Monday, August 31, 2009

The 'the'

Reading the letters of Constantine Dillon, an aristocratic
young English colonist who lived in New Zealand from
1842 until his death by drowning in 1853, I’m struck
afresh by the use of the definite article in connection
with various regions of New Zealand. For early British
settlers it was always ‘the’ Waimea, ‘the’ Wairarapa, ‘the’
Rangitikei,’ ‘the’ Manawatu. Note that the article was
invariably attached to Maori names, not English ones.
No one talked of ‘the’ Nelson or ‘the’ Canterbury. (The
only exceptions that come to mind are the Hutt—an
abbreviation of the Hutt Valley—and the Coromandel.)
Overall, it's hard to escape the conclusion that prefixing
‘the’ to the names of Maori regions was a way of
reinforcing British ownership of, or claims to, those
places. It somehow domesticated them, while also, no
doubt, ameliorating the awkwardness of pronouncing
Maori names straight out—without a social introduction,
as it were. The ‘the’— could we say?—helped to make
orderly the wilderness and straight the path of colonial
annexation. Thus even the humblest part of speech was
pressed into service on the side of the imperialist project.

I may be mistaken but I detect a trend now, in the early
21st century, towards dispensing with the 'the' in these
cases; more and more we hear just 'Waikato' or
'Manawatu,' though the article still seems to cling to my
own place of birth, 'the' Wairarapa, perhaps because the
Maori presence was historically less influential there.

I note also that Dillon—though hardly exceptionable in
this—makes reductive references to Jewishness, as in this
comment on Auckland in 1848: ‘This is such a horrid
place, always raining, up to one’s knees in mud and dust,
everything dirty and shabby, the people almost all Jews or
people from N.S.Wales.’ A few pages further on, a man
described as a blackguard, a scamp and a liar is also called
'a regular Jew.’ You can't help but wonder to what extent
this kind of casual, almost perfunctory antisemitism helped
to lay the ground—helped to ease attitudes into action—for
what came a century later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dicky-die-doh

Oh goody. Another Federated Farmers executive with a
brain the size of a pea. This time it’s Lachlan McKenzie,
chairman of FF’s dairy section, quoted in Kim Knight’s
outstanding Sunday Star-Times feature on the
destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests and their
replacement with palm plantations from which vast
quantities of palm oil are extracted and sent to the West for
use in cosmetics and foodstuffs like chocolate. A by-product
of the process is palm kernel expeller (PKE), reconstituted
as dry animal feed; turns out that a quarter of all the PKE
sold in the world last year was bought for New Zealand
farmers as a supplement for their cows—and most of it
lacked the certification of the Roundtable on Sustainable
Palm Oil. In short, as Knight convincingly shows, the
Indonesian environment is being wrecked, deforestation
is adding hugely to carbon emissions, and New Zealand
has been an unprotesting beneficiary of it all. Yet when
asked to comment, McKenzie said PKE was only a
byproduct, and that if New Zealand stopped buying it,
‘You think that’s going to have any dent on the growing
of palm oil? Not a thing. Not a dicky-die-doh.’

Pausing to unpack that statement for a moment, we find
one of the nation’s farming leaders telling us that it’s all
right to profit from something wrong if others are doing it
too. Have I got that right, Lachlan? Please tell me if another
kind of construction can be put on it, because I’m almost
certainly being na├»ve and simplistic here, but isn’t it like
saying that, say, goods produced as a ‘byproduct’ of slave
labour are okay for us to buy and consume, because what
the hey, we're not the principal consumers?

But wait, there’s more. And worse. McKenzie, according to
Knight, said that although farmers could ask questions,
ultimately it was up to importers to ensure ethical and
sustainable sources: ‘I can’t go over, as a farmer, and certify
anything.’

Right. Like I, as a consumer, can’t make ethical choices
about what I buy and how I live? Of course not. Just hand
me down some more of that tainted Chinese milk powder,
please—I've got a baby to feed and I can't go over, as a
parent, and certify anything. Oh, and while you're there, a
spoonful of delicious palm kernel expeller would go down a
treat as well.

