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On this site you'll find posts and pages from recent years. The site began as part of my public law practice after leaving Parliament in 2005. Accordingly it records my opinions, not necessarily those of Franks & Ogilvie of which I am a principal, or any client, or the National Party for which I contested the Wellington Central electorate in November 2008.

From the Wellington Writers’ Walk:

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action,the world headquarters of the verb”

– Lauris Edmond, from The Active Voice

Farm scarce wildlife to take the profit from poachers

  • January 28th, 2016

Cheaper DNA identification could soon end lucrative illegal trading in protected New Zealand wildlife. All it needs are some careful law changes. Maori could once again routinely feast on (farmed) kereru, without risk to wild populations.

Current law prohibits buying and selling threatened species. That is meant to prevent profiting from poaching. Illegal supply to meet legal commercial demand could strip wild breeding populations. But the prohibitions perversely increase the scarcity value that makes poaching lucrative.

Now DNA technology can cheaply and quickly identify the family of individuals in a population. It could tell which are descended from an authorised commercially bred line and which are from the wild population. Effectively a body like ESR (The Institute of Environmental Science And Research) can DNA profile an animal, store its genetic fingerprint and from that fingerprint identify related individuals (or exclude those unrelated). The law can provide that only offspring of identified breeding stock can be sold or owned. They would have certified DNA.

This would allow licenced breeders to satisfy the demand that is presently fed by poachers and smugglers. Black market revenue from stealing wild specimen could instead go into growing the populations. The technology can also strengthen protection of wild populations with more simple prosecutions for illegal possession.

The ingenuity and experimentation and investment that goes into licenced breeding for sale could grow endangered species into comfortably secure numbers.

Unlike cats and possums, human predators of our wildlife rarely get headlines. This year was an exception. Caught in the international spotlight were some illegal kereru harvesters, and the unfortunate pukeko cullers who shot takahe they were supposed to be protecting.

But we’ve had no Cecil the lion.

Our rare species are hunted nevertheless. Our rhinos and elephants are skinks and geckos. Our ruthless armed poachers are harmless looking Germans lurking among the backpackers.

Black markets offer rich rewards with low risks of detection. A Radio NZ story this year mentioned jewelled geckos selling for up to $30,000. The Otago Daily Times reported in 2011 that up to 200 were taken in one year. Harlequin geckos fetch a similar price. Tuatara have been estimated to be worth $30,000 – $50,000 each in Europe.

But sentences for poaching are not long. Normal (though disgraceful) delays to trial mean foreign poachers are likely to be released as soon as their trial finishes.

With such obstacles to enforcement can we really defend our elusive taonga? There is despair about the fate of some of Africa’s megafauna, despite huge international attention? We do not have a dedicated anti-poaching force. Our fauna are largely silent, toothless, easily hidden and robust enough to be readily smuggled. Our habitats are accessible and generally open.

Yet there is reason for hope.

Our outdated laws against trading wildlife had a simple worthy purpose – to make it unprofitable to steal animals from the wild. The prohibition is intended to prevent scarcity in the wild. Unfortunately it guarantees scarcity in the market, and therefore assured profits for thieves from wild populations.

Using DNA tests to legalise revenue for breeding can make anti-poaching laws more practically enforceable. Farmed breeding populations can be conclusively distinguishable from wild populations. DNA identification is now fine grained and cheap enough to eliminate any need for GM tags or other alterations of the farmed population.

DNA testing does not end all complications. For example if kereru farming was licenced it might be difficult to prevent wild birds from mating with farmed birds. Such species could need periodic re-profiling and re-licencing of the breeding line. Science offers a back up though. Diet oriented stable isotope tests on a feather, for example, can support DNA fingerprinting. They can show whether a bird was reared on a wild diet or a farm diet.

It will need law changes – New Zealand is always the ‘goody good’ in these matters and we have diligently reflected in our law the international prohibitions on trading (CITES) to which many other countries pay lip service.

The benefits should make this a priority – commercial prospects will drive investment in farmed populations (humans work out how best to feed and breed all fauna they farm) – and a sustainable source of income for DoC, the guardians of our wild populations.

