About robglennie000

Kia Ora This blog is my vent for releasing my frustrations with the state of New Zealand, the New Zealand Government and things going on in New Zealand society, as well as around the world. I post daily at 0900 New Zealand time. Please feel free to leave comments. Please also feel free to follow my blog. Best Regards, Rob

The case for banning Aspartame in New Zealand foods


CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

You see this on a range of soft drink labels in New Zealand and often it is alongside CONTAINS CAFFEINE.

We talk about caffeinated beverages being used to keep people awake through out the day. We talk about the sugar content of these drinks as being one of the major medical issues regarding soft drinks, including the so-called “diet range” that includes Sprite, Diet Coke and others. But how much do we know about Aspartame, which is found in phenylalanine?

In 2018, concerned with my growing waistline, I started looking at ways I could turn things around. I cut back a bit on portion sizes, stopped eating generally after 7.30PM at night and started going for aggressive 1 hour walks once a week. After seeing a hypnotherapist in February 2018 who across two sessions a week apart came up with a plan for me. After going through my eating habits she asked me if I was drinking Diet Coke or Coke Zero. I said both and on rare occasions Sprite as well, all three of which contain phenylalanine.

Whilst there Aspartame is approved in over 100 countries, it is true that it has 200x the sweetness of normal sugar. It is though nowhere near the 7,000x that another sweetener called neotame has (Yang, 2010).

I think the single biggest thing we can do to end the obesity crisis in New Zealand is ban aspartame. In the United States it can be found in 6,000 products. I imagine given the propensity of New Zealand to follow American consumer patterns a similarly horrendously large number here probably have it.

This could be complimented by taking potato chips, soft drinks and confectionery out of school canteens and hospital snack vending machines, and replacing them with fruit, filled rolls and water.

I expect that banning aspartame will provoke a reaction from Coca Cola and other manufacturers whose products have aspartame in them. Qing Yang in a 2010 paper published in the Yale Biological Medical Journal however explains how aspartame and other super artificial sweeteners have not contributed to weight loss and how the reverse might actually be true.

Some have pointed out that only those with phenylketonuria need to worry about the hazards of aspartame. They point to it allegedly breaking down in the body. But when aspartame breaks down it breaks down into phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. Perhaps true, but I noted when I looked the European Union Food Safety Authority sheet on aspartame that it ignored weight loss/gain which is one of the key reasons it gets raised as an issue in the first place.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314345.php

Sugar taxes have been consistently mooted by some researchers and health campaigners, but they face substantial political hurdles. Politicians on the left might support them as a way of dissuading consumers from consuming products with aspartame in it, but those on the right are likely to undo it.

Pragmatically in New Zealand, any sugar tax will probably run into resistance from very obvious quarters. National is not likely to support sugar tax, on ideological grounds of tax not being the answer. A.C.T. will definitely not support such a move and my guess is that in their first term in Government such a measure would be repealed fairly quickly.

 

 

The corrective challenge facing Corrections


As we watch the latest violent crimes in New Zealand, no doubt there will be – justified – calls for prisoners to be locked up indefinitely and the key thrown away. There will be calls for cold showers and little or no leisure time. Why give them things that many people outside of jail cannot afford say the proponents?

Umm…. perhaps because sooner or later, with the exception of the very worst, most are going to be released. When they are released the public are going to need to know and be assured that the Joe Prisoner who went in four years ago for aggravated assault now no longer poses a threat, has learnt his lesson and wants to become an actively contributing member of society.

But for that to happen, they must be in a prison environment that acknowledges them as humans who have made a mistake. The ones who are open, honest and show genuine remorse are likely to be out at some point and we need to know that they are ready for release – that they can go and live somewhere and be able to cook their own food, find a job and so on. Locking them up and throwing away the key; degrading them with abuse and demeaning punishments will not achieve that. It will make them worse.

The last thing New Zealand needs is for our court system to wind up like the United States, where privatized prisons are common. These for profit businesses are no way to manage criminals and their pursuit of the almighty dollar over and above being a facility where prisoners do their time and hopefully learn from their wrongs.

But National thought in its nine year tenure that such a model was indeed acceptable practice for managing prisons. Thus we wound up with Mt Eden Fight Club where staff and prisoners regularly duelled and prisoners would encourage fights that would get recorded on camera. And the defenders of such a wayward model seemed to think that prisoners do not deserve better, which suggests to me that the management of prisons then were not serious about the welfare of the prisoners.

