Sunday, 21 December 2008

One thing I’ve learned from many years in the media is that you underestimate petrolheads at your peril!

Take, for example, Teretonga locally, Bathurst across the ditch, Indy Car racing in the States or the lure of Formula One anywhere on the planet. Man is fascinated by cars and has been since the late 19th century.

One of the more interesting radio interviews I’ve conducted recently on the Farming Show was with the author of The Dog and Lemon Guide, a fellow by the name of Clive Matthew-Wilson. His book is like a Lonely Planet guide to the world of cars.

It rates most vehicles manufactured from 1993 to 2009. You’ll have to buy it for $24.95 to find out how your car, ute or SUV rates, but I thought I’d share with you some of his fascinating insights into the history of the motor car. He writes:

Despite what you may have heard, the world before the car wasn’t clean, green or particularly pleasant …

# Horses lived about four years. They worked hard and often died on the job, causing hopeless traffic jams as they collapsed from abuse or exhaustion. In the 1880s, 15,000 dead horses a year were being hauled off the streets of New York. However, it often took a few days to get around to picking up the latest corpses, so the dead horses lay in the sun for a few days, which was fun for the flies but not for anyone else …

# The brakes on the early motor cars were less effective than the brakes on a modern bicycle; not that brakes really mattered. The rich and reckless car drivers often simply ran other road users of the road, or, if the other road users were not quick, they ran them over…

# The lack of rural roads and crowded city streets did little to deter America’s upper classes from exercising their natural rights to a little spontaneous freedom. In New York alone, over a thousand children were killed by cars before 1910…

So there you go Southland. As you’re battling the late-night Christmas traffic and cursing the hoons in Dee Street or the Gorons in their Valiants on Main Street, spare a thought for those who bravely went before you when life’s road was really rocky.

Besides, ‘tis the season of goodwill to all men. Even the bogans!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The finalists for the 2008 Halberg Awards will be named in early January. Short of Chris Martin being recalled for the second Windies test and scoring 500 not out, the leading contenders are already finalized.

The sportswoman’s award is the most clear-cut. The 2007 supreme Halberg winner Valerie Vili is shoo-in, courtesy of her shot put gold at Beijing.

In the team award, many of my fellow scribes are plumping for the Kiwis on the back of the magnificent World Rugby League Cup victory over the Aussies. While it remains one of the undoubted sporting highlights of the year, let’s be honest, it was a two horse race and a minor race at that. This was a World Cup title but not a victory on the world stage.

Others who might come into consideration are the men’s cycling pursuit team and Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater, both Olympic bronze medalists. The All Blacks and the Crusaders could possibly stake a claim but for my money the winners have to be 2001 supreme Halberg winners, Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell, who were pipped at the post in 2004 by another Athens golden girl, Sarah Ulmer.

Back-to-back Olympic gold medals places the twins in the rarified company of the likes of Peter Snell and Mark Todd.

The sportsman’s award to will be the most closely fought. Indy racing champion Scott Dixon is the bookmaker’s favourite but I don’t know about that. Tom Ashley won boardsailing gold at Beijing, yet in my mind his efforts play second-fiddle to Nick Willis winning a bronze in the blue-riband 1500 metres, a track event in which this country has a rich heritage.

Other names being bandied about include other Olympic medalists - the gutsy 2006 supreme Halberg winner Mahe Drysdale, cyclist Hayden Roulston and triathlete Bevan Docherty. Then there’s US Amateur golf champion, Danny Lee, but he’s probably blotted his copybook with some less than sportsman-like behaviour on and off the course.

What about Richie McCaw? He’s won everything this year as a captain and never played in a losing All Black team. We haven’t had an All Black supreme Halberg winner since Wilson Whineray in 1965 and only two previously in Ron Jarden (1951) and Don Clarke (1959).

My supreme Halberg winner for 2008? The Evers-Swindell twins. How can you beat two in a row?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

UK Farm subsidies - a necessary evil?

Over the last few years, agriculture ministers have been working to dismantle the system of paying farmers subsidies for the food they produce known as the Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP.

Originally set up to increase productivity and stabilise markets in a Europe still haunted by the spectre of wartime hunger, by the 1970s and 1980s tales of butter and beef "mountains", bought and stored by European officials to keep the price of produce artificially high, led to calls for reform.

