Jane Kelsey and Josh Freeman at Burns Hall

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This takes priority over other stuff to write: a report on a conversation about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement held in Dunedin at the Burns Hall of the First Church of Otago.  The talk was presented by Pr Jane Kelsey and Dr Josh Freeman.  Jane Kelsey is a leading voice among TPPA watchers.  There is a good chance I won’t get to the March against the TPPA this weekend and I’m posting this report.

Imagine the big corporations making a wish list.  Their agenda is how to make government work for them. Imagine they are given the right to make the rules to suit themselves, to impose disciplines on government.

There are few barriers in the trade of commodities in New Zealand.  We export resources, most of our manufacture has moved offshore.  The big players are interested in our domestic policies that hinder the movement of data, money, ideas and people.  They want to remove those barriers, to have a say in what kind of rules and policies a government can make, on social issues, job creation, environment, business, to know who gets a say, who gets to ask the questions, and what questions.

Twelve countries are involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, an arc of countries around the Pacific Rim: Canada, United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan.

America’s involvement  in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is two-fold. It wants to maintain its military presence in the Pacific Rim, especially to contain China, one of New Zealand’s biggest trading partners; and America wants to maintain its economic interests.

New Zealand is interested in cementing relations in the strategic alliance.  It wants to be seen as a good player.

Outside the negotiations no one has seen the background documents to these talks.  What’s more all background documents will remain secret until four years after the agreement has been signed, cementing a done deal and nobody’s political career gets hurt.  They have their pensions to think about.  What looks to be in place is that:

  1. Banks remain on steroids
  2. Intervention in government procurement (creating local jobs)
  3. Restriction on state-owned enterprises in public functions other than commercial
  4. Intervention in copyright and medicine policy
  5. Protection for foreign investors: ‘fair and equitable treatment’ so government will not change rules on foreign investors

Indigenous rights, such as the Treaty of Waitangi, will not be applied in relation to these issues.  Free trade arguments take priority.

Trade issues will affect our health.  Drug companies do not like Pharmac where it is being effective in making available medicines to New Zealanders at low cost, and would be quite happy to undermime its authority.  They would be happy with inequalities in health, that medicines would be costed out of the reach of some patients, and other medicines would be rationed.  Nor is it convenient that governments can legislate in relation to smoking, sugary foods, or the environment in relation to health.  Already governments move cautiously in response to the litigation of corporations.  This is enough to make New Zealand doctors unhappy.  When Dr Freeman put the hat around for funding for an advertisement against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on health his fellow doctors trumped up the cost within five days.

Time is against this agreement.  The Obama administration would like to pass it before June 2015, before the American political system girds its loins to enter the electoral phase of its cycle.  After that period it could fall off the table like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment before it.  We don’t need to give more power to citizens of big states, like the United States and the European Union, to sue us.


Inequality, Sustainability and Well-being – Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

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In New Zealand for a conference the authors of The Spirit Level were invited to stay an extra week in Dunedin.  We supplied the weather.  I’ll supply some notes:

Reducing carbon emissions is seen as an unwelcome belt-tightening exercise — can we achieve sustainability and improve quality of life.  There is a point at which life expectancy levels off among rich nations.  The statistic rises out of the poorer nations and levels off with minimal improvement possible.   It still makes a difference in rich nations among those who earn less income.  Problems emerge among those who are not at the top.

Countries becoming more inequal creates problems.    There are issues of trust  between unequal groups.  Mental illness is more common.  As Flanders and Swann once said the technical term for our mental health is ‘stark staring bonkers’, which makes up quarter of the population, fortunately I’m one person.  Social relationships, health and human capital deteriorates.

New Zealand has a high level of social problems and health issues that are related to inequality.

Status matters more.  Working hours are longer in unequal countries.  Household debt increases.  We want the good things in life.  I wondered about my own situation as I live alone in a marginal situation.  Have I opted out?

Business leader in equal countries give higher priority to international environment agreements.  They contribute more to foreign aid donations.  Inequal countries are bigger contributors of carbon dioxide.

Everyone benefits from living in an equal society.  We need to extend democracy into the economic sphere.  In a rich world material standards do not determine well-being.  Our social relations and social environment has become critical.  We are living in the best of times, we are living in the worst of times.

Those who contribute the most to society are inversely paid.  That’s why bankers live so well.

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of The Spirit Level

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of The Spirit Level

Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: What Do We Need to Know?

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This seemed like an usual title for a forum from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  I went anyway.  I’m glad I did because there was information to learn and share.  It was presented by a panel made up of Warren Tate from the School of Medicine, Heather Wilson from the Otago Branch of the Associated NZ Myalgic Encephalopathy Society, and Richie Barnett, former League player and 80% recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Advocates of this disease come from sufferers and connected supporters.  There is little curiosity to the disease.  It is not a specialised disease.   The whole body is affected globally.  Affective treatments may come out of the unorthodox parts of medicine, like Reiki and Cranio-Sacral therapy.  Medicine needs to be flexible in attending a patient, and identifying the syndrome.

It is mostly initiated by a virus.  Sometimes this can affect a cluster of people in a locality.  Hence the New Zealand name for it, the Tapanui Flu.  We don’t know enough about what genes are being affected, or what molecular pathways they trigger.  There is a need for more study.  The common symptom is overwhelming fatigue or sickness rendering everyday tasks difficult, like taking a shower.  It causes a brain fog affecting cognitive processes, like adding numbers.  It affects bright, intelligent people with goals to achieve and takes them down.  There is no guide to dealing with this problem.  It is life-shattering.