Reasons for seasons

From time to time over the years, mainly in the pages of
the Listener, I have argued that we in New Zealand have
our summer holidays too early: that the custom of
starting them by Christmas at the latest does not reflect
changing weather patterns. My memories of childhood
suggest that 50 years ago anyway summer came as early
as mid-November; certainly by the first week or two of
December we were chafing for school to be over, seeing
the sun beat down with a burning glow on the asphalt
playground outside. Christmas and New Year in those
days are associated in my mind—possibly erroneously—
with sultry heat, scorching sands and the raw cries of
fathers hammering tent pegs into protesting earth.
Summer peaked in January and fell away thereafter.

In recent years, however, it has become plain that real
summer barely gets going by the New Year and that the
warmest month is actually February—just when schools
go back. Hence my case for the school year to go to mid-
January and recommence in March, with Christmas Day
and Boxing Day becoming the basis of a four-day long
weekend, like Easter. A Catholic archbishop interviewed
about this earlier this year [Dominion Post, 6 January]
even supported the idea, on the grounds that 'If the break
was in February, there would be less distraction around
Christmas time and therefore more of an opportunity to
focus on the religious aspects of Christmas.’

Weatherwise, what we seem to have now is a prolonged
semi-spring that surfaces as early as August and muddles
mildly along till at least December, with occasional
regressions to wintriness; and a broader tendency for all
the seasons to become less distinguishable from each other.
How much this has to do with global warming I don’t know,
but whatever the reason, our mental habits remain wedded
to the four-season model imposed on southern-hemisphere
countries by European colonizers, albeit in reverse.

So I’m delighted to see that an Australian botanist is calling
for the creation of one or two additional seasons, which he
says would more accurately reflect Nature’s rhythms.’ Tim
Entwisle, of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, ‘is advocating
that spring be brought forward to August and last only two
months, to be followed by a new pre-summer season,
spanning October and November. Summer would start in
December, as at present, but would last four months, then
there would be a short autumn in April and May, and a brief
winter in June and July’ [New Zealand Herald, 22 August].

With tongue in cheek, Entwisle even suggests new names
(sprinter and sprummer); but it's worth noting in this
regard that New Zealand already has its own name
(Matariki) for a concept of seasonal change reflecting local
reality rather than historical habit. I can see a day coming,
actually, when Christmas is no longer universally celebrated
in countries like ours, nor made the occasion for a public
holiday. Even in our own time, its grave is being dug; and
the gravestone will be hung with flashing lights and tinsel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A poet passes

‘I’ve got this strong sense of self-preservation,’ Alistair
Te Ariki Campbell told me when I interviewed him for
the Listener in 2005. ‘I don’t fly apart—I get my forces
together.’ At the hot gates of Thermopylae, he said,
when the Spartans were about to go into battle with
the Persians, ‘they just leisurely groomed their hair. So
I would call on these Spartans when I was getting very
depressed—“Come, I need your help. Start grooming
yourself, start brushing your hair, come to my rescue!”’

The Spartans, together with regular medication,
helped Alistair to survive till last Sunday, the 16th of
August, when the Persians finally got him and he died
at the age of 84—though he might have gone through
the hot gates thinking he was only 82, had he not
found out fairly late in life that he was born not on 29
August 1926, as he’d been led to believe, but on 25 June
1925. Such were the mysteries attendant on a childhood
torn down the middle by the deaths of his parents
within a year of each other. The first half of that
childhood stayed in the Cook Islands, on the atoll of
Tongareva, where he had grown up in 'this little warm
atmosphere of love and care' till he was seven; the
second half began abruptly with transplantation to a
cold Dunedin orphanage, where he spent the next 10
years, learning to speak English and to preserve the self.

It took him till his mid-30s before he began to even
acknowledge that he was Polynesian, let alone how
deeply his life had been split. The two halves finally
fused into mental distress (he had a breakdown) and
then flowered into poetry, with the publication in 1963
of Sanctuary of Spirits, which Ken Arvidson later called
called the ‘first work by a Polynesian poet in English
that has the unmistakable textual richness of a major
artistic achievement.’ In his entry on Campbell in the
Oxford
Companion to New Zealand Literature, Nelson
Wattie—who has been working on a biography—notes
him saying to Sam Hunt in 1969 that ‘It was almost as if
the springs of creativity had become iced over… my
nervous breakdown cracked the ice and allowed the
spring to flow.’