Wild populations may eventually be supplemented from sustainable farming surplus

Economist would say it is obvious. We get more produced with lower barriers to supply and to invest capital. Legitimised trade and ownership by honest people can make a market unprofitable for dishonest people.

Around the world there is a new approach to protecting “the commons”. New Zealand’s world leading tradable quota scheme has transformed our fisheries. After fishers became quota owners it became worthwhile for them to protect and enhance fish stocks. They became champions of enforcement. In many places the lessons of alcohol prohibition are being relearnt, as governments give up on laws to crush ‘victimless’ crimes (like marijuana) and instead focus on regulating and taxing the activity they cannot stamp out.

Even in the wildlife area it is not novel or contradictory to allow trading in a farmed population while treating wild populations differently. Feral and farmed deer are governed differently now without using DNA technology. One of our most (rightly) persecuted animals, the ferret, is not protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. Yet an isolated population of ferrets is farmed and exported whilst we continue to try to exterminate all wild ferrets.

DoC should take the premium earnable from our native animals, not the smugglers getting it now. DoC might offer breeding stock for tender. They could levy a conservation royalty on sales. Fishing again shows the way. Fish quota owners’ levies pay for research to reduce the by-catch of seals and dolphins.

There could be knee jerk resistance to “commercialisation”. There was initially strong resistance to the quota regime that transformed our fisheries.

But people who hate business are a minority. Public opinion is in favour of farming our natives. A weka farming proposal was supported by 85 per cent of 8000 viewers in a Close Up TV One survey.

Australia offers an encouraging example. Certain Aborigines regard an extremely rare ‘oenpelli python’ as sacred. It is connected to the rainbow serpent (the oldest continuing religious belief in the world). It’s now for sale. A scientist asked permission to take a pair, breed the eggs, return the adults and farm and sell the offspring. The pair was bought for a “significant price”. 10% of the sales go to the Aboriginal group which approved the proposal.

Our law must be updated to recognise scientific advances. More importantly it should not deny our rare species the propagation that humans ensure when they can share the benefits. That investment will be stingy until people know that it will not be wasted, or worse, increase rewards for those who dishonestly loot ‘the commons’.

The Herald has today published a shortened version of the above. It contains links not in the published version, but omits the Herald’s great photos.

It was suggested, researched and largely written by one of our young lawyers – Digby Livingston. Before joining Franks Ogilvie, Digby was employed in South East Asia to report on python farms under a United Nations programme to monitor regulatory compliance with the aim of exporting farming models to other developing countries.

I’ve had a live interest in threatened species propagation for many years.

I’ve been a member of Forest and Bird for over 40 years. I’d like iwi, or DoC, to commission a pilot amendment Bill to transform the prospects of an endangered or rare New Zealand animal.

Judicial overstepping of a sound constitutional line?

  • January 26th, 2016

Spare some pity for the predicament of the UK government after the presentation to Parliament of a 329 page report that Putin probably authorised the Litivinenko murder in London by Russian agents. Luke Gittos, Law Editor of the Spectator reminds us that this problem is a consequence of the overweening confidence of activist judging.

What can the UK do now? If it does nothing to indicate the unacceptability of the Russian leader’s conduct it discredits its own legal system. If it takes vigorous and genuine action an uncooperative Russia could cost more lives and treasure than the wrong could possibly be worth, without acheiving anything. For example a strong and sustained response might reduce the prospects of saving the $billions, and the many more lives that might be saved if a reasonable modus vivendi can be worked out with the Russians in Syria, instead of the implacable competitive hostility that may be the alternative.

No judge can balance such possibilities in advance in the way an elected leader must, continually. Even if the judge wanted to do so, being explicit about the balance would imperil the very legal values judges seeks to assert over what they can seem to feel are tawdry and inferior political calculations.

New Zealand faced the same dilemma after we caught the Rainbow Warrior killers. The capture was good for the reputation of our Police. But bad for the overall reputation and coherence of our criminal justice system. Real-politik – taking account of the costs and risks and benefits to New Zealand of prolonged antagonism from France, forced David Lange, among the most impetuous of our Prime Ministers, to make a mockery of our sentencing. He was forced to outrage his own voters with  early release of the killers. France hardly bothered to disguise their contempt for our sensitivities when they trashed the  terms of the deal which tried to camouflage the reality, that the French were taking their agents home to honour.

