Thursday, July 31, 2008

Puffin stuffed

TV's most famous Tourette's Syndrome reality show host, Gordon Ramsey, has got into trouble with animal rights activists for hunting puffins in Iceland. And ripping out the heart of a recently deceased puffin and eating it. There's even a marinated puffin recipe on the F Word website.

Don't see what all the fuss is about. Icelanders eat puffins as part of their diet. In the battle between the survival of the hungriest versus the survival of the cutest, hungry wins every time.

Ramsey didn't escape unharmed. One chivalrous puffin bit him on the nose, requiring three stitches to Ramsey's proboscis. He almost drowned as well.

First Among Equals

The ten candidates for the position of President of New Zealand have been announced. Chosen by you, the people:
  • James Belich
  • Jim Bolger
  • Sir Douglas Graham
  • Sir Robert Jones
  • Sir Kenneth Keith
  • Don McKinnon
  • Claudia Orange
  • Vincent O'Sullivan
  • Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
  • Sir Wilson Whineray
Not a bad list. Trust the people. They aren't morons.

The great kiwi archetype runs through all nominees. Am looking forward to the next round of voting. I nominated Jeremy Wells, so it will be interesting to read the candidate profiles before the next vote.

Mucking In for the Olympics

Foreign Policy lists the Top 5 reasons why Beijing Will Be the Biggest, Baddest Olympics Ever. The New York Times tells the story of large teams of bricklayers being deployed to mask some of Beijing's rougher edges at the last moment. From the accompanying slideshow:

Sometimes, only a billboard is needed:

Then there's the lingering problem of lingering smog. It's not smog, according the the official Olympics blog. It's mist. Oh, and the small issue that media freedom has an uncommonly narrow definition in China. Reporters Without Borders is not at all impressed with China or the IOC.

Why so various?

Alan Bollard's speech on monetary issues was a spot on precis of monetarist policy. TVHE yums it up but, as Bernard Hickey notes, Bollard talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk. The speech is at odds with the actions.

Debt is still too cheap, and many households are chalking it up bigtime to soften the impact of inflation. They are buying today on tomorrow's money, and this should be discouraged in the strongest terms possible.

Hickey sez:
Bollard doesn’t inspire confidence when he says inflation expectations “appear to remain anchored…though there is a slight upward drift.”
So, we're hanging our hopes on a convenient coral reef for our anchor to trip over. Has the RBNZ been selling any $NZ lately? And what's going to happen to the price of oil once the Northern Hemisphere winter hits?

The need to anchor inflation expectations is not helped by the continuing fallout of the finance industry collapse either. As an economy, investors are staying out of it until things smooth down again. In order to encourage stability and encourage greater overseas investment, the cash rate should go back up.

The most worrying conclusion that could be gleaned from the speech is: "Help! Help! Cullen's got me held hostage! If you don't promise to vote Labour, he'll drop the cash rate by 25 points in September!"

Be very afraid.

It's not about Winston II

Israel's PM has announced his resignation:
"After months of mounting pressure over corruption allegations... Last night's announcement came as a surprise but hardly a shock, given the accumulating weight of comment that he could not go on in the face of a slew of police and judicial inquiries."

Life & Vision

Take a break from the rain and get over to Te Papa for the Rita Angus collection. It's free and on til October 5. If you're not in town for it, have a wander through the excellent virtual galleries (not PicLens enabled).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dead as a Doha

The inevitable has occurred and another WTO round collapses. I saw this coming ever since attending a meeting at James Smiths corner in 2006. Observers had just returned from a Green Room session and were struggling to give any good news. It's affirmed, a new unilateralism and isolationist policy is setting in. Not good.

For New Zealand, that means that very soon we will be forced to choose sides. A small 'a' ally in the Pacific translates into client state status. As such, one does not have the luxury of completely independent foreign policy. There are some very big questions up ahead.

Large Hadron Rap

The Large Hadron Collider is almost ready to roll. The New York Times gives a rough timetable of the warming up, with the first proton expected to launch the weekend of August 9, September 2 or 3 for the first lap of the racetrack. October 21 is when many of the launch parties kick in and the "pilot physics" begin.

Alpinekat, a CERN writer, has made a rap vid explaining what the LHC is all about. "Unlike the first rap video about the neurochip, there was no tequila involved.”

UPDATE: New Scientist's Blog has a less fuzzy version of the video here.

The restaurant at the end of the union verse

Within 15 years, many NZ service workers (and their unions) will be decimated as their jobs are replaced by technology and overseas outsourcing. The Telecom call centre moving to a folder in Manila is just the start. Watch these BBC vids on a supermarket and restaurant to see where things are heading.

It's not about Winston

"Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator, was yesterday charged with seven counts of perjury for concealing gifts valued at more than $250,000"

Too Much Information

The Independent's headline story is a report into the UK's DNA database. Seeing how keen the powers that be in NZ are to replicate this unfortunate experiment here, it's prudent to see how the UK operate their DNA library. Badly. Very, very badly.

"Britain now has by far the largest DNA database in the world. It includes an estimated one million people who have never been found guilty of any offence, some 100,000 of whom are children. About 40 per cent of young black men have been forced to provide samples, compared with 13 per cent of Asian men and 9 per cent of white men.

Genetic material is now taken from all people arrested by police, regardless of whether they are subsequently charged or convicted, and remains on file for life. Offences covered include begging, being drunk and disorderly, taking part in an illegal demonstration and minor acts of criminal damage caused by children kicking footballs or, in one instance, throwing a snowball.

...It registered alarm over the "very lax security" protecting the database and concerns over "who had access to samples and profiles and for what purpose"."

New Zealand's DNA database needs to be kept on a very tight leash, and it certainly should not have its reach broadened to include anyone ever busted. I've heard enough stories of cops here heavying arrestees to provide DNA even when under the law they aren't obliged to. I do not trust the police with this level of personal detail, and if this plan to expand NZ's DNA database goes ahead, I fear it will all end in tears.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jury rigged

The latest legal horror story has been pointed out in this interview with bFM and Auckland University Associate Professor of Law Scott Optican. Not content with the destruction of centuries-old precedent with majority juries, police access to potential jurors' criminal records strike at the very heart at who is on trial here.
"The Supreme Court has been asked to determine and has granted an appeal on three questions of law. Number one, can the police supply so-called vetted jury lists to the Crown, to assist the Crown in deciding whether or not to challenge a prospective juror in a criminal case? The answer that is yes.

