My Ignorance Rules

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Martin Luther King Jr.

We live in the age of smart phones and stupid people. An age when it’s okay to be really really ordinary, think nothing of it or anything else and be famous, if even for an instant on some reality tv show.

The digital revolution has brought boundless access to information and entertainment choices, but the lowest common denominator – or your kitchen – rules.

There’s no end to the flow of stupid. Instead of educating ourselves via the Internet, most people simply use it to validate what they already suspect, heard rumoured, wish or believe to be true. Most perplexing is that supposedly more sophisticated news consumers also do a damn good job of filtering out what they don’t want to hear.

We’re lucky in New Zealand because our Prime Minister, John Key knows what stuff matters to us. That means we can predetermine what we need to know and never know what we don’t. Snapper quotas matter. Expanded powers of our foreign intelligence spy agency to spy on New Zealanders and our surveillance of friends and allies for trade purposes do not – in fact should not, John says, reminding us of the nothing to hide nothing to fear axiom so loved by secretive governments worldwide.

Reality Bites, We need to know

Reality Bites, We need to know

As the arbiter of public taste, John Key, is the perfect man of our times, so loved for being so ordinary and so revered for being so rich following his so impressive career as a forex dealer. He knows that right thinking New Zillanders don’t really value quality new and current affairs and won’t miss the advocacy journalism of the only quality current affairs show, Campbell Live, on free to air tv. Waiting for me to grab the remote will be a soap, a banal homegrown comedy or perhaps a rip snorting reality tv show endorsed by reality tv queen and arbiter of bad taste, Julie Christie, who also happens to be an executive director at the station seeking to axe Campbell Live.  Shock, horror, probe!

John-Campbell-1200_620x310But wait John Key, in his role as media commentator, not just a  sound bite, has some awesome insights and a new take on the role of the fourth estate.

“Well, its [Campbell Live’s] role in life is not to hold the government to account. It’s to entertain its viewers and basically to follow news stories,” says John. (We call him John because we’re cosy, informal here and mates).

And here’s the cruncher: “Look in the end we live in a world where it’s largely about commercial returns of what is a private station. It’s not funded by the government, it’s not subject to anything. It’s got a bunch of shareholders it needs to make a return to.”

Thank goodness for choices about how, where and when we view television – or even if we view it – and we can of course subscribe to paid news or cable news or get sponsored news that has paid for its space and was formerly known as advertising.

But I digress. It’s ironic.

Averroes, 1126-1198, moslem scholar and philosopher credited as one of the leading lights of the Renaissance.

Averroes, 1126-1198, moslem scholar and philosopher credited as one of the leading lights of the Renaissance.

In an age when enlightenment should be blazing and personal empowerment and knowledge leading us to new zeniths, we’ve joined what science fiction writer Isaac Asimov described as a cult of ignorance, best viewed from club sofa on a giant digital screen where reality comes in 3D.

“The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”

Anti-intellectualism is a trademark of totalitarian regimes — like the military junta in1960s Argentina or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where people could be killed for wearing glasses, a sign, apparently, of intellect, and of governments who curb debate, dissent and questions using outmoded internal security laws allowing detention without trial.

Clearly that’s not our fate. We’re a democracy. We must make sure we can pa rticipate in it. But as one American pundit cautions “a misinformed and anti-intellectual citizenry is a politically docile and vulnerable citizenry. And that’s dangerous to the freedoms we all want to preserve and protect.”

And there is creep.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has engaged in an ever-widening programme of spying on its own—and foreign— citizens, tapping phones, intercepting emails and texts, and monitoring social media to track the movements, activities and connections of millions. Still, many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Oh good, New Zealand is right up there with the play.

And there are creeps.

Take George W Bush, described by journalist Christopher Hitchens “as a man who is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things”.

President Bush’s political success, in part, came from his position as the candidate with whom more Americans wanted to have a beer than any other and showed he was more like you and me — that is, more average. Sound like someone you know?

To be successful politically, to avoid being called smug, aloof, elitist, or out-of-touch, you have to pretend you’re not educated, smart, or qualified to run the country. And our elected leaders are brilliant at this. John Key knows it’s the ticket to success and he shares many of the same traits, particularly his jokey blokey behaviour and mauling of language to prove to anyone that ever doubted that he is just a “normal guy”.

And there are creeping tendencies, subtle, insidious and aimed at soothing any progression from the comfortable confines of dumb and dumber – the use of casual, colloquial matey language – which diminishes and implicitly denies the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated and trivialises big decisions like sending ‘boys’ off to war or spying on your mates.

images (1)That inarticulate legacy, says American columnist Jonathon Gatehouse, author of America Dumbs Down, didn’t end with George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, who have moved millions with their mangled language. He says the U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking and asks: Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?

“Barack Obama, the most cerebral and eloquent American leader in a generation, regularly plays the same card, droppin’ his Gs and dialling down his vocabulary to Hee Haw standards. His ability to convincingly play a hayseed was instrumental in his 2012 campaign against the patrician Mitt Romney; in one of their televised debates the President referenced “folks” 17 times.”

We don’t have to worry about that though. We’ve got John whose speech could never be described as crisp and its content substantial e.g. “I have quite a strong sense of wanting to sort of, wanting to help others. I’m not claiming I’m a saint, but I have a genuine, genuine belief in trying to help others.”

You don’t have to be an intellectual or a cynic to see that the “rise of the idiot” is good for profit and good for political advantage but not good for the pursuit of knowledge.

dissent images
And the youth generation, better known as “The Dumbest Generation” is alive and well, dumbing down 24/7 on a diet of “aversion to reading anything of substance and an addiction to digital “crap” via social media”.  Go to: or read Mark Bauerlein’s book.

“It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert,” says journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.

So are we reaching a point of maximum dumbness as has been claimed? Let me leave it to the reliable online news source,  Daily Mash 

Researchers at the Institute for Studies have warned that it will soon be impossible to dumb down news and entertainment media any further.

Professor Henry Brubaker said: “Most television is about cooking, the paranormal or poor people having arguments. The news is just opinions punctuated with pictures of ‘extreme weather’.

“The only books being published are ghost-written celebrity biographies or thrillers about serial killers called things like ‘The Face Collector’. Apart from that people just read lists of ’10 facts about muscle growth’ off websites.

“The problem is that although our culture cannot get any stupider, human intelligence may continue on its downward trajectory.

“The result will be a world in which nobody understands anything. Even a film about The Rock driving a jeep into explosions will leave viewers confused and angry at its pretentiousness.”

However TV channel boss Mary Fisher said: “Don’t worry, I’ve just commissioned Jamie & Jimmy’s Paranormal Antiques Auction Sex News.

“And I’m confident we can go even lower. We must keep striving to find new depths of idiocy.”