The events poisoned New Zealand, and New Zealander relations with France for years. How much better it might have been if we had been left to nurse bitter suspicions, without having our noses rubbed in the truth, and our powerlessness in the face of it.

Now the UK is saddled with similar risks, though it looks as if the Russians will take more care to avoid embarrassing the UK with people in the jurisdiction to charge.

We should rightly share the outrage of the victim family. But equally we should recognise the hypocrisy in our position. Millions enjoy watching Jame Bond dealing to foreign (sometimes Russian) agents no less summarily than the Russians dealt to their ‘traitor’ in London. Drones are eliminating enemies of our culture and our allies almost daily, without trial.

Lawyers and judges are obliged to be remorselessly  consistent (like cases must be treated alike is a fundamental of the rule of law). But such rigidity is likely to be both foolish, and impossible to sustain in international affairs. That is also the case in many other spheres that until recently were relatively immune from the pretensions and ineffable ignorance of lawyers.

Second guessing in matters as mundane as employer/employee relationships and school disciplinary actions involves the same arrogance, however reduced the scale. There is the same impossibility of ever knowing just what was really behind the incident that brings the relationship to breakdown. But more importantly to the parties there is the same blithe legal indifference to practical outcomes.

Those who know more of the facts are often outraged. Many will learn contempt for the law. They see posturing by a self-important clique so wrapped in the dignity of the law that they feel no need to consider the full consequences of their actions. In many such cases it is clear that none of the lawyers (judicial and otherwise) think they might have a responsibility to decide whether they are serving the best long term interests of anyone involved, even the plaintiffs.

Instead they think it is sufficient to believe that their virtuous intention – to apply the rules (often a charade of procedure) is enough.

The Owens report merely confirmed and detailed what was widely believed.  It is crying over spilt milk with no credible expectation of a better outcome. The lawyers who forced it were uninterested in whether there was a realistic prospect of acheiving justice. They saw the dilemma it leaves for the future as nothing to do with them.

The judge made law that authorises lawyer hind sight interventions in thousands of difficult daily management matters flows from the same spring of arrogance and indifference. Under a wiser previous generation of lawyers those matters were left to the parties, knowing that often they would reach results that could be criticised. But remembering too that mostly in human affairs a prompt outcome, and getting on with living is hugely preferable to tempting people to put their lives on hold, awaiting the decision of authorities who will not have to wear the costs of their delay and interventions.

More humility toward those who must exercise awkward powers would go a long way among the generation of lawyers in power.

Predictions for equity crowd funding

  • January 26th, 2016

My reflections for 2016 as a director of Snowball Effect were published in NBR last weekend.

I’m predicting that market practice will shake out. Launching on a platform without a good reputation could be an irretrievable waste of time. And platforms will be keenly interested in disclosing the lead taken by substantial investors. Private offering to large investors in advance of the public offering may become the norm, or even a precondition, so that smaller investors can sensibly look at the most relevant and understandable questions – ‘who will be putting in more money on the same terms as me?’ and ‘are they the kind of people I should assume to be better than most in working out if the prospective returns are worth the risk?’

If I’m right, in a flight to platform quality, practice will develop to recognise that rational investors:

  • know they can’t usefully themselves appraise investments from publicly available information;
  • rightly suspect that even experts can’t identify winners, though they might be better at recognising early duds;
  • understand their investment is gambling under irreducible and overwhelming uncertainty about the future;
  • accept gambling losses if they have not been calculatedly scammed or made to seem foolish;
  • look for reputation mechanisms to cut the risks of gambling foolishly;
  • assess reputation mostly from perceived endorsements, being;
    • the concern of the offering platform for its own reputation;
    • learning whether and which lead steer’ investors are investing on the same terms, thereby implicitly endorsing the offer;
  • not be embarrassed to ignore other disclosure material.
  • not expect to blame the endorsers in the absence of bad faith.

here is the article –

“Permitting equity crowdfunding was bold but the NZ market has launched successfully. That boldness contrasts with the timidity that could yet make a fizzer out of Australia’s partial copy of our regime.