Even so, as Alistair told me, for a long time it didn’t
occur to him that he might go back to the Cook Islands.
Settled in Pukerua Bay in the 1960s, in that jumble of a
house looking out onto Kapiti, raising a family with Meg,
working for School Publications, he gave no thought to it.
It was his cousin Rima who, instructed by relatives in
1974 to search him out, came to Wellington and rang all
the Campbells in the phonebook till the right one
answered. ‘And that,’ he said, 'made all the difference.'
Two years later he returned to Tongareva for the first
time since 1933 and discovered not only the ‘Te Ariki’
part of his name but an even richer vein of poetry first
seen in The Dark Lord of Savaiki (1980).

Rima spoke at the funeral. So did Nelson. Nelson sang at
the funeral—a Schumann song. So did family members
from the Cook Islands, whose thrilling traditional hymn
shook the hall’s rafters; and so did Alistair’s daughters
Josie and Mary, with their setting of his poem ‘Teu’:

Mother, you were there
at the passage
when our ship arrived.

The sea, heavy as oil,
heaved unbroken
on the reef,

the stars
lay in clusters
on the water,

and you wept
when you laid
the Southern Cross

upon our eyes.


The congregation, if that’s what we were, all sang too—
‘The Lord Is My Shepherd,’ ‘Abide With Me.’ Many people
spoke—children, grandchildren, Cook Islands relatives
who all count themselves as brothers and sisters; Meg,
who died two years ago. Andrew and Greg, Alistair’s sons
from his first marriage, to Fleur Adcock, both spoke—as
did their aunt, Fleur’s sister, Marilyn Duckworth, now
Nelson’s partner. Such connections. No one glossed over
how difficult and distant Alistair could be—‘a powerful
uncompromising presence,’ Andrew called him. Yet a
tremendous love for him was everywhere; we all felt,
through his passing, the greatness and trouble of life and
the enduring power of poetry. Over and over, we heard of
how often he would speak of his parents and his island
childhood. It was a fine cold day. They took his body to be
cremated afterwards and will, I’m sure, sow the southerly
with his ashes, as he once wrote, ‘to fall in tears on Kapiti.’
The soul of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, I think, though,
will be well on its way north by now, north by north-west
from Kapiti, from New Zealand, up through the Pacific and
out across the ocean, not stopping till it makes landfall
thousands of miles from here.

It will be like this one day
when I sail home to die—
the boat crunching up on to the sand,
then wading through warm water
to the beach,

the friendly voices
round me in the darkness,
the sky dying out
behind the trees of Omoka,
and reaching out of hands.


—Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, 'Omoka'

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Film review

I confess to being a worried man when I entered the
cinema to see Tom Scott’s film Separation City. Having
known Tom for years I wanted to like the film and to be
able to tell him so; yet I also knew that Tom is a man of
the sternest moral character who would expect nothing
less than unflinching honesty from his friends, even in
the matter of a project he had personally nursed for 20
years. Would I have the nerve to tell him to his face that,
just as early reviews had suggested, the film was…wasn’t
…could have been…should have…well, that I’d had more
laughs the last time I saw The Battleship Potemkin?

Such little faith. It just shows that one should never rely
on reviews. The film is a great watch, funny and moving
by turns, and slickly directed by Paul Middleditch, who
never lets either scenery, sentimentality or soppy music
get in the way of the action (always a risk in films about
middle-class middle-aged angst). By no means as
simplistic about sexual relationships as I’d been led to
believe, it raises a number of thorny issues about men,
women and relationships that had the staff here at
at Thumbcorp talking for days afterwards.

The first half seemed disjointed and jumpy, as if the film
couldn’t make up its mind what it was going to be.
Perhaps, in retrospect, not enough time was devoted to
building character and plot. One or two of the later
developments didn’t quite ring true because of that. A
few gags also seemed to be working too hard to earn their
place. But as the action narrowed down, and minor
characters and subplots fell back, the film found its level
and became an absorbing human drama, to the point
where expectations of the predictable were overturned,
and something resembling actual messy reality—always a
hard ask in films—shouldered its way off the screen and
into one’s consciousness. For a moment, a tear even
glistened in the usually grim Thumb eye, causing some
consternation in row Q.

