Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Had I but known

Ideas of what is funny are different in different societies. Humour is difficult to deal with, because it is hard to know what is an acceptable joke. Men will tell jokes to other men, but they may not repeat those jokes to women. Women who know each other may tell each other jokes that they would not tell to other groups. Sexual jokes are common in New Zealand, but you need a lot of experience to know whether a sexual joke is acceptable or unpleasant. Unless you are very sure of the meaning of the joke, it is probably safer not to repeat it. Jokes that you hear in your workplace are often not suitable for other company.
From New Zealand, a Guide for New Settlers, by Gillian Green for Immigration Department, Department of Labour; 1988, p55.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In place of strife

I find myself impressed, as I am sure do you, by the business-like efficiency of this present government when it comes to the future governance of Auckland. It seems like only yesterday that the Royal Commission made its report, and only lunchtime since that report was deftly modified by that nice Mr Key to leave out all the uncomfortable bits. And yet now we have a Transition Agency, its members appointed by the Minister in charge of the Hen House, Mr Rodney Hide. The Transition Agency of course bears no resemblance to the Interim Government which is ruling Fiji by force of arms, and Mr Hide should not be referred to by the title of Commodore.

The agency will be headed by Mark Fnord, currently the head of Watercare, which provides (with care) water to the Auckland authorities over which his Agency now has authority. There is no conflict of interest, of course. One of the Agency's members is Chair of the Eden Park Redevelopment Board, which is receiving large amounts of money to ensure the Super City will have a super stadium for the super Rugby World Cup. Again, there is no conflict of interest. The other members are largely without interest – although one brings unwanted local government experience to the table, having been Mayor of somewhere called Rodney – a part of the Auckland region which does not want to be part of the Super City.

Similar brisk efficiency was evinced in the establishment of a select committee of Parliament to review the legislation which will provide us fortunate Aucklanders with a Super City. Under the old way of enacting legislation, select committees considered such legislation before it was enacted. Not so under this Government: the legislation was passed under Urgency, which meant no need for a select committee, it being an Urgent matter. Instead, a select committee has been established after the Act. To make matters brisker and more efficient still, the Chairman of the the committee will be Mr John Carter, who is also a Minister for Local Government.

You see, and I am sure you will, select committees under the old way of government were charged with examining proposed legislation. This involved lots of paperwork going back and forth and lots of inconvenient questions for Ministers. By appointing one of the Ministers as Chairman of the select committee, this sort of red tape is avoided. He brings to the table his experience of the legislation which he helped enact and is well-placed to answer any questions that might be raised by recalcitrant members of the committee, those appointed from the Opposition benches. Any further legislation can be enacted swiftly.

You will see also that this streamlined process has avoided any need for public scrutiny of the legislation. Instead, a series of public meetings is being held, chaired by the hard-working Mr Carter, by Ms Nikki Kaye (also a member of the select committee) or by other members from the Government benches. Miss Kaye, in particular, is expected to use her usual consultative techniques of stating that she "acknowledges" any dissenting voices and looking through a folder of papers for something to say. These meetings will obviate the need for any contribution to the legislative process by the citizens of Auckland. In no time at all, the region will be a Super City, regardless of what its citizens might want.

In short, all is well. As someone once said in entirely different circumstances: go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Of teeth and truth

The Fundy Post, as you know, likes to celebrate New Zealanders who punch above their weight on a global stage. So it gives me great pleasure to inform you, gentle reader, that a Levin man is the 34th "most influential" dentist in Britain. And his practice, or practices, have caught him in the Westminster expenses scandal. Sir Paul Beresford, dentist of Putney and MP for the Mole Valley, had a complicated life, juggling his commitments at his chair with those of his seat, while charging questionable expenses to Parliament. The full story can be found on ("staying connected to the dental profession") which reports that "the patient waiting room doubled as his private lounge in the evenings;" one can only assume that Sir Paul spent his free time reading old copies of The Readers Digest and Country Life. Sir Paul also complains "that he had suffered financially as a result of cutting back his surgery hours."

Now, I know this is a matter for the British, but the same question applies to our own representatives: when you elect someone to Parliament, should you not expect that someone to make a full-time job of it? Running a dental practice, or a "consultancy," or holding company directorships seems like moonlighting. Just as bad is holding a seat in Parliament and one on a local authority, as the example of Sam Lotu-liga shows.