To the end of 2015 Snowball Effect, of which I am a director, has raised $10.45m in 13 successful public offers, and more in other private offers on its platform. Pledgeme has reported $3.24m in 12 offers, including $466,000 for itself, Equitise $2.313m in five offers, Crowdcube $470,000 for one issuer, Liftoff has had two unsuccessful offers and My Angel Investment has had one unsuccessful offer.

We are all tempted to think the past is the best steer to the future. But, realistically, the equity crowdfunding sector could have had its best conditions or just be starting a long run. It is likely to be super-sensitive to investor sentiment. Internationally IPO activity is highly responsive to business cycles. Start-up and early stage funding should be even more volatile. After friends, family, and customers, early stage investing is for our best kind of gamblers. They are the optimists who give a country its animal spirits, its business edge. They gamble on bold productive people and assets instead of the zero-sum (guaranteed net loss) horses, pokies and lotto gambling, which, for generations, have hogged the fond sponsorship of the New Zealand government.

If New Zealanders maintain this year’s confidence about business, equity crowdfunding momentum should increase. If, collectively, we become pessimistic, equity crowdfunding could suffer disproportionately.

Individual fundraising platforms are unlikely to be so tied to sentiment. Market share is within a platform’s control even if buoyancy in the market is not. If times get tougher equity crowdfunding may see the so-called ‘flight to quality’. Under investor anxiety, only the best (and the best known) may be able to attract capital. In that case, few companies will think they can afford to experiment with less experienced entrants.

Most platforms do not appear to have sustainable businesses. But it is still early days. One or two more may reach take-off scale. But the sector seems to be shaking out. From Snowball Effect’s experience, and examining the accounts of other platforms filed at the Companies Office, no platform would have covered costs this year. Indeed, if the others are putting anything like the time Snowball Effect has invested in companies contacting us, there has been a substantial loss across the sector.

Equity crowdfunding platform companies may, therefore, have to be as optimistic as the companies they serve. Many of our offerors project a transition to positive cashflow in the future. Our hopeful platforms are presumably doing the same. Perhaps it will be this year for some. In the meantime intense competition will continue. Happily, despite that competition, we’ve noticed no sign of the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy feared by opponents of the reforms.

In addition to well-conceived law amendments, the success to date owes something to sensible implementation work by the FMA and much to good media interest and coverage.

The sustained interest in the sector by business journalists (particularly NBR) has been important. I’ve always found fascination in business growth, and in those who grow them. But I’ve never seen as much healthy (and sceptical) interest in small businesses as now, over my 35 years of involvement in capital markets. For decades, our cultural elite has ignored or discreetly despised business. Whether it is affected UK-derived snobbery or the antipathy of left-tinged envy from those who talk more than they can do, the result was a soft disparagement of business as a suitable interest for our brightest young people.

Now, however, we have the happy combination of youthful excitement about business, pent-up demand after decades of ridiculously effective prohibitions on willing investors transacting with willing entrepreneurs, and a vital interest from business media.

So where next for the equity crowdfunding model?
I expect investors will begin to realise they should not be embarrassed about being unable to make decisions from the financial disclosure. Despite regulatory exhortations to consider the disclosure material carefully and to seek advice, that information will rarely predict the prospects of any company. Nobel Prize winner Professor Robert C Merton recently highlighted in a Harvard Business Review article the misfocus of regulation on informing investors, when almost none of us can be expert enough. He compared retirement planning decisions with those we make when choosing a surgeon or buying a car. Car buyers can’t know from the technical specs whether a used car will sell at a Lexus or Mercedes premium, or at the discount of a second hand Holden, or Fiat. No-one rationally expects them to learn. Instead, reputation mechanisms rule.

The ‘informed investor’ fallacy is an unrealistic basis for regulation. Accounts will not sing to many of us. Value is not built on fine business plans disclosed. So we look to follow others who have better information than us. And as Professor Merton says, they are not likely to be paid professionals. We look harder for cheap cues and absence of conflict of interest in our sources of advice than we do for formal expertise.