It took many years, but payments are now being shifted to instead encourage rural development and good environmental practices on farms.

But some agricultural experts are warning that as world food supply is predicted to fall behind global demand, a return to production subsidies may be the only way to ensure we can continue to feed ourselves in the long term.

Although the words "agricultural subsidies" bring for most people the excesses of the CAP to mind, direct production subsidies are nothing new.

Governments have intervened to keep the price of basic commodities stable for hundreds of years, and after World War II - many years before the UK joined the European Union - farmers were paid to produce food.

Lord Plumb was president of the National Farmers' Union in the 1970s and of the European Parliament in the 1980s.

"It was Sir Winston Churchill who said, just after the war, '30 million people all living on an island where we produce enough food for, say, 15 million, is a spectacle of majesty and insecurity this country can ill afford,'" he says.

"That system of guaranteed payments which was created in 1947 created a fairly stable market for some time.

"History will prove that these were consumer subsides rather than producer subsidies that at least gave us that stability in the market."

New technology

"Consumer subsidies" sounds like a contradiction in terms, but many commentators agree that the CAP helped to underwrite the huge growth in agricultural productivity in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The BBC has had access to an as yet unpublished report commissioned by the government's chief scientist, John Beddington, into the agricultural and economic elements of food security.

It suggests we could double, even treble, our agricultural production in years to come with better farming techniques.

But government advisers say this agricultural revolution will not happen unless there is price stability in food markets and farmers feel confident enough about their profit margins to invest in new technology.

Recently, however, the market rate for many crops has been very unstable, as world demand for grain and meat increases.

Lord Haskins, a former adviser to the government on agricultural issues, says despite this, a return to subsidies would be a huge mistake.

"Protectionism crept in in the 1930s and led indirectly to the Second World War," he says.

"Europe is going to be one of the bread baskets of the world, particularly with climate change, so I don't think we are going to have a food security problem.

'Food crisis'

"The problem is going to be for governments that food supply is going to change so dramatically they will not be sure what levers to pull."

Patrick Holden, director of the organic farming body the Soil Association, says that the old CAP was so disastrous it has given public funding for agriculture a bad name.

"But given the unprecedented precariousness of our food system and the growing likelihood we could suffer a real food crisis triggered by an external event like terrorism or a weather event, it's time to re-evaluate the role of government intervention in our food systems," he says.

"There are some things that only government can do."

Mr Holden wants to see the government intervening to help make food systems more local.

Whatever their view on subsidies, everyone agrees a return to the megalithic CAP of the 1980s is not the solution.

Intervention, supporters say, needs to have a light touch - available when needed, but easily withdrawn when price stability is achieved.

Whether the public could be convinced of any of this, especially in the current economic conditions, is another matter.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/11/26 08:36:26 GMT

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Jamie's Weekly Sports Thought 05/12/08

A day is a long time if you’re thirsty. A week is a long time in politics. A year is an even longer time in sport.

I can’t help but ponder the fortunes of Graham Henry over the past 12 months. Almost a year ago to the day, this is what I wrote about Henry in this very column:

‘He was a great coach (2005-06) but he slowed badly down the home stretch and fell at the last crucial hurdle. For that, the price must be his head …. but I’ve got a feeling in my aging bones rugby HQ is about to make the biggest mistake since Colin Farrell’s selection in 1977.’

History tells us Henry was reappointed in the biggest sporting controversy since Buck Shelford was dropped from the All Blacks in 1990. It would be mean-spirited to suggest Henry has had anything but a very good year, losing only two tests, largely because the superb Richie McCaw wasn’t playing.

It doesn’t, however, change the fact that the best coach in New Zealand is coaching in Australia.

I was fortunate enough to play the Hills Cure Kids Open at Michael Hill’s stunning Arrowtown golf course last Saturday. I knew we were in for a tough day at the office when New Zealand’s most famous jeweler welcomed us in good humour by saying the course was relatively easy providing you didn’t stray from the fairways.

That was an understatement. The first short cut of rough grabbed your ball like a Guantanamo Bay torturer. The second cut would have had any silage contractor salivating.

