Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sad to see Sue go

I'm really sorry to see that Sue Bradford is leaving the House. She's made an immensely valuable contribution to Parliament, the Greens, the Left and the country. Her departure will leave the Greens without any obvious replacement as a champion of social justice. Yet social justice is absolutely fundamental to the success of the environmental cause. It's impossible to have a sustainable world without it. Thank you, Sue. We'll miss you.

Who killed the calves? Getting the full story

This morning I read a very small item in the Dom-Post about large numbers of calves having to be shot by MAF on a farm owned by the Crafars, who've been in the news a lot lately for dirty dairying.

CraFarms, now up for sale, is New Zealand’s biggest privately-owned dairying group and produces 0.5% of Fonterra’s total output. It runs 20,000 milking cows and 10,000 other stock, and it has 200 staff and around NZ$200 million of debt.

A MAF spokeswoman said "The farm manager had had a serious accident and was unable to care for and manage the calves". That's odd, I thought. Then, looking for something else, I came across a Herald article which told a very different story.

"Poor management and the pressures of massive debts obtained during rapid expansion meant this farm was so poorly managed that none of the staff trained the calves to drink milk, allowing them to die of dehydration in a muddy pen even though their trough was often full. MAF's inspectors were called in to this farm and others in the Crafar Farms group many times in recent years, yet this and others like it were allowed to keep operating."

The farm manager had indeed had an accident, breaking both his legs, but this happened the day the MAF inspector arrived. His visit was prompted by a concerned local farmer who asked MAF to look into the conditions on the property.

According to the Herald, MAF gave farm staff advance notice, "prompting an impromptu slaughtering of those calves closest to death by workers who bludgeoned them to death with hammers or slit their throats." The MAF inspector shot the others. MAF has not yet determined whether it will take any further action.

A video of the starving calves was "obtained" by interest.co.nz, the site that ran the original story. This "news and opinion" site is sponsored by RaboBank and edited by Bernard Hickey, a veteran journalist and editor. He and his producer were attacked when they visited the farm.

Comments on the story are flooding in - a few in support of the Crafars. Many draw attention to the fact that the move to enormous dairy holdings (run by hired, often poorly paid staff) has been lauded by Fonterra.

There is no route back to a norm of smaller, owner-operated farms. But surely it's vital for NZ's reputation and its whole economic future - not to mention humane, sustainable practices and safe food - that such appalling abuses are swiftly picked up and severely dealt with.

Our animal welfare standards are said to be "world-class". But as MAF's replies to Hickey's queries show, it is "currently resourced" for precisely five animal welfare inspectors, with "part time assistance...utilised as required."

And despite all the concerns and fines, Fonterra has gone right on accepting Crafar Farms milk.

Apparently there'll be more on TV One's Close-Up tonight. Meanwhile the Dom-Post should be ashamed of itself for running such a pathetic apology for a story.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's not about the balls, Chris

18 September 2009

According to Chris Trotter in today's Dom-Post, it's high time Labour got back to its male working class, er, roots. Labour, he says, now has to reconnect with "the dream of thousands of young and idealistic working class men. To conquer, if not the world, then at least the social evils which disfigure it. To protect and defend the weak and oppressed - and to earn the love and respect of their female comrades in the process....Can Labour, once again, become a party with balls?"

He must be joking. Surely. If, as I fear, he isn't, then that ominous noise beneath his feet is Elsie Locke turning in her grave. Ironically, tonight (on the eve of Suffrage Day) her biography (Looking for Answers, A Life of Elsie Locke, by Maureen Birchfield, Canterbury University Press) was launched in Parliament's Grand Hall.

By the time Chris was born, Elsie had been fighting social evils for a couple of decades. All too often, she had to put enormous energy and effort into persuading her male comrades that women were able to do more than keeping the home fires burning and bestowing love and respect.

Chris makes great play with the idea of Labour under Helen Clark as a reincarnation of the upper-crust "ladies on the hill", talking down to their inferiors. This is very odd, because it was the Right who cast Labour, so conveniently led by a woman, as running a nanny state.

Apparently, protecting the weak and poor is an exclusively masculine role which women are unable to claim as their own, despite them doing most of the actual caring and protecting. No, they have to stay in the background, patting their menfolk on the back with one hand while serving dinner with the other.

It's fine for the "female comrades" to be unpaid or grossly underpaid caregivers, or even fund-raisers and tea-makers. But woe betide them if they try to usurp men's sacred territory and work directly for change through a union or a political party - let alone rise (through enough hard work and talent to overcome the huge handicap of not having balls) to lead that party.