Successful equity crowdfunding providers will need to capitalise on the web’s ability to warn of a bad reputation, indeed to discourage poor performers from even trying. Psychologically most investors accept that we will sometimes make dud investments. We know the future is unknowable. But we hate being taken advantage of. Satisfying investing means avoiding really bad decisions that others knew were bad.

Early stage companies cannot have substantial reputations. Some of their people may but most are young. So investors want the public offer process to expose key people with bad reputations.

More positively, they want to follow others in their investment decisions. They look for better than average assessment and leadership reputations. They want to coat-tail on the revealed preferences of bigger, more experienced investors investing alongside them.

As the market beds down, launching on a good platform may require preliminary private rounds and disclosed committments of substantial investors.

Animal cruelty hypocrisy

  • January 12th, 2016

RNZ this morning interviewed Ric Odom of SPCA on a case involving people who let dogs kill tethered goats for ‘training’ purposes. He cited the principle of animal welfare law – that everyone should avoid inflicting unnecessary or reasonably avoidable pain.

That is not a simple test. Mankind has always used animals against their ‘will’. We modify our environment at the expense of millions of other living organisms. Even vegans have to admit that their vegetables flourish only with a constant fight against insects. Devout Hindus allow people of lesser moral purity to keep at bay (kill) for their benefit even the more obviously ’sentient’ animals that compete with us, or would eat us if we let them.  Animal welfare cannot be an absolute. There are always difficult trade-offs about the kinds and degrees of continued suffering that must be accepted.

Enforcement of the underlying principle reported today casts light on the enormous elephant in the New Zealand animal welfare circus. It is not rodeo which has been under recent hostile scrutiny as requiring suffering purely for entertainment. Rodeo is trifling compared to our  real elephant.

We are stupendously hypocritical. We live off the breeding of millions of fluffy lambs and calves for slaughter. They die in slaughter houses after hours of terrifying transport and ’emptying’. But at least the industry tries to minimise the suffering. At the extreme of care is our guilty recent near deification of whales. Even going near marine mammals for benign watching without evidence that it causes distress, can be a strict liability offence. Why the difference? It can’t be cuddliness. Seals have foul manners, including to each other and even fouler breath (as I know from direct exposure to a seal belch at close quarters on surfacing from a dive).

Yet at the other extreme our state protects thousands of perpetrators of cold-blooded torture of possibly millions of highly sentient animals in our jurisdiction.

Rich foreigners come to New Zealand to torture animals purely for that pleasure. Our government has given the practice legislative cover for many years. The torturers are probably mainly aging white males but our officials collude in attempts to expand the market in Asia.  Government agencies spread the word that New Zealand is the best place in the world for this kind of torture, with some of the fewest restrictions. Government money has gone into soft focus filming of the torturing in progress, with dramatic scenery backdrops, and gloating shots of the torturers holding up their exhausted victims.

The groups who profit from this state patronage have influence at the highest levels. The seemingly inoffensive Minister Peter Dunne has curried favour with them, preserving historic legislative privilege.

Those who enjoy this torture, and others who make money out of selling equipment, guiding, feeding and accomodating the torturers rarely even try to justify  themselves. It would be fatuous:

  • The cruelty is not incidental – the pain and terror is essential to the pleasure.
  • The animals do not threaten any human interest.
  • They could be killed and eaten humanely, with their suffering time only a few minutes.
  • Instead their value is calculated according to how fiercely they resist capture and for how long they suffer before succumbing to desperate exhaustion;
  • They are then abandoned to fend for themselves in the hope that they will recover (without any attempt at the care demanded by our law) so they can be subjected to the torture again.
  • Though the animals can be eaten they are not generally preferred food species;
  • The torturers have no intention of eating more than a tiny proportion of the number of animals they torture.

The elephant of hypocrisy is catch and release ‘game’ fishing.

Those who’ve grown up treating it as an honourable past-time offer sophistries – fish don’t feel pain (ludicrous), they feel pain differently (if true, so? and how do we know when it appears to be as aversive to them as it is to us?), we’ve always done this (not true – through most of history people have fished to capture and kill the fish as quickly and as securely as possible), and the law draws a sensible distinction between mammals who are like us, and others (not true, and birds as as different from mammals as fish and lizards). As a clincher they offer – if fish were not being pursued that way their habitat would not be protected (unlikely to be true – deer stalkers protect game habitat without trying to justify avoidable  suffering).

