Tuesday, December 30, 2008


On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith. (Let’s just be thankful that CĂ©zanne didn’t have a guidance counsellor in high school who looked at his primitive sketches and told him to try accounting.) Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents. But we also have to accept that there’s nothing we can do about it. How can we ever know which of the failures will end up blooming?
Malcolm Gladwell on progidy and its opposite.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to rebuild an atomic bomb

The single, blinding release of pure energy over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, marked a startling and permanent break with our prior understandings of the visible world. Yet for more than sixty years the technology behind the explosion has remained a state secret. The United States government has never divulged the engineering specifications of the first atomic bombs, not even after other countries have produced generations of ever more powerful nuclear weapons. In the decades since the Second World War, dozens of historians have attempted to divine the precise mechanics of the Hiroshima bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, and of the bomb that fell three days later on Nagasaki, known as Fat Man. The most prominent is Richard Rhodes, who won a Pulitzer Prize, in 1988, for his dazzling and meticulous book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” But the most accurate account of the bomb’s inner workings—an unnervingly detailed reconstruction, based on old photographs and documents—has been written by a sixty-one-year-old truck driver from Waukesha, Wisconsin, named John Coster-Mullen, who was once a commercial photographer, and has never received a college degree.
From the New Yorker

Daddy’s girl

I was raised to be independent and career oriented. My schooling included a strong academic program, which left no time for learning domestic skills. You wouldn’t think it now to look at me. I’m 24 and am living at home. I help my father in his ministry and assist my mother at home. But it was not so long ago that my ambition was to be the first woman prime minister of New Zealand. And it was even less time ago that I was working a highly paid legal executive job for a prominent solicitor. The Lord has done quite a work in my life since this time. He has turned my heart to my father, my family and my home.
Genevieve Smith describes her reasons for bringing it all back home. Since writing this testimony, she found reason to leave home: her husband.
My loyalties had to undergo a change. I was used to thinking that Dad knew best. Now I needed to learn to think that Pete knows best. I used to do things and invest my time in projects according to what I knew Dad would want me to do. Now I needed to be guided by what Pete wanted me to do. When faced with a problem or an option I couldn’t think, “What would Dad have done in this situation?” Now I had to think, “What would Pete do in this situation?” These were exciting times and difficult as during this state of flux—learning to replace one man’s vision with another—the devil would come around and say, “But what about what you want? What about what you think?”
Daddy, by the way, is Craig Smith, the man behind Family Integrity.

Hat raised courteously to Feministing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The girl of the golden west

... I have boiled down my top 10 story wish-list for 2009 to just one issue: How to ensure that New Zealand - a young country that many of us love - draws once again on that frontier mentality which spurred our forbears to make the radical reforms that will be necessary to secure both us and our children a strong future in a changing world. Given the extent to which so many Kiwis have been glued to the State's welfare teat, this won't be easy.
I am grateful to Mr Brown for drawing my attention to the latest completely hatstand outburst from Fran O´Sullivan. I believe it explains the curiously disconnected tone of Ms O´Sullivan´s many essays on political matters: obviously she is living in some parallel New Zealand, a place which once was much like Oklahoma, the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, but has since fallen into decadence. In this other New Zealand, the inhabitants once had a frontier mentality, while we lack even a frontier. In this Bizarro New Zealand, her people were self-reliant and adamantly against government dependence, even while `swaggies´ turned up at her mother´s door. In Bizarro New Zealand, people need to be weened off welfare, during the recession.

Meanwhile, in Real New Zealand, we recall that we have the World´s oldest democracy and the world´s second-oldest welfare state (the oldest is Germany, a country which has been driven to Third World status by the rampant welfarism of its feckless citizens). In Real New Zealand, the citizens realised that they would have to work together and help one-another; and they realised that theirs was an economy that was unstable and vulnerable to periods of depression. So they created a system for pensions and the like (offer did not apply to Asians and immoral women). Then Michael Joseph Savage came along and created a comprehensive system, which included really good state housing and dental nurses. This endured for years, until a bunch of nasty men (which included Roger Douglas and Phil Goff) took over the Labour Party and remodelled the system to inlude such moral values as spite and suspicion.

