arbitrators if they perceive public policy or legislative actions have expropriated their property or treated their investment (defined broadly enough to include most forms of intellectual property) “unfairly”. Those groups and other critics of the investment protection regime argue that traditional investment treaty standards are incompatible with environmental law, human rights protection, and public welfare regulation, meaning that TPP will be used to force states to lower standards for e.g. environmental and workers protection – or be sued for damages. As a worst case scenario, investor-state arbitration gives transnational corporations powers to trump the sovereign powers of nations and states and hold back important policy developments related to sustainability and a clean energy future. The Australian government and its negotiators have stated that they will not be agreeing to investor state dispute settlement provisions that give greater rights to foreign than domestic businesses in the TPP.

So, what’s the worry?

Well, just considering the Investor-state arbitration provisions, one can see that if New Zealand enters into these agreements and then later NZ, for example, wants to legislate that cigarette packages have to be plain with no advertisements and with bold warnings about the health risk, then the tobacco companies in the U.S. could sue us for damages under these provisions.

They would say that our new legislation undercut their profits from selling cigarettes and thus we’d hurt their financial interests.  Does that sound like something any country should open itself to?

Governments should be free to make whatever legislation they see fit for the betterment of their own people.  That’s what being a sovereign nations is all about, really.

In this proposed situation, government decisions would be checked by their possible economic consequences on the economic interests of foreign corporations.

Canada puts its willy in the Wringer

Canada

Canada has signed a new agreement that comes into effect at the end of October.  It’s called The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA).   It seems to be a model of what not to do to me.

In one instance, it prevents Canada from doing anything that will infringe on Chinese profits from the  Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.   These limitations will continue for 31 years.

In an article from the Vancouver Sun it says:

“This treaty, in effect, will pre-empt important elements of the debate of the Northern Gateway pipeline and may frustrate in a very significant way the ability of the current BC government or any future government—if the NDP were to win in spring—from stopping that pipeline or bargaining a better deal for BC,” said Gus Van Harten, an Osgoode Law professor who specializes in international investment law.

Van Harten noted that arbitrators in foreign investment agreement disputes will most likely judge in favour of Chinese investors in cases where the host country attempts to impose new or updated regulations that may interfere with the investor’s bottom line.

“If this treaty comes into effect, and there’s any Chinese ownership whatsoever in assets related to this pipeline—minority ownership, ownership we generally don’t know about—then Canada will be exposed to lawsuits under this treaty, because the BC government will be discriminating against a Chinese investor, which is prohibited by the treaty.” 

The treaty will protect investors’ rights for 31 years as of November 1.

Some sense?

I can see that corporations who make significant international investments in infrastructure will want to control things to protect their investments and to guarantee their profits.   These are corporations, after all, so such behaviors should be expected without question.

But why would sovereign governments want to sign negotiations that will limit their ability to make laws that are in the best interests of their own peoples?

Could it be (gasp) money?

Who’s making the deals – who are they?

When I first started considering all of this, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that anyone negotiating on behalf of a sovereign government could possibly think treaties like this would be a good idea.

Then the light turned on when I thought about who our negotiators are.

Who is it these days who have risen so high in national governments that they have a seat at the table where such negotiations are done?

Business people, my friends, usually it is business people.

Trans Pacific Partnership

Here in New Zealand, we are led by John Key in a conservative government which is very business-friendly.

Canada is currently led by the Harper government of which we could very much say the same.

And the United States, as I’ve asserted for some time, has basically been captured by, and is largely under the control of, corporations and their minions; the business people.

Do you begin to see?

So, John Key is a major businessman here in New Zealand.  A millionaire who has made his money through business.

So, if he leads a negotiating team to the TPP negotiations that is willing to put our subsidized pharmaceuticals (PHARMAC) on the table as a negotiating chip, then he’s put something out there that the other side (big Pharma in the U.S.) would like.  And that’s free access to our NZ markets where they can sell us our pharmaceuticals for the same outrageous prices they sell them to the U.S. public for.

Unequal contest

John Key

In exchange, John Key, and the other business types he’s allied with here in New Zealand, will get access to new offshore markets through the TPP where they can sell the sorts of things they like to do business in.

In the end, by negotiating away something that belongs to all of us in New Zealand (PHARMAC), they will reap huge personal profits.

Now, they will say that some of that new money they will make will ‘trickle-down‘ into the pockets of other New Zealanders and that we will all be better off for it in the end.

Yeah right!   It’s been a long time since I’ve believed in ‘trickle-down’ anything other than political bullshit.   Trickle-down is just a conscience-saving mental ploy of the rich to try to make their profiting at our expense more palatable.

The new face of how corporations dominate governments

Is through international free trade agreements.  Watch for it – coming to nation like yours soon.

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
= = = = = = = = = = = = =

http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/BREAKING-NEWS/DOCTOR-DOCTOR-MISTER-MD-BR-I-Can-you-tell-me-what-s-ailin-me-I-1070455

Personal – a bit more …

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Chris

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.

Colette

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.

Beauty

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