Living in a Warmer World with Jim Salinger, Auckland Climate Scientist

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Jim Salinger, not only talks about Auckland’s Climate Science.  He talks about the rest of New Zealand’s Climate Science, including Dunedin, where I heard him tonight at the College of Education Auditorium.  The rest of the world got mentioned as well.

Climate change means the westerly winds will increase in New Zealand.

Terroir is going to change.  Warmer temperature ranges will make wines from Bordeaux and Champagne more acidic.  New South Wales, West Australia, southern Spain, Italy and Greece are going to drop out of the wine-growing zone.  England and South Ireland will enter it.  Perhaps I could taste my first Southlander Red.

As groundwater is drained from the Canterbury aquifer it will be replaced.  Unfortunately the immediate supply is the Pacific Ocean.  The soil of the Canterbury Plains risks becoming more saline.

In dryer areas our livestock may have to be changed from Bos Taurus to Bos Indicus which is more tolerant to heat.  This will have be bred as a meat animal.  There will be a risk of new livestock diseases.  Reducing methane and nitrate emissions *burp* *belch*  (not *fart*) will have to be looked into.

Cold water fish species are already moving into polar and deeper waters.  Fishing will follow them there.  Other fish species will move to take advantage of the warmer waters.

It’s up to us now.  The difference is an increase of 2 degrees of temperature to 4 degrees of temperature in the next hundred years, accompanied up seas rising by 10 metres.  A sensible capitalism means everything we make is intended to be re-used.

“What you do may be insignificant.  It is significant that you do it.” — Gandhi.

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Evolution of the Body Snatchers: Robert Poulin

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Well that seemed like an interesting title for a lecture.  It would provide an evening’s diversion.  I went along.  I think the Department of Zoology turned up in droves.  Different selection of people to those of the Humanities lectures I usually attend.  I wonder if anyone has done a taxonomy of the departments of the University and its residents.  The lecture was a function to present Pr Robert Poulin was a medal for distinguished research.  The general public was welcome.  I was welcome.

Pr Robert Poulin is a French Canadian who has lived in New Zealand for a long time.  His accent is clear and interesting.  Very early on he moved from studying fish to studying parasites on the fish.  They interested him more.  I remember when the Irish comedian Dave Allen interviewed a member who studied fleas.  It made him scratchy.  I noticed the same affect.

Parasites are the uninvited guests at the table.  Despite numbering about half the known species on earth they have been dismissed in the past as a subject for study.  I think this is changing.  Even I have heard of toxoplasma.  Pr Poulin is a leader in the field, or possibly he has managed to infest himself in a number of his colleagues.

Marine parasites are interesting.  They colonise an animal like a snail and convert it into a parasite-cloning factory.  Some of them in the colony act as breeders, others as soldiers to protect the colony from rival parasites.  When they are ready they may migrate to another host that is more likely to be eaten by an ecology’s top predators where their eggs will pass from for another generation.  In an ecology the parasites may number the same biomass equalled only by the top predators.  They are very successful.

Knowing now how successful parasites are for making hosts to be prey for their final hosts I’m now wondering about the food in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  Eat me!  Drink me!  Any food that advertises itself like that is potentially suspect and parasitic!

The connections that parasites make in an environment’s food-web make it more complex than previously expected.  Up to one quarter to three quarters of the links in an environment’s food-web involve parasites.  They increase the biomass and diversity of an environment and play an important role in stabilizing food-webs.  They provide the connection.  I would have liked if this was explored further and explained with examples as I am unfamiliar with how this happens.

Humans are making an impact on parasites in the environment.  Both climate change increasing the temperature of the environment, even by a small degree, and the concentration of herbicides are increasing parasitic populations.  This is a problem for host species and could lead to the death of species in many environments.

If you have read this far, are you feeling scratchy too?

Parasite Factory!

The Discursive Construction of Social Processes, or, How Stories Make Our World

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I had forgotten the awful doom of the end of the university year with the inevitable result that there is less to attend.  Time becomes a wasteland.  My time is free now and that is unfortunate when I’m looking for things to spin the mind.

Fortunately Peace and Conflict Studies had an Inaugural Lecture as Pr. Richard Wells Jackson took up his Professorial post.  The second professor  of this Centre, I believe, with Kevin Clements.  The Counter Terrorism Unit from Critical Terrorist Studies in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies let me in.  They looked very impressive in black costume.  The agents present on the doors for the X-Files Capping Show were more shouty, some years ago.  Just saying.  Everyone was let in.  They didn’t even confiscate the coconut thins that were given to the person sitting next to me.  There was a good attendance of University and Peace Studies worthies.

Professor Jackson’s personal narrative is interesting.  He was born in Africa to Salvation Army missionaries and educated in New Zealand, before teaching at Manchester and Aberystwyth.  In his education he dropped Economics in favour of Political Studies because Political Studies was more interesting.  Since then he has moved into Peace Studies, a pacifist in wolf’s clothing.