Read more at:

Passing the Buck

Over the years I have come to realise and rail that what we know matters little but who we are matters more and who we know matters most. Hardly an epiphany or cause celebre even though we love celebs.

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We’ve decided it’s much better to be deaf, dumb and blind to what spoilsports, Greenies and Labour luddites dare to call cronyism. Instead we should take the lead from the well heeled northern slopes and be grateful that John Key decided to be our Prime Minister and play golf with President Obama when he could have been making mega millions more offshore as a money man – a role we should all aspire to because rich is good and you can still remain common.

images (2)No one wants to listen to you bleating about the erosion of our democracy, ethics, morality and the loss of values of a caring society.

No one is interested, take JK’s word, in hearing anything more about out of order spying agencies, hackers, Cameron Slater, the crushing of Judith Collins, Oravida advertising, Donghua Liu’s political donations, hobnobbing and criminal charges, the Auckland Convention Centre deal, Auckland trains and motorways and Pike River.

And certainly not another word needs to be spent debating poverty, shoeless, hungry children and newlyweds unable to buy their first quarter acre pavlova paradise. (Anyway there’s an easy fix to the housing shortage if we take up curmudgeonly capitalist property developer, Bob Jones’ suggestion and ship in thousands of labourers from China, Indonesia, India or wherever and pay them peanuts. I’ll pretend he never said that! Just forget it.)

So let’s get on with how to make friends in high places and perfect the fine art of a brain fade. It works for some.

imagesYou have to have lots of friends and networks to get on the merry go round to fame, fortune and a minimalist concrete, glass and steel batch at Omaha that costs the max.

You’ll recognise the familiar faced senior executives, bureaucrats and the politically anointed that you need to buddy up to. They’re not going anywhere but just pop up again and again regardless of their previous incarnations.

They are acolytes and experts at self-aggrandisement, self-entitlement and self-validation. Life is very good for this clutch of big boys and girls who are mightily well paid and mightily well connected. They are made and there’s no point in raining on their parade of wealth, status and influence. These titans of the padded desk chair are impervious. They can’t see or hear you. In fact you should be grateful. They’d be getting zillions more if they were in the same role in other countries – and be fair, not all of them are nesting feathers but have done a great job by any measure. So there.

Hush your moaning and stop wishing for a schadenfreude moment to cut them all down to size. It won’t happen and if it does they will be recycled after an honourable period on the back benches. All you need to know is that these people are worth it.


Multinational fast food chain workers, supermarket checkout operators, cleaners, gas pump attendants, rest home workers, couriers, care-givers, casino workers, security guards, call centre operators, retirement home workers and a multitude of others are not. This includes women who 100 years after emancipation still have no pay equality or equal representation in C suites and Boardrooms.

And while it’s not yet done and dusted there’s been a light bulb moment. A landmark court case recognised the inequitable pay and working conditions of women rest home workers compared with similarly skilled men in different industries. Oops. Someone switched off the light and removed the bulb. Apparently fair pay for these women could cause rest homes to close because “Remember, the biggest cost centre of any aged-care facility is wages.”  And this is the 21st century!

A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is – rather was – a touchstone we were proud of and naively took for granted, but New Zealand is a horribly low wage, high cost country, even for the basics like milk, with shrinking equality of opportunity.

Nothing should be taken for granted, particularly continuous power and internet supply if you live in Auckland. Nothing is sacred, including the tea break. The Employment Amendment Bill, first to pass the post in National’s third term legislative calendar, takes away the legal right to a tea break and weakens collective bargaining. It is, however, a marvel of flexibility for the employer which is not all bad. And at least there is a shake-up of worksite health and safety laws to reduce the workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020 – and what’s more there is now provision for officer and director liability – too late for Pike River unfortunately! It’ll all be in your contract.

But you need to have the right kind of contract. The outgoing head of Kiwi rail had one of those. He was paid a generous bonus for getting the interisland ferry to the “other side” but not necessarily back again because of a plague of breakdowns, It was a crying shame really. In fact he made the nation cry with a maudlin television commercial promising we would get to the other side and then got us all choked up again with a gorgeous scenic train journey advertisement to the emotionally charged score of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers.

Don’t forget it is who you are and who you know that takes you into the winners’ circle. That’s probably why that larrikin in a suit, the touchy feely Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority boss, Roger Sutton remained at his post for eight weeks while a complaint about his humiliating sexist behaviour was investigated. Roger’s employer, the State Services Commission (SSC) rewarded the complainant for her courage by allowing her to be victim-shamed and sent home. Roger, whose contribution to team building was an idea to introduce G-string Fridays, remained at the office.

images (3)The complaint was upheld. But the SSC did not deem it serious enough for Sutton to be sacked.

And so in a truly disgraceful display of public service arrogance, the SSC head, Iain Rennie – against all public relations advice – orchestrated Roger’s tearful exit from the job he loved.

Surrounded by his wife, Iain and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Andrew Kibblewhite – the top tier of the public service no less who had travelled from Wellington to attend his farewell.

Iain praised him, Andrew hugged him. Sutton’s wife, Jo, gave more tearful interviews and the victim remained silent, bound by the terms of the confidentiality agreement all were meant to honour. Well Roger is gone. Iain is not gone. He is overseeing a review of how the investigation was handled. Bully for him! Dinosaurs are not extinct. Inequity rules.

These out of touch generals do not just strut their stuff on public service stages looking out for the somebodies and down-trodding the nobodies. They are everywhere and have their own idea of fair.

Think of the teenage Pak’nSave checkout assistant on the minimum wage whose boss wanted to dock $700 from her wages when organised thieves ran off with loaded trolleys of unpaid groceries, or the Gull service station attendant who had to pay for drive offs, or the courier from Fastway Couriers who had to pay for a package she delivered that got eaten by a dog. These stories do have a happy ending, thanks to public outrage and Campbell Live going into bat for the little people. That exposure in the nation’s lounge rooms forced double somersault, backflips from the named and shamed employers.

zero hoursThe spotlight now needs to be turned to the awful “zero-hour contracts”, a worldwide phenomenon that employers like to dub as “flexible” working hours. They are contracts that bind a person to the employer but don’t have any guaranteed hours even though the worker may be regularly employed.

These insecure work arrangements have been decried as unfair and exploitative but are common around the world.  In the US, a series of hard hitting stories in the New York Times recently shamed Starbucks into announcing they were changing their shift rostering system, another euphemism for zero-hour contracts, and as the first rustlings on the hustings emerge, a “No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?” movement is growing louder – it just needs a national leader to take the message higher.

New Zealand too must grab destiny by the shirt collar.

