Monday, May 25, 2009

The Clean Dish Indicator Option

I have been doing my bit for the New Zealand economy - I've just bought a new dishwasher. Yes, I do use one, I've been using one for years. Yes, I know they are not very green. No, I never run it until it's full. And I always used to set it for the eco option in our old house. But the machine kept breaking down, and on his third visit the repairman took pity on me and told me the eco programme temperature on that model was set too low, so I shouldn't use it.

In our new house we moved up a notch on the washer and dryer (both much greener models than our old ones, and they do a better (though slower) job too). But we went backwards on the dishwasher, a cheap Italian eleven-year-old that just didn't wash the dishes very well.

So now I have the one with the drawers, and I can shove most of the pots in it as well as the china and cutlery. The glasses and big plates don't fit, but as every appliance-user knows, you can never have it all. And even on the eco setting, it washes and dries everything properly. So far.

The only problem is the manual. I have a master's degree in English, and a PhD, but I can barely understand it. It's not the English - that appears to be impeccable. The real issue is the determination of the manufacturers to (a) ensure that the user understands every possible issue that could arise and (b) provide as wide a range of options as possible to cover every conceivable dishwashing contingency.

The first three pages consist of important safety precautions. For a start, when using the DishDrawer, I am to keep no less than 13 guidelines in mind. For example, I am to load sharp knives with the handles up to reduce the risk of cut type injuries. Not only am I not to allow children to play in or on the DishDrawer, but I myself am not to abuse, sit on, stand in or on the drawer or dish rack. (My mind immediately sprang to improbable scenarios involving the DishDrawer and the Kama Sutra.)

My favourite page is the one showing How NOT to load your DishDrawer. I especially like the first picture: it shows a mad jumble of dishes thrown in by some despairing houseperson pushed to the limits of endurance.

The pages showing the controls are, as usual, fascinating. I was puzzled by the fact that there were only three tiny buttons on the outside, but the manual also shows a wash programme selector that I couldn't locate. It took me a while to discover that this is actually inside the dishwasher. You would think the manual writers might mention this, since they mention absolutely everything else.

In all my old dishwashers you poured in a bit of rinse-aid from time to time, and that was that. In my new one, there are five possible levels at which the Rinse Agent can be dispensed. But I am taking no notice of this. The instructions for changing the dispensing level run to an entire page, with diagrams.

Just putting in the Rinse Agent is quite tricky, because you have to pour it awkwardly towards you into a hole (sorry, circular opening) on the inside of the drawer front, after turning the plug anti-clockwise. The manual includes a stern warning about not spilling any Rinse Agent into the actual DishDrawer and wiping up spillages to prevent excess foaming. Failure to do this may result in a service call which will not be covered by warranty.

The most puzzling features are the Closed Drawer Option and the Clean Dish Indicator option. The first locks the DishDrawer when the drawer is closed. This is in addition to the Child Lock and the Key Lock options, as well as the very clear warning not to open the DishDrawer while it is operating, so I can't see why you would need it - unless you have a mad kitchen appliance fetishist on the loose, determined to abuse the racks.

The Clean Dish Indicator option is rather more of a worry. The manual helpfully explains when it might (I like that) be useful: when dishes have been left in the DishDrawer and you cannot remember if they have been washed (it does not say why you cannot tell just by looking at them, which implies either very inferior dishwashing performance, or frightening levels of compliance with the earlier instruction to rinse everything before it goes in). The second possibility is in situations where household members regularly remove only a few clean dishes without emptying the drawer. Ah, yes, I see.

But there is one problem: just in case this temptation occurs to you, they do not recommend using the Clean Dish Indicator option in conjunction with the Closed Drawer option.

Yes, I think I can understand that. After all, if the drawer was locked, and you couldn't get into it, it wouldn't matter if the dishes were clean or not.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making a pig of myself

I eat pigs, and sheep, and cattle, and large birds, and fish, and shellfish, and occasionally snails and frogs. I draw the line at rodents and insects and small birds. But I want the animals I eat to be treated as humanely as possible, before and during their necessary deaths. (I can't cope with eating them while they're still alive.)

So I'm right behind campaigns to do away with appalling practices like keeping pigs in crates, even though I haven't done anything about it except try not to buy pork produced under those conditions. And even then, I'm well aware that because we (a) eat only small amounts these days and (b) have more income, relative to our food needs, than many other people, this is a bit of a luxury.

When I was feeding hungry kids on a small budget, I was ignorant of any of these issues. But that was so long ago that there was probably much less factory farming around anyway.

I've noticed how cunningly the caged-hen egg producers have responded to the push for free-range: they've simply made their product cheaper, selling you 15 eggs for the same price as 12. Kids versus hens? Fast healthy food versus not having enough money left for the power bill? No contest.

Mothers shouldn't have to face these dilemmas. There's something gravely wrong with the way we produce food now, and it's not the consumers' fault.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again

Christine Rankin has some scary supporters, if comments on the MENZ website are anything to go by. Her appointment to the Families Commission is being hailed there ("This should put a bomb under the woofters. That only leaves the childrens commission and MWA!") by people who, like Rankin, object to the removal of the legal loophole allowing children to be hit. They also object to the current campaign against domestic violence, and to the existence of women's refuges.

Putting not just one but two dedicated supporters of the legal right to hit children (Rankin and Bruce Pilbrow, CEO of Parents Inc) onto the Families Commission looks like a clear message from National: it does not believe in the legislation it supported, and it will backtrack as soon as it gets the chance.

It was, of course, the Nats who appointed Rankin as head of WINZ, back in the heady days when Jenny Shipley was intent on getting us all to sign up to the Code Of Social Responsibility (which, strangely, did not include the government).

In another curious case of Deja Vu All Over Again, the Nats this week took the axe to the tiny (seven people) Pay and Employment Equity Unit. Back in 1990, the new National government's first act in office was to repeal Labour's pay equity legislation.

This bit of news was also about women. But it had none of the "sexy" appeal of the Christine Rankin fiasco, so it got almost no publicity. I mean, pay equity - equal pay for work of equal value! Like, say, social workers (mostly women) getting paid at similar levels to other people (mostly men) doing jobs that require similar skills and responsibilities - but are currently paid quite a lot more.

Who could possibly be interested in that? Well, me, for a start. You can read all about it in my new Letter from Elsewhere on Scoop. Then you can write to My Key and ask him what on earth his government thinks it's doing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine flu and factory farming

Amazing how quickly swine flu became the top news story nationwide. Here and there I've spotted a few mentions of the huge industrial pig farms linked with the earliest cases in Mexico, but this hasn't figured very prominently.

On Scoop today there was a much more detailed account of these pig farms and their probable role in generating this new hybrid virus. We know that bird flu developed as a result of humans and birds living in very close proximity in Asia. Those were small family enterprises. The pig farms at the centre of the advent of swine flu are a very different story.

What caught my eye was this sentence: "a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms." Those flies certainly would have had plenty of waste to breed in: the manure lagoons around the LaGloria factory pig farm in the area where swine flu appears to have begun are the dumping grounds for the feces and urine waste from at least 950,000 pigs a year.

Meanwhile up in Canada, a Mexican worker has apparently transmitted swine flu to pigs...