"The second question is should the vetted jury list that is supplied to the Crown, also be made available to the accused? And the third question is, can the Crown peremptorily challenge a prospective juror, on the basis of information contained from a vetted jury list."
J Fogarty raised the issue in February, dismissing the practice which various police districts had been using, giving these vetted lists over to the Crown. I agree with Fogarty on this. Jurors are not on trial, and if previous convictions for the defendant were inadmissable (this too is changing, but that's another story again), what the hell has a juror's past got to do with it?

The Court of Appeal overturned this in April, stating that there was no specific prohibition on the practice of supplying vetted jury lists, nor that there was any onus on the police sharing this information with the Defence.

Clearly, the Court of Appeal shared the police's view that an abuse of priveleged information to assist a conviction is OK. Optican gives the example of a juror's previous drug conviction being of material interest to the Crown's ability to dismiss that juror during a drug trial. He is personally in favour of the American system, which allows far more cross-examination of prospective jurors.

There are several very wrong things about this. Most obviously, it allows stacked juries in favour of the Crown, which is a horrendous abuse of fair justice. Secondly, it makes a mockery of the intent of Nandor Tanczos' seven year forgiveness law. Crime is temporary but the punishment is permanent.

The most harmful impact of this decision will strike at the very core of our democracy. Many people aren't on the electoral rolls already, because these publically available documents are very handy for debt collectors. If the public discover that their private lives are being rifled through when chosen for jury service, then you may very well see a large drop-off in electoral enrolment.

Furthermore, the casual dessimination of personal details to police exposes law-abiding citizens to having these details land up in a landfill/gutter. The next time a gang-raping police officer goes on trial, pray that you don't get called. Only a lemming would return a guilty verdict.

The Wrong Headline

War on Drugs continues with a New Plymouth growhouse raided by cops. Way down in the story is this little gem:
"Police also found dried cannabis at the address and a small amount of cannabis resin, but no other drugs, money or firearms were located."
This grower should be applauded for their ethics, not thrown into jail! Growers aren't just your typecast gang profile. Most of 'em are law-abiding and peaceful medicine men and women.

There is no R in Schools

The three R's of education (reading, writing, arithmetic) have taken another blow. Reading has been in decline for some time, and calculus is currently thought to be a cast member of the Transformers movie. Seems now the kids can't even write these days, which is a bit of a bugger come exam time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Is TVNZ cursed?

It's off-putting enough to witness adbreaks on TVNZ, what with all the government ads saying I drink too much, drive too fast, smoke at all, and beat my missus (even though I'm a bachelor). But what is it with TVNZ's news sponsors?

Capital+Merchant, as well as Hanover Finance, sponsored newsbreaks for some time, as Matt Cohen points out at throng. These days, there's that spooky fucking National Bank horse before all the TVNZ news webisodes. Well whaddaya know, ANZ National's horse has just bolted.

Signal to Noise

Lacking anything more worthwhile to blog about, might I draw significance from insignificant matters? Take, for example, the fuss over the new parliamentary boombox speakers. How dare modernity reach the cloistered bubble of the House of Representatives? Peter Dunne calls them stalactites, but secretly I reckon he sees them in his dreams as Swords of Damocles.

I mean, never mind that the plebs who come to see Democracy At Work have to endure two metal detector screenings, two or three flights of stairs, and a complete lack of refreshments apart from the toilets. And what do the punters get to witness? Incoherent soundbites, derisive debate, a powerwall of party logos and an incessant screech of Order! Order!

Parliament was once a place of robust debate, oratory and inspiration. Big Things Were Done. Sometimes. MPs had three basic modes; speaking, listening and reading the Evening Post. Yes, there was also conspirational whispers between members, dozing and nervous glances up to the galleries, but I'm generalising for the greater good. These tasks were all done silently.

Somewhere along the way, it turned to shit. I blame the '80s and the introduction of press secretaries. Instead of speaking off the cuff and from the heart, the spinners gave MPs scripts to read. MPs evolved to become empty vessels for their prefabricated platitudes. Gradually, paper took over the House.

Witness Winston Peters, Parliament's best character actor. OK, he's losing the plot these days, but there's a man who knew his role by rote. The man rarely needs a script in the House to land a blow. Pity for him that the world outside has changed. Old dog, new tricks and all.

After the scripts came the cellphones, then the laptops, then the chatter. It's like a fucking school bus in the House now, and for that I place the blame solely on Margaret Wilson as Speaker. At least Jonathan kept a lid on it, but under Wilson it's just a rabble. Little wonder then, that speakers have been introduced to the chamber.

Of course, it would be simpler to get the MPs to STFU unless they have a contribution to make. But if there's an expensive solution to a simple problem, it's all covered in the budget anyway.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Epicurean Chimpanzee

An argument between Noam Chomsky and BF Skinner on whether language was unique to humans or not led to a truly 1970's experiment involving a chimpanzee called Nim Chimpsky. As Boing Boing highlights:

Elizabeth Hess: The idea was to put an infant chimp into a human family, allow that chimp to learn language in the same way that human children might learn language, that they would absorb it naturally from their siblings. And the reason that they were using American sign language is there had been earlier studies which had shown that chimps are extremely gestural, they were able to learn American sign language whereas they don't have the same voice boxes that we have. But no chimp had been raised from infancy in a human language and taught ASL, so this was an experiment that everybody was really looking at and watching to see what would happen.

Natasha Mitchell: He even got to a point where he drank beer and smoked.

Elizabeth Hess: Yes, it was the 70s so you know it wasn't uncommon for Columbia students to be hanging around at night smoking pot, and Nim loved pot and eventually developed his own sign for give me a joint (goNZo emphasis). You know chimps have the same vices that we have. Nim started the day for his entire life with a cup of coffee and as he grew older was often grumpy if he didn't get it.