New Labour Party boss and erstwhile employment lawyer and union leader, Andrew Little, is making a good stab at shedding the union bogeyman of the dark ages and cutting a new swathe for himself as someone in a suit who is at least thinking about what the future – and the future of work – could be as we try and transform our economy from a commodity producer, choking under a growing mountain of milk powder, to an agile, innovator – not improviser – of high value niche products and services in a digital world.

That’s where the buck stops. I am a cheerleader for sustainable growth and I want New Zealand to be a great country on every level. I am not asking for anything to be handed out on a plate, but everyone, not just the chosen few, must have equal opportunity and encouragement to make their contribution and earn a slice of the pie. That’s the fair deal our country was built on.

Flag on the Fly

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Oh goody. New Zealand is going to get a new flag – the Prime Minister says it’s time to wave goodbye to the Union Jack version. And even better, we, the public, will get a say. We are going to give the Yeah:Nah in not one binding referendum but two binding referendums (or is it referenda?) on what it should look like and if it should be the one that’s currently flying high on flag posts around the world.

All this flap is because the red, white and blue ensign is not flying high in some public opinion polls so has gone to the top of the Prime Minister’s list of really really “actually” important things to do proving he is really really “actually” Honest John, action man and not just a politician who makes promises he will have to flag.

nz f

“Our flag is the most important symbol of our national identity and I believe that this is the right time for New Zealanders to consider changing the design to one that better reflects our status as a modern, independent nation,” he said statesmanlike.

This from the man who understands beige and benign and doodles silver fern logos on black, just like the one that’s used by the All Blacks, Air New Zealand, Team New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand and various sporting teams that bat, bounce, kick and hook. I vote we run the Key design up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it!

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The New York Times has thrown its weight behind a change to the New Zealand flag in an editorial titled Maybe One Less Union Jack.

“The flag proclaims New Zealand as a South Pacific outpost of the British Empire, which is precisely why Mr Key wants to abandon it,” the newspaper said.

“He thinks it shackles his country to its colonial past and is unrepresentative of the racial and cultural diversity of 21st-century New Zealand. Those on Mr Key’s side argue, too, that their flag is nondescript and derivative; it looks very much like Australia’s flag … ”

images (12)Mr Key has said he favours a silver fern on a black background – he’s good at drawing that design.

Kiwi birds, another favourite, are really hard to get right. Sheep are cute but silly.

Rugby balls may be a bit divisive and marmite may be confused with vegemite, and is unpleasantly wet and brown. Besides we’re sick of the Aussies claiming everything that’s ours as theirs and having a more recognisable identity and flatter vowels.

Anyway, Mr Key who knows how to be popular and please most of the people most of the time, is on the button.

silver fern

It would seem that the silver fern is by the far the most popular design to plop on a flag judging from the flood of feedback from the nation’s living-rooms of armchair designers and logo spotters.

No matter that interest is “actually” flagging. A recent Herald-DigiPoll poll found most New Zealanders did not think it was time to change the flag.

Too late. The red flag has been raised and it’s going ahead the New Zealand way.

Our new national lovemark is being designed by committee. Brilliant. Remember the description of a camel – really a horse designed by a committee. I dare not visualise the flag by committee.

I am assured the project will be in safe hands – at least a lot of hands. A whole bureaucracy is being recruited to spend a $25 million budget with project managers and project teams, lots of processes all mapped out with reporting lines, feedback loops and a full calendar of meetings with refreshments has been scheduled.

Note to self: confirm catering to ensure menus are varied and not carb loading. We could flag with all that sitting, dodging powerpoint bullets.

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Homage to Gordon Walters

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Homage to friendship

Better still Members of Parliament will be integral to the flag project. They are dab hands at sitting, going to meetings and assessing the merits of refreshment menus.

But best of all, to take the cake, will be the selection of a committee of old hands, well-known New Zealanders, who will narrow down the design options through national consultations and alot of refreshments so we have just the top notch ones to vote on in our binding national referendums, not one, but two remember.

I can but hope the committee excludes self-promoting, autocue reading, creationist admen seeking to lead us back to the edge of blackness.

helen clark - rather attractive Southern Cross

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s effort – ditch the Union Jack and leave the flag with “a rather attractive Southern Cross”. Thank you. Please stick to your day job now wiping out poverty and striving for world peace and equality.

It’s bad enough having cohorts of former prime ministers, politicians, design experts, brand experts, logo experts, analysts and radio jocks all offering their emblematic designs, thoughts and colouring-in drawings for serious consideration by the committee as they embrace a no such thing as a bad idea philosophy over tea and sandwiches up and down the country.

“I think in the end, you have to say well, what price do you put on democracy where people genuinely have their say on a matter that is actually important,” Mr Key has explained.

But honestly, common sense and endless examples remind you that if you want to kill a good idea, get a committee working on it.

No matter where you go in the known universe, there is design-by-committee. It has become a pecking order of disaster and finger-pointing.

No-one has ever built a statue to a committee and there’s no need to wonder why.

imagesActually I do wonder if Mr Key is just being tricky. Referring the matter to a committee can be a device for diluting issues, diffusing responsibility and delaying decisions.

Tragedy averted. Long live the Peter Principle and the salutary science of Hierarchiology and (in)competence.

It doesn’t always work. Look at Wellington International Airport’s Rock, named as one of the world’s truly ugly public buildings. The Beehive is on the list too.

Aotea Centre should be there but it was misidentified as a concrete bunker or nuclear fallout shelter.

And look what happened to the Stop sign when a committee ran it.

A flag is essentially a visual symbol of a nation, articulating in colour and imagery the core defining attributes of its people, culture, natural landscape, heritage, history and national identity.

Changing our flag is not a black and white issue – the ISIS flag of terror is. Few countries change their flag unless they have won independence, lost independence, are new borns or in Canada’s case, wanted to assert a stronger cultural identity, make a distinct break from its British colonial past and remind the world that it makes darned good maple syrup!

Instead of designing a flag by committee, promoting commercial logos, kiwiana images that are world famous only in New Zealand or garish pseudo ethnic graphics for smartphones, New Zealand needs to grow up, short though we are on history, and debate the real issue – who we are as a nation and what we stand for.

We can’t change our past. We do have an indelibly strong Anglo-Saxon heritage, with early British settlers making a huge contribution to our development as a nation and our nationhood. Yes there was bloodshed, ignominy, injustices committed against Maori, chopping down the flagpole and the revival of the Treaty of Waitangi as a guiding framework for so much of our endeavour.

Our flag – and the New Zealand state seal – recognises those foundations with the symbol of the Union Jack linking the British crown and Maori, which remain core to our national identity as New Zealanders. While we are becoming increasingly culturally and ethnically diverse, and are all the richer for it, that symbolic historical representation is important. Just as the royal blue background serves emblematically to represent our seas and sky and the stars of the Southern Cross denote the location of our southern Pacific home.