This is where one can argue that prisons at that point risk becoming an environment where the inmates develop a festering hatred or anger towards society that they do not know how to keep in check. Thus when a prisoner has done his/her time and is ready for release, the authorities are not so much releasing a prisoner determined to make amends for their wrongs, but a prisoner who is a ticking time bomb likely to commit in the very near future a serious offence .

Has the Labour-led Government learnt from the disastrous experience of having Serco, a multinational that has prison contracts for a host of countries including Australia, run our prisons? Has it learnt from the Mt Eden Fight Club videos that were leaked to media, and made the then Minister for Corrections go into hiding?

I am not sure what the current Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis has learnt.

Maybe Mr Davis should look to other countries with different management models than the United States. Finland for example has prisons where there are no guards or gates. One can do a university degree. They can learn to do manual labour and .

It was not always like this in Finland. In the 1960’s it and its Nordic neighbours had some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The authorities, trying to figure out how to bring them down, started looking at the conditions that the prisoners were imprisoned in. They found that if one imprisons them and then starts to gradually but progressively reimmerse them in normal civilian life, a marked drop in reoffending rates occur.

Similarly Norway has found that its prisoner population is much less prone to recidivism. Prisoners and prison officers mingle interactively. The macho culture of the 1960’s where prisoners were locked up, given little in the way of opportunities to reform, to understand right from wrong and recidivism rates of 60-70% were banished.

Serco might be gone from the New Zealand prison system, but its legacy lingers on. The legacy is that New Zealanders have seen how a profits first prisoners second model can lead to significantly worsened management. They have seen how a dangerously toxic environment where recidivism rates remain high can see prisoners are released in a worse mental than that they went in with.

But will the Government have the courage to do something bold, or will it continue to copy an obviously failed model?

 

 

Chief Statistician resigns: But is that the end of the story?


Chief Statistician of New Zealand, Liz McPherson handed in her resignation to Minister of Statistics James Shaw on . Whilst Ms McPherson’s departure is definitely a step in the right direction, can we trust Statistics New Zealand and their treasure troves of statistical data? And if the answer is no, what will it take to restore that trust?

To briefly recap Ms McPherson’s chief task as the boss of Statistics New Zealand was to make sure that the 2018 Census ran smoothly. As is now very clear, that was anything but the case. Ms McPherson is now gone, but there are huge holes in the 2018 edition and considerable uncertainty no doubt exists among the many ministries and departments whose planning for the next few years has been thrown into turmoil.

Would it be better to simply organize a full brand new census for the earliest possible date and assume that the 2018 data is not able to be properly used? Possibly, but a new Census is not a cheap, logistically easy or rapid task to be carried out in terms of organizing it, never mind Census Night.

If not, do we know how much of the data is usable? How much data is missing? What data is missing? Are there minimum data amounts that must be maintained in order for particular data sets to be of use, and if so what are they? No doubt these questions have been taxing a lot of minds in Statistics New Zealand, as well as its Minister in Charge.

Let us assume the worst. The data sets for multiple agencies simply do not permit them to carry out appropriate planning and the next few years will be based on educated guesses rather than hard data. We will assume that it affects the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development among other significant users and providers of data. I cannot help but wonder what health, social, and education programmes are going to be underfunded, under resourced or simply stop working because of this ineptitude.

To be painfully honest, I have no confidence in Statistics New Zealand. Unless Mr Shaw reruns the Census I believe he should hand back his ministerial warrant for that particular portfolio. In April of this year Ms McPherson acknowledged no Iwi related data would be released. She also admitted that that data collection was insufficient for what was expected of the set. She should have handed her resignation in at the same time.

Where is National on this? Where is A.C.T.? I would have expected both parties to be busy making political hay out of this. I would have thought that A.C.T. leader David Seymour would have been left, right and centre telling us what A.C.T. would do and why this Government is not fit for the tasks ahead.

Stuff reporter Thomas Manch suggested that it might take years to restore the level of trust we need to have in Statistics New Zealand and its leadership. Given that even with the handing in of her resignation, Ms McPherson was still trying to play down the gravity of the situation, I am inclined to agree.

Years.

 

University readings resonating with life


I am currently studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma of Planning from Massey University. The Diploma which will take me two years to do part time has a core paper called Planning Theory, which I have to do. And as I work my way through the readings of the paper I have found that several of them resonate to varying degrees with life as we currently know it.