Language is bigger than humans, demonstrated by Nim, the dope fiend chimp.

UPDATE: The full transcript is fascinating. Read it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Copping it left, right and centre

The Police Association announced their wishlist for political parties today. While the list doesn't include martial law, the list moves significantly towards it:
  • Funding for the new Supercops
  • Urgent passage of the Criminal Proceeds Bill (where reasonable doubt is replaced by probabilities)
  • ASBOs investigation (cops want to go through the illusion of a trial period, a bit like...)
  • Tasers for all cops
  • Compulsory DNA from all suspects (thereby giving them familial DNA of non-suspects)
  • Complete archive of all text messages for six months by phone companies (how's that for flyng under the Bill of Rights radar?)
  • Giving automatic name suppression to cops who kill people
In fairness, there is one thing I do agree with, being able to issue temporary "on-the-spot" domestic violence protection orders. It's a better form of domestic violence triage than is currently available.

The bad news is, neither of the big parties seem to have a problem with any of this list. Sheesh, most of this stuff is happening under Labour anyway. Some years in the future, when your kid is busted/tasered for smoking marijuana, just take heart that the police will be grabbing YOUR DNA as well as your errant child's at the station. And if that information turns up in a landfill or a gutter, it will be to late to whinge by then.

Bye de Bye

If John Ansell's departure had anything to do with Act candidates refusing to wear the yellow jacket, then fair enough. While not entirely condoning Cameron Brewer's Hissy Fit on Rodney's jacket in Newmarket, there are better ways to devote party energies than to get everyone to look like a happy camper.

Act, the Ted Bovis party.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Show us your junk

Labour gets a filip in the latest round of invented news known as polls. They should enjoy it while it lasts. It is exactly the length of time between now and four weeks from Election Day, whenever that is. Of course there are calls for the Nats to release more policy, and the Nats would be silly to oblige. Until an election date is fixed there won't be anything more revealed than minor policy tweaks. The MSM have been snapping up any perceived wardobe malfunctions, such as Kate Wilkinson's booby on KiwiSaver.

The MSM have enough on their plates anyway, with Winston unravelling before their eyes, his lies and cronyism exposed. At least his Mum saw him as an honourable schoolboy to the end, which is more than can be said for the rest of us.

DPF points out the flaw in Helen Clark's comparison of Winston's legal fund is comparable to Nick Smith's. Smith was a defendant, while Peters is a vexatious litigant. What's more, Smith declared the trust in the MPs' pecuniary interests register. Owen Glenn's $100,000 donation not only didn't appear there, its alleged movement through various bank accounts has the whiff of laundry powder about it.

Helen Clark is trapped. She must demonstrate confidence in her Foreign Minister in a way none of her caucus would receive. Benson-Pope didn't, neither did Dalzeil. But as the Foreign Minister was chosen by her and not the caucus, the stakes are higher. To sack Peters would be to admit one's judgement was flawed.

Then again, it is not in the Nats' interests to get too involved either, what with Winston sitting on 6 percent in the preferred PM poll. Hate him or loathe him, the Alzheimer vote may make Winston a force to be reckoned with come coalition time. Bill English's comments on the Glenn/Williams/Peters triangle is that much more intriguing because of this.


Labour's supporters at 08wire have started a flame war with frogblog over a patronisingly unilateral declaration of where the Green MPs would fit into a Labour coalition government. Frog took particular exception to “Sue K pressed up against the glass.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Tide is High

The Guardian has a photo feature of Cities at Sea of the present and future. From the "floating ecopolis" of Project Lillypad, which looks like something straight out of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, to the Netherlands floating homes which go up and down with the floods.

There's even the aircraft carrier-like Freedom Ship, which goes to show that the rich won't have to leave Earth as Ben Elton predicted in Stark. Like Noah and the Ark, the Freedom Ship will save the righteous rich while the corrupted poor drown. At least, that's what they think. Conceived to hold 60,000 people, it's nothing a freak wave can't fix.

The Vogon Paradox

Someone's selling prefab sleepouts on TradeMe for $30K+GST a pop. They can be plugged into utilities with caravan plugs and drain layers, and don't need a Vogon permit to plant it down. However:

"You can add a carport for a small cost (but this will require a permit)"

Invisible Ink

After revelations yesterday that Owen Glenn had given money to Winston after all, we handed the No placard to some scientists to examine.

Using single malt spectrometry, scientists uncovered the placard's hidden message:

And how about this: "He turned to the woman but the woman had gone." Spooky or what?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday night and the fish are humming

Midshipman fish hum when they're horny and swear at intruders with grunts. BBC World with the story and vids.

Watchmen Trailer

A teaser trailer for Watchmen is now online. Pretty good so far for an impossible to film movie.

The Polar Bear Express

Plans are being made to face a worst case scenario of climate change, species extinction. Here in NZ, we're facing the lonely and dateless future of male-only tuataras unless they get moved somewhere cooler. There's talk about what happens if the Arctic Ice completely melts, and what to do with all the polar bears. Wired writes on a scheme to move them to Antarctica. Early word from the penguins is that they are not happy with the proposal and have formed a political group, NOOBI (Not On Our Bloody Iceberg).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

She Smokes Seeshas By the Sea Shore

I had been really really hanging out for a spliff since 4:20. However, as I learned on stage at the Classic Comedy Club's New Talent Night way back when, NEVER smoke before a performance. At least, not until it becomes autonomous, repetitive. For yesterday, I lost my media whore virginity and I had to say sober.

Coupla years back, a petition was started supporting a review of medicinal cannabis thing. One Love 2007, I trudged around the hills of the Hataitai velodrome for signatures. Some wouldn't sign because they didn't believe in it. Some wouldn't sign as they were public servants and feared retribution. But many did. Several hundred in fact. Some shared stories, some shared joints. But they gave their name in support.

Around 7,000 signatures were presented in support of medicinal cannabis yesterday (there were a few late entries). I had spent the last week going over our written submission to the select committee which was presented last October. New research was added, as well a few robust rebuttals to the Ministry of Health's written submission.