So please don’t paint our identity black. There’s got to be a silver lining. Let’s show our true colours.images (11)

Santa and the Grinch

What a week. Some sad sacks really do have a nerve. Santa got the sack. Our Santa! I use the possessive endearingly because I had a sudden rush of motherliness  towards this Santa, the five-tonne, 18-metre heavyweight of Auckland’s festive season who has been scaring delighted children for the past 54 years.

santa09Voted creepiest Christmas ornament in the world in 2011 due to his winking eye and politically incorrect come hither wagging finger, Auckland’s Santa was abruptly cast into permanent cold storage by the Heart of the City – misnomer I know.

This retail business group said it could no longer afford to contribute to the $180,000 fee to erect Our Santa and his reindeer onto his corner perch on Whitcoull’s veranda.

Heart of the City, which likes to use the acronym HotCity –another misnomer I know – is in hot water – not a misnomer. Its long-term CEO, none other than its founding and only CEO, was sacked recently after he was charged with a barrage of alleged tax evasion and false invoicing offences relating to his tenure in the hot seat.

But who got it in the proverbial as the victim of this outrage? Our Santa. His legions of flabbergasted fans were stirred into action. The SOS to save our Santa was out. There was no holding back. Their derisive cries were loudly broadcast on every social media channel and every airwave.

How dare the powers that be give our Santa the boot.

He’s our very own Christmas icon. In fact, apart from the gorgeousness of Smith and Caughey’s wondrous storybook Christmas windows, he’s really our only public Christmas decoration. New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, boasts that the show never stops, but when it comes to Christmas, the show never starts. Forget a forest of fairy lights and twinkling stars spreading glad tidings and joy within the heart of the city precinct. Parsimony reigns.


Auckland City at Christmas – feel the joy!


Christmas in Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Moslem Malaysia. You can feel the joy!

But hark. The people’s voices were heard and lo, within hours, out of the blue, a miracle occurred on main street. The local casino group chipped in with $50,000 and local property developer, Mansons, said it would foot the remainder. Hooray! Santa is to be resurrected.

The Grinch is gone. Power to the people. Not quite. We have the Vector factor.


Michael Stiassny

Apparently we Aucklanders have to realise that uninterrupted power, as in constant electricity supply, is not a right. Power cuts are a part of life and Aucklanders should get used to it.

So said Michael Stiassny, the powerful chairman of Auckland’s publicly listed monopoly electricity supplier, Vector, majority owned by hundreds of thousands of little people through a consumer trust. And it was we little people who bore the brunt of prolonged cuts following a fire at a substation that knocked out power to 85,000 customers over several days.

Always ready to court controversy and raise hackles, Mr Stiassny and his chief executive Simon McKenzie were grilled about this latest outage at Vector’s no-press-allowed annual meeting.

They couldn’t say what caused the fire that caused the outage that caused inconvenience and anger among the masses.

They couldn’t discuss compensation for households and businesses left without power, but they could say that the company and customers could not afford a gold-plated network. That quickly soared in the next breath to customers having to be willing to pay for a platinum network – platinum being the colour of Mr Stiassny’s and his business minded Board’s credit cards – if power was to be guaranteed to all the people all of the time.


But there was no shying away from praising themselves for a marvellous job of telling people via their own smartphone AP, Twitter, FB, web and ad infinitum channels that there was a power failure in certain areas and providing an estimate of when services might be expected to resume. Really, really good but really, really self-serving if you have flat batteries. Just goes to show that you never learn much from hearing yourself speak.

Mr Stiassny, described as a “go to fix it man” and “laconic liquidator” whose home in seaside St Heliers lost power during the blackout, said “power outages were a part of life and people should get used to it and plan for them”. Michael knew something. He was well prepared.

images (4)The accountant and indefatigable Boy Scout said he had partial power from investing in a Vector solar panel and battery package. Lucky you. Vector no longer offers this fabulous package Michael. Perhaps you could talk to your people again?

And Michael was able to tell the media that he was hardly inconvenienced during the blackout. He was able to run a small fridge, his son had a television to watch the NRL league final and the family had a barbecue, but he got told off by his wife for opening the freezer.

As noted by the Prime Minister, this power outage was a “freak” occurrence and there would be a full inquiry as is always the case following these incidents.

231014HOSSPLBROMHEADHe was at that point speaking in his capacity as Prime Minister.

Some time later the Prime Minister, in a tricky manoeuvre to dodge a question he didn’t like, said a conversation with poisonous Whaleoil blogger, Cameron Slater was not in his capacity as Prime Minister.

We were left a bit confused about his capacity generally, but in an Edward de Bono moment, he clarified.

“I wear a number of hats obviously, one as the leader of the National Party, one as Prime Minister of New Zealand and one as a citizen,” said John Key, explaining that which capacity he was acting in was determined by “the context around what I think I was doing”.

So this “freak” incident should not be a blight on Vector’s name for all eternity then. The utility should have a reputation as a high performing, ever increasing dividend paying monopoly, working within the constraints of a tight regulatory pricing framework to earn respectable profits and achieve a 99.8% reliability record “to keep the lights on, the gas flowing and providing many other essential services crucial to New Zealand’s economic success”.

Right? Nothing can be as unpalatable to arrogant people as to be met with scorn where they expected an unqualified admission of superiority – and with such a powerful record I can see why Vector feels unappreciated. But there’s just one word that springs to mind when I think of Vector– arrogant.

It’s unlikely they’ll ever be loved, even liked, but despite their foot in mouth PR, Vector is a creditable company providing an essential service that we take for granted. We’re all just a bit taken aback by being told so bluntly that electricity in the 21st century in a city that aims to be the most liveable in the world is no longer a given, but a privilege you will have to pay more for.

I thought Vector could do with a bit of a hand and some down home advice from little me, in my capacity as a customer and shareholder so they could tilt their hat at a better angle.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.”

Lettuce Know

New Zealand. Land of milk, manuka honey, kiwifruit, giant fleeced marinos, football playing rams, happy bulls producing record amounts of semen and very unhappy consumers whose 5+ a day programme has been hamstrung by an outbreak of painful food poisoning allegedly from contaminated lettuces – or perhaps carrots.

Shrek, Big Ben and Smason - no shappgy sheep tales with these fellas

Shrek, Big Ben and Samson – no shaggy sheep tales with these fellas

I can’t tell you more in case I name a supplier, a producer, a brand or a retailer who may not be associated with said contaminated veges and I can neither confirm nor deny if carrots and/or lettuces are the suspected culprits currently under investigation.

download (1)Peter Rabbit wouldn’t have put up with these prevarications. “No” is not in his anthropomorphic vocabulary.