Take the paper Public participation in planning: An intellectual history by Marcus Lane (2005) which has a significant segment on Sherryl Arnstein’s 1969 paper called The Ladder of Participation as an example. Arnstein was a social worker somewhere in the United States, where she witnessed the effects of civil planning including the disconnect between planners and the communities their work impacted on. She describes an eight rung ladder which is a bit like the property ladder – the most disconnected are not even on the ladder. Of those who are, the ones on ladder rung no. 1, 2 and 3 are the most disadvantaged with those who choose to participate in the public planning process simply being manipulated by having the terms of their engagement controlled by authority. Those on rungs 4 and 5 are consulted about matters of the day, and might have input, but in reality it is but a token gesture. But the real power, which includes the ability to set down the rules of engagement, determine what subject matter shall be up for discussion and – not quite admitted to, but certainly implied – what happens to the public input after statutory consultation ends is reserved for those on rungs no. 7 and 8.

The ladder of public participation (Arnstein S., 1969)

I cannot help but wonder about how well Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation could describe New Zealand in 2019.

Lane (2005)also goes into depth about three planning models. The first, the blueprint model, which western countries have largely transited away from, but which many former Communist states are still beholden to are large scale, top down exercises. They were not as the former Soviet bloc nations found out in any respect designed for public input. This is consistent with positions 1, 2 and 3 on Arnstein’s ladder. No.’s 4 and 5 are best described by synoptic planning, where public input is tokenistic. Synoptic planning is subject to criticism – much justified – though it is still a potentially viable mode today because it allows some input, provides a means to address the issues and tries to address the problems that enter into all planning such as the trade off’s, actions taken and so forth.

Another one by Joe Painter (2006)examines the Prosaic geographies of stateness, in which he explores the mundane acts and processes of everyday life. Painter argues that the act of passing legislation in itself is not all that powerful. The power is in the actions of the agencies and individuals tasked with giving effect to it – the Police who decide whether to arrest a suspect and charge him/her; the nurse administering medication in a hospital or the doctor writing the script; the clerk who has to write the letter telling the owner of a property whose pool has no fence of their legal obligations and so on. It turns out that the mundane and the ordinary have more clout than one thinks by their collective and individual actions.

The theory of planning can at times be dry, but for one to understand how the bureaucrats we entrust with planning the use of our resources and amenities reach the decisions they do, we need to understand the nature of the profession they work in.

Reducing harm from waste: Product stewardship


Product stewardship is an environmental management strategy for a product through all stages of its life. From when it is designed, through its production to the end of its life, product stewardship requires all who are involved in the life cycle of a product to to take responsibility for its environmental impact.

A product stewardship scheme is being investigated by the Ministry for the Environment, which is now taking public submissions on the matter. Instead of using the linear economy model which promotes the current destructive and wasteful practices, the circular economy is viewed as a more responsible model. In a linear economy natural resources are taken from the ground, they are made into something in a factory, which is then used by humans before being disposed of. In a circular economy goods are manufactured, the consumer uses them before they get returned to the manufacturer. The manufacturer will then ensure that the valuable components such as wiring, microchips and so forth as well as valuable elements such as gold, copper, silver and palladium which make up the device can be extracted and reused.

This makes logical sense for a range of products that are either resource intensive to make. One such example is aluminium which requires a smelter. These typically require many megawatts of electricity to run so that the smelter pots can melt it. Recycled aluminium is much less energy intensive to melt down and can be reused many times over.

There are a range of environmental and economic benefits that have been identified by the Ministry. There is scope for significant technological innovation, development of new processes and improvements in efficiency that can be found.

It has taken awhile to get this far. The first serious move to address this growing problem was in 2008, when the then Fifth Labour Government introduced the Waste Minimisation Act 2008. It set its purpose down as thus:

The purpose of this Act is to encourage waste minimisation and a decrease in waste disposal in order to—

  •  protect the environment from harm; and
  • provide environmental, social, economic, and cultural benefits.

This seems a rather outdated purpose for the Act. Protecting the environment from harm is obvious, but it could have defined harm, which I have assumed to mean “harmful waste and waste making practices in the natural environment”. The second part is also quite vague and extremely broad. As with the previous part I have tried to be more specific and therefore clarify “environmental” as the natural as well the man made environments (urban areas, significant human activities); “social” as society wide in terms of health, education, and so forth. In terms of economic gains, I look at the potential for energy development, technological innovation and potential export opportunities – New Zealand prides itself on being clean and green but shows reluctance to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the more proper management of waste.

I hope that something serious comes of this. New Zealand cannot afford further dilly dallying on its environmental reputation. Tourists are starting to see us for what we are – a nice nation with a few dirty secrets – and they are saying so to their families and friends when they go home. If we want those people to come as visitors we need to do better. If we want “clean and green” to be honest, we need to do better. This is as good a place as any to start.