Sunday, 27 November 2011


Still recovering from a very boring election night. Blogosphere seems very ho-hum about the reslts... all the expected comments.

We got the expected big National majority, and the usual suspects crying out for an overhaul of MMP on the grounds of these results. They do that each time ... this time it seems that National should be able to govern by themselves since their majority is so large but are forced to toady to the ultra-right for a measly seat. Yeah right.

People, MMP allows for a nuanced view of election results. The message to National is, surely, "Keep doing what you are doing, with a few small tweaks."

The biggest message of this years elections seems to be underreported though: voter turnout os very low (for NZ). Not-voting is, itself, a vote. The message that lots of uncast votes sends is that it wasn't worth voting. Its not hard to vote - it takes less than a minute on a weekend and you can't move for polling stations. Some countries you have to slip through gunmen and risk reprisals to cast a vote. These places have an excuse for a low turnout. But here? "Whence the apathy?" - the party strategists have to ask themselves (or, better, other people).  Surely this can only mean that none of the choices were attractive?

I'd like to see National grow a pair and form a  government with the Greens. Sure they'll have to lose some policies, but they'll also lose the tail-wagging-the-god look of dealing with Act, scupper any possibility of effective opposition, and look like they are listening to voters.

The economy will start to look up over the next three years provided nobody fiddles with it much. All they have to do then is not stuff up (which is the best anyone is saying about their performance so far) and they'll get a third term in 2014. That's got to be worth acceding to Green's actually quite modest core policies which can be spun as "what the public wants" anyway.

Still, I doubt it will happen.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Toastmasters #3

Speech #3 from the CC manual today - went OK I guess.

I turned the stuff on radioactive water into a 5-7 min presentation and went over-time by almost 2mins. Too much detail. However, I got positive reviews and I didn't need my notes.

Not too bad - since the last three days I've been unbelievably itchy all over, no rash, no lumps, no redness or swelling or anything. It's been madness. Hot showers and cold sea soothes it for a while. Anti-histamines  reduce the symptoms to a prickly burning sensation like a sunburn or a fever. I'm not feverish and I have not been burned.

Googling produces worrying possibilities ... thyroid to leukemia eek! But I could have just got hyper-sensitive after an insect bite and the mozzies have been active and the symptoms showed up in the morning after sleeping with the doors open.

Anyway, this has made me too distracted to write the speech - so it was mostly impromptu.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

NZ Radioactive Drinking Water

People watching the Texas radioactive water thing may be interested in this [doc format - need better source]... there's probably a more up to date one but this is illustrative. Here's an excerpt concerning the NZ standard for radiation in water:

Dose conversion factors linking concentrations in water to resulting radiation dose, recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP 1996) were used in deriving the MAV concentrations. This approach is consistent with that of other organisations such as the World Health Organisation (2004). The MAVs are deliberately conservative. If the natural radionuclides radium-226 and radium-228 were present in drinking-water at the MAV level (worst case scenario), the annual radiation dose would still be less than 5 percent of the total annual natural dose.

It's set up in reference to international standards - the ICRP reference is worth looking at. So what are the limits?
The MAVs for radiological determinands are:

  • alpha: 0.10 becquerel per litre, excluding radon-222
  • beta: 0.50 becquerel per litre, excluding potassium-40
  • radon-222: 100 becquerel per litre.
Are these big?
Well, 1Bq is one nuclear disintegration a second. The equivalent USEPA standard for beta concentration is about 0.2Bq (using 5pCu) so their standard is actually tougher than ours. But ... is it big - the authors go on to point out:
In the radiological context, the MAV is intended to indicate a level above which the radioactive content of the water should be investigated further and an assessment of all relevant radiological issues undertaken. Radiation protection issues are often complex and many factors would have to be taken into account before a water supply could be classified as unacceptable even though a radiological MAV might have been exceeded.

The DWSNZ therefore emphasise that further assessment by the National Radiation Laboratory of the Ministry of Health is required in such cases. The MAV is thus more of a guideline than necessarily an absolute maximum. It is also intended to be clear however, that at levels below the MAV, there is no need for further assessment.
... in other words - we have adopted a safety limit of 20% of what we'd get anyway just walking around and the US prefers 10% as a safety margin.
Exceeding the margin just means that further investigation is needed.

But how about danger levels?

Here's an old paper - (also see the links to the dial-painter studies in that paper)... the dial-painter studies suggest tumors do not appear below 3.7 million Bq - we could be skeptical about this by 6 whole orders of magnitude and still be pretty safe.

What has been interesting to me about this trawl through data sources is the difference between what the US government provides it's population and what the NZ government does. The US official sources are all calm and reassuring language with a lack of much that can be checked - it takes quite a bit of hunting to reach the level where you can find out anything verifiable and I usually had to go to non-government sources. On the NZ trawl there seemed to be more interest in actually informing the public to the point that I could reach verifiable data much more quickly.

It's only a subjective impression, but it would seem that the US public's general feeling that the government is not telling them something has some foundation. OK It is certainly true - no government (or anybody) tells you everything. However: if you want to look trustworthy you should include checkable facts in your information bits ... how would someone reading the document check what you are saying?
ICRP (1996). Age-dependent Doses to Members of the Public from Intake of Radionuclides: Part 5 Compilation of Ingestion and Inhalation Dose Coefficients. Publication 72, International Commission on Radiological Protection. Pergamon Press.

WHO (2004). Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality 2004 (3rd Ed.). Geneva: World Health Organisation.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

I heard an interesting observation ... the US foreign policy is being informed by fundamentalist Christian millenialism. Basically, (i.e. in the case of Isreal) the argument goes, fundies want Jews in control of Jerusalem because the Bible says this has to happen before the End of the World. They _want_ the EotW because that way they get to go to heaven.

I doubt this is literally the case: nobody sat around a table and said "Look here, we gotta get more Yids in Jerusalem if any of us want to go to Heaven." However, I have personally experienced the power of a Bible-lead culture to screw with your values even if you are not Christian. If you want to create a Jewish homeland by ignoring the concerns of the locals, there were probably more easily suppressed peoples than the Palestinians right?

Also I'm quite sure that most Christians will realize that they can also get into Heaven by just, you know, leading a good life. Still ... it gives pause: what other aspects of US culture could plausibly laid at the feet of the fundies?

Aside: if you consider yourself a US fundamentalist Christian and you are offended by this - take heart: obviously I don't mean _you_! I'm quite sure you know who I'm talking about.