Because it is a general syndrome it can be misdiagnosed and develop into a different disease.  Sufferers need to check regularly if they are diagnosed with it.  Because food allergies are connected with it sufferers are advised to eat lightly and regularly, finding out what affects them specifically.

Colonoscopy at Dunedin Hospital

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Last week I received notice that I was booked in for a colonoscopy at the hospital.  Anyone who knows me knows that I take this very seriously, loosing a brother to bowel cancer 14 years ago.  I checked the tag on the Irrefutable Proof About Hobbits and it was time for my next check-up.  I confirmed the appointment with the hospital.

I had my usual breakfast on Thursday and after that cut out eating whole grains and cereals, and fruit and vegetables with pips and seeds.  I bought some white bread for my lunch-time sandwiches.  There were some hiccoughs.  On a visit to Waitati we stopped at the local cafe and I had to choose my lunch carefully.  They were keen  on natural foods with seeds in them.  Then a neighbour at Manono House offered me some  vegetable soup at the weekend.  While it was tasty I had to enquire that it didn’t affect my diet.  I managed.

On Sunday my diet reduced again to simple food: poached eggs on white bread for breakfast, some rice and arrowroot biscuits for lunch.  I had already taken some laxative pills on Saturday.  When I stopped eating solid food I waited to take the first bottle of saline mixture.  It is foul and unpleasant stuff.  Every mouthful caused me to gag and snarl.  I needed plenty of water and drank extra glasses of water to wash out the horrid taste.  I had to do it again on Monday morning.  It was the least pleasant part of the experience.  In the early hours of the morning I lost sleep as my body purged itself of the contents of my bowels.

This was my fourth time on the table, and the first time that I didn’t fall asleep during the operation.  I watched on the screen as the surgeon investigated the chambers of my bowels.  It seemed over very quickly.  Afterwards I overbalanced while I was dressing and sat on the floor as I tied my shoes.  It brought people running.  I followed their advice and took a taxi home.  I wasn’t alarmed for myself.  They took out five polyps from my bowels and I will consult with my doctor to see if any were malignant.

Back to work tomorrow.


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I call it a bronchial infection.  I now understand what it is.  It is the wet snot, the yellow phlegm that never finally clears in the throat, the wheezing breath sleepless in the night, and the hacking cough that presses phosphenes onto the vision, the headache from the awful work of blowing out this muck, and the longing for momentary relief of one good sneeze to clean it all out albeit briefly, the despair of the shortness of breath.  Now that I know what it is I want to exorcise it to the Fires of Hell prepared for the Devil and His Angels with all the intolerant spirituality that I can muster!  Bell, Book and Candle! Bring it on!

I have been home for several days, pointedly not turning on my faithful desk-top computer.  I would only sit at it and browse, and cough.  My couchant time has been productive for reading, mostly fantasy fiction.  The First Act of Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Assassini had a moment where a vampire and a werewolf battled over the roof-tops of Venice and I recognised that the author had allowed too much back-story to kill off either character in that battle.  The consequences of choosing an alternative resolution would have been interesting.  Presumably the series will have three ‘Acts’ or volumes, and be a conventional trilogy.

The two Dresden Files I had borrowed from Southern Dave proved to be solid reads, and I can arrange to return them.

Migrations by Rod Edmond told the story of a migrant New Zealander searching his family history in Scotland, Vanuatu, Tasmania and New Zealand, an excellent piece of post-Presbyterian writing.  I think I will be loaning that one to the archivist.

Another borrowed book was Ken MacLeod’s Newton’s Wake.  I will return it to my supplier and ask for another by the same author.


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I was talking to the Archivist at work at the start of the week.  I felt something tickle at my throat.  I reached to brush it away.  As I took my hand away I felt something painful in my finger, a very sharp pain.  There was something embedded in my finger.  I brushed it off quickly to get rid of the pain.  It was lost in the dark red carpet.  I think it looked like a sting.  Neither the archivist nor myself saw an insect fall off me from my neck.  Perhaps it could have been a spider bite.  Was it a sting or a thorn from something  that attached itself to my body as I walked to work?  I do not know.

The tip of my finger swelled up immediately.  After ten or twenty minutes the second knuckle in my finger began to swell as well.  I worried about calling a doctor.  We raced down the hill to the Gardens Chemist and I bought some anti-histamines.  It stopped the swelling in the second knuckle.  There may have been some material still under my skin.  Every so often on the first day it pained me so I winced.  By the end of the day the finger felt comfortable that I could use it in my typing.

It’s now Maundy Thursday.  The tip of the finger is still enflamed and swollen.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable under the skin.  The stiffness sometimes swells the pad of the second finger and sometimes recedes.  A session at the gym may have helped regain some softness and flexibility, if only momentarily, as I worked it a bit.  I will keep an eye on it during the long weekend.  If the swelling goes down the finger then I may go into the emergency clinic to have it examined.

The research archivist noted that it was fortunate the sting did not go into my neck.  If my throat had swollen up then there could have been some serious consequences.

Second Opinion

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I’ve been to the physio again.  Much more bendy this week.  I need to do more stretching exercises and the physio has given me another one to practice stretching my upper legs.  I was stuck with more needles which left me with an aching twinge for the rest of the morning.  I decided not to make another appointment as my body will continue to remedy itself naturally.  In hindsight it might have been wise to get a clean bill of health.

I do need to replace those slippers!  They have no tread left on them and are slowly turning ragged.

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