Whether it is dragging a swordfish around the sea by a hook in its mouth for hours until it is spent, or enjoying the ‘fighting quality’ of a terrifed trout or kahawai, the issue is the same. There is no equality of arms. There is no honour in the contest. The purpose is not to eat. However eloquently a Zane Grey might describe his exhaustion, it is entirely artificial. It could be brought to an end promptly if the ‘sportsmen’ and women were not deliberately using light tackle designed to break if the the fish is not ‘played’. So they must ration out their force so that the hook extends the agony for long enough to stretch the ‘game’ until the fish tires itself near to death.

I supported some of Sue Kedgley’s animal welfare campaigning in Parliament. I upset some ACT members with my opposition to sow cages and battery hen farming. But I could not support the one-eyed extremism of many animal rights campaigners. And for me their sincerity will be suspect for so long as they focus on dubious boundary cases involving farmers while they strategically fail to tackle the game fishing elephant.

It will be problematic. Thousands of New Zealanders will respond with gut rage. If the SPCA challenges this hypocrisy it will be vilified. It could lose substantial donors. But if they do not, they are hypocrites too.

Perhaps game fishers will find less support than they think. The numbers who catch and release, and who consciously use light tackle, may be tiny compared to the numbers who fish for their family pots. The latter should not feel threatened.

Farmers have been wrestling for years with the animal welfare implications of what they do for the stomachs (and economic interests)  of us all. They’ve changed their practices dramatically over several generations. But their efforts have not saved them from scape-goating.

Self interested Fish and Game critics have led the mob, piling on condemnation from a platform of false moral superiority. Lazy journalism and alliteration automatically connect the words ‘dairying’ and ”dirty”.

The time is long past when farmers should have blown away the hypocritical  moralising of most of their fishing critics.  Parliament generally acknowledged that some animal suffering was unavoidable, but the question of degree consumed us. How much cost should farming absorb to reduce animal suffering? The law now has detailed provisions on arcane matters such as cropping dogs ears, and other traditional practices.

Farmers should start asking Bryce Johnson, next time he expresses Fish and Game’s sanctimony, just what part of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 definition of ill-treatment they do not understand. It means:

” causing the animal to suffer by any act or omission, pain or distress that in its kind or degree, or in its object, or in the circumstances in which it is inflicted, is unreasonable or unnecessary”.

Callousness toward suffering is widely recognised as a sign of low character.

Another reason for being glad to live here

  • January 12th, 2016

Air New Zealand comes first in the (alphabetic) list of the world’s 20 safest airlines published by ‘The Economist’ on 8 January. Qantas has the best safety record of all major airlines. And malicious cause crashes now kill more than accidental airliner incidents.

All reasons to be glad to be in this part of the world in this era.

But I do not understand the article’s tag line “Rain Man was right”. Can anyone shed light?

Kiwi confidence and sense of well being – proved

  • December 21st, 2015

I’m astonished by how often I’m coming across people who started their Christmas break last Friday.
This year I’ve had a lot to do with tradies. A good number have decided their world is benign enough to take off for at least three weeks this summer, and possibly more.
Then today in various calls I find that other (even unlikely) businesses have decided similarly.
Do Treasury models anticipate a collective consensus to take more holiday (and less taxable income). Should they?
Is my sample atypical? Is this a peculiarly Wellington thing? Could it be linked to being fed up with the weather? “Lets go on holiday and summer must start”
11 January will presumably see many of them back, so perhaps the 3 or 4 days lost from a normal December may be made up at the other end. Or perhaps not.
If not, those who’ve elected for leisure not income will just get more quality of life with less of our GDP.

Compulsory trading of Xmas presents

  • December 14th, 2015

I’m intrigued by a family tradition that might remove a significant Christmas irritation. Essentially, the friend’s family have a session of compulsory trading of presents after the unwrapping is over. It was reported to be fun, among the most eagerly anticipated rituals of the day.