He would have had the source contained instantly, his tummy ache cured by extra parsley and spoonfuls of chamomile tea, Mr McGregor retired and lettuce and carrot eaters would know definitively everything they not only needed to know but also wanted to know about the risks that they may have been exposed to and at the very least would know what fresh vegetables were safe to buy.

But this is New Zealand where our government and its ministries and officers seem to take their cues on transparency, right to know and butt covering from the Sir Humphrey school of two kinds of secrets:  the kind you want to keep in, and the kind you don’t dare to let out. And while the powers that be follow the “you only need to know things on a need to know basis” ethos, I don’t. I need to know everything so I can judge whether or not I need to know it.

We’re talking about bagged supermarket lettuce, and possibly carrots, as the likely contaminated foods. How hard is it to use the transparent track and trace systems every food producer and retailer has documented to identify the origin of the outbreak of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which is linked to rodent droppings and causes appendicitis like pain and crippling diarrhoea?

Apparently it is very hard indeed and there are so many variables. So said Scott Gallacher, Deputy Director General of General Regulation and Assurance at MPI. Don’t worry you’re not the only one who didn’t know the acronym spells out Ministry of Primary Industries, the result of a merger in 2012 of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Fisheries and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. The Chinese didn’t know either so left a consignment of our export meat stranded on a dock for too long while MPI got the paperwork sorted and proved it was still MAF with a new name.

“In the case of lettuce, which is identified as a food to investigate, there are numerous varieties of whole lettuce, leaves, leaves of mixed varieties, and pre-mixed salads, covered by many brands,” said Mr Gallacher, speaking very slowly and deliberately as his media trainers had instructed, in one of his few interviews to explain the complexity of the issue and saying much without saying anything so to prolong the anxiety of the lettuce eating public.

download“Lettuce is a very commonly consumed food, which was consumed throughout this outbreak with the vast majority of consumers not becoming ill.”

We’re with you Scott, but getting impatient.

“We are getting a lot of information, building a picture and investigating many avenues.”

You’re losing us Scott. We need facts.

“It is not a simple situation where we can recall a single product. It is not definitively linked to any one producer, distributor, wholesaler or retailer. The ESR case-control studies have provided useful pointers for continuing investigation.”

Okay Scott you’ve lost us. Who are you protecting? We don’t want another demonstration of government prowess in obfuscation. Tell us straight: what veges and what brands are are being investigated . I’m waiting.

The retailer involved, Foodstuffs, outed itself, and went to work. It identified the source of the outbreak to lettuce grown in one paddock on one supplier’s farm and removed from its shelves all bagged lettuce and carrots.

So consumer confidence is restored. No, not really. New Zealand is built on primary production and a reputation for quality and safety excellence. We’ve had a few too many scares recently that have rattled our confidence from the Fonterra Sanlu scandal, Fonterra DCD scare, the Fonterra botulism that wasn’t scare that dented New Zealand’s trading reputation internationally for transparency and delivery of consistently safe, quality dairy, the great swede mystery knocking over cows, the disaster of the Psa virus creeping in through our borders to wipe out gold kiwifruit vines, water and rivers that may have been poisoned by 1080 drops for a minute or two and now tainted lettuce.

Nothing makes you feel more betrayed and sick than learning that you might have been buying contaminated food.

You would think that in a country so dependent on its reputation for food quality that we could trust the authorities responsible for policing food safety, in this case the Ministry for Primary Industries, to put consumers first and that their phalanxes of trained bureaucrats would move heaven and earth to get the news out to consumers pronto that there could be a health risk from eating certain veges. keep calmdownloadBut no.

Our regulators knew better and kept mum so mum didn’t get over excited. Apparently they must have read the Orwellian manual on the contagion of fast spreading hysteria and panic from too much information.

Worthy, but trying to be young at heart metropolitan newspaper, the NZ Herald, opined sagely that “our official watchdogs on food safety in the Ministry for Primary Industries need a reminder of whose interests they serve. Their primary duty is not to the producers and retailers of groceries, as it appears to have been in an outbreak of food poisoning recently”. The Herald suggested it was time that food safety responsibility move to the Ministry of Health on the basis that the health and safety of the people, you and me in other words, would come first and that in the name of public interest there would be no fear of naming names, particularly of suspect veges.

It could also be argued that MPI may want to look at its priorities even when it might seem diverting to press a food hygiene case against a 72 year old Ekatahuna grandmother who hand-milks four cows.

Biddy Fraser-Davies’ boutique Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese has won a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards, been served up at Prince George’s Government House playdate, and is on the menu at top restaurants.

small cheese

Go Biddy. You have every reason to be cheesed off.

But now she’s fight for survival and she can’t afford to pay the price to win. Food safety officers from MPI have demanded that she get a $3680 risk management audit to comply with food safety laws by November 1 or be forced to close. That sum amounts to about a ninth of her annual turnover from a business that produces less than a tonne of cheese a year and earns her about $33,000.

Mrs Fraser-Davies, whose cheeses are named after each of her cows, believes she is being made to pay for the Fonterra contamination fallout, and says food hygiene rules do not allow for cottage industries such as hers.

“In a country where the whole export industry relies on dairy production, they can’t believe that a mad old woman can make a living out of four cows. They’re just covering their butts.”

Butt-covering, cover ups, disinformation, situational ethics and paucity of truth must not become part of New Zealand’s DNA. We’re an open society with expectations of an open government that values freedom of information and respects the rights of citizens to know what is going on in our “best interests” and then voice our opinions on those goings on.

The handling by government authorities of the contaminated lettuce saga is just the tip of the iceberg. And it’s good to see citizen consumers concerned and speaking out on our right to know.

Our government is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a sweeping international agreement that could have a huge effect on the lives of ordinary Kiwis.  And the negotiations are secret. If it weren’t for WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden we wouldn’t know that:

  • Most restrictions on foreign investment will be frozen and rolled back even further
  • Big overseas companies will be able to sue the New Zealand government for millions in damages in secretive offshore tribunals, claiming that new laws and regulations like a ban on fracking, smoking control laws, or a cap on electricity prices could seriously undermine the value of their investments
  • Foreign banks, insurance companies and money traders will be able to gain more powers to challenge laws designed to prevent another financial crisis; and overseas property dealers could contest moves to burst the property bubble, such as a capital gains tax.
  • Medicines will become more expensive as big pharmaceutical companies gain more influence over PHARMAC, and restrictions are placed on generic medicines
  • Copyright laws will be toughened and more harshly enforced, restricting internet freedom and access to information, costing libraries, schools, and businesses, and stifling innovation
  • Parallel importing will be banned – and much more.

Our government says the agreement will “deepen economic ties between its diverse members by opening up trade in goods and services, boosting investment flows, and promoting closer links across a range of economic policy and regulatory issues”. Really? Remember the lettuce! It’s an iceberg!