He talked about how our narratives make up our perception of our lives and world events.  Our origin stories give our nations a founding narrative.  They tell us who is included with us in nationhood, and who is excluded, both internally and externally from our national narrative.  Our scientific stories tell us about the studies of the world, what is observed, how we react as a society.

We live with the story in our fiction and media, that there is a ticking bomb in our public places.  Only the terrorists know where it is.  We don’t have time for them to tell us without coercion.  The hero in our stories of good and evil must resort to redemptive violence to extract the information from the perpetrators.  So we endorse torture and dehumanising practices.  Because we live in fear of the ‘unknown unknowns’, the threat that is always invisible to us until it is revealed.  The price of our security is paid by someone else being, and remaining, our victims.  We never ask why the terrorist acts in that way.  Our hero is always the Man of Action, not the traducer or the interpreter.

Our story leads us to torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib

The story exists.  The story changes and evolves.  We can change our stories, we can change the narratives that we tell ourselves.

STOP THINKING!  CRITICAL THINKING ONLY HELPS THE TERRORISTS!  DON’T THINK ABOUT THE BOMBS!  GO SHOPPING!  BE CONSUMERS!

Local Body Elections

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When I look at who got in, and who did not, I don’t feel I need to be disappointed.  Several candidates that I rated highly got in.  I gave two votes for mayor.  I think I put Cull as my second choice.  He got in without my vote getting counted.  Despite what his critics say he has a substantial majority.  My first candidate also got onto council.  I’m pleased with that and wait to see if my choice will be effective.

I rated Neville Peat and Benson-Pope highly in their presence at Opoho Church’s Candidate Meeting.  Both are also present at the council chamber.

Nearly all the new candidates ran visible campaigns with posters around the city.  Hilary Calvert was the most popular candidate.  I’ve heard it that she cornered the women’s vote.  Her poster was in a number of empty properties around the central business district.  I thought that would have been sufficiently indicative.  Her career in parliament, along with Benson-Pope’s, seems to have been forgotten.

Business candidates came across to me as strong on balancing the books, and with no vision of growing business in Dunedin.  As a group they did not attract my attention.  They are present around the council table which is going to create an interesting balance.  I want to keep an eye on this.  If they act like scoundrels then I expect the next election in three years’ time will rectify this.  There is still a chance that some of these councillors can be put to good use.

Dunedin has one big electoral ward which covers the urban part of the Dunedin district.  There is talk that with interested voters now down to below 50% that the rural wards will be absorbed into this.  I am not convinced that this will galvanise the electorate to vote.  If anything the candidates are already distanced from the citizenship of Dunedin and this suggestion will continue the disaffection.  My own preference is to reverse the trend and restore urban Dunedin to smaller wards again.  The councillors need to be out there and talking to people.

Already some commentators are talking about doing away with local body elections out of the lack of interest.  Central government can then appoint the right people to run local government.  I don’t think that we are basket cases yet to ruled by technocrats like Italy, Greece and Cyprus.

People of the Four Winds: The Dunedin Jewish Community at Toitu

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I saw in the Star that there was going to be a talk at Toitu.  The local Jewish Congregation had put up a little display of artefacts relating to Jews in Dunedin.  Dr Stuart (Shlomo) Swerdloff, a migrant to the university from California, addressed the audience.  His favourite Jewish/New Zealand fusion food is Kumera Latkes.  The Jews that arrived in Dunedin came with the gold rush.  They were following the money.  They were successful enough that they established a temple and expanded it.  Their third temple survives in Dunedin as the Temple Gallery, an especially beautiful building  up steep steps close to the centre of town.  The interior is to admired.  Unfortunately the sanctuary is part of the curator’s flat in the building and can only be seen briefly.  The congregation meets in a simpler modern building in North Dunedin.  Although smaller in numbers they maintain the necessary quorum to read the Torah.

The Jews that came to Dunedin were modern people.  Jews in America created Levi’s Jeans.  Jews in Dunedin started the Hallensteins clothing business.  Look around, they left names that are still part of the city’s history, Willi Fels and the Theomin family.

They maintain the story that when they invited a visiting Rabbi to celebrate the first Purim he wrote the Megillah, the festival scroll, the night before the occasion.  If so he had a very good hand because on examination in the display it is very neat writing.  A prayer book was open to show mention of prayers for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  These people knew how to pray for the peace and well-being of their city.

Other items that were passed around the audience, it was well attended by interested people,   A Kiddush cup for sharing wine on Sabbath eve, two menorahs, one traditional, the other modern in design, and two kippahs.  These can be serious like the one that was lovingly made, or whimsical, like the one that was a souvenir from Paris!  I resisted trying one on to see what it was like (besides no mirrors nearby!)  Dr Swerdloff displayed how to wear a prayer shawl.  These things are special his family’s life in Dunedin.  They are reserved for their practice, when they are valued.  Apparently his daughter is very good at blowing the ram’s horn for New Year and Atonement.  The congregation has provided one from Israel for her.  There is pride in that.

