Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who needs local government?

It was so refreshing to hear a consultant (whose name escapes me now) suggesting recently how pointless it was that a country of a bit over 4 million people needed so many District Health Boards. He was advocating drastic reduction in the numbers of DHBs and wanted to reduce their roles to advisory rather than managerial.
All his arguments about communication, uniformity of stands and economies and so on were precisely the arguments I would use in reducing the numbers and the role of local government bodies around the country. We have far too much government, too much waste, and too much inconsistency from district to district.
Ban the lot, I say.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Just Tinkering!"

It’s been great to see the full coverage given by the news media in recent weeks. It seems the “trade” has been less successful in pleading its case but there’s no doubt they're doing some heavy lobbying around the corridors of Parliament.
What’s good about this coverage is that there are no cries for Temperance or Prohibition or “Down with the Demon Drink”. These days it’s not the anti-drink fanatics but community leaders, scientists, medical and social workers who are telling our politicians that we have a problem that is causing immense damage to the fabric of our society.
And, of course, at the end of the day, you might think that our elected representatives would listen to what 68% of the population is saying. But what they seem likely to do with the most important of the proposed changes is to “kick for touch” until after the Rugby World Cup.
Kiwi readers are encouraged to send for free submission postcards to raise these four issues again with our parliamentarians. Order from: coordinator@alcoholaction.co.nz
They are already printed with the urgent concerns:
1. Introduce minimum prices and progressive excise tax on alcohol
2. Restore supermarkets to alcohol-free status
3. Ban broadcast advertising and sport sponsorship - as for tobacco
4. Reduce blood alcohol level to .05 - as Aust, Canada, France, Germany etc
If we don’t deserve better liquor licensing laws now perhaps we deserve a better government next year.
Well done, NZ Herald for the Two Drinks Max campaign.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall From dis-Grace?

I haven't made submissions to TVNZ about Paul Henry's resignation.

I think this is another of those times when the people responsible are best left to act out their responsibility as best they can without a lot of free advice from the public.

But, in this quiet corner where only a few souls are interested in what I write, I want to set down that Paul wasn't my cup of tea. "Breakfast" obviously had a strong following of people, either because they loved him or, possibly because they wanted an excuse to be outraged. All too often, he obliged the latter while titillating the former.

I suppose that's more or less OK, as long as we remember it's just entertainment. And as long as the nasty edges that inevitably will slip through that veneer of chat and charm don't hurt, ridicule or deeply offend anyone else. Alas, all too often, that's what happened.

However, it's not to the credit of his employers that Paul Henry lasted as long as he did and that international concern had to surface before they recognised they had a problem. How have they managed to so completely ignore the requirements of the TVNZ Charter under which they are expected to meet certain standards and deliver certain kinds of programming? And how can the Government hope for anything better by dismantling the Charter just because TVNZ has ignored it? How will it help to replace the Charter with the series of wet-bus-ticket guidelines proposed in the bill currently before Parliament?

We need a decent public service broadcasting system. And we could do it by drawing together the best qualities of Radio NZ and the technical capability of TV6 and TV7.

Three Minute Thesis Whizzes

I was fascinated with the “Three Minute Thesis" competition on Cue TV last night.
Ph D students gave three-minute talks on their theses and were judged on the quality of their communication, comprehension and engagement. The audience was introduced to the most complex concepts with just one slide on the screen and a three minute talk. Clearly, many of the critics “got it” and many of the students found it constructive to distill their findings into a three minute presentation that would catch attention and convey real meaning.
It was exciting to be invited into the minds of these students. They reminded me of the voluntary worship leaders who weekly accept challenging roles in LSM congregations which do not have stipendiary ministers. They also lack some breadth of experience. They are also learners. But many of them show the same passion, the same enthusiasm, the same sincerity, the same belief in what they are doing.

This oldie salutes them all!