“You can fool some people sometimes

But you can’t fool all the people all the time

And now you see the light, stand up for your right

Get up, stand up, stand up for your right…”

Bob Marley

PS: If you want to see the football playing sheep go to:

Stop and smell the roses

Hey Mister, where you going in such a hurry
Don’t you think it’s time you realized
There’s a whole lot more to life than work and worry
All the sweetest things in life are free
And they’re right before your eyes

Lyrics: Mac Davis and,Doc Severinsen

In a self-centred, self-indulgent world where self-worth is measured in how good we look in a selfie, life’s tough. Kim Kardashian knows. “People don’t understand the pressure on me to look perfect,” she wails. I understand Kim, I really do. I too have been on that endless journey for perfection.

I have taken to heart list upon list of top tips for self-improvement and revised my position when it really matters, especially after reading how to expunge the 8 laundry sins that are ruining my clothes, adopt the 10 top tips for tackling the gym, do as I am bid with the 5 health fads to avoid though raw, blitzed kale in a smoothie has been omitted for some unexplained reason, and I am ruminating on all 34 tips on how to boost my sex life.  I get the theory but with my bung knee I don’t think I will be able to get my leg over if you get my meaning.

cea2e8f438f67fa60eb5819175b6bdeaTo deal with the overload of daily stresses, near crisis points, relentless onslaught of fear mongering – sugar kills, bananas give you belly fat, stilettos cause bunions – and top tips I have been on a journey. I am not alone on this journey. I’m with Kim, celebrity chefs, rugby coaches, Victoria Beckham’s posh dresses for a charity auction, a neurosurgeon who is back from the dead, Pippa Middleton: life after the wedding, Tony Blair and his fantastical autobiography, Barak Obama’s reworked battle hymn for the nation of “yes we can” to “so sue me” and every weight watcher. Kim has also been on a “love journey” – her way of describing her Florentine nuptials. I can think of others.

But despite all this caring and over sharing of each other’s journeys, I’m still unfulfilled, feeling more like “a real Nowhere Man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land.” However, I still have a point of view and a plan. I am not going to continue with a mindless journey to Nowhere when I should be here now! I am going to reduce stress, increase self-enlightenment, health and creativity by practicing Mindfulness and live in the present for this moment.

Okay so it sounds familiar this be here now – and so it should. It is déjà vu for a few. Popularised by Ram Dass, formerly known as Dr Richard Alpert, a prominent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Timothy Leary in the 60s.

download (1)Ram Dass got his guru name from his guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles, and the Be Here Now culture was born, carrying along millions on the journey, but a mindful journey this time, helping to free them from their bonds through transcendental meditation, yoga and learning to live in the present moment.

Although mindfulness has only recently been embraced by Western psychology, it is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Winnie the Pooh also braced the Tao. I like to think I am embracing it too with Pilates.

“Mindfulness is about waking up, connecting with ourselves, and appreciating the fullness of each moment of life. It is the art of conscious living,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world authority on the use of mindfulness training in the management of clinical problems

And it’s no longer just switched on individuals practicing mindfulness by whatever name it goes by but also the corporate world, minus the kaftans, beads and LSD, because even the accountants can see that workplace wellness programmes that deliver health and happiness also equal more dollars and cents. Besides, for the highly stressed suits it may well be a matter of life over death!

According to the World Health Organisation, the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as $300 billion. Over the last 30 years, self-reported levels of stress have increased 18 percent for women and 25 percent for men. This has huge consequences, of course, because of the role stress plays in a wide array of illnesses. Like high blood pressure, which afflicts nearly 70 million, and which costs $130 billion a year to treat. Or diabetes, which 25 million Americans have. It’s estimated that 75 percent of all health care spending is on chronic illnesses like these that can be prevented.TIME_feature

“I …want to talk about maximising profits and beating expectations by emphasising the notion that what’s good for us as individuals is also good for corporate America’s bottom line. When we separate these two worlds, the costs come in two forms. First, there are the direct costs due to stress and its associated medical conditions, and, second, there’s the cost of lost creativity and diminished performance and productivity,” says Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post founder and author of Thrive, an elegant treatise on living mindfully.

She makes an impassioned and compelling case for the need to redefine what it means to be successful in today’s world. Money and power – the traditional measures of success – have led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, and an erosion in the quality of our relationships, family life, and, ironically, our careers, she says. In being connected to the world 24/7, we’re losing our connection to what truly matters. Our current definition of success is literally killing us.

We need a new way forward to thrive – a third metric for defining success — to truly thrive. That third metric, she writes in Thrive, includes our well-being, our ability to draw on our intuition and inner wisdom, our sense of wonder, and our capacity for compassion and giving.


Mindfulness practice at St Kentigerns, Auckland

A whole mindful support industry is cashing in on the trend.

There is a rash of mindful books, blogs, cognitive therapy courses, counsellors, practical guides, school sessions, of course let’s not forget instant top tips and Mindfulness for Dummies, mindful vacation packages and retreats, and mindful exercises. You could try a mindfulness taster exercise with “tasting the raisin”. Go to (

You can practice these mindful exercises at any time to help you be fully present, better connected, more positive to your daily grind and more aware of the here and now.

Not wanting to leave you starting out on your journey to Mindfulness ill prepared, here are top 10 tips for living life in the present

Life in the Here and Now


1. Do one thing at a time

Follow the Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

2. Do it slowly and deliberately.

Take your time. Savour the moment.

3. Do less.

Do what’s important and let go of what’s not.

4. Put space between things.

Manage your time so you have time to complete each task and have some space between.

5. Spend at least 5 minutes each day doing nothing.

Just sit in silence. Become aware of your thoughts. Focus on your breathing. Notice the world around you.

6. Stop worrying about the future — focus on the present.

Be aware of how and what you are thinking. Recognise the patterns that trigger your anxieties. Bring yourself back to the present, what you’re doing right here, right now.

7. When you’re talking to someone, be present.

Lose the iPhone. Connect with the person you are with. Be present. Enjoy the company.

8. Eat slowly and savour your food and your life.

Don’t bolt your food. You’re not at boarding school. Taste it. Savour each bite slowly and enjoy it. You’ll enjoy it more and eat less. Slow down. Smell the flowers. Listen to the sounds. Appreciate the sights around you. Live every moment.

9. Turn daily chores into meditation times.

Think about what you are doing. Enjoy the minutiae. Enjoy the results of your efforts.

10. Breathe deeply – and stop and smell the roses.


The Feminist Jihad


“If you eat enough books, you start pooping out words,” says Caitlin Moran, author of the very funny and very rude How to Be a Woman and the very funny but not quite so rude new coming of age warts and all novel, How to Build A Girl.