Not that I am suggesting Mr Lotu-liga is fiddling his expenses. Not that I could make any such suggestion against any MP. You see, the Speaker won't let us know about our MPs' expenses, because such knowledge would "infringe on their private lives." Yes, I know, that should be "impinge," not "infringe," but that is not the point. The point is that we have the right to impinge upon the private lives of our elected representatives when they are spending public money. But no: an Official Information Act which allows us to see the Police reports on Tony Veitch does not allow us to see what our MPs are spending on themselves; instead we have to rely on the Whips to keep them in line.

It's enough to make you spit pink liquid into a bowl.By the way, the full list of the most influential dentists in Britain can be found here. Well done, Eddie Crouch.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The purpose driven wife

Did you, like me, feel more than a little uncomfortable that Rick Warren said a little prayer at Barack Obama's inauguration? It spoilt things for me: not just that there should be a prayer at all, but that it should be delivered by someone who is not exactly a friend of the Family. Surely Pres. Obama knows that it is for moments like this one that God gave America Episcopalians - nice, educated, non-threatening Christians, who do not necessarily believe in Her but at least are the sort of people who would be welcome in your book club.

Anyway, as it turns out, it is not just gays who ought to have a problem with the Pastor. In his church (called Saddleback, a name which possibly evinces some suppressed homoeroticism; these things usually go together like a horse and cowboy), attitudes to wives are less than progressive.

Bartholemew has more to say on the subject.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

All the dirt they can print

By day, advertising executive Reece Shadbolt worked hard to convince New Zealand women that Toffee Pops were all they needed for a satisfied sex life.

But by night, the man behind the Carlos Spencer chocolate biscuit ads demanded far more to satisfy his own sexual appetite.
How does she do it? I speak of Carolyne Meng-Yee, the Herald's special correspondent for sordid affairs, a woman who can make you feel dirty just for reading her copy and who can make any subject, however grave, seem tacky. It was she, of course, who pursued Professor Peter Davis with prurient curiosity. It was she who was described by the Herald as another of New Zealand's most respected journalists. It is she who includes the word tragedy in every story she writes.

In other news, a rich man has a leaky home; and a scientist with smashed ribs was taken on a mercy dash. Don't say nothing ever happens in New Zealand.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Going forward

In another place, I called for a moratorium on the use of the redundant phrase "jumping the shark," which derives from an episode of Happy Days, a programme I never enjoyed. At the same time and place, I urged citizens to use the phrase "going forward," on the grounds that it is working so well for sports administrators and the thrusting men who are making that nice Mr Key's government the success which it is, self-evidently.

In an effort to ensure that citizens will recognise the utility of the phrase 'going forward,' I have inserted it at several key points in the following work of prose, which is the Gettysberg Address delivered by one Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America. I am sure you will appreciate the improvement this phrase gives to this otherwise prosaic piece of prose.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers, going forward, brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are, going forward, engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We, going forward, are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live, going forward. Going forward, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground, going forward. The brave men, living and dead, going forward, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world, going forward, will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, going forward, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us, going forward, to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that, going forward, this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth, going forward.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's that man again

I've been reading the Listener. Yes, I know; after all I said.

It was the issue for last week that had me in its spell, the one with the photo of Gareth Morgan on the cover. Perhaps I should be more specific, because Gareth Morgan is often on the front cover of the Listener: he is a very busy man and he has lots of ideas, most of which seem to require him and his lovely wife Joanne to ride motorcycles to some exotic place and then publish a book about it, which the Listener kindly promotes with a feature article. In fact, this is exactly what has happened, once again. Here is how the story starts:
Faced with one of the great questions of our time – whether the Earth’s current warming is caused by humans – economist Gareth Morgan did what only a philanthropist can do: hired some top scientists to give him the answer.

Riding her motorbike north through Alaska, or across the Sahara, Joanne Morgan would occasionally pause to point out something – desertification, perhaps, or dying forests – and say to her husband, “See that? That’s caused by global warming.” [ you might pause, gentle reader, to consider how clumsy was that paragraph; I am no geographer, but I think the sight of desertification in the Sahara would be unremarkable, although forests, even dying ones, are rare in those parts]

“I got bloody sick of it, to be honest,” Gareth Morgan says now. “And finally I said to her, ‘Joanne, for God’s sake, you can’t possibly make such sweeping statements.’” Her answer was that if he had read Tim Flannery’s climate-change book The Weather Makers, as she had, then he would understand.