So it’s mainly about how men feel about sex—no, I mean,
really—and you don’t see that at the movies very often. I
don’t recall anything about it in The Battleship Potemkin,
for a start. The trick was to do it without being self-
indulgent or self-pitying, or blowing up several buildings,
and though Scott’s script skates on thin ice once or twice,
Separation City
comes through in the end as a gutsy
exploration of the dark side of Planet Bloke. In fact, I want
to see a spinoff starring Errol the fireman, who deserves a
movie of his own.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Export-dead recovery

Governmental exhortations for the nation to aspire to an
'export-led recovery' have been exposed again as pure
hypocrisy, so long as the Kiwi dollar remains at the mercy
of global currency speculators—a point made before in this
blog, and articulated best by Bryan Gould in his books and
opinion pieces. Rakon chairman Bryan Mogridge was on
Morning Report today bemoaning the Kiwi dollar's current
high value but lamenting even more its volatility. A year or
so ago it was about 85c to the US dollar, earlier this year it
plunged to 50c, and now it's back up at 67c. Which, as
Mogridge says, makes sensible business planning almost
impossible. Calling for something to be done about it, he
went on: 'I just don't think we can allow overseas punters
to make money playing with our currency.' This guy's no -
left-wing radical, remember, but a stalwart of the NZ
business world. As he points out, at the moment the Kiwi
dollar is the seventh most traded currency in the world!
Easy pickings for international speculators and investors
while the real New Zealand economy suffers. Yet Treasury
and the Government (the last one as much as this one) are
content to leave this outrage untouched. As long as that
remains the case, New Zealand has no real claim to be a
sovereign nation at all, let alone one spearheading an
'export-led recovery.'

By the way, Mogridge said he had 'no instant-pudding
answer' to the problem, which I find a refreshing way of
putting it, when the default observation of most analysts
and commentators to most problems is that there is no
'silver bullet' solution. More pudding, please; no bullets.

Key's apology

So John Key has apologized to Keisha Castle-Hughes. Good
on him. Apologizing doesn’t come easily to politicians—
Helen Clark, for instance, found it virtually impossible to do
so; she said sorry several times on behalf of the nation, in
regard to historical wrongs, but when it came to apologizing
for a personal slip or offensive remark, the Clark teeth
clenched all the tighter. Sure, Key only apologized after
several days of public criticism for his patronizing ‘Stick to
acting’ comment, so you could say that he was backed into
it, and that he only did it for reasons of political expediency
and damage control, but there are a thousand time-soiled
ways for politicians to weasel out of something, any one of
which he could have chosen, and in this case he spurned
them for a more honourable course.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yes, riotous

An immediate reaction to Life’s a Riot, the Dean Parker
play that has just screened on TV1. Knowing Dean’s
strong left-wing beliefs, and knowing the difficulties he
has had over the years in trying to get his work produced,
I find it hard to believe that he himself could be satisfied
with the way this came out in the end—this almost one-
dimensional depiction of New Zealand in 1932, when the
Queen St riot erupted out of economic depression and the
worst unemployment the country has known. The title
alone is wince-making, as was director Ian Mune’s use of
Keystone Kops-like action scenes and chirpy jazz music,
both of which had the effect of trivializing the era. At any
moment I half expected the unemployed to kick up their
legs and swing into a Busby Berkeley-type production
number, complete with chorus girls. But if politics is the art
of the possible, then television drama these days is the art
of the commercially presentable. You can only get away
with what the networks, and more crucially the advertisers,
are willing to tolerate. My guess is that TVNZ, in its current
enfeebled state, would not have accepted for Sunday-night
prime-time screening a serious production that genuinely
reflected the political situation in 1932, and had to be
appeased with a more simplistic romp through the life of
merry Jim Edwards, leader of the unemployed marchers up
Queen St that April day. I’d be happy to be told I’m wrong
about this, and I get it that a play about the movement of
historical forces needs to be personalized and presented
entertainingly—otherwise, just make a doco—but the total
absence of any reference to the causes of the Depression,
the policies of the New Zealand government and the role
of big business was striking.