Over in Bizarro New Zealand, removing the welfare system is just the thing to do in a recession, a necessary Reform. In Real New Zealand, people shudder when the word `Reform´is used; they recall the Reforms of the 1980s, which opened up previously unplumbed depths of despair, while making nasty men very rich.

But, in Bizarro New Zealand, such things do not happen. People come to the door, men go to war, women become strong, members of Generations X and Y want it all and they want it now. Tra la lee. What were we saying? Oh, never mind. Oh look, over there: the roll call of scientist dissidents has not snowballed. Oh well, at least we have capacity to take delight in life's simple pleasures instead of being captive to a consumerist affluenza with all its attendant dissatisfactions. And when we were children, staying at the archduke's, my cousin's, he took me out on a sled, and I was frightened. He said, Marie, Marie, hold on tight. And down we went. In the mountains, there you feel free.

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter. Ours is a young country, which many of us love.

Because, in Bizarro New Zealand, there is no such thing as a non sequitur.

Sushi madness

A 43-nation commission has public-trust management authority and a mandate to conserve. But the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas has for its 40-year history merely acted as the fishing industry’s official, tax-funded conglomerate. Think of it as the International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tuna, and its record starts making sense.
From Yale Environment 360.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Art and the man

That so many of Bacon’s motifs derived, in complex, vigilant ways from photography and film is entirely consistent with his acute awareness that these new art forms had rendered representation in painting obsolete, and with his horror of mere “illustration”. This was not to say that painting should not deal in “fact”: just that fact comprehended more than what is “seen naturally”. “One wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object”, as Bacon put it to David Sylvester. He was also one of the most literary of painters, an admirer of Ulysses, an avid reader of poetry and drama who saw that the Oresteia and T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes were blood relations, who liked to quote lines from both yet who repeatedly and sometimes fiercely repudiated attempts to read “a story” into his own work.
Alan Jenkins on Francis Bacon, from the TLS

Friday, December 26, 2008

Capitalism: my part in its downfall

Oh dear. It seems I am a traitor. You see, I thought I was clever to shop smartly and save money, but I was wrong. The New Zealand Herald has decreed that shopping is not just a feeling but is a social duty, one which I have failed to carry out adequately.

That´s the trouble with us pinko intellectual types. We always think we are being clever but we just help the enemy in doing so. Only this evening, I was in the supermarket for the sole purpose of saving money on Christmas goodies. I found Classic European marshmallows, from Guatemala, on sale for one Dollar - a quarter of their price two days ago. I found mince pies at a third of their pre-Christmas price and discounted Bournvita; boy, are we going to party tonight. But we party at the expense of the Economy. You might have thought that putting off buying Christmas stuff until Boxing Day was practicing restraint and delaying gratification; but no, it amounts to economic sabotage. If we all did that sort of thing, it would lead to Communism, or at least the collapse of everything we hold dear.

And a dogma is not just for Christmas. Those of us who buy the budget tinned tomatoes, because we know they are just the same as the tins with colourful labels and fake Italian names, are not being prudent; we are being too clever for our own good and that of the Nation.

It is not just us bohemian types who are the cause of trouble. Much of the blame can be laid at the doors of ordinary people with jobs. As the Herald notes, with its usual compassion:
People do not spend freely when they fear for their jobs.Yet the less they spend the greater the risk may be to their jobs. Business starts a vicious spiral with lay-offs and consumers continue it when they take fright. There is no point saving money in a recession. Prices are low, builders, electricians and the like are available again. There is no better time for households to stock up, do repairs and extensions, afford some luxuries.
Yes missus, this is no time for prudence. Putting your money away for a rainy day is not the thing to do. Think of the Economy. Get yourself that Dralon lounge suite you have always wanted. Besides, your money could be useless if you cause a recession by not spending: before you know it, you will be pushing a wheelbarrow full of millions of Deutschmarks to the baker´s, just to get a loaf of pumpernickel.