She’s good at pooping. I don’t just mean her words of advice to teenage girls to take up three simple hobbies. They are in ascending order of preference: to take long country walks, to get some air in your lungs and to masturbate. “It doesn’t cost you any money, doesn’t make you fat, you can do it in three minutes flat, and it’ll leave you relaxed,” she told the Huffington Post.

15moran-articleLargeNo I mean pooping the words “feminist jihad”.

They just plopped from Caitlin’s lips, but this was no gentle rain from heaven. It was an almighty torrent of a rant and rave and I’ll go with the flow to promote the notion of feminism as being “simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be”.

But jihad Caitlin – you who is proud to sweat the small stuff though you have an excellent point about smalls, the woman’s curse of ever skimpier underpants that eat you where it hurts.

“How can 52 percent of the population expect to win the war on terror if they can’t even sit down without wincing?” she rightly asks.

Jihad, like feminism, is a grossly misunderstood, manipulated, twisted and hijacked term that pits extremism and chauvinism against moderation, tolerance and inclusion.

Put the two together and it’s an oxymoron, an insult to Islam, to free thinkers, to stereotypists, conservatives, western commentators, axis of evil proponents, axis of evil opponents, countries wondering if they are part of the axis of evil and to women and men everywhere.

In my view, as a woman who just wants an equal opportunity to boldly go, do and be whatever I want, feminist jihad just could deliver the genesis moment to counter extremism and learned ignorance of all kinds and work for the betterment of all humankind.

So here’s a start. Let me do a Caitlin.

The concept of Jihad as a “Holy War” is poop. We bought the wrong spin. It’s a mis-translation, perpetuated by terrorists acting in the name of Islam to commit atrocities and also by western powers and allies as a catchall for any indiscriminate terror activities while also serving to whip up our preconceptions of Islam as the religion we love to hate – and a religion that oppresses women.

The word Jihad comes from the root word jahada, which means to struggle, meaning a believer’s inner struggle to be a good person and submit to God in all aspects of life. No room for hate or violence in the theology. It’s meant to be about applying the Quranic concept of equality of all human beings to everyday life.

It’s pretty obvious to all but the blind and the bigoted that the feminist jihad needs support and that includes a whole lot of learning and understanding by everyone – and for western feminists to stop throwing stones at their moslem sisters for wanting to retain and practice their religions, cultures and traditions.

11851_510224195701763_1644640633_nFor many feminists the hijab is a glaring symbol of male oppression and the patriarchal power of religion.

But the Islamic Feminist Movement has spurned the labels and is alive, astute and growing throughout the Middle East, conservative Arab states and other countries where moslems make up sizeable percentages of the population – and yes some of their members do wear the hijab, niqab and full burqa, and no, they will not be excluded from participating in the women’s movement to win equality because of what they wear!

Instead of pointing to Islam as the inherent root of female discrimination, Islamic feminists are looking at a bigger picture, pointing the finger at individual political, religious and social leaders as the culprits who manipulate Islam for their own political ends, oppressing and suppressing large segments of society, including women.

The main victim of theses censorious powerbrokers isn’t just the believer but Islam itself.

Consigned to stagnation today by these men of no vision when centuries ago it was once a most enlightened religion that stressed the value of knowledge and freedom of expression. It enjoyed a golden age where science, philosophy, medicine, trade, travel, the arts, writing, architecture, poetry and education flourished.

images (4)

Alhambra Palace built by the Moslem Moors in the 13th century

What happened? Who turned off the light and decided the faithful should live in the dark?

Islamic feminists aren’t seeking to eliminate or exorcise Islam from their lives despite the incantations of their western sisterhood. They argue that their fight for women’s rights in fact springs from their faith and the teachings of the Quran and their voice is growing louder, stronger and more influential as they advocate for legislative reforms and interpretations that reflect a more modern understanding of a woman’s role in society.

These are the women who took to the streets in the tens of thousands during the Arab Spring to bring about change in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Kuwait, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and elsewhere.

These are the women who will protest, put their lives on the line and break the rules when they are ridiculously discriminatory like Saudi Arabia’s refusal to let women drive a car. These are the women who will do what they dream of doing.

ByYrS5aIYAQLmUJTake Major Mariam al-Mansouri, the first female fighter pilot in the history of the United Arab Emirates, who has just led the Gulf state’s bombing raids over Syria against ISIS. Beaming from the cockpit of her F16, she’s a pinup for women’s liberation and equal opportunity and a blazing star in a country that is no paragon of virtue for upholding women’s rights or even recognising that women should have rights.

Or look at the growing roster of female imams leading prayers in mosques around the world, and even encouraging men and women to pray together. That is progressive and shows a coming of age for Islam to thrive and still retain a cultural and religious identity in moderate and secular societies.

These are also the women who will tell those telling them that they are victims of human rights abuses to back off stereotyping them for what they believe and for the clothes they wear.

606x421_femen-amina-tyler-milan-0404Femen, the European feminist action group, provoked an Islamic feminist backlash across social media following their flagrant displays as part of International Topless Jihad Day. With their near naked bodies painted with slogans such as, “bare breasts against Islamism,” the activists protested outside mosques in Berlin, Kiev, Brussels and Paris against Islam’s treatment of women.

They got huge publicity and probably bad colds, but their protests outraged the very women they were supposedly fighting for.

Galvanised by the trampling of their rights, the anti-Femens told them straight that it was indeed their body, their choice and their hijab and they’ll wear it if they want to.

It’s not easy being a feminist even when you’re not moslem. It’s still a jihad.

It’s not easy being a feminist even when you’re not moslem. It’s still a jihad. In the same week as Posh Spice addressed the United Nations to fight against the spread of AIDS in African women, Emma Watson, Hermione from Harry Potter, launched the UN’s new HeForShe gender equality campaign.

“If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about,” said Emma, the 24-year-old Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women. “It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle.”

Let the clamour of feminist voices singing for freedom and opportunity be heard. There’s a place for everyone, including Caitlin though you’ll need to be quick to get a word in before she finds another new hobby for teenaged girls that will make you blush.

I just hope that New Zealand might hear the call for change too. The country that was the first in the world to give women the vote 120 years ago has a lame record as a bastion for female equality of opportunity and representation measured against appointments to the Board table or the C suite and in the salary sweepstakes. In fact, it seems to be regressing not progressing.

I knew little had changed despite the best intentions. At a recent director’s breakfast meeting, I listened to the CEO of our city proudly pooping the words that if there were two candidates of equal stature applying for a position, he would give it to the woman. Why? Well he would be demonstrating his support for diversity in the workplace. There done and dusted, easy as. Tick that off the list.

It is a man’s world now but not forever. Neither should it be a woman’s world. It has to be a world of gender equality. The change starts with education, understanding, mutual respect and empathy. Take inspiration from Mom, India’s Mission to Mars. Look at Mission Control!