After years and years of denying that cannabis had ANY therapeutic value, the Ministry of Health had finally admitted that, yes, cannabis has its uses. Back in December 2007, NORML reported that Sativex, a cannabis extract produced by British company GW Pharmaceuticals, was to be permitted by the Ministry of Health and one application was already being processed.

So 16th July 2008, the select committee is ripping into the Ministry of Health as that one application had been declined, while one more was still being processed. The former was returned because the paperwork was insufficient. Not that the applicant was told that. Meantime, people are in misery, people are suffering.

The MPs asked why it was that a specialist as well as a GP had to give authorisation when the more potent morphine only requires a GP's consent. Ummm, said the Ministry. Specialists aren't easily accessed, and the parochial nature of the medical profession gets more conservative the further away one gets from the coal face.

How much does this Sativex cost? Is it expensive? Yes, said the Ministry. It is expensive. The ever-squeezed Pharmac budget will have one more burden to carry. The weak and enfeebled will have to compete with the vocal and strident Herceptin chorus.

Call me an Occam's Razor advocate, but there's a homegrown solution to all this and it doesn't involve big bucks. Weed; the answer that literally grows on trees. Patients could grow their own. Licenced growers could supply to Medicinal Cannabis Card carrying patients. Hell, if the government want to keep absolute control, they could get inmates to grow the stuff behind bars. If there are to be drugs in prisons, might as well make the most of it. It'll certainly give a new outlet for gang competitiveness without resorting to shivs and fists.

I tried this vaporiser out today and wow. And how. Painless, efficient and VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. This baby might set you back close to $300, but it's money saved as nothing is wasted. No valuable herb lost to the ether, like bongs and pipes. I can see what that Caterpillar was on about now:
Said Alice, "but when you have to turn into a chrysalis- you will some day, you know- and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, won't you?"

"Not a bit," said the Caterpillar.

"Well, perhaps your feelings might be different," said Alice; "all I know is, it would feel very queer to me."

"You," said the Caterpillar contemptuously. "Who are you?"
The Ministry of Health could learn from Alice and have a little more empathy.

Must say a big thanks to TV3's Sia Ashton too, who gave Billy McKee a chance to share his story. Ta also to Bill Ralston for putting up with me, a Media N00b, on his Radio Live show. Had an enjoyable joust with Larry Williams on Newtalk ZB, by which time I was adjusting to the format. TVNZ7's News at 8 invited me on for a live interview, too.

After a hard day of prostituting myself for a good cause, I thought I'd wind things down at the Backbencher, watching someone else in the limelight for a change. It was an unexpected surprise to catch up with not only DPF, but also Cactus Kate, who I hadn't seen for over ten years. Didn't hang around long after the show wrapped, as I was thoroughly looking forward to a well-earned spliff while waiting for the bus. Sounds like I left at the right time. Cactus with a head cold is still a formidable party animal.

Where Many Countries Have Gone Before

Below is the media release and opening verbal statement for NORML's written submission on the Medicinal Cannabis petition that was presented yesterday. TV3 covered the story nicely (vid here).


Representatives from drug law reform organisation NORML appeared before the Health select committee this morning, presenting evidence in support of their Medicinal Cannabis petition, which received over 6,000 signatures.

“Political interference to safe access of medicinal cannabis is no longer justifiable,” said Will de Cleene, vice-president of NORML.

Medical use of cannabis is legal or permitted in a number of territories, including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, and many U.S. states.

“Cannabis has demonstrable therapeutic value,” de Cleene said. “What we seek is not novel, nor unreasonable. We ask that medicinal cannabis is permitted to be used by consenting adults in consultation with their medical practitioners.”


Notes: NORML's Medicinal Cannabis petition stated: "That parliament give urgent attention to changing the law to allow individuals to obtain, possess and use cannabis for treatment of serious medical conditions when this has been recommended or endorsed in writing by the individual's registered medical practitioner."

Electronic copies of NORML’s written submission are available on request.

The hearing will be in Select Committee Meeting Room 4, Parliament House, Wellington, on Wednesday 16 July 2008. The committee will hear from NORML from 10.45am to 11.15am and from the Ministry of Health from11.15am to 11.45am.

Introduction to the Health select committee for the Petition in support of Medicinal Cannabis
By NORML (NZ) Inc.

Madam Chairperson, members of the Health select committee, thank you for taking the time to review the petition on citizens’ access to medicinal cannabis. In addition to the signatures already presented, we present a further 3000 signatures in support of this petition.

I would like to spend the first few minutes of this hearing emphasising the main points from NORML’s written submission, then draw your attention to further research that has come to light since. We then have several medicinal cannabis patients who will testify to the personal positive impact that cannabis has on mitigating their sufferings.

The Medicine

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for approximately 4,000 years.

In New Zealand, Mother Suzanne Aubert, founder of the Our Lady’s Home of Compassion, recognised the special therapeutic properties of this plant. This nun, who served alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, was the first person to grow cannabis in New Zealand, dispensing it to alleviate menstrual cramps.

Nowadays, there is substantial evidence that cannabis has a range of therapeutic properties, including:
1 pain relief
2 appetite stimulant
3 antiemetic
4 anti-inflammatory
5 antipyretic
6 neuroprotection
7 analgesic

Cannabis is commonly used by people suffering from:
1 HIV and AIDS
2 Glaucoma
3 Multiple Sclerosis
4 Epilepsy
5 Chronic Pain
6 Cancer

Cannabis research is continuing in other treatments:
7 Prion Diseases
8 Alzheimer’s
9 Diabetes
10 Gastro-intestinal disorders
11 Hepatitis C
12 Hypertension
13 Osteoporosis
14 Tourette’s

The following professional bodies endorse medicinal cannabis as a course of treatment:
* The American College of Physicians - America's second largest physicians group
* Leukemia & Lymphoma Society - America's second largest cancer charity.
* American Academy of Family Physicians
* American Public Health Association
* American Psychiatric Association
* American Nurses Association
* British Medical Association
* AIDS Action
* American Academy of HIV Medicine
* Lymphoma Foundation of America
* Health Canada

Safe Medicine

There have been no fatalities caused by cannabis overdoses in recorded history. Ever. A US Drug Enforcement judge in 1988 went so far as to say:
"Marijuana is the safest therapeutically active substance known to man... The evidence clearly shows that marijuana is capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious … to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance."