Still, you might say, better to have a TV drama based on
real New Zealand events than not at all? Maybe. And I'm
pleased that a Dean Parker script got produced—unlike,
unforgiveably, his brilliant play Greek Fire, about the last
days of John Mulgan in 1944-45, which no theatre has ever
had the gumption to stage. But anyone not knowing much
about the great depression of the 1930s would surely come
away from Life's a Riot with the idea that sure, times were
hard for some, but wasn't it all such fun?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Now with added feral

Further to the foolish ferality of Federated Farmers in
the matter of carbon emissions, Gareth draws my
attention
to a speech by the organization's president,
Don Nicholson, which only confirms, if more proof
were needed, the man's astonishing gift for dinosaur
impressions. A career on the stage beckons should Don
ever tire of pulling his gumboots on every morning and
taking them off again every night, though it is of course
entirely possible that he wears them to bed as well. Like
John Key, Nicholson too has a crack at Keisha Castle-
Hughes, who really seems to have got up these guys'
noses by daring to join those calling for a more
ambitious and inspiring reduction in emissions than
they in their wisdom deem necessary. He also accuses
Greenpeace and the Green Party of 'moral brainwashing'
and creating a 'climate of fear.' I seem to recall that
Winston Churchill was accused of the same thing in the
1930s when he tried to warn people about the meaning
of Germany's rearmament. So it's peace in our time,
is it, Don, and damn the emissions? New Zealand's
farmers deserve better leadership than this.

Connections

Texting and talking on cellphones while driving? It’s
stupid and dangerous; people have already died
meaningless deaths because of it. One thinks of the
Ashburton couple wiped out on their wedding
anniversary by a young man too busy texting to see
their car in front of him. So a government can and
should and will try to stop people from doing such
stupid and dangerous things. It’s obvious. In the past
few days another woman has been murdered in her
home and two more infants have been assaulted, one
fatally. Domestic violence is stupid and dangerous.
Child abuse is stupid and dangerous. Yet 185 places on
job training programs for at-risk young people are no
longer considered affordable
, and the country's main
literacy umbrella group, Literacy Aotearoa, has just lost
all its funding
for community classes throughout the
country helping 414 learners. That’s quite apart from
the controversial cuts to adult & community education.
Illiteracy, unemployment, lack of social and self-esteem
—all are core factors in domestic violence and child
abuse. The connection is plain to see. It’s obvious. But
not, apparently, as obvious as the causes of car crashes.
Now why is that? Why do policy-makers find it so much
easier to tackle the road toll than the far more dreadful
toll of lives ended or ruined by violence and abuse?
Could be—and this is just a random theory of mine—that
the causes of the latter are so embedded in the social
paradigm by which we live, so bound up with the norms
of power by which we are ruled, that for most male
politicians it's just too much fucking bother—especially
when there are more important things to worry about,
like money markets and motorway extensions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Major quibble

As I said on my Nine to Noon media comment the other
week, the Book Council’s new-look quarterly Booknotes
is an impressive improvement on its predecessor: big,
open, handsomely designed (though you have to search
for the picture captions) and reader-friendly, with greater
diversity of content. Well done, Susanna Andrew and team.
The standout piece is a thoroughgoing argument by Paula
Morris for a better way of giving out national book prizes,
but there’s also Owen Marshall on the value of writers’
keeping a journal and more, as they say, much more.

Looking through the autumn edition again, however, I find
I have one major quibble, if a quibble’s allowed to be major:
it’s the tendency (by no means exclusive to Booknotes) to
puff up a writer by itemizing all their awards and honours
or bestowing epithets like ‘widely acclaimed’ or ‘critically
acclaimed’ on their works. Take the biographical footnote
to Marshall’s contribution. In full, it reads:

Owen Marshall has written, or edited, 23 books.
He has received various awards and fellowships
including the Robert Burns Fellowship and the
Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship in
Menton, France. His novel, Harlequin Rex, [sic]
won the Montana Book Awards Deutz Medal for
fiction, and was made an ONZM for services to
literature [a unique achievement, I think, for an
inanimate object]. The University of Canterbury
awarded him…


But it’s too boring to go on. This is the kind of stuff lifted
from blurbs and publicists' media releases and, in this case
anyway, it has not even been properly proof-read. It’s
pompous and tedious, and does the writer no favours—
Owen himself, most self-effacing of men, would I’m sure
not wish it to be wheeled out on his behalf. It seems to be
driven by the sheer terror of simply saying that someone
is a writer and these are some of the things they've written
—as if that somehow wasn't enough. As if the awards and
honours are what writing’s really about. Even the
quantification—23 books, count 'em—plays to an
impoverished idea of writing: more, it seems, is better.