If ordinary kiwi battlers don´t spend money, the Government will. That sort of thing leads to a social market economy and, before your know it, Auckland will have an underground railway.

Fortunately, we now have a Government that won´t squander your money on an integrated public transport network. No, this Government has put its hope in consumers and will redistribute wealth from the public sector to kiwi mums and dads. In fact, the Government has so much faith in ordinary taxpayers that it is prepared to borrow money on what´s left of the international money markets, just to redistribute it as tax cuts. It is also going to cut the Wellington bureaucracy, putting out of work people who save much of their inflated salaries to send their children to Art School and spend what is left on opera tickets and hand-pressed Extra Virgin olive oil.

Now, more than ever, decisions to spend or save are crucial. In the past, you will have heard that we spend more than we save, giving us debts second only to Iceland. Under the old Government, this was considered a Bad Thing. But too much saving makes shop-keepers fearful, which is a Worse Thing. So the responsible thing to do, socially, is to spend your money like there is no tomorrow (which there probably isn´t, anyway).

And don´t listen to the doleful predictions from supposed seers. Cancel your subscription to the Economist, ignore the Financial Times, shun the Wall Street Journal. All this pessimism about a so-called global recession causes panic and disorder. In any case, much of that money we don´t have any more was inflated asset wealth, things like the value of your house or your grandmother´s life savings. So get yourself a new ranch-slider or a spa pool, for the good of the country.

Better still, follow the example of our Prime Minister and buy a mansion in Parnell. In fact, he bought three and knocked them into one, keeping lots of builders and electricians in work. And he has three other houses, so he probably spends a fortune on velvet curtains and porcelain figurines. He is doing his bit, so how about you?

Most of all, don´t listen to those cupcake-munching liberals in their op-shop clothes who sneer that Herald Editorials must be written in crayon. That sort of talk only leads to responsible journalism.

I dream in beige

According to Disney, the shape of things to come can be found at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop in Restoration Hardware for “classic future” touches and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns.
P J O´Rourke visits the Innoventions Dream Home and finds the future is beige. To compare and contast, here is the 1957 House of the Future, while here is the Innoventions Dream Home, in a piece that seems to have been written by a machine.

The way we were

When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen. For six months, I found it awkward to compose first drafts on the computer. Now I can hardly do it any other way. It is faster to type this way than with a normal typewriter, because you don't need to stop at the end of the line for a carriage return (the computer automatically "wraps" the words onto the next line when you reach the right-hand margin), and you never come to the end of the page, because the material on the screen keeps sliding up to make room for each new line. It is also more satisfying to the soul, because each maimed and misconceived passage can be made to vanish instantly, by the word or by the paragraph, leaving a pristine green field on which to make the next attempt.
From the Atlantic Monthly of July 1982; the author discovers the joy of computer ownership.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Fundy Post's Christmas message to the Commonwealth

Gentle readership,

I think the following words convey, in a very real sense, the sentiments I feel towards you, especially at this time of year. The message is not mine own; in fact, I found it on the window of a branch of Renkon, the Japanese soup kitchen. Nevertheless this simple missive touches all our hearts and saves me having to write something original.
This year, thanks to the vigorous supports of all of you, we have spent a joyfull time with you. I hope that next year, too, you will display your abilities even more and walk the path of victory, for your own sake of a wonderful life without regrets.
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Teenage kicks

Until high school, my Jewish pride had never really been challenged. Except for the occasional fanatic who insisted that I would burn in hell, things were generally pretty calm. I remember the day that it all changed so clearly. Cheerleading practice began like any other: rehearsal of dance routines, me being thrown into the air in a stunt, and a lot of overly confident teenage girls arguing. Then came the water break.
For Hanukkah, the Fundy Post brings you the story of a Jewish cheerleader in the Bible Belt.