In 1998, this select committee concluded that the mental health impact of cannabis “appears to have been overstated.” NORML recognises that cannabis may not the best medicine for everyone, and its use is best prescribed and monitored by doctors and health professionals.

Some concern may be raised that smoking anything can be a questionable method for treating illness. However, this can be mitigated by use of harm minimisation techniques. For example, a vaporiser - like this one here - releases active ingredients from cannabis without releasing the carcinogens of burning plant material. The Kiwi invention of “spotting” uses a similar principle, with appropriate implementation.

Many patients may prefer to safely ingest cannabis in the form of food, drinks, or tinctures, as the pain relief qualities are significantly different from inhalation. However, due to the expense of black market prices, as well as often debilitating medical conditions that prevent some users from producing their own cooking, as well as the risk of being charged with a more serious Class B offence, these options are not as common.

There are significant benefits to inhaled cannabis. It is an effective means of titration due to the quick diffusion into the blood stream by the lungs. Ingested cannabis may take up to two hours to take effect. Insufficient quality control and varying strains of plant may also provide inaccurate titration.

Little actual evidence of black market diversion has been presented, and it hasn't been the case overseas. We think there is minimal risk of medicinal cannabis diversion, as there is plenty to go around anyway! Seriously, this is just the same issue as with any other medicine and can be handled in the same way. This is not an issue, it's a diversion.

A key point to consider is that patients are already using cannabis medicinally, but quality control and safety issues in a prohibition environment can cause more harm than having a toke. The quality and consistency of black market cannabis can vary dramatically. Illegal cannabis may be tainted with fungi or police pesticides, which is sprayed on some cannabis plants.

Patients are already exposed to the risks and dangers inherent to the black market. Securing cannabis when cannabis is illegal puts vulnerable people in an even more vulnerable position. Rip-offs and bad deals are not unheard of, neither is violence and intimidation. The changes we seek are about protecting patients, restoring control, and securing safe access for their medicine.

The Politics

Fundamentally, it should not to be up to politicians to decide what people in suffering can or cannot use, and how they might use it. That matter should be
between the patient and their health professional. Unqualified observers cannot presume to know best when pain is so very personal.

Madam Chair, members of the select committee, we beseech you to go where many of your international peers have gone before.

Medical use of cannabis is legal in a number of territories, including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, and some U.S. states.

California has permitted medicinal cannabis since 1996. Compassion Clubs were among many enterprises that began dispensing cannabis. These co-operatives employ many terminally ill people, who lived out their last days at these Clubs, tending the plants and getting an arguably better quality of life ending than some New Zealand rest homes.

Today, there are even ATMs that dispense medicinal cannabis in California - with the aid of fingerprint scanners and centrally-monitored databases to prevent misuse.

A recent report on cannabis use rates in the US states where medicinal cannabis is permitted shows a conclusive decrease in youth consumption:

1 California – use drops across the board, up to 47 percent
2 Washington State, across the board drop of up to 62 percent
3 Nevada, decrease in all age groups up to 50 percent
4 Maine, Hawaii, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, ALL had universal double-digit decreases in youth consumption of cannabis.
5 Only Alaska, Montana and Rhode Island showed any increase at all, and these were in isolated age groups and still outweighed by net decreases in most age groups.

The report compared these states with nationwide trends, observing:

“Overall, the trends in states with medical marijuana laws are more favourable than the trends nationwide.”

Tolerance of medicinal cannabis may very well provide the very message to our young ones that the existing political response hasn’t. Portraying cannabis as the medicine it is, instead of the illusion of benign rebellion it currently garners, seems to go some way in lowering teen use.

In Britain in 2002, teen cannabis use was on the rise. By 2007, after the decriminalisation of cannabis in 2004, teen use had dropped significantly. In the Netherlands, teen use of cannabis is approximately one third New Zealand’s youth usage rate.

NORML contends that political interference to safe access of medicinal cannabis is no longer justifiable. Cannabis has demonstrable therapeutic value. The physical and mental harms of cannabis are overstated and navigable. With the right tools, titration and quality control are readily addressed issues.

What we seek is not novel, nor unreasonable. We ask that medicinal cannabis is permitted to be used by consenting adults in consultation with their medical practitioners. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Medicinal Cannabis

I am presenting NORML's verbal submission to the Health select committee tomorrow on the Medicinal Cannabis petition. The hearing is open to the public and will be in Select Committee Meeting Room 4, Parliament House, Wellington, on Wednesday 16 July 2008. The committee will hear from NORML from 10.45am to 11.15am and from the Ministry of Health from 11.15am to 11.45am.

The Big Think

The excellent 7x7 series returns to Wellington next week. $7 admission, 7 speakers, 7 minutes each. This year is chaired by Rod Oram, and speakers include the New Zealand Institute's David Skilling, independent scholar and commentator Brian Easton and leading agricultural scientist Jacqueline Rowarth.

The 2008 topics are (pdf flyer here):

Seven Foundations – Tuesday 22 July, 6pm
Our Reality 2008, Our Future 2028

Seven Trailblazers – Monday 4 August, 6pm
Insights from NZ Entrepreneurs in the Global Market

Seven Directions – Tuesday 12 August, 6pm
Bold Steps for Transformation

Seven Connections – Monday 18 August, 6pm
Creating the NZ Powerhouse

Seven Imaginations – Tuesday 26 August, 6pm
Things to do Today

Get a season pass for $35 now.

