Friday, October 30, 2009

Stores are the new banks

Next Wednesday, according to a large ad in the newspaper,
'BNZ stores will be closed for the day' so that staff can work
on 'community projects.' Most commendable. But what's
with the 'stores'? Further down the ad, we're told that
certain services won't be available in store' that day—you
know, services like opening accounts and depositing and
withdrawing money. If you want more info, the ad
concludes, 'visit our website or pop into your local store.'
Wow. Guess I must have missed the moment when BNZ
told the world that banks were now stores, as it seems to be
taken as read in this ad. Don't want to be picky, but what
exactly was the problem with calling a bank a bank?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tell yourself

The stories we tell ourselves about our lives: they begin
in childhood or youth as feelings or reactions (pain,
joy, bewilderment etc), crystallize into impressions,
harden into habits of mind, come, in the end, if we’re
not careful, to choke us, like epiphytes smothering a
host tree. They do not have to be true to gain such
power. They just have to be faithful enough to the
source from which they arose. Because, failing further
enlightenment, and pending fresh drafts of the script,
with some stories we go through life saying the same
lines over and over again, following the same plot,
bumping into the same furniture, expecting the same
dénouement. And getting it. Of course.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Outside the square

Ma Jian’s novel Beijing Coma is a kind of Chinese War and
Peace for modern times. It’s hugely overwritten, and this
reader anyway struggled to consistently distinguish
between all of the characters, but what a canvas he paints
on. This is the (surely only thinly) fictionalized history of
what, by way of geopolitical shorthand, we call the
‘Tienanmen Square massacre.’ You want to know what
really happened, go here: not to some non-fictional account.
It was the most serious challenge the ruling Communists
have faced in their 60 years in power, which is why they
crushed it with such brutality. In Ma’s novel, the story is
told by a student leader who, having taken a bullet in the
head near the square on 4 June 1989, now lies in a coma,
able to observe and think but not to speak or move a
muscle. His deterioration is all too plainly, but no less
brilliantly for that, a metaphor for the Chinese state’s
inability to function fully and humanly. The narration
alternates between his life as it is now—the portrait of his
increasingly mad mother, condemned to look after him, is
unforgettable—and as it was then, when thousands of
students camped in the square in a fever of rebellious hope.
To read what became of their leaders in later years is to feel
the full blast of the tragedy of modern China, which can only
survive, it seems, by consuming its own young.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I have just spent an unproductive five minutes reducing
what appeared to be a perfectly good, lightly used,
almost-full-length Staedtler 2B pencil to a broken stub in
a vain attempt to sharpen it. What is it with pencils these
days? Or is it just me? In my hands anyway the wretched
things just will not sharpen to a sustainable point. Time
and again the lead breaks or the wood splinters. I speak
now as one who has filled wastepaper bins to the brim
with pencil shavings and blackened his finger and thumb
with graphite in a positive rage of sharpening activity. It
may happen, on some sunny occasion, that I make my
point, as it were; yet hardly have I borne the pencil in
triumph to the paper and begun writing with it than the
point breaks off anyway. Either I have lost the plentiful
pencil-sharpening gifts that nature bestowed on me in
my youth or something’s up with the quality of the
modern pencil. Which could it be? Discuss.

Friday, October 2, 2009


The latest police statistics show that 13.5% more 'family
violence' incidents were reported last year, compared
to the previous year, which itself showed a 28.8% rise
in reports compared to the year before that. The head
of the Families Commission, Jan Pryor, is reported as
saying that the rise was to be expected, because the
'existing level of family violence did not occur overnight,
and the increased reporting is a testament to the lower
acceptance of violence in our society.'

By Christ, I hope you're right, Jan. I think you are. The
image that comes to mind is of some hideous misshapen
creature being dragged, limb by limb, claw to claw, fist
by clenched fist, out of the dark cellar where it has dwelt
for years and into the light, screaming and kicking but
rendered, finally, powerless, deprived of the domestic
secrecy on which it has thrived. Bring it on.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Southland dog

A superb blog today by Jeanette Fitzsimons about the
proposal to extract lignite from the Southland soil and
turn it into ammonia urea for use as farm fertilizer.
She begins

Now here's a great idea for economic development.
First, dig up Southland.

and proceeds majestically to demolish the case for
granting Solid Energy permission to develop this
proposal, pointing out along the way that

This dog of a project has only emerged because
of the Government's proposed changes to the
ETS. These changes mean that there is no cap
on the emissions for Solid Energy making the
urea, or for farmers piling on more nitrogen.

New Zealand's emissions will rise substantially,
but you, dear taxpayer, will foot the bill.

Jeanette not only remains a powerful political voice for
the Greens but has come to be an astute and acute
critic of agricultural practice in this country—not as
some urbanized greenie who never got cowshit on their
gumboots but as someone who knows farms and farming
and argues from a position of, essentially, sympathy for
farmers trying to make a living. She doesn't lecture them,
just points out the common sense (and economic value)
of farming more ecologically. She has even been
published in Straight Furrow. That's good. Far apart as
they may seem at the moment, I believe that the farmers
of New Zealand have a lot more in common with the 'green'
point of view than the rhetorical posturing of their leaders
would cause you to think, and as, over time, the two
positions fuse, the pastoral industries will change quite
dramatically in nature.