Manawatu Gorge road needs re-evaluating


Once again, the Manawatu Gorge road is closed by a slip. The latest slip is expected to take until mid-May to be cleared. As people who use the gorge road regularly resign themselves to another bout of waiting for it to open again or take alternative routes, it is time to consider the long term future of this slip prone road.

There is an underlying problem that people need to recognize. The problem is not in the road itself, but in the underlying geological strata, which is soft and easily erodible sedimentary material. Because of that, this is a recurring problem that engineers, road users and planners are simply going to have to learn to work around.

State Highway 3 is a major highway that runs between Woodville in the Wairarapa and Hamilton in Waikato. Probably the largest contributor to State Highway 3 traffic and benefactor of it is Palmerston North, on the Manawatu plain west of the Tararua Range.

But the slips are frequent, often substantial in size and clearing them can take weeks at a time. During this period there is significant financial penalty for the communities at either end of the gorge, and significant costs incurred by transport firms such as trucking companies which have to either delay or divert or even put their cargo on rail. Because of these and other problems, it is necessary to evaluate the options for transport and long term remedial work in the gorge.

Manawatu Gorge also has a railway line running through it, though this has numerous tunnels which protect from the slippage problems associated with the road route. One option would be to significantly increase the railway capacity for freight through the gorge. However this would be a long term solution rather than a short term one and would need input from Kiwi Rail.

Although it does not really suit road freight, a second possibility would be to upgrade the Saddle Road route. However this highlights a second problem as farmers need to stand their stock from feeding four hours before travelling so as to keep the resulting effluent to within the capacity of their rigs. It also raises the question of whether this road is really suitable for carrying large vehicles, given its windy nature and grades.

Slips are going to continue to happen in the gorge. This means that long term consideration needs to be also given to whether or not such measures as roofs need to be considered that enable the smaller landslides to pass over the road and go straight into the Manawatu River. One issue here is that slips are the cause of their toe support failing, which means the slip is likely to happen at or below road level. Terracing the potential slip prone slips is expensive and would involve significant alteration of slopes and not necessarily be guaranteed to work.

It would seem that rail is potentially the best option for freight. However there is no passenger service, due to insufficient demand, which means people needing to use the route either take the Saddle Road alternative or they drive to Porirua, over 100km to the south and back up via Featherston – a trip of nearly 250 kilometres.

But as the problem is in the geology and not necessarily the road, this is going to be a continuing issue.

The need to teach our senior citizens about scams


Recently there have been a spate of phone calls from “Microsoft Tech Support” or similar. The other day my home was rung by a person claiming to be a Micosoft technician. These are where people ring you claiming to be from Microsoft tech support and ask you for access to your computer so that they can access your computer. They tell you that there is a bug or a virus on your computer and that they can fix it.

Whilst many people will not fall for these scams, there are a couple categories of people who quite potentially will. One are the elderly who are easy prey, and can be quite vulnerable if they live alone and in need of any sort of contact. They very possibly do not understand the implications of what the callers are trying to get one to do, or they believe that there really is a problem with their computers. A degree of trusting that everything is genuine makes things easy. Other instances will involve them not being strong enough to simply say they are not interested and hang up.

Smell a rat? You should. There are several warning indicators that something is not quite right about this:

First and foremost, these people who ring you are most likely scammers. Most likely they are calling from another country. By ringing you, they are in effect acting as an agent for a potential trojan horse by getting you to lower your defences so they can insert something improper into your computer.

Second, Microsoft tech support will not ring you. In fact this is what the real Microsoft says about these scams – the information might not be specific to a New Zealand audience, but the implications are clear:

  1. This behaviour is a criminal offence in New Zealand
  2. Your computer can be exposed to malware, viruses, have data stolen off it or even completely hijacked
  3. If your system is in a network or open, you might be exposing other people and their machines to whatever illegal software that was put on your computer

So how do these scams work? The caller will most probably be calling from somewhere overseas. They might provide a fake number in your country to make their scam look more believable like an 09 area number from Auckland. These callers can be very aggressive. They are probably under pressure from their boss to churn through a set number of calls during their work until they get someone who bites and does what they want. The scams might be variations of old ones, but they all purport to be from Microsoft.

The simplest and most effective thing to do is simply say “Not interested” and hang up. In the case of the phone call to my place, the person who answered asked for their phone number, and the caller said “Fuck you”, at which point the person who answered hung up. If your phone records the number, do pass it on to your phone service provider and tell them it was a scam call. This will enable them to build up a picture of illegal activity going on, and possibly help the authorities bring the scammers to court.

 

New Zealand impotent in North Korean crisis; U.S. needs to be careful


As the world watches nervously the situation on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea’s incandescent rhetoric, and the United States and South Korea showing a united front against the regime, a two island nation in the South Pacific is wondering what use it could be in the situation. And at the same time, hoping that the United States does not forget or deliberate exclude the one nation that can settle the issue decisively – and possibly without war:

CHINA.

So let us look at why China is central to the whole situation There are four reasons. Each is a good reason not even the U.S. can ignore.

China (1): China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to prop up the regime when it looked like falling. I would be willing to guess that if the United States too unilateral action against North Korea, the Chinese would in the first instance mass a huge number of troops on the North Korean border – possibly upwards of 500,000 with supporting armour and support from the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy.

China (2): President Xi Jinping is a Chinese Trump. China is an adversary in many respects because Xi wants to make China a world power again too. Mr Xi has a vision, though, which is reinforced by domestic and foreign policy. He wants it to have naval reach it did 500 years ago. How Mr Xi would react to an attack on North Korea is unclear, but the implications of his vision are clear: China will not sit by and have its influence eroded by anyone including America.