Treble Peaks

There are three peaks occurring in our lifetime. Peak oil is the least worrying one. There's peak water which, unlike oil, has no substitutes. NZ genius Brent Clothier talks to bFM about peak soil:
"The thing that makes New Zealand's economy tick is agriculture, and so you could say that that 20 percent of our GDP actually relies on the top 15 centimetres of our soil."
In order to preserve our economic base, we need to declare war on erosion. Thanks to years of chopping and burning down the forests that once held this land together:
"It's actually natural capital that you can't get back... We've lost a lot of soil organic matter, and that's the glue that holds our soil together... We live in a windy climate, prone to a bit of wind erosion. We're in a rainy climate, so we're prone to water erosion. And also we have some very steep land, so... that's why the silt ends up in our estuaries."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The 5 trillion dollar question

What would an unexpected US$5 trillion bail out do the US deficit? After losing $80 billion dollars in the last nine months, Freddie and Fannie are at risk of under-capitalisation. Covering almost half of the US mortgage market, this analyst said that if Freddie and Fannie go under, "it would go 1929. We would go from a recession into a depression."

Conspiracy of silence

Don't ask, don't tell.

The Werewolf Goes Down

The villagers were up in arms with torches and pitchforks. The werewolf had been cornered in a disused moonshine hut, after biting off more than he could possibly chew. It wasn't so bad in the past, when he took off with the occasional chicken, or the stray lamb or mutton. Doing him in was not worth the trouble.

But now, he'd gone too far. He had crossed the line when he nicked the town baubles. Then he started pissing on people. "The law only applies to mere mortals and not werewolves. Let supine lupines be," said he.

One night, while the woman combed the hair on his back, the werewolf got a phone call. "Start running, mate. The dogs have got your scent and they're coming for you."

"Who is this? Who's coming for me?" said the wolf with a fangled snarl.

"Everyone, mate." says the voice. "They've had a gutsful." The line went dead.

He smelled them before he heard them. Soot and sweat and the cthonic pong of dogs. He heard their yells of disgust, their tales of woe. He turned to the woman but the woman had gone. The people banged on the the doors, smashed the windows.

"Wait," sez the wolf. "Why don't we ban violent video games? Nothing wrong with Monopoly and horse races!"

"You've bent the rules too often!" said one old pensioner waving his walking frame in anger.

"I gave you a SuperGold card!" said the wolf in disbelief.

"Why would I want 10 percent off a water taxi in the South Island, when I can't afford to feed my budgie at home in Greerton?" The walking frame bounced off the wolf's head and into the fire.

Just then, a bicycle courier turned up. "Wait! Wait! I have an important message!" He gets the wolf's paw print and hands him an envelope. The wolf tears it open with his teeth.

"The dog pound has revoked my licence, those good for nothing morons."

A cheer went up amongst the throng.

"But I will go peacefully," said the wolf.

A cheer again.

"To somewhere where my skills are appreciated. I've been made ambassador to North Korea."

A Dolphin flashlight glanced his cheek and into the fire.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The High Cost of Living

While Tony Veitch roams free, two students at a NORML stall in Dunedin were arrested yesterday (vid here) on charges of resisting arrest, possessing cannabis, possessing utensils for smoking cannabis and obstruction.

Senior Sergeant Mel Aitken said police acted on information from officers at the scene that Gray was smoking marijuana at a Norml stall at a market day on the university's union lawn. Police also received a complaint from the university proctor's office.

Tell me, people, who are YOU more worried about? A coward of the country or a couple of poor Dunedin hippies?

Amalekites suck at Photoshop

Back in the '80s, I was scared shitless by the idea that a flock of geese might spark a thermonuclear Holocaust. These days, I'm more worried that Photoshop might bring it all on.

While the hawks are screeching to all go all medieval on Iran, BoingBoing has kindly pointed out that Iranian media is sexing up the rocket tests.

Iran truly sucks at Photoshop. Already the mocking has started:

Never before has the posturing on both sides been so lame. Let's remember that these missiles are about as accurate as a Scud, and even less of a threat to Israel than those lame firecrackers. Stand down, people. It's not real.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Former "M" uses "U" word

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, former "M" of MI5 until last year, has used her maiden speech in the House of Lords to call the new 42 day pre-charge detention law "unworkable":
"I have weighed up the balance between the right to life – the most important civil liberty – the fact that there is no such thing as complete security, and the importance of our hard-won civil liberties. Therefore, on a matter of principle, I cannot support 42 days' pre-charge detention. I do understand different views and that there are judgements honestly reached by others, and I respect these views."

All our heroes are dead

"We're economists. We don't celebrate." - Alan Bollard

We're New Zealanders. We don't celebrate genius. We celebrate athletic goons whose claim to fame is moving a bull's bladder across a paddock for money. We celebrate celebrities. Here's hoping the Veitch incident is the straw that breaks the camel's back to this inane worship.

If you're looking for true heroes, you could do a lot worse than follow the story of Bill Phillips, kiwi extraordinaire. Alan Bollard spins an incredible story about the man who is not famous in his own country, in an interview on Radio NZ. Hat Tip St Bernard.

The Reserve Bank is holding a symposium to mark the 50th anniversary of the Phillips curve. For the plebs like me, there's the chance to witness the first working waterworks model of an economy at the Reserve Bank Museum. Made from recycled WWII parts, it's the ultimate mash-up of art, science, economics, and sustainability. Wonderful, wonderful, and again most wonderful.

UPDATE: Better picture nicked from Wikipedia:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Hongi and the Headbutt

"No. 1 was surly, 2 was mean, 3 was vicious and 4 was brutal - although Mean Machine, as he became to he known, was to prove most dangerous on those rare occasions when his dial setting got stuck on 4½."
Thank you frog for curing my writer's block on how I was going to start this post. Because the last week has shown that Labour has got its dial stuck on 4½ and is caught up in a headbutting frenzy.

Helen Clark's been headbutting John Key in Question Time. Michael Cullen's been using his head to drive in the last spike at KiwiRail. Annette King's been bonking Mack trucks. Phil Goff might find a few heads to smack in the NZDF (that's NZ Defence Force, not Drug Foundation). But Labour is hitting its head against a brick wall. The only damage it is doing is to itself, self-mutilation by scalping.

The masses do not not give a flying truck which PR company political parties use, whether it's Crosby Trextor or Crosby, Stills and Nash. Brian Edwards was on cruise control on this morning's Agenda, easily monopolising the segment and carpet-bombing the panel with praise for Labour. Helen Clark isn't a helpless damsel in this department.