The Autobiography that Richard Baxter Did Not Write (And the One He Did)

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The Presbyterian Historic Network hosted this lecture by Tim Cooper.  I was surprised.  It was better than I expected.  I didn’t expect that a lecture about an English Puritan in that turbulent period would be interesting or relevant to our Presbyterian audience.  I was proved wrong.  It was one of the most engaging lectures we hosted this year.  The quality has been excellent this year too.

For a start we found that the Hewitson Library’s Rare Books Collection held two titles by Richard Baxter that were editions dating to the seventeenth century, his age.  One was the Reliquiae Baxteriana, Baxter’s autobiography which includes the introduction A Judgement on Baxter.  This was compiled to help sell the end run of the edition.  It’s the seventeenth century equivalent of “Comparable to Tolkien”.  It turns out that this introduction is extremely rare!  Think forty copies worldwide.  The University of Otago has a copy.  Dr Cooper was surprised to find a second copy in Dunedin of which no one was aware, including himself, and us.  I just opened the book and displayed on that page because it had a good title page.

Baxter was one of those people to voted for the wrong team.  Oliver Cromwell wanted him as his chaplain.  Baxter turned him down because he didn’t like the man.  He regretted it as he watched Cromwell become the tyrant of Britain.  He declared his support for Cromwell’s son and successor Richard Cromwell just at the same time as the regime collapsed and Richard Cromwell fled the country.  He opposed Charles I because he considered his supporters represented the ungodly and Parliament represented the godly forces.

Baxter saw most of the major fighting during the English Civil War.  It left him with what looks like a case Post Traumatic Stress.  Despite this the decade of chaos led to the godly commonwealth which he saw as a Good Thing.  The Restoration of the Crown and the Bishops made him more ambivalent.  He wrote Reliquiae Baxteriana with an eye on Protestant readers on the European continent and future generations.  He positioned himself to write as the neutral scribe of history.  He distanced himself from both the Parliamentarians and the Royalists.  While the Parliamentarians opposed the Royal Church they offered no agreed vision among themselves between those who wanted a Church which called people out of society and those who wanted a church that included everyone in the parish.  Does the spirit of these people live on in the Tea Party of America, and the clash of civilisations that exists in the War on Terror and its opponents?

In his parish in Kidderminster, Baxter sided with the second model, a broad evangelicalism (Presbyterian, of course) creating a community which was encouraged to live godly lives.  With the restoration of an episcopal church he was ejected from his position, on St Bartholemew’s Day.  He saw the commonwealth as being destroyed by his rival and critic, John Owen of the Congregational faction among the Puritans.  It was their leadership he saw as bringing down the commonwealth.

It turned out that Baxter’s declaration of a godly society was premature and he distanced himself from this position.  The godly, including Richard Baxter himself, are caught between sectarian extremists and episcopal authorities.  Ultimately Baxter was wounded and crushed by the national affairs of his age.

After this lecture there may be a run on the BBC Drama A Family Divided about the English Civil War.  In hindsight I’m sorry that the attendance at this lecture was so small.  It was an enjoyable and stimilating lecture.  The group was small enough that we sat in the Knox Centre of Leadership and Ministry’s Common Room instead of moving into the Seminar Room.  It was comfortable.

As I walked home afterwards I wondered about the politics behind the publication of Baxter’s Autobiography after his death.  It had to have been approved by a bishop who censored publications after the Restoration.  I wonder what was behind that decision to release it.

Tensions in the Korean Peninsula

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An open lecture from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  I suspect that this was for the occasion that a visiting Korean Churchman was in Dunedin on study leave, Kyo Seong Ahn from the Presbyterian Seminary.  He sat on a forum with speakers from Political Science and Peace Studies.

We don’t know what is going on in North Korea.  There is a crisis of leadership taking place as the young prince assumes the crown.  To prove his legitimacy the palace is talking in language of posturing manliness and fiery rhetoric.  While all the advantages lie in the other Six Party States as long has everyone pays attention to North Korea’s posturing it has respect.

Even its closest ally, China, is getting frustrated trying to work out where North Korea will jump to next.  China wants stability in its neighbourhood on the Korean Peninsula, not a punch-drunk hermit kingdom.  North Korea is the Rogue State, the last member of the Axis of Evil.  China’s patience is eternal.  While North Korea is dependent on China’s aid to survive China is not treated without suspicion in North Korea.  Their ally is a rather pushy giant.  Dwarves don’t get to complain when the giant rolls over.

The Six Parties: North and South Korea, China, America, Japan, and Russia, are in stalemate.  All of them will come to talks with their own agenda.  Who will blink first?  Will North Korea back down on its nuclear programme, or will America come to the Six Party Talks.

There are still people on the ground, a country of 24 million people, who have no choice but to follow their leaders.  Of course we now live in an age when people can communicate faster than ever, even in night-bound North Korea.  It may prove that the leaders will have to move fast to catch up with their people.

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