But Chris's history is badly astray. The party Phil Goff's grandparents voted for wasn't a "feminine construct" (any more than the last Labour-led government was), but it wasn't exactly hyper-masculine either (unlike the Fascists NZ would soon be fighting). If it had been, it wouldn't have survived.

In his haste to rescue Labour from the dreaded (ball-less, ball-breaking) women (who can't possibly be true defenders of the faith), Chris is completely ignoring early stalwarts like Elizabeth McCombs. The DNZB says, "Elizabeth supported [her husband] James in his leadership of the Woolston branch of the Social Democratic Party, which he founded in 1913. When he became the first president of the second New Zealand Labour Party in 1916, she was elected a member of the executive. Elizabeth McCombs became a political figure in her own right in 1921 as the second woman to be elected to the Christchurch City Council."

But she was also flat out protecting and defending the poor and the weak, as a member of the hospital board's benevolent committee from 1926 to 1934, and on the committee administering the Mayor's Relief of Distress Fund. "As a member of the North Canterbury Hospital Board from 1925 to 1934, she insisted on hygiene and nutritious meals for patients and nurses and campaigned to improve nurses' working conditions." In 1926 she was one of the first women in New Zealand to be made a justice of the peace. Doesn't sound like a lady on the hill to me.

She was also the first woman to be endorsed as a candidate by the Labour Party, standing unsuccessfully for Kaiapoi in 1928. (If Chris has been there he would no doubt have tried to stop her from polluting the party's pure manly construct.)

"Elizabeth was conscious that her sex was an obstacle, and in her second attempt to win a seat, at Christchurch North in 1931, she faced the issue squarely by using as her slogan: 'Vote the first Woman to the New Zealand Parliament'; she admitted publicly that this distinction was, indeed, her ambition." Poor misguided creature - she obviously didn't understand what the party was really about and who it was really for. Chris could have put her straight.

Her husband James McCombs, MP for Lyttelton, died in August 1933. But "Labour leaders had reservations about Elizabeth's replacing him because he won with only a slender majority. Women's groups backed her, and although one of her opponents [a Trotter forebear, no doubt] argued that 'the difficulties of the country are too great for women to grapple with', she was elected with an overwhelming majority and took her seat in the House in September 1933." Sadly, she died two years later, but her son Terence succeeded her.

So on Suffrage Day tomorrow, 19 September - in case you'd forgotten, it commemorates the day when NZ finally became a true democracy by allowing women to vote - spare a thought for Elizabeth McCombs and Elsie Locke. They had nothing at all against balls - they just didn't think that having or not having them had anything to do with standing up for social justice.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ginger Crunch

We're getting ready for Harvey's 75th birthday - we're having a small family group to lunch on Saturday. I decided I'd better have something on offer to go with tea and coffee, so I embarked on a rare bit of baking. It's not that I don't like baking (though I certainly don't enjoy it as much as cooking proper meals); but I'm not very good at it, and also, if it's there I'll eat it (because Harvey hardly ever touches cakes and biscuits, he just doesn't want them).

However, as it's his birthday I thought I might as well make something he might have a tiny bit of, and something nearly everyone likes, so I opted for ginger crunch. Simple enough, you might think. But I don't have a very good history with ginger crunch.

Every time I've made it in the past, using the Edmonds Cookbook recipe, it hasn't worked very well. The base has been too hard and the icing has been too runny and too thin over the base. (Shop-bought ones are no good either - they're enormous, have a base that's too thick and stodgy, are too sweet and don't use enough ginger.)

So this time I consulted the internet first. Most of the recipes were the Edmonds one, but I did manage to find a slightly different one. It used the food processor, thank goodness.

It's turned out much better than usual, and I think I know why. I used the processor very carefully to cream the butter and sugar and mix the dry stuff in, and I heeded the useful warning to be very gentle pressing the base into the tin, so it wouldn't set like concrete.

The icing recipe had much more icing sugar in it than the Edmonds one (which has only half a cup - maybe this is a mistake?), so it was the right consistency. Even so, I didn't think it was enough to cover the base properly, so I mixed up another half-batch to finish the job.

Inevitably I got some crumbs from the base in the icing, so it isn't the beautiful smooth top I was after, but too bad. Lastly, I had a sharp enough knife (one of those little plastic-handled carbon steel ones) to cut it firmly into squares without making too much of a mess. You have to do this while it's still warm or it doesn't work.

I still couldn't manage straight, even lines of cutting, so some pieces ended up bigger than others (my mother, who had a wonderful "eye" and could cut everything perfectly straight, despaired of me). But it tastes great, and that's really all that matters. Now I just have to leave it alone (except for the tiniest piece in the corner, which of course I had to try to make sure it was okay) until everyone arrives.

PS: I never had any reply from Mr Key to my email (see below). Maybe he never got it?