Friday, October 8, 2010

"And peace at the last"

It was great that Dad got to cuddle his first great-great-grandchild a few days before he died. But I suppose the impression on his confused brain probably didn’t last. He had been increasingly falling into a world of his own reality and was less and less able to sustain a rational conversation. He couldn’t put his hearing aids in and that only made everything worse for him and those who tried to relate to him in the last couple of weeks.

Clearly, in his 102nd year, he was about ready to slip away three weeks ago. Whether we thought he would go “to be with his beloved Nell” or would simply release his atoms to a different form in creation didn’t make much difference: none of us wanted to prolong the distress and pain that daily living seemed to cause him.

If my sister’s much-loved little dog Toby in Canberra were suffering to that extent, she would have sought the vet’s hand in a mercy death. That kind of option was not available to us. Dad was not just an old dog and human life is valued highly in our society. As a general principle, that’s as it should be.

But the prolonged breakdown of ordinary bodily functions and his confusion, misery and pain got to the point where they merited some kind of intervention. With our blessing, his last few days were eased with regular doses of morphine. But of course the same drug also tended to depress the physiological drives that were stopping his tough old body from quietly giving up. So at last he was “managed” into a merciful unconsciousness and then quietly died.

Dad had been fiercely independent for over 100 years. But as he began to be unable to do everything for himself we became deeply grateful for the care and love given to him in the last failing months. We were doubly grateful that medical science and ethics helped him have a dignified and peaceful death at the last.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Journey - and life and death

Miranda is often our last stop before returning home from a trip south. Here we soak in the hot springs before our final four-hour leg for home. Last evening, we had a group of travellers make our home bay their last stop before they returned to Miranda.

The bells of Christchurch Cathedral rang at midday to welcome the godwits back from Alaska after their 11,000 km nonstop flight. We saw it on the TV news, but, unbelievably, at almost the same time, a flock of about 100 circled and wheeled over our mudflats for half an hour. We've never seen them here before.

The tide was right for them to stop for a feed. Alas, some unthinking campers spooked them and they moved away to the south, probably for Miranda. But for a magic quarter of an hour we enjoyed the spectacle of their convoluted and exuberant flight in the last of the sun.

Every autumn the flocks fly right up to Alaska to breed and every spring they return to New Zealand. Each year there are new young ones coming down from the breeding grounds full of life and vigour. And each year some of the old ones just get tired or diseased and drop out of the flock. But the journeying community continues. . .

A bit like the human community, I guess…

Dad and his first great-great-grandchild, taken a few days before he died.
(I wish I could say I took the Godwits photo: it's from Brian Chudleigh)

A Family Farewell

We said Goodbye to Dad on 29th Sept.

There was a great turnout of family and friends from around the North Island and Australia. After a slide sequence covering Dad's life, Warren Blundell, who'd been Dad’s personal pastor in recent years, led local minister John Howell in a short liturgy with a brief but comprehensive tribute. The service culminated in a dramatic committal as the casket was carried by the grandchildren through the side door into the bright daylight beyond. I found this particularly moving, especially in the context of the Irish blessing.

The hearse was gone by the time the congregation came out so there was no great delay in getting everyone into the adjacent hall where light refreshments were available. Then we settled down to a feast of memories of Dad. There was time for anyone who wanted to say something.

We were especially proud of the speakers from the younger generation. They were articulate and confident and contributed humour and passion. If we had invited them to speak in the more formal setting of the church it might have been different.
I experienced the whole event as a satisfying blend of traditional funeral and truly informal sharing of memories.

Later. In a local conference room 32 family members sat round for another three or so hours. Siblings and cousins of three generations re-forged family ties that have survived the decades and the distances. Then 18 of us adjourned to the “Pub and Grub” for a massive meal. Later again, a remnant dozen moved on to a Karaoke Bar where, to the delight of all, Craig danced with his widowed mother.

Thanks, Dad. At the end you gave your scattered family a rare gift of time together. We made the most of it.