If there has to be a footnote—and for someone like Marshall
in a subscriber publication like Booknotes I’m not sure it’s
needed at all—then why not something like this...

Joe Blow has had a couple of novels published
and three more rejected. He sits in a room by
himself most of the time looking at a computer
screen but sometimes goes for walks. He loves
reading and writing but has no skill whatsoever
as a public speaker or literary festival panellist
and, should he ever be awarded a prize, would
prefer to receive it by mail, or, better still, have
it direct-credited to his bank account.

Aux farms, citoyens

Celebrating ‘intellect-intensive’ agriculture Simon Upton
writes in praise of a new approach to meat marketing
pioneered in this country by a company called Rissington
Breedline, whereby scrupulous attention is paid to every
detail of the supply chain from paddock to plate—and in
despair of the ‘image of producers conveyed by Federated
Farmers,’ which, Upton correctly says, went ‘feral’ under
the presidency of Charlie Pedersen and has stayed that
way since Don Nicholson succeeded him. Just when the
farmers' main representative body desperately needed
enlightened leadership it has been led, or rather, misled
by men whose response to the green movement has
essentially been one of self-righteous bluster. Their press
statements, Upton says, again correctly, 'reveal a chip-on-
shoulder, them-and-us antagonism towards life beyond
the farm gate.' In last Saturday's New Zealand Herald, in
a well-written feature by Geoff Cumming, Nicholson
sneeringly referred to 'greenies.' His organization has
also been dismissive of the Green Party's recent paper on
how to cut carbon emissions by 40% on 1990 levels by
2020, a paper in which the party makes a real effort to
reach out to farmers and understand and accommodate
their concerns about the cost of adapting to climate
change. What a missed opportunity to engage in
constructive debate. What we have here, I fear, is a
problem not with 'greenies' but with 'farmies.'

Friday, August 7, 2009

To a rattled man

Since publishing my last blog I’ve caught up with Mark
Sainsbury’s Close Up interview of Keisha Castle-Hughes
about John Key's ‘Stick to acting’ crack. With a complete
lack of umbrage or affectedness she handled herself very
impressively, I thought, putting Key in his place with the
kind of finesse he himself could do with a bit of. Poor
man, she all but said, he has a lot on his plate and may
not always cope as best he could. The Government's
been rattled by the strong support the campaign for
tougher carbon-emission reductions has been getting.
She even offered to sit down with him and help him to
better understand the issue, with which he was clearly
struggling. ‘I don’t envy his position at a time like this,'
concluded Castle-Hughes, who on this consummate
performance could probably stand for election herself
and easily win.

I note that even ace right-wing blogger David Farrar, a
staunch supporter of the current government, calls Key’s
comment a rare misstep, an 'unforced error,' which for
some reason he seems to think makes it less damaging
than a forced one. In fact, free to say whatever he liked
about the issue, in a speech he was delivering in Brisbane,
with no pressure whatsoever, Key chose to say something
patronizing and gratuitously offensive. Let's hope it does
prove to be as rare a misstep as Farrar believes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Three strikes

Three times over the past three weeks cabinet ministers,
including the Prime Minister, have publicly rebuked
citizens who expressed views uncongenial to the
Government. First, when Chief Justice Sian Elias made
some suggestions for relieving prison overcrowding,
Justice Minister Simon Power bluntly told her to stay out
of politics and concentrate on administering the law.
Then, when two women criticised Social Development
Minister Paula Bennett for cutting a training allowance
designed to help people off the dpb, Bennett released
privileged information about their incomes in a clear
attempt to embarrass them and shut them up. And now
John Key, apparently irked by the celebrity media
campaign to get New Zealand’s carbon emissions
reduced by 40% over the next 10 years, has told one of
the celebrities, actress Keisha Castle-Hughes: ‘Stick to
acting.’ No more calls, please: I think we have a trend
here, and it's running in the opposite direction to free
speech. The message from this government is ‘Shut up
and support us.’ Seems that living in a democracy—
wouldn't you just know it?—doesn’t entitle any old body
to enter into debates of concern to us all. Like, you know,
justice, work, income, the ecology of the planet.