Fleet Foxes:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

They're reading our crap, over there

Our little secret is out. Garth George has reached an international audience, first at Feministing and now at About.com. So, there goes our liberal reputation.

Meanwhile, one Mark Driscoll has written Porn-again Christian, a "frank discussion of pornography and masturbation" which is illustrated with a skull and a pistol. Pastor Driscoll prefaces his work with this warning:
Because I am speaking to fellow men, my tone may not be well suited for some women and, therefore, I would request that they not read this booklet, unless they are a wife whose husband has read it first and he can discuss its contents with her in love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The empty page

In response to a previous post, a reader from Morningside asked for moar. Samuel, here is some moar.

Readers of course will be following the discussion chez Dentith, of Celts, Fascists and Satanists. For those who have not been paying attention, it goes like this: Martin Doutré, a conspiracy theorist, believes that the Celts, the woad and coracles people from Europe, discovered these islands long before Polynesians got here. He also has some connexion with Kerry Bolton, a local fascist luminary. Mr Bolton is also a Satanist, according to a Masters Thesis by one Roel van Leeuwen. The University of Waikato is reviewing this thesis after complaints by Mr Bolton. The thesis is also the subject of sustained attack by a blog called Satanism in New Zealand, which reprints parts of it.

Here is one such part, in which Mr van Leeuwen speculates on the meaning of the name assumed by one local Satanist:
‘Thorsten Moar’ is not so easy to unravel, but it can be speculatively suggested that it is based on the etymology of Thorsten as a traditional Scandinavian name meaning “Hammer of Thor” and Moar being a contraction of ‘more’ and ‘roar’ and used on the internet as an expression of frenzy and passion...
I put on my robe and wizard hat, to speculatively suggest a more simple explanation:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Welcome to the working week

Let me get this right, in the interests of truth and beauty: the Government has decided to revisit the Emissions Trading Scheme, in part because the enabling legislation was rushed. At the same time, the Government will be making a substantial change to the Employment Relations Act, under Urgency. Is it just me who senses something unsettling about this twin-track approach to the truth?

So, what's the rush? Apparently, the Employment Relations Act is such an impediment to people getting jobs that it must be amended by Christmas; it's a Christmas rush. Under the Government's No Santa Left Behind policy, the employment prospects of the marginal members of our community will be enhanced by allowing employers to take them on and then sack them after ninety days. However, this offer only applies to employees of firms that employ less than twenty staff.

Yes, I know: that last bit is rather peculiar. Apparently, it is really, really important, Urgent even, that employees should not have any job security in the first ninety days of employment, but it is only so if they are working for a firm which employs nineteen staff or fewer. I not entirely sure how this works. Do employers of less than twenty staff have especially poor judgment when it comes to hiring? Is this why they employ less than twenty staff - because they cannot trust themselves to make the right decision without a ninety day money-back guarantee? Do these employers hire illiterate signwriters, purblind photographers and headless hatters, realising their mistakes only after the contract is signed? On the other hand, do larger employers have special powers that enable them to discern character in an instant? I think we should be told. And Mr Key, the Smiling Assassin, is the one who can tell us. But he won't.

Of course, there are those who might say that there is no evidence to support this law change, that it is based on anecdote and grumbling, that it is no more than a sop to bad employers who want to hire and fire at will, or worse employers who want to fire staff members who won't have sex with them (you think I am making this up; I am not). You might think that Mr Key is pushing through this amendement because he is tired of being button-holed by Rotarians or that he is rewarding all the panel-beaters, armature-winders and spot-welders who gave him their support. You are probably right.