So, he started reading it, but instead of being convinced that human activity – most notably the burning of fossil fuels – was causing global warming, Morgan finished each page with more questions than answers. He decided to hire some climate change policy researchers to investigate...
Now read on; no, you cannot until the end of this month: the Listener's management wants to punish you for not buying the magazine. But I will save you the trouble of finding a week-old copy: the story does not say much more than that. He found some people; he paid them lots of money to tell him all about climate change (this, incidentally, is not philanthropy but the exchange of money for services; Gareth, being an economist, will know this; Joanne Black, who wrote the story, may well not); they told him what he might have learned from reading some other books; Gareth learned that his wife was right: we are, in fact, stuffed; Gareth then hired a journalist to help him write his own book. This book will soon be on sale. If you are feeling philanthropic, you can buy a copy to help Gareth recover some of the costs of his curiosity.

At some point in this journey of discovery there was a motorcycle trip, it seems: the Listener story is illustrated by a very peculiar photograph, which shows Gareth and his wife Joanne on the ice, with a pair of penguins and a pair of New Zealand Post mopeds – the kind they use to deliver the mail, with panniers and no apparent modifications for use in Antarctic conditions. I am not sure whether Gareth and Joanne had to deliver mail to Antarctic research stations to fund their philanthropy, or whether the photograph was made at Kelly Tarleton's, or whether New Zealand Post was itself philanthropic and bunged the Morgans some money on the condition that they rode its mopeds across what remains of the Antarctic, rather than their own BMWs. I expect you will have to read the book to find out.

I should add, as an aside, that this is not the only peculiar photograph in this issue of the Listener; there is another illustrating the main story about the global economy. It shows a mob of men, in old style hats and coats (I borrowed that phrase from Philip Larkin, to conserve rhetoric) attacking a car; some women and children look on, as does a Policeman; meanwhile the Policeman's more proactive colleague draws his baton. The caption to this photograph is "unemployed New Zealanders rioting in the Great Depression," which is both unsurprisingly gauche and suspiciously vague: newspaper photographs usually come with details of date and location. I was vaguely suspicious, so I looked carefully and noticed that several of the men were not wearing hats, which was almost a capital offence in the 1930s. One of them was wearing a Homburg, which was never a hat for the working (or unemployed) man. Another was wearing a hacking jacket, not a coat associated with the urban proletariat. And, to cap my suspicions, several of the unhatted men had hairstyles which were unknown before the 1960s. I put it to you, Listener sub-editors, that the incident shown in this photograph did not occur in the Great Depression but some years later. It may well have been a capping stunt.

And there is a third peculiar photograph, on the Bradford's Hollywood page. It shows Mark Wahlberg, the artist formerly known as Marky Mark, looking peculiarly like our own John Campbell.

Anyway, back to the main story; now, where was I? Ah yes, Gareth is publishing a book. This will tell us what we might have learned from the other books that neither we nor he have read: that we caused global warming and that we are stuffed. Gareth will recover some of the money he expended on this project and more of us will know about New Zealand Post (the CEO of which has just become head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, incidentally).

What good all this will do the penguins is another question, to which the answer is probably 'none.' It probably won't do the Listener readers much good, either. Every week they are told of another new thing to worry about; it is no wonder they have frown lines.

Still, at least there is Hope. It says so on the cover of the very same edition. Apparently, this depression is not going to turn out like the last one, which is good news if you are German, Jewish, of conscription age or any combination of such. It is not so good news if you were planning on a career as a popular wartime entertainer. However, as this week's Listener says : a recession is not the time to be self-absorbed. Will the new zeitgeist mean we accept our bodies, without putting our perceived flaws and wrinkles to the fore?

Answers on a postcard, to the usual address.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Komm in meinen Wigwam

Vision Entertainment, the people who brought performance art to Glendowie, now appear to be expanding into the dynamic market of German TV and Internet Entertainment. This is the text (spelling and punctuation as found) of their current advertisement on Seek:
German TV & Internet Entertainment Agency looking for Customer Services Representative and Office Assistant.
No particular skills, qualifications or experience necessary!
The location will be in our studio & office in Auckland. Working hours can be timed with you flexible.