Quite where Simon Power was coming from I don’t know,
as he’s not without a few good ideas for penal reform, but
expecting the country's chief judge not to discuss crime
and justice policy matters in general terms is a mark of
political immaturity. Bennett’s retort was sneaky and
shameful, end of story; and as for Key, where does he get off
making such a patronizing remark? Imagine if Joanna
Lumley, in her (ultimately triumphant) campaign to win
Nepalese Gurkhas the right to settle in Britain, had been
told at the outset by Gordon Brown: 'Stick to acting.'

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sustainarama

I love the way the words 'sustainable' and 'sustainability'
keep morphing into exciting new meanings. The big shift
of course can be seen in the way that 'sustainability'—
which originally meant, and still should mean, 'a state or
situation capable of being sustained indefinitely'—has
come to mean unlimited growth by another name. From
a green point of view, a sustainable economy is one that
stays in a steady state, taking out of the world's resources
no more, or even less, than it puts back. Thanks, however,
to the dark art of greenwash, whereby resource-depleters
seek to put a green sheen on everything they do, creepingly
(and creepily) 'sustainability' in the mouths of big business
means being able to go on doing exactly as you've always
done, whatever the damage. Neat.

But wait, there's more. A few weeks ago I noticed somebody
saying that Christine Rankin's appointment to the Families
Commission might not be 'sustainable,' which excited in me
thoughts of Rankin being recycled or even organically
reconstituted. Now, just today, we have Finance Minister
Bill English saying that taking advantage of the housing
allowance paid to him is 'not a sustainable position.' Oh,
that's good. By giving some of the money back, English not
only does the ethical thing, he does the green thing as well.
Heroically, while saving his ass, he saves the planet too. An
inconvenient truth is recycled into an expedient act. Is this
man New Zealand's Al Gore or what?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Poly put the mettle on

Thanks to a reliable source inside the All Blacks’ camp
this blog can be the first to reveal that the streamlined
polyurethane suits in which the ABs have been secretly
training for months are ready for their first public
outing, so the Springboks, the Wallabies, match officials
and indeed innocent bystanders had better watch out.
Tests show that an All Black forward wearing one of
these suits can get to the breakdown .2 of a second faster
than a player in an old-style strip, and consequently be
penalized for an infringement all the quicker. The time
saved on each of these occasions will of course accumulate
as the game goes on, and prove invaluable in the 79th
minute, when you’re 31-19 down and every extra second
counts. An All Black winger outfitted in the slick new gear
—notable for its reduced wind resistance, acid-free texture
and enhanced thermodynamic traction—can now, when
the ball is passed to him, fumble it a full half-second
earlier than he otherwise would, thus confusing the
opposing tackler long enough to get a quick breather
before the subsequent scrum, their put-in. All Blacks
coach Graham Henry is predicting that several world
records will be broken during the next Tri-Nations match,
including, if it’s wet, the 200m butterfly.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Song sung alone

The birds, the birds. The birds in our back yard. Pdogge
reckons the little lime-coloured ones are waxeyes; ace
birdwatcher Steve Braunias tells me they're probably
greenfinches, or maybe silvereyes. He also advises that
‘right this very week is when the blackbirds sing again.
They go quiet, mute in fact, over winter.’ Extraordinary.
Or rather, so ordinary I never knew it. Now I listen for
that song, and in a world where we are taught to equate
power with money and violence and political control I
remind myself of other, more enduring kinds of power,
the ones we ignore or underestimate or take for granted,
as suggested by Jackson Browne in his song 'Looking
East'—

Power in the insects
Power in the sea
Power in the snow falling silently
Power in the blossom
Power in the stone
Power in the song being sung alone