Other than losing two balls in the hay paddock rough and coming to grief in the rocks and sand on the signature par five 17th hole, the Canyon, I probably fared about as well as my limited ability allowed.

The undoubted highlight was the fat lamb drafter Nicol Gray (a drafter of fat lambs as opposed to an overweight lamb drafter) crumbling under pressure one hole from home and paying accordingly for his crimes at the bar of the award-winning clubhouse.

Hill’s jewelry might be very reasonably priced but his bar is no place for fiscally faint-hearted! But what the heck, all the proceeds were for a very good cause. Michael Hill Jeweler and Nicol Gray Fat Lamb Drafter should be thanked for their extreme generosity in making the day extremely memorable.

Jamie's Weekly Sports Thought - 28/11

Sometimes in the media game if there are no letters to the editor or calls to the radio station having a crack at you, paranoia can strike. You start to wonder whether anyone bothers reading your stuff or listening to your show.

However, my faith was renewed by an e-mail I received from a boy I used to play junior doubles with 35 years ago. At the time he suffered from chronic tennis elbow and couldn’t serve properly but he overcame that affliction to become one of the better tennis players Southland has produced. Here’s what he wrote:

I was honoured to have my name mentioned in your Friday article re the death of Bill Horrell.

I continue to read your column every week wherever I might be. I think the appeal for me is remembering Southland sport as it was when I left - Nicol, Booth, Pokere - and an age when sport was run by sports enthusiasts, not an accountant or lawyer in sight!

I have also remained a true Southlander. I sometimes have to pinch myself because I find myself in such a different environment now. Today I conducted a clinic with Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, stood side by side as they hit balls with locals before playing an exhibition match. It was all I could do to concentrate on my function there (feeding balls).

I kept looking at Borg standing beside me and had quite a job believing I had come from South Invercargill to this. In March, I will captain Thailand against Australia in the Davis Cup, sitting on-court trying to organise strategy to beat Leyton Hewitt and Co. It will be my 14th Davis Cup tie as Thai captain and I may be the only Davis Cup captain in the world who is not a national of the country they lead.

Your column brings me back to the New Zealand and Southland I left. I have many fond memories and those memories have shaped me into what I am today. Tonight I will make my way into Bangkok to watch the All Blacks play Wales at midnight. I will join a small but loyal group of Kiwis who turn up every time the ABs play a test.

Thanks for a great read every Friday and if you ever get to Bangkok lets get together.

Paul Dale
Tennis Asia Solutions Limited

Jamie's Weekly Sports Thought - 21/11

I had an interesting broadcasting experience the other day which reinforced, again, how one-dimensional we are as sporting nation.

On the Farming Show we are currently running a great promotion giving away Steel Blue work boots to farmers. As fate would have it, the Australian ambassador for Steel Blue is none other than the great fast bowler Dennis Lillee.

He’s in the country on a promotional visit and naturally I jumped at the opportunity to interview him even though that meant jumping through some Steel Blue hoops before getting down to the nitty-gritty of cricket. Such is the reality of commercial radio.

The most interesting part of the interview, however, was that it was conducted in two parts. The first, of nine minutes duration, examined his commercial ties with Steel Blue but had a good portion of cricket woven into the conversation. I was more than happy to have got that from an international sporting icon and didn’t waste too much time exchanging pleasantries at its completion because I realized he is a man whose time is very valuable.

Imagine my surprise when the phone rang five minutes later and the bloke at the other end said, “Gidday, it’s Dennis here again mate, I dunno whether we talked enough about cricket. If you want to roll a tape we’ll talk some more about what you want to yarn about”.

What ensued was another 12 minutes of fascinating insight into the life and times of one of the world’s greatest cricketers.

In a country where it’s much easier to interview the Prime Minister than a leading All Black (believe me it is), I wonder how many top rugby players would show the courtesy, humility and grace of a Dennis Lillee?

For most rugby players, their phone is always off the hook. It’s my experience few ever return a call and I cannot remember one of them ever phoning back politely asking if you’d like some more of their valuable time because they felt they had not fulfilled their end of the bargain first time round.