I’d like to try it in our family. Not to inculcate market worship, or to train the little ones in trading – probably small children should be exempt. Instead it would be to make present selection less stressful, to reduce the awkwardness of receiving carefully chosen duds,  and to put discipline into agreed cost limits.

Some people love finding presents. They tend to be good at it. They are clearly better people than me, more thoughtful and able to put themselves into the shoes of others better. But even from them, receiving can be a trial. If it is something you really want, as an adult in a prosperous country you’d probably have gone and bought it. Unless it is so expensive that it is unfair to expect to be given it anyway.

And if it is the right kind of present, you’ve been deprived of the shopping fun – comparing all the features and then choosing. Of course a really apt present is wonderful. But few can reliably acheive that.

I like to think I’m  bad and indecisive in present buying because I dread imposing on others the discomfort I feel in getting presents. When it is expensive I feel undeserving. When it is nearly right, or wrong, I feel awkward saying thank you.

Too often, especially for people past child rearing age, presents add to clutter. Christmas panic buying is Consumerism at its peak. So I’ve been finding out the ways some families limit the mounds of stuff they have to politely thank for:

  1. Some have a ’secret santa’ system. It limits both numbers and value. But it is disappointing for those who like buying and receiving presents. A robust tradition must cater for those who like presents.
  2. Some just impose price limits,. But in our family at least any treaty to govern the present quality  ’arms race’ will be breached and undermined by some who want to feel generous, and others who will be embarrassed if they do not follow.
  3. Some cut down the burden by extreme limits on who can receive. For example it may be only presents for those you will be with at Christmas, not those you share Christmas with on alternate years.

But the solution that sounds the most fun is the compulsory trading period. Warning – I’ve not tried it nor am I confident my family would agree to it.

As described:

  • After all the presents are opened everyone gets a chance to force a compulsory swap with someone else.
  • There may be numerous rounds.
  • So you may lose say your best two presents and get a couple of those someone else considered their worst.
  • But of course you can then use your next turn to get rid of the awful rugby book you’ve just been landed with, or the green socks.
  • You can demand the present that someone just demanded from another.
  • To discourage calculated gaming (waiting till the last round to demand the best present where-ever it has lodged) the number of rounds may be determined by a dice, thrown after each round. If there have already been more rounds than the number thrown, it stops then.

My informant ( I can’t remember who it was) said that there were varying degrees of chivalry in her family. Some would not demand another’s dearly desired best present. Others would delight in just that, even if they did not really want it. Characters come out. Some family members are expected (required) to live down to bad reputations established years before, in selfish teenager-hood.

I like the possibilities that:

  • It makes it easier to avoid wasting time agonising over something particular for a hard to please person. They might not keep what you choose anyway, voluntarily or involuntarily, so worry less.
  • It is easier to keep spending below a guideline. There may be little point if the person you are selecting for you may be obliged to hand your valuable gift over to the relative you don’t  much like anyway.
  • The trading session will fill that flat gap after the presents are opened, when you can eat or drink more to bad effect, or sleep somewhere, or look to go somewhere to work off the excess.

I was prompted to record this after enthusiastic comments by listeners who heard me discuss it on Jim Mora’s Panel on RNZ this afternoon. rip-off

  • December 9th, 2015

Car rental company insurance is a rip off. Its cost is wildly disproportionate to the risk.

Divide the premium you pay for your normal insurance (usually for the car’s full value less a small excess, and third party liability) by 365 to get a daily rate. $3-4 per day would be typical.

Then compare that with the daily rate for the extra charge rental companies make to cover only the  “excess” on your rental.

I’ve just booked a car for three days with Thrifty. The contract came thru The Thrifty contract has an excess of $3000 + GST. If the car is returned damaged I’m liable for up to that amount before the rental insurance cuts in.

Thrifty offered to cover that excess as an extra for over $30 per day. Ten times the daily cost of my current insurance to cover a maximum risk amount of less than a quarter of the value covered by my usual policy. In other words the “extra” cover is up to 40 times more expensive than the policy covering my personal car.

But now I’m being pestered by phone and email to buy extra cover from They are offering me a real deal – 3 days cover for only $60. That works out at only twenty times the cost of my personal policy per day.

Ah, but sir, that “$60 is a one off payment, not a daily rate”.