You are probably right because the sole reason for any legislation that is to be proposed by the Government is to maintain Mr Key in his position as Prime Minister. People have spoken of Mr Key having a Secret Agenda. They are wrong. His agenda was quite open: he wanted to be Prime Minister. Now he is Prime Minister, he wants to remain so. This is not to say that Mr Key is unprincipled. No, principles do not come into the matter. Becoming Prime Minister was the fulfillment of an ambition. Mr Key wanted a bicycle, he wanted to be a millionaire and he wanted to be Prime Minister. He achieved all these ambitions in turn. There is nothing he wants to do, now he is Prime Minister, but he will do anything to remain in that position.

This Urgent legislation is one such action. There will be no consultation. There is no need, since we already had the opportunity to comment when Wayne Mapp proposed the same legislation as a Private Member's Bill. Cynics might say that it is a rum state of affairs when a Private Member's Bill is subjected to more scrutiny than a Government Bill; they might go on to say that it is more rum still when a Government Minister (Kate Wilkinson, for the record) says that consultation can be cancelled out because it has already taken place in a previous Parliament. But Cynics are like that. Pay no attention to them; this is Urgent. It is important that Mr Key is shown to be doing something. It does not matter that this legislation was not previously on the list of Urgent matters promised to the electorate during the Election, because the electorate no longer matters. It is the Rotarians (and the Masons, the Buffaloes and the Elks) who matter now. They must be assured that Mr Key is Doing Something, to assure their continued support. The electorate have played their part. But now is the time for action, to force through unnecessary legislation to keep the supporters happy.

Meanwhile, the Maori Party still think they matter, poor dears. Somebody ought to tell them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Only when I'm blogging can I feel this free

The word blog is a conflation of two words: Web and log. It contains in its four letters a concise and accurate self-description: it is a log of thoughts and writing posted publicly on the World Wide Web. In the monosyllabic vernacular of the Internet, Web log soon became the word blog.

This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism. It is accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers and other bloggers, and linked via hypertext to continuously multiplying references and sources. Unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory. The consequences of this for the act of writing are still sinking in.
ZOMG: Andrew Sullivan has written a Why I Blog post and, in the tradition of the genre, it is deadly dull. You can read it if you like, but I wouldn't recommend it.

The question, of course, on the lips of sensitive readers like yourself, is "why is Andrew Sullivan (in case you didn't know, Andrew Sullivan is gay, Republican and loved by liberals: he is like our Gay Friend and our Right-wing Friend rolled into one) writing a Why I Blog post?" Surely he is too old for this sort of thing. The Why I Blog post is for self-obsessed would-be professional writers, not grown men. The combination in Sullivan's piece of soppy-stern gravity ("the monosyllabic vernacular of the Internet;" LOL) and juvenile enthusiasm is quite unsettling. It is like watching a bearded man on a skateboard.

For the benefit of the hard of reading, I will pick out some choice cuts:
We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now—as news reaches us, as facts emerge... [and while our Team Leaders are out of the office]