Start of work:
Working hours:
Full time, part time and on a casual basis (it s up to you)
Minimum: 3 days per week for 3-5h

 25,- and 30,- NZ$ per hour
Important key strengths for this job:
-honesty, discipline, punctuality, reliability and commitment
-charism and a friendly & confident appearence
!!!-you have to speak german-!!!
Please notice that we only consider applicants from Germany.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Mrs. Jasmin Keller
Human Ressource Manager
Leaving aside the obvious observation that only considering applicants from one country is illegal discrimination, one cannot help but wonder what kind of German customer service goes on in Glendowie and why a friendly and confident appearance is a key strength.

As this is New Zealand Music Month, here is HLAH:

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How we got from there to here

The Twin Towers were brought down by pulsed energy scalar weapons launched by US airforce weapons platforms that operate in sub-orbital earthspace and which are protected from earthly observers by cloaking technology back-engineered from the Roswell UFO crash of 1947 (see the photos of John Walson for rare images of these craft). These platforms also projected holograms of the planes onto the sky beforehand - the real planes and passengers were teleported shortly after takeoff to the secret underground US military base at Montauk on Long Island using technology developed in the Philadelphia experiment of 1941. The passengers and crew were there reprogrammed by MKULTRA operatives to forget their past lives and used as pawns in the military experiments in time travel taking place in Montauk based upon the ‘unified field’ technologies developed by Nikola Tesla and confiscated by the US government in WW2.(ref the work of Montauk whistleblower Al Bielek and others). Doutre, Gage, Jones and other 9/11 ‘truthers’ are disinformation agents whose ideas of ‘controlled demolition’ distract the populace from the ‘real’ truth as to the US military/Draco-Reticulan alliances’ attempts to control the very fabric of time and space itself.

I don't know about you (how could I?) but, determined never to be surprised though I am, still I find it difficult to explain how people can arrive at conclusions like this one. Is it that people like this were always out there and Internet brought them together, or are they the creations of Internet, men who read to much?

I am beginning to think the latter. Knowing (as I do, due to previous career decisions) what ULTRA means, I stared in blank amazement at the mention of MKULTRA operatives; so I did the Wikipedia thing and discovered that this particular corner of this information source has been colonised. And, whilst we are on the subject, how does the genteel hamlet of Montauk, famed for its monster, come into this? One would have thought the powers that be would have chosen somewhere more remote for their secret experiments. On the other hand, Long Island is at least convenient, in a way that South Dakota and Mars are not.

I suppose I could go on, but what would be the point? Whatever I would say would contribute, in some small way, to the belief held by others that there is a Draco-Reticulan alliance. And still I cannot avoid the fact that the New Zealand Herald is prepared to countenance the belief that boulders signify the prior habitation of these islands by Celts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

First, drown your bird

A comment by Keri on Giovanni's latest prompted me to search (with curiosity, not desire) for a recipe for muttonbirds. I found this: titi orzo on the NatRad site. It seems a suitably Maori-Italian dish for the occasion. But then I read the instructions: "put titi in enough water to drown the birds and bring to boil then gently simmer for 2 to 3 hrs." Oh dear. I feel quite unwell. Is it normal practice to drown birds in the pot? It seems a very violent way to start cooking; and what about the feathers?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Dumb by the river

Swine flu – do we panic or ride it out? It’s hard to gauge in the midst of all the hysteria. As we re-examine whether travel is a safe option right now we should also examine how the media is reporting the spread of the virus and how they’re contributing to the spread of fear.
One Adrian Musolino (yes, I know) is confused. He does not know whether to panic or to ride it out, these being the only choices apparent to him in the face of swine flu. While he is choosing one or the other, we should examine why so many people who have an opinion about swine flu know not about what they are talking. It like a pandemic of stupidity.

Michael Lulz thinks it is all a beat-up by the media and the health bureaucrats; well he would, wouldn't he? Lulz, after all, is a semi-professional contrarian, who is paid by two media outlets to opine on whatever subject takes his fancy. He also has a day job, as a mayor, which gives him pretty much the same entitlement. In the normal course of affairs, none of this would matter too much, because only a fool would act upon the opinion of an op-ed columnist and we are unlikely to visit the town where he is mayor. But in a time of real danger, people like Lulz should be shut up by their editors, because the population includes many people who are just smart enough to read a newspaper column but not so smart to think for themselves. These people are the target market for Lulz and several other columnists. They make a handsome living by appearing to be fearless and independent in their thinking, whilst doing no more than repeat received idiocy about featherbedded bureaucrats, academics in ivory towers, political correctness and so on, every weekend.