And it “also covers glass, mirrors, tyres, wheels, the roof, the undercarriage and breakdown charges and the vat (presumably they mean GST)”. Should I be suspicious that they do not mention the paint?

And even better “this price is discounted from the original online price of $101.98”.

Sadly – Thrifty has bought Apex, from which I previously got personal service.

But I’m hoping in future to avoid using “The World’s Number 1 Online Car Rental Service” – I want to find a company that does not insult me and waste my time with offers that insult intelligence, and batten on the failure of most people to do risk/return calculations.

Thrifty might continue as it always has, but by avoiding at least I should avoid the hard sell insurance sales follow-up.

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The science behind booze’s sports sponsorship

  • December 3rd, 2015

The New York Times reports on research suggesting there is something mutually reinforcing about sport and drinking (beer). It seems the connection could be more beneficial than just liquor industry commercial opportunism.

“When the researchers collated and compared the data from their volunteers, they found, for the first time, an unequivocal correlation between exercising on any given day and subsequently drinking, especially if someone exercised more than usual. As the scientists write in their study, which was published recently in Health Psychology, “people drank more than usual on the same days that they engaged in more physical activity than usual.””

Lobbyist Bruce Robertson of Hospitality NZ has had a lonely battle recently. The Police have abandoned political neutrality. They are always in favour of new fences at the top of cliffs they excavate in his territory, by wanting prohibitions instead of law against drunk pests.  The prudes of main stream media seek stories aligned with the political Mrs Grundies always looking for new bans to impose, to signal their virtue.

Lately however, Bruce must have felt some comfort as the modern clerics of health politics have divided their attentions. Tobacco has always engaged them. For decades there’s been fat to fight. But now there’s sugar. Sugar is perfect. Those who’ve hated fat vendors McDonalds and KFC (as their grandparents hated Satan and page 3 girls) can neatly segue into hating sugar and the same fast food chains as satanic sugar agents. Alcohol has had mates in its Coventry.

Still Bruce will surely be glad to get something good about beer. Many of us don’t much like red wine despite its (dodgy) claim to health benefits. We’ve probably stopped reading or listening to bad news stories on beer. So we won’t be surprised by this report. For example:

“The camaraderie created on the practice field or among workout partners can nudge exercisers to reconvene convivially at the local bar, and those gatherings may motivate reluctant exercisers to stick with their routines, because they feel rewarded afterward”

Of course.

This will get plenty of (social) media circulation. That should be a nice accompaniment to Bruce’s retirement, especially if he has some vigorous excercise in mind.

Disclaimer – I hate what sugar is doing to us (and what tobacco has done). But that does not mean government should have power to stop adults making their own choices on how they want to harm themselves (or not).


Time to let ‘hat hair haters’ cycle to work

  • December 2nd, 2015

Cycling Action Network’s bulletin today reports a major Canadian study showing no link between helmet laws and head injury rates. Yet again.

Has New Zealand a politician brave enough to repeal the law that lets  police prosecute non-wearers of helmets? The Green’s Julie Anne Genter should be on to this. So many people would like to cycle but find the helmet too irritating to store when shopping etc. Others worry about “hat hair” from the helmet.

I’d be surprised if the number of cycling injuries even after removal of helmet compulsion would exceed the numbers whose fat, strokes, and other disabilities would be avoided if they had the habit of cycling.

The bulletin reports that the:

“Canadian study has found no link between cycle helmet legislation and head injuries, and has recommended governments focus on providing bike infrastructure to protect cyclists instead.
Between 2006 – 2011 the study recorded hospitalisation data from different Canadian jurisdictions, some with mandatory helmet laws, some without. Of an average 3690 hospital administrations per year in riders aged 12 and over there were 622 hospitalisations per 100 million bike trips in Canada.
The study found helmet legislation did not reduce head injury rates, while female riders were injured less, and areas with a greater proportion of cycling trips saw lower injury rates. The CTC’s Roger Geffen says the study provides further evidence cycle helmets aren’t a panacea for cycle safety.”

I’d still wear my helmet most of my cycling time, to reduce the odds of a ‘no-brainer’. But I’d like to be able to stop worrying when I forget.

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