China (3): China’s Communist regime will do absolutely anything to ensure that there is not any more democratic nations on its land border, especially on the Korean Peninsula. China’s human rights record is shocking because in order for the Chinese Government in its current form to survive, they must have control of citizens across an ethnically, culturally and – if it were permitted to be expressed politically diverse geographical region. Why do you think they spend almost as much on cracking down on dissent, crushing protests, jailing people, maintaining a Great Firewall of China and executing people?

To maintain control.

China (4): China could crush North Korea tomorrow. It has the economic, political and military means to do so. But it won’t – at least not without Beijing’s authority and influence being assured by the U.S.

So, where does this leave an island nation in the South Pacific with regards to North Korea?

The long and the short answers are both: largely impotent. The most we can do, is what we are already doing, except that perhaps having talks with South Korea about what we could do in terms of offering more non-military support other than backing them in anything that happens with regards to North Korea in the United Nations.

What is the meaning of A.N.Z.A.C. Day?


On A.N.Z.A.C. Day at a memorial service, a man and his 12 year old son had an angry exchange with peace activists. The activists were . In doing so it seems to have triggered a debate about the true meaning of the day when New Zealanders and Australians come together to commemorate their past in war.

There is no doubt that the interpretation of what A.N.Z.A.C. Day means differs considerably from one to the next, from person to person; from group to group. The accuracy of what people think as opposed to what its stated purpose is, is even more diverse. According to the Returned Services Association (R.S.A.), the meaning of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is to acknowledge the past sacrifices made; to understand that war is not nice and to make sure that what happened in past wars is not forgotten, and the horrors never repeated again.

My own interpretation of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is the similar to that of the R.S.A. There is nothing about it that tries to glorify war. Do the veterans that are still alive think that it was fun and that they enjoyed themselves? Hardly. Normally when you talk to them about comrades that they lost and  the mental scars it inflicted on them . When they hear The Last Post and the three volleys that often follow, for many of them it is quite a painful moment tearing up at the memory of all those whose funerals on foreign battlefields that they attended.

This contradicts activist groups such as Peace Action Network who frown upon nations having a military for defence. For them there is no need for an armed military capable of protecting a nations sovereignty. Peace Action Network  and their fellow organizations have 364 other days of the year in which they can protest. They can protest (peacefully!)when dignitaries come to visit New Zealand from other countries. They can write letters, e-mails, create/sign petitions, organize debates and so forth.

It is true that I have some sympathy for their work. The amount of expenditure going on in terms of individual nations defence against perceived and real threats is quite staggering, and some arms programmes such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a totally unneeded venture. The destabilization of nations in order to pursue the obtaining of raw materials is often carried out in order to justify defence expenditure that would otherwise have been cut.

But on A.N.Z.A.C Day I solemnly believe the day to belong to the people who have served in the New Zealand Defence Force in the past and not come home; the people who served and came home, but possibly have painful memories or were wounded. And finally it is for those that current serve in the armed forces, irrespective of rank.

But it is not for Peace Action Network and like organizations.

Time to compensate nuclear test witnesses


There is something eerily beautiful about the signature of the most sinister, most terrifying invention man has conceived. Watching a mushroom cloud rise after a nuclear weapon has been detonated is one of the most – for all the wrong reasons – shockingly mesmerising sights. Even veterans of nuclear test veterans have been impressed by the clouds.

Numerous New Zealanders in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailed to various test sites around the Pacific to witness tests. Mururoa (French Polynesia) and Christmas Island (British/Indian Ocean)were common destinations. But from those clouds came something truly dreadful. As the fire ball expanded in the sky in atmospheric or above ground tests, as the water of calm aquamarine lagoons exploded in tests at places like Johnston and Kwajalein (U.S. sites), Mururoa (French), and Christmas Island, vast quantities of gamma rays were emitted. Although the servicemen were stationed on ships or observation points some distance from the explosion, they would have felt the heat from the initial flash and seen the flash, particularly if the exploding device was a thermonuclear one with a yield in the megaton range

Many of the New Zealand sailors involved witnessed British testing during Operation Grapple. These were a series of nuclear weapons tests during the early stages of British thermonuclear weapons development. The yields ranged between 24 kilotons and 3 megatons. New Zealand Navy ships acted as weather vessels during the test. They would remain near the tests for a time after the explosion when fallout was occurring.

In the  late1960’s France undertook nuclear weapons testing of devices with yields of up to 2.6 megatons at Fangataufa Atoll (the 2.6 megaton test contaminated the atoll so badly it was not used for 6 years). Then France moved to Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. New Zealand sailors witnessed nuclear tests conducted in the 1970’s by France at Mururoa Atoll with yields that ranged between 1 ton (thought to be a safety experiment)to 955 kilotons.

To this day I do not believe a single Government in possession of nuclear weapons can truthfully say it has been totally transparent about the effects that nuclear testing has had on those in the armed forces that witnessed the tests. Only the United States, Britain and France can say that they have offered any compensation or otherwise made an effort to acknowledge the significant medical effects being exposed to the levels of radiation that they were, would have had. Certainly not Russia or China, where a lack of Government transparency means only activists and investigative journalists taking significant risks to their well being have tried in vain to expose the testing activities and the fallout consequences for those down wind.

The New Zealand Government has never fully acknowledged the effects of nuclear testing on New Zealanders who sailed to these locations. Nor have successive Labour or National led Governments made an effort to compensate those victims found to be displaying the symptoms of fallout from these explosions. The best chance for New Zealand veterans to get compensation is based on research that was proposed in 2016 by Brunei University to undertake chromosomal research into veterans of the British nuclear weapons testing programme.

The Government says that we appreciate what our veterans have been through.

No. No we don’t. Until these veterans get assessed for illnesses related to their exposure to nuclear testing, those effects acknowledged in full and in public and they receive appropriate compensation, this is a bald faced lie.