Their readers love this sort of thing. It gives some articulation to the vague sense of unease and grievance that haunts them daily. Something is not quite right; somebody must be to blame. Quite what is wrong and who is to blame remain elusive, until the columnists arrive in the weekend papers. The answers then seem obvious: those at fault are the experts, the professionals, the academics; in short, the smart people. What is wrong is that these people have influence. Fortunately, the columnist has what they lack: common sense and principle. He can see through their foibles and their self-interest.

Note, for example, this rhetorical flourish:
More people will have already died this past week of bog-standard influenza and its complications than any swine derivative. Ditto, in the United States, United Kingdom and even dear old New Zealand. Indeed, you could make the claim for just about every other malady although none will garner the current hyperbolic claims that the end of the world is nigh.
Indeed, you could. But still you would be an idiot. The death rate from aircraft-related injuries in the Manhattan Borough of New York on 10th September 2001 was, I am reliably informed, zero. No doubt people died of other causes on that day, illnesses and road-traffic accidents which did not garner any hyperbolic claims.

And here is another:
Even West Coast mayor Tony Kokshoorn was quarantined because he talked to a girl who danced with a man who had a brother who ate a pork rind
Almost, but not quite: he and his family were quarantined because they had recently returned from North America and one of his family had become ill with symptoms which might indicate influenza. Obviously the Mayor of Wanganui would not do the same in similar circumstances.

And then comes the credibility crunch: "The only thing that makes this current strain slightly odd is that pigs can give it to you." Oh dear.

Reading this nonsense is all fun and games, I suppose, but it might seem a little different when people start dropping like swine. It might then seem that the columnists know nothing about this subject, just as they know nothing about anything. It might seem that the people who do know something about this subject were right, after all. Of course, by then Lulz and his fellows will have moved on to other sources of uninformed indignation. And so it goes. These people are like the pub bore, who is there every time you go for a drink, always blathering on about something or other. And yet people still listen to them.

Maybe there is hope. Maybe brutish idiocy will be the fist victim of the pandemic. Maybe people will stop listening to people who deny expert opinion for the sake of their own egos. Maybe.

Here are some clever New Zealanders, the Able Tasmans:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Oh, Sappho

Then, in 1998, Ted Hughes died, and suddenly Duffy's name was one of those being touted as his likely successor as laureate. At the time, she was living with the poet Jackie Kay, and it was reported that she only failed to get the job on account of the fact that "Blair was worried about having a homosexual as poet laureate because of how it might play in middle England."
The true horror that is Tony Blair no doubt will emerge gradually over the next few years. It is not just the war and the lying that led to it, but incidents like this one which will shape his legacy. Of course, it is not that he is at all homophobic: we can be sure that loved chatting with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Elton John. It is that Blair is utterly lacking in principle, that he would deny a fine poet the honour she deserved because her sexuality might frighten the readers of the Daily Mail. What a horrid little man is he.


Chaps, chapesses, please stop what you are doing and check your pantries, right away: if you are missing a cake, Ashburton Police would like to hear from you.

Sometimes, people from Overseas ask me why I live in New Zealand, since nothing happens here. I reply, that is why I live here: nothing happens here. Things happen in places like Bosnia, where (I am sure) the papers would not have space to tell of an escaped convict and cake-user.

On another topic, is this the best song ever? Answers on a postcard to the usual address:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Through with being cool

When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion – prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.
Oh dear. It's A N Wilson again. It sees like only yesterday when he lost his faith. Now he has it back again. Writing a biography of C S Lewis made him an Atheist (reading those blasted Narnia books helped make one of me) but, a few biographies more and he is back in the arms of Mary. And now, of course Atheism is unthinkable. And Atheists are dullards. And the proofs of God's existence are so obvious: language, music and love.

So, there we have it. I expect you are wondering why you did not think of that. Possibly because it is a load of bollocks; Wilson's apologia is a confession of no more than his own inconsistency. He lost God, he found Him again. Stay tuned for more thrilling episodes of the testimony of A N Wilson. You won't believe what happens next!