Besides, would I sooner spend 21 minutes talking to Dennis Lillee about Rod Marsh, Jeff Thomson, Ian and Greg Chappell, Viv Richards, Barry Richards, David Gower, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe OR would I prefer three minutes of clichéd comment about the boys, outcomes, accuracy, tasks, goals and moving forward?

Mmmm! Let me think?

Jamie's Weekly Sports Thought - 14/11

The cliché is the blight of the English language. Nowhere is this more evident than during an election campaign or on an All Black tour.

Some bright spark at Oxford University recently compiled a list of the 10 most irritating phrases in the English language. They are as follows:

1. At the end of the day.
2. Fairly unique.
3. I personally.
4. At this moment in time.
5. With all due respect.
6. Absolutely.
7. It's a nightmare.
8. Shouldn't of (instead of the grammatically correct shouldn’t have).
9. 24/7.
10. It's not rocket science.

With all due respect to Oxford University, I personally reckon they shouldn’t of left the list at just 10. At this moment in time there’s one cliché that’s absolutely a nightmare. It irritates me 24/7 and I know at the end of the day I’m not fairly unique in saying it’s not rocket science!

So surely, when it comes to irritating phrases, top of the pops belongs to “moving forward”. If I hear another moving forward from a politician or a rugby player or coach, I think I’ll move forward to the nearest high-rise window in Gore (there aren’t many to pick from) and jump!

I personally blame John Mitchell because he started it all. Mind you his predecessor Wayne Smith is not without blame either and you can see his unfortunate influence coming through in some of today’s All Blacks.

Liam Messam is a fine example. He got his All Black career off to a good start at Murrayfield then proceeded to confuse the hell out of us in his first after-match interview in the black jersey. He talked about how great it was to get out there and “express himself” (Colin Meads translation – get stuck in) and then he spoke of completing things “task by task” (Colin Meads translation – ruck the shi# out of the #astards).

Perhaps, though, the ‘full credit’ for clichés this week goes to the bouffant boofhead of the United Future party, Peter Dunne. When asked about his coalition talks with National he defiantly declared he’d go back and “talk to my people”. In a party of one that would make for an interesting conversation!

Jamie's Weekly Sports Thought - 7/11

June 1, 1985, when the All Blacks faced England at Lancaster Park was a watershed day in my sporting life. It was the first inkling my long-dreamt All Black fullback career might not eventuate.

Robbie Deans had caused me some consternation a couple of years earlier when he made his debut against Scotland but he was fully 39 days older than me so I always figured my time would come. But when Kieran Crowley took the park against the Poms, he was nearly two years younger. Time was passing me by!

The ageist blows have continued in more recent times. Barrack Obama is the first American president younger than me. John Key has a good chance to repeat the dose on Saturday in the Prime Ministerial stakes.

Not that you’d want the latter job. It doesn’t pay as well as being an All Black!

Buck Shelford’s new book The Man, The Story, The Truth was launched this week. I found it a little disappointing when it came to the most controversial part of his career. Here’s an extract:

In the years since, many rumours have circulated about why Wyllie agreed to sack Shelford. ‘I didn’t punch Grant Fox in a changing shed, I didn’t punch Wyllie and I didn’t have an affair with Grizz’s wife! It’s amazing the stories you hear. The only one with any semblance of truth is the Fox one. We had a “chat” after the second Scotland test. That’s it’.

I interviewed Shelford this week and tried to get him to elaborate on the “chat”. His long-winded and evasive answer would have done any politician proud. Maybe Buck’s looking to join the likes of Ben Couch, Chris Laidlaw, Tony Steel and the incomparable Grahame Thorne as a dual All Black and MP?

The Tour of Southland is a marvelous event and the cyclists are magnificent athletes. When you see them in the flesh, there’s not much to them but don’t let their lean, lithe frames fool you. Cycling is an extremely aggressive sport and the riders are just as testosterone-pumped as their counterparts in some more physically-combative sports.

From all accounts, Wednesday’s conditions were as bad as anything experienced in the 52 years of this iconic event. A couple of the stages were shortened but there’s no where to hide on a bike and the riders gutsed out the sleet, hail and snow.

What’s more they take their chances in all conditions over six grueling days in a row.

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that some of our beefiest and toughest All Blacks can’t play five tests on consecutive Saturdays with six days off in between each of them?