The attacks on the ACC/Merrill Lynch connection was likewise self-defeating. The last National government in the late '90s privatised ACC, albeit too late in the play and with abysmal delivery (Many doctors I spoke with at the time complained about the added paperwork). The Merill Lynch report was only stating the patently obvious.

John Key has gone on record stating that no privatisation will occur in National's first term, and he would be a mug to renege on that promise. It's entirely sensible for National to spend the first term in government opening the books, assessing the damage caused by nine years of ineptitude and cronyism, and applying triage to the SOEs.

For example, it will take years for National to recover all the value wiped from TVNZ by Clark's administration. Bill English made a sound case on Agenda, foreshadowing an adjustment to electricity SOE accounts to enable some reinvestment in future generation capacity, as opposed to Labour's wholesale revenue-stripping to pay for pet projects.

Labour's attack on John Key's commercial history not only backfired, it portrayed Labour in the haughtiest light possible. How dare a politician have a previous life in the private sector. Philosopher Kings (and Queens) can only be ordained in the ivory towers of academia, on the slippery pole of union advocacy, the know-it-all egotism of teaching, the long and faithful service as a public sector wonk. Thank you Labour, for tarring intellectual thought in your quest for eternal governance.

These tactics, which I have seen coming for about a year, risk alienating Labour's voting base to the point where it remains an ineffective opposition for a generation or more. I keep telling Labour strategists whenever I bump into them, but it's just not sinking in.

The only saving grace for Labour at present is Russel Norman's inauspicious beginnings as co-leader for the Greens (As Jane Clifton said in Political Animals this week, nobody loves a goody two shoes). I maintain that Nandor Tanczos should have been made Greens co-leader, which would have seen the Greens come out as a serious contender to Labour at the election. Longer term, you might have seen an amalgamation of Labour and the Greens as an environmental and social democratic coalition. But coulda woulda shoulda, it's not going to be. The Greens will be lucky to get eight percent come polling day. It's all over, Rover.

The Nats, on the other hand, are an intriguing beast. Imagination is on their side. While Labour is going headbutt crazy, the Nats are demonstrating cautious humility. John Key's hongi with Tame Iti is emblematic of an openess to new ideas and inclusive consultation that eludes the Labour party.

National's team are a government in waiting. It is not a stretch to imagine John Key as prime minister and doing a better job of it than Helen Clark. Bill English as finance minister trumping Michael Cullen, Chris Finlayson as Attorney General and Treaty Settlements minister, Tim Groser as trade minister, Jonathan Coleman Associate Minister of Health in charge of drug policy. It is not a stretch to imagine that they will listen to reason, unlike their compromised predecessors.

Although my heart belongs to the Labour party long term, I'm sick to death of fisking Labour. There's no sport in it any more. It's like shooting fat, slow moving fish in a claustrophobic barrel. With an Uzi. If National can fulfil my expectations for a Labour government better than a Labour government can, so be it. Warning to the Nats though, if you're found lacking, you'll get both barrels from me ;-)

One more loose cannon on a pirate ship

Act release their Crime & Punishment policy at the regional conference in Wellington today and, Boom Shanka, I'm resigning from Act (again). Specifically:

"Just look on the internet at the publicly available version of 'Google Earth' to see how much can be seen via satellite. It is easy - if we have the right relationship with our traditional allies and they provide us with intelligence - to observe the movement of cars and individuals without the need for kicking in doors or planting bugs and GPS locators (although, clearly, the latter technologies have their role).

Power consumption analysis can show potential hydroponic growing operations, and crowd motion studies via satellite or covert filming can identify 'tinnie houses' or other sites of interest. Infra-red and related technologies can reveal certain types of illegal activity - but it is naïve to expect that staking out these sites will turn up a high-level gang boss, who will never be seen in those places."

The speech was going competently enough until these chilling ideas were introduced. This is not America, and I'll be damned if I'll support anyone who wishes to pollute this country's privacy with such notions. So what if Sweden has seen fit to legislate wiretapping of its citizens? So what if Britain is nuts for CCTVs? THIS IS NEW ZEALAND!

And forget about heat signatures from hydroponics. While Labour's changing the lightbulb from filament to fluoro, the growers are switching from Metal Halide to LEDs. No heat, no power bill. You guys have no idea what's coming.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

NAG 5 is alive

An unexploded cake mix was the reason for the bomb squad sealing off a Christchurch park yesterday. No injuries were sustained as emergency services worked around the clock to defuse the confectionery.

In related news, the introduction of NAG 5 on June 1st this year has seen schools around the country eliminate WMDs (Wontons of Mass Digestion) and other hazardous items such as pies, sausage rolls and chips. Mrs Miggins, who formerly ran a tuck shop at Tutaenui High School until the Ministry of Education closed her down, is upset. "It's winter and the little dearies can't concentrate in class without the warming comfort foods of pies and such at lunch time."

Already there are signs that students are rebelling against the unsalted popcorn and fruit kebab regime, escaping from school grounds to purchase illicit items at so-called "pastie houses." Ministry of Education police have recently uncovered a "Lamington Railway" in Auckland, and children have been suspended from their Taihape school after selling peanut slabs disguised as muesli bars.

A Ministry of Education official defended the crackdown on calorific catastrophe, saying "Resistance is useless."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Flat Screen TVs 17000 percent more evil than previously thought

The manufacturing process for flat screen TVs produces a gas that is over 17 thousand times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming. Nitrogen trifluoride wasn't a big player in 1997 when the Kyoto schedule was written, and wasn't included as a Bad Gas. Around 4000 tonnes of NF3 is being produced this year, and 2009 should see output double.

Unqualified expertise

I'm glad I never took drug advice from a stuffed giraffe, nor a MethCon conman. Unfortunately, that's the sort of experts our MSM are hanging out with when looking for commentary on drug issues. Five minute phone call quotes, talking head platitudes. Good thing then, when Media7 focuses on the issue in its best episode yet.