But a blog is not so much daily writing as hourly writing. And with that level of timeliness, the provisionality of every word is even more pressing—and the risk of error or the thrill of prescience that much greater.
Yes, that would be it: the risk of error,the thrill of prescience; it's a roller-coaster, helter-skelter dice with death, this blogging life; yet how sweet the rewards, when you say something that nobody had ever thought before, like totally never.
It was the spring of 2000 and, like many a freelance writer at the time, I had some vague notion that I needed to have a presence "online." I had no clear idea of what to do, but a friend who ran a Web-design company offered to create a site for me, and, since I was technologically clueless, he also agreed to post various essays and columns as I wrote them. Before too long, this became a chore for him, and he called me one day to say he'd found an online platform that was so simple I could henceforth post all my writing myself. The platform was called Blogger.
Quaint, isn't it? It is like an eminent music critic describing his first impressions of the Compact Disc Player. And Mr Sullivan appears to assume that readers of the Atlantic Monthly would never have come across a blog before, that probably they are unaware people write on Internet at all.
Eight years ago, the blogosphere felt like a handful of individual cranks fighting with one another. Today, it feels like a universe of cranks, with vast, pulsating readerships, fighting with one another. To the neophyte reader, or blogger, it can seem overwhelming. But there is a connection between the intimacy of the early years and the industry it has become today. And the connection is human individuality.
If any of you are pulsating, please stop, now.
The reason this open-source market of thinking and writing has such potential is that the always adjusting and evolving collective mind can rapidly filter out bad arguments and bad ideas. The flip side, of course, is that bloggers are also human beings. Reason is not the only fuel in the tank. In a world where no distinction is made between good traffic and bad traffic, and where emotion often rules, some will always raise their voice to dominate the conversation; others will pander shamelessly to their readers' prejudices; others will start online brawls for the fun of it. Sensationalism, dirt, and the ease of formulaic talking points always beckon. You can disappear into the partisan blogosphere and never stumble onto a site you disagree with.
Or, to put it another way, (and to employ "the English style of crisp, short commentary" which Sullivan extols but avoids) blogging is a load of cock. Because it is clear that by blogging, Sullivan means political blogging, the sort of opinion-rich blogs written by prematurely middle-aged young men, who are convinced of their own rectitude and the infamy of their rivals. This am serious blog.

It's a guy thing. The serious blog is the work of the provocateur, the contrarian, the would-be political journalist, and most of these bloggers are men. They do guy stuff: they form gangs, they start fights, they leer at girls. Politics is important; it is the arena where they get to fight with the other guys from across the street.

As part of its election night coverage for the previous round of Congressional elections, CNN got a whole load of serious bloggers into a room, to give the audience some of those instant reactions to events as they unfold. The conservatives were on one side of the room and the liberals on the other. They looked like the blogging equivalents of the Jets and the Sharks: the conservatives wore Ralph Lauren, the liberals wore Abercrombie and Fitch. And none of them were women.

I don't know about you, but I find this sort of blogger to be rather dull. There are a few blogs about political matters which are worth reading, but the majority are just waffle. The author's pronouncements on the issues of the day and the ensuing daily fight with his critics is a circus act. I would rather read someone who can say something about a topic which most writers have overlooked, and do so with some style. And that someone is often a woman.

The blogs I enjoy most are written by people who can write about a whole lot of other stuff besides politics. Their audiences are not necessarily vast and pulsating and are not spoiling for a fight. They are people who have things in common and who enjoy each others' online company. Semi-professional trolls like Redbaiter and Dad4Justice avoid such blogs, because there is no sport to be had. Rather, the blogger and her readers have a conversation, conducted in civil terms.

I haven't done the sums, but it seems that a fair proportion of the blogoshere is of this kind. Writers have interests; they share them; others comment. Meanwhile, the serious bloggers have issues, which they share with their fans and their foes, who then squabble. The serious blogs get all the attention, because they make a lot of noise. But a lot of the thinking happens on the other blogs. You get more from a conversation than a fight.

My point, such as it is, is that there is a lot more to blogging than fussing and fighting. There are a lot of good writers out there who might otherwise not be published. For the most part, they are not professional writers nor professional politicians. They are not trying to win an argument or to advance themselves professionally. They just write about their interests, for the joy of writing and reading. And they do it rather well.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Almost famous

I could have been a contender.

The BBC World Service sent me an email on Saturday morning. The writer had seen my recent post on climate change and wanted me to participate in a debate on whether it is too late to save the planet. Unfortunately, it was too late for me to join in: the email had been sent at 1.30am our time and the broadcast was at 6am. To my loss, I had an early night; so I slept through my chance to speak to the world.

Oh well, it was nice of them to think of me.

