Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Recently, John Hicks wrote about bee diseases in Vet Talk. Although his article is 'stingingly' clever, the health and well-being of bees is of concern lately because they are crucial to the pollination of fruit and vegetable crops. Check out this photo of a bee covered in pumpkin pollen (picture from http://www.freepicturesfreepictures.com/).

But pollination isn't the only thing that honey bees do well; they also have a remarkable voting system. Bees have been holding elections on where to build new hives each year for millions of years. Their success rate for choosing the most optimum site is 90% according to some entymologists, making our human democracy systems look inferior. Maybe there's something we can learn from them about how to choose the best candidate or party to form a government.

Honey bees use a form of 'range voting' also known as 'score voting'. According to a paper by Warren D. Smith (pdf) of Temple University, each spring, half of a honey bee hive breaks up and convenes in a swarm, usually in a nearby tree. At first maybe 1% of them are designated scouts. These scouts previously worked as food foragers so they have extensive search skills. They go and search out perhaps up to 20 sites within a wide radius, and come back to the swarm and report. The scouts communicate where the best site is and how good they think it is by using a dancing sign language. The more they repeat this dance, the more they convey their preference for a site. Then other scouts, seeing this dance, go and see the sites for themselves. Factions form and ultimately a decision is made. More often than not, they choose the best site for their hive.

Compare this to most human democracies where a two-party system dominates. How good can our decisions be with only two options to choose from? If we happen to elect a good leader, it's more often by chance than by design. So on election day, 8 Nov, think 'what would the bees do?' Consider all the choices and select what you think is the best. Dancing is optional.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Time for a Cuppa?

The Otautau Cafe has added Jungle Coffee to its menu. This coffee is made from a rich blend of beans roasted in New Zealand. And the perfect complement to this full-bodied flavour are the tasty muffins, cakes, scones and vegetarian sushi which are also new on the menu.

After the town hall meeting, I'm ready for a cuppa.

Future of the Town Hall - II

Last night the Wallace Community Board held a public meeting to discuss the future of the Town Hall. A short presentation given by Kevin McNaught (SDC) covered the issues of seismic strength, cost to upgrade, funding options and timelines. The floor was then opened by Wallace Community Board chairperson, Mike Whale, for the public's feedback. Despite the small public turnout, the contributions represented a diversity of views.

In short, to seismically upgrade the building to a reasonable standard for its usage would cost about $270,000 plus GST and we would have 25 years to do this. This would mean a rateable increase of about $65 per property, per year, for 20 years. Some of the feedback was that the hall is not used enough to warrant this much burden on Otautau ratepayers assuming the likelihood that no other funding can be found. Others felt that no upgrade was necessary at all because the building is sound and has easily survived several earthquakes with no damage. Still others felt that the heritage value of the building was an important factor not easily quantified by a pure economic view of the situation.

The alternatives to seismic upgrade are for the Southland District Council and Wallace Community Board to divest themselves of the building by selling or demolishing it. Another option would be the council gifting the building to a trust who would then be able to get a levy through ratepayers as well as applying for funding. There are other towns with trust-owned community centres. The Council did not mention 'gifting', however.

Demolition would cost anywhere from $40,000-$70,000 which would fall on the community board and ratepayers. The cultural loss of such a building to the town, of course, not quantifiable.

As the discussion wound down, Mr Whale took the opportunity to ask who was in favour of keeping the building and who was against it. The majority voted in favour. However, only about 40 people voted which is perhaps 10% of the ratepayers who would be affected by the rate increase. The chairperson urged that others who weren't at the meeting should express their views by contacting the Wallace Community Board. You can do this by emailing Shirley Manson at the Southland District Council Otautau Office

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Kids' Video

The Otautau Primary School's video for the Fair Go Student Ad Awards is very cute. I didn't know we had such media talent in our midst. The results of the competition are on the Fair Go site.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Future of Town Hall

The future of the Town Hall is to be discussed at a public meeting on Wed, 22 Oct.
Looking back into the history of this hall, I found that the Otautau Athenaeum existed before the first town hall and was built some time in the 1870s and '80s. Athenaeums were built all over the place in the early years of settlement; it seems nearly every town had one. An athenaeum was like a public library but also a meeting place and had rooms for people to meet and play games. This excerpt is from the Otago Witness, 29 Jun 1888, obtained from National Library's PapersPast website.

According to Ken Bye's Trial By Fire, Trial By Water, by 1883, there was a growing desire for a town hall. This was finally built in 1892, next to the Athenaeum. A portion of the first town hall still stands today as the former O.K. Milk Bar on Main Street.

This was replaced in 1912 with the rather magnificent Town Hall we have today.

This hall was used for all kinds of community gatherings and meetings, from movies, plays, concerts and dances to going-away parties. It was even used as emergency relief in the 1913 flood because it was one of the few buildings that had a second floor.

Today, the hall is used less and less for community events, perhaps in part due to the tenuous seismic structure issue, but also because the town is changing. However, at least one very important event still takes place there every year, and that is to commemorate Anzac Day. After the ceremony at the War Memorial, and parade through Main Street, the whole community gathers at the Town Hall. What would future Anzac Days be like if there is no town hall to go to? Once a building is gone there is no going back.

As the public meeting approaches, there is a lot to consider. At the meeting the community will have a chance to speak its mind on what the town hall means to them and whether it should be kept and seismically improved or whether it's time for a change.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

eDay 2008

eDay is this Saturday, 4 October. You can drop off your unwanted computers, monitors, printers and mobile phones at the Agricultural Pavilion on Arena Avenue (off Victoria Avenue) in Invercargill, during the hours 9am to 3pm.

Schools can recycle their e-waste on Friday, 3 October at the same place. For more information you can contact Donna Peterson at 03-211-1706 or donna.peterson@icc.govt.nz

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