Police Association Greg O'Connor looked decidedly uncomfortable sitting between the NZ Drug Foundation's Ross Bell (who has more drug expertise at his fingertips than Mike Sabin has in his entirely over-inflated credentials) and an unplugged Nandor Tanczos. I was hoping that O'Connor would throw up his hands and declare the war on drugs is lost, like Annette King has already concluded. There must be a better way of dealing with all this. But no, loyal to a fault, O'Connor stuck by the report even as Nandor mocked its findings.

Ross Bell spoke up about the Law Commission's review of the Misuse of Drugs Act and the United Nations review of the treaties surrounding the drug trade, two very important issues which have been ignored by the MSM. There is a generational querying of how we handle psychotropics on a global level at the same time as a domestic review. The planets are aligned, the time is right. So why put Harold the Muppet centre-stage, or get a MethCon salesman to comment on cocaine and cannabis statistics? Seriously, WTF?

Oh, there are clues. The NZ Herald, for example, classifies all illicit drug use as abuse:

Booze and fag stories are deemed of categorically National importance. Sure, there's a tag for alcoholics, but those headlines are marginalised like the dope fiends and meth heads out the back of beyond. P epidemic anyone..?

If I were feeling uncharitable towards the Herald, I would conclude that there is an inbuilt bias against cannabis, meth and other illicit substance stories as they are substitutes to many of the advertisers' products in said newspaper. The giraffe sponsors are not complaining about it, that's for sure.

But the lack of debate is not just the Herald's fault. The politicians aren't mentioning the subject because there's no votes in it, eh. Railways before rehab. The doctors aren't mentioning it, because there's no money or kick-backs in it for them. The only profit motive available is for the vested interests in Police and Customs, seeking new ways to increase their funding.

Drug policy is of huge importance. It effects the NZ economy, with whole towns existing mainly to produce drugs for the big cities. It effects crime, health, welfare, education, business, transport, culture. Anyone can score marijuana in NZ if they want it. Even the giraffe knows that. Prohibition has been in force for over thirty years and it has not worked.

There are some good frameworks developing. The British drug policy group Transform is a very good resource for alternative policy options. The Royal Society schedule of drugs is also a good start:

Unfortunately, the NZ Law Commission review doesn't include alcohol or tobacco in its terms of reference. I strongly support such a move to include both substances, not to punish the tobacconists or winemakers (blessed are the winemakers), but to deliver an honest appraisal of equivalent harms. Hell, throw Viagra, Ritalin and Prozac in there too, seeing how their recreational use has spread.


Trucking hell. That's what tomorrow morning's city streets will be like as truckies protest the overnight decision to raise RUCs. It's a televisual nightmare for Labour. Not that yesterday's Question Time was any better. Play with hand grenades, you might lose a hand.

The wheels are coming off the rail deal pretty quickly, with cost estimates yet to be finalised, management structure to be pencilled in, pricing structure to be invented. Labour admits the premium price was due to the risk of several provincial line closures, including:

The Maharey-Bolger Line (Palmy to Te Kuiti)
The Samuels Line (Northland)
The Duynhoven Line (Taranaki)
The Cullen-Mackey Line (Napier to Gisborne)

All in all, not the most compelling of reasons. But reason left Labour back in 2006. Now it's just sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps it heading for the finish line. The Enrolled Non Vote this year will be huge.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Black and white, red all over

It's the New Zealand Women's Monthly every day for the MSM these days. Lead story on One News and 3News tonight? Professional goon gets aggro when pissed. Ye gods, is that the biggest worry?

I entirely share Paul Litterick's concern at the lack of media attention to the Iran thing. Will Israel attack first or will the US? The Observer goes in-depth with what the implications of what the recent Israel sorties in the Mediterranean might mean. A supposed strike by Israeli forces in November is timed to coincide with the US presidential election for maximum effect. Here's hoping the former head of Mossad is heard:
"Ephraim Halevy, a former head of the intelligence agency Mossad, told a meeting of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem on Tuesday that Iran's nuclear ambitions did not represent an existential threat to Israel.

'I am convinced that Israel cannot be destroyed,' Halevy said. 'We should not sink into the doldrums of "Israel is on the verge of extinction".' Ultimately, he said, the United States would talk to Iran, and Israel needed to be part of that dialogue."

Unfortunately, Bush's invasion of Iraq has given precedent to pre-emptive military action, upping the ante considerably. It is entirely plausible for Israel to consider unilateral strikes against Iran, knowing full well that the US went to war in Iraq with far less justification and got away with it.

Meanwhile, Seymour Hersh writes on the increase in Iranian Black-ops by the CIA, JSOC and others, noting:
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.
Destabilisation is a precursor to attack. The US hasn't learnt its lesson with the Iraqi quagmire, and enough voices in power are sabre-rattling for a fight in Iran to see it become an awful reality. With the military dangerously exposed on several fronts, the US is a Gulliver looking for a bunch of Lilliputians to get tied down to.

War, you see, is inflationary. It's non-productive spending taken to the nth degree. It's why, after WWII, steps such as the Marshall Plan, Bretton Woods and the Common Market (precursor to the EU) came to be. These structures were put in place to end war. However, as anyone who has read Watchmen knows, it never ends.

Bretton Woods is gone, replaced by the unofficial Bretton Woods II, between China and the US. Even that is by-the-by once the yuan was de-pegged from the US dollar back in 2005. Heaven forbid what would happen to the market if China decided to adopt the Euro instead of the US dollar like the drug cartels have been doing for some time (Apart from the E500 large demonination bills, the Euro has been steadily appreciating against the greenback).

Imagine what would happen if OPEC countries did the same. The run on the US dollar would be devastating. As for NZ, so much for the $4.2 billion that the Reserve Bank has bought in (assumed) US dollars on the premise that they can cash it in when the Kiwi drops against the US. What if it doesn't drop? McCain or Obama, the US deficit is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Any pay-off is on the never-never.


While the Guardian has a nice page on the Large Hadron Collider, Helen Clark has unveiled New Zealand's very own black hole, KiwiRail. Unsurprisingly, the livery includes red. It's a bit of unfortunate timing for the sustainability theme. Anyone who saw the trolley bus stranded at the Willis and Manners St intersection at rush hour this afternoon would have their doubts. And to think there's a 10 percent fare increase on the way...