Buddy Rich and his lovely daughter Cathy:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Kiwi: a flightless bird

What I am about to say, about the Government and its reaction to the Bangkok Airport Crisis, may seem to you churlish, perhaps even harsh. I do appreciate that we are in the wait-and-see period for the new Government and should not be too hasty to reach judgment. However, the Honeymoon Period is now over, officially ending when Mr Key announced the deal he had made with Mr Hide - a deal made in haste so that Mr Key could get on a plane to Lima and wear a poncho with the grown-ups. In fact, so keen was Mr Key to wrap up a deal that apparently he offered Mr Hide two seats at the Cabinet table, but Mr Hide turned them down, preferring to stay outside Cabinet so his hands would not be sullied. This reminds me of a comment made by the great Ned Sherrin when the Marquis de Sade's chateau came up for sale - that the Masochists offered twice the asking price but the Sadists rejected their offer. Anyway, back to the point: we are now in the wait-and-see period, waiting to see whether it all turns out as horrible as we fear.

So, to the airport; or rather, not. Because (and here is where I might seem churlish, even harsh) it seems that the Government is unable to make a decision about what to do. The problem is that two hundred New Zealanders are stuck in Thailand (the New Zealand Herald, with its usual restraint, today had a banner saying that "hundreds" of Kiwis were stranded; I suppose, technically, two hundred is hundreds, but only just). People from other countries, such as France and Australia, are also stranded; their governments are making efforts to get them out but ours is doing... nothing. Yes, that would be it: nothing. The Government is having its own wait-and-see-period.

This is a funny state of affairs, given that Mr Key was touted as being decisive, the man who played the Forex markets and won because of his decisiveness and quick-wittedness. But no, he apparently is "assessing the situtation." This may take some time.

So serious is the situation that Mr Key allowed one of his Ministers to speak about it, a rare occurrence. Mr Brownlow was on Morning Report, where he explained why the Government was taking time to assess the situation. The reason is quite simple, I think you will see: the Government wants to find out how many of the two hundred New Zealanders have left Thailand without the Government's help, before it decides what to do with those left behind. I am sure that you, being an astute reader, will appreciate the cleverness of this strategy: the longer the Government spends Assessing the Situation (or, as cynics would have it, doing nothing) the less they eventually have to do: people will find other ways of getting home, so eventually there will be no problem to solve. Here is a perfect exemplification of the principle 'that government is best which governs least.'

Mr Brownlow's thoughtful answers explain some of the difficulties of moving two hundred people from Thailand. Although it may seem that the Australians are doing a much better job, moving many more people while we assess the situation, it seems that this is a misapprehension: in fact it is much easier to move more people than fewer, and we simply do not have enough stranded tourists to make this task easy. Logistics is, I am sure you will appreciate, an Art, not a Science.

The task is made more difficult still because Air New Zealand aircraft do not regularly fly to Bangkok. This is a very subtle difficulty; Mr Brownlee, a thoughtful man in more than one respect, thoughtfully saved us the strain of an explanation which we may not understand. It might seem, at first, that the point is irrelevant, given that any scheduled flight would not be possible; if it were, there would be no problem. But perhaps there are other difficulties which we have not considered. For example, the runway at Bangkok International Airport might be curved; or perhaps the Air Traffic Controllers only speak Rumanian. Perhaps Owen McShane has advised the Government that Thailand has different air levels to the rest of the world. Or perhaps Air New Zealand is caught in a logical paradox: that it cannot fly to any place it has not previously visited.

It is a pity that such difficulties, if they exist, are preventing the Government chartering an aircraft, because now would seem the best time in a long while to do so. After all, airlines are falling down like flies in this recession, leaving a lot of aircraft to charter. Air New Zealand apparently has eight percent of its own aircraft lying around doing nothing, due to lack of demand.

Perhaps the cause of the Government's apparent inactivity is more simple than Mr Brownlee is letting on. Perhaps, Mr Key, under his agreement with ACT, has to consult Mr Hide whenever he wants to spend some money. And perhaps Mr Hide has refused Mr Key's request, reminding Mr Key that it is a central principle of ACT (a party of principle) that the Market does things much better than does Government: the Market will decide how these people get home, if at all.