_77807434_77807433 (1)

Mission Control scientists at India’s Space Agency celebrate after the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft (Mom) successfully entered the Mars orbit – yes they are the people in the saris. Who said: Men are from Mars and women are from Venus?”

So rather than get mad ladies, let’s get even.  It’s our jihad and we never need to apologise for being a woman.

Plenty of Pluck

images (3)

The ukulele has come a long way since Tiny Tim’s 1968 “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”.

For generations this four stringed, two octave range, diminutive member of the guitar family was the most deeply unfashionable instrument you could ever think of, with the exception of the recorder (and let us hope the recorder may stay this way). Mainstay of the school orchestra and Hula night parties, the ukulele was a lovely word to say but too often an instrument too cute and in the wrong hands too awful to listen to.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the ukulele’s resurgence began, but musical historians think 1999 is most likely.

That was the year that Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele version of “Over the Rainbow” was used in a ubiquitous commercial and captured the world’s heart. If you’ve been to any weddings recently you probably have heard it. Israel was a huge star and the song remains a favourite, racking up 115 million hits on YouTube alone.

It was also around that time that the ukulele started featuring as a new sound on indie music albums, and instead of being the accoutrement of stand-up comics that made you gag, the modern day hipsters, the style setters, the in-crowd seized it by the neck and made it seriously cool and edgy. It’s never looked back.

For baby boomers, the ukulele carries a whiff of nostalgia.For the surf crowd, it’s as hip as hula.images (1)

For the fashionistas it can do whatever you want it to do.

“The attraction then, you know, as a complete and utter outsider instrument, which was delightful to us, and then to realise that you could do anything and everything you wanted on it… It’s a great instrument to play; it’s very empowering because it’s easy to pick up and learn quickly –  it’s harder to play well, but you can teach someone to play a couple of songs in 10 minutes. When we first started there was nobody – literally nobody under 55 who played the ukulele,” says Hester Goodman of the wildly successful Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain which used to do 200 shows a year, but has cut it down to around 120 shows because of a hectic international touring schedule.

The Ukes brought the ukulele to the Proms and they’ve played repeat concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Svalbard, The Vienna Opera House, Glastonbury Festival, and the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells as well 1389366479_0_UkesSliderNewOP01as the local pub.

Their publicity material promises to take audiences on a world tour with only hand luggage and “One Plucking Thing After Another” as it travels  from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Redding and Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

The uking of the world is reaching a crescendo.

You can easily join the clamour. In fact every home should have a ukulele now.

ukulelepiccharliebrown_tmpMillions of ukuleles are sold each year in fashion colours and designs. I’ve been known to traipse around music stores across Europe with my musician husband looking for the perfectly resonant ukulele, the traveller’s perfect companion – light, portable, simple but satisfying to play and found in a moody blue shade of aubergine. It proudly sits alongside bigger acoustic and electric guitars where it too can rock and roll with the best of them.

imagesUkuleles are accessible to even the musically challenged and for those wanting to learn the Ukulele for Dummies guide book is but a click away or you can download numerous  online tutorials or have eye contact and take your ukulele along to a group or private tuition class.

There are even more social ways to learn with thousands of sing-along uke groups, home strumming clubs to join like you would a book club, but you get to choose a song to learn, and mass ukulele events and conventions to attend at home and abroad. This could be just the instrument to release your inner performer and add a new string to your bow so to speak. It would complement, indeed enhance, choir membership with a guaranteed following of friends and family at every public concert.

images (6)Festivals for ukulele lovers are big.

The NZ Ukulele Festival is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world.  Last year a record crowd of over 13,000 gathered in Auckland to enjoy non-stop entertainment from international and local musicians and to make music together.

The festival showcased the Kiwileles, a massed ukulele orchestra of thousands, along with continuous workshops tailored to all levels and ages, industry stalls, great food, competitions, giveaways and the annual “Great Kiwi Uke-Along” – an epic strum and sing of kiwi music! Sign me up.

There’s a growing ukulele discography to buy and a concert circuit of artists and virtuosos of all persuasions and musical genres to go and hear as well as a host of exceptional world-class orchestras and ensembles who do things with a ukulele you can only have dreamed of.

It’s hard to believe that what critics still call the “nasty little low-born Portuguese sailor’s instrument” has warranted a place at the Proms, starred on major network talk and entertainment shows, wins awards, and has an ever growing fan base.

The Canadian ukulele virtuoso, James Hill was one of the overseas star acts at NZ’s Ukulele Festival. His version of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean has clocking up more than 800,000 views on YouTube and he’s credited with taking what is sometimes still spurned as a children’s play-thing, to a new level.

“I’ve never been a really lucky person, but the whole ukulele thing is the first time in my life that I have been the right guy at the right time with the right skills,” he says.

20140422_075935_jake_300Jake Shimabukuro is a world ambassador for the ukulele, filling concert halls across America — and in Japan, Singapore, Russia and Brazil.

His pipsqueak instrument’s popularity in those far-flung places, he said, “really has been blowing my mind.”

If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better placeThere’s something about the ukulele that just makes you smile. It makes you let your guard down. It brings out the child in all of us.

Jake Shimabukuro’s extraordinary recordings of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody have made him a star.

In his hands I could be convinced that the ukulele could indeed be the instrument of peace.


A real piece of work


Narcissus has a lot to answer for. He started it and it’s just got worse and worse . So it’s no surprise that we are so obsessed with our physical appearance and how to attain perfection. We pay a high price for this predilection although we’d prefer you to gawp at the transformation in silent amazement and accept that this is the work of nature, nothing else.

We’re obsessed by physical attributes, many of them worthy to be counted among the manmade wonders of the world. We’re constantly measuring ourselves against the ideals of impossible celebrity beauty, perpetuating the myth that beautiful is good, lucky, successful and happy and ugly is bad.


Bubble wrapped Kim

It’s impossible to escape the beauty trap.

Almost 100 million selfies are snapped and posted each day, probably by the same people still trying to capture for eternity their best side, and we check our phones 100 billion times a day, probably to get affirmation that it was indeed their best side from people we don’t know and would be wise not to get to know.

Every which way we look popular media from billboards to reality television are telling us what beautiful is. The more superficial and unattainable, the better.

human dolls

Yes it is Ken and Barbie really really

But there’s an ugly side that needs to be seen and the wounds run deeper and the scars last longer than any from a facelift, boob job, trout pout, chin or tummy tuck, pectoral implants or unfortunately aimed botox jab. They come from faceless abusers trolling Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media channels telling your teenage daughter or son that they are not one of those beautiful people. They are fat and ugly and have pimples and are a loser, socially unacceptable and not worthy to be anyone’s friend! It’s death by a thousand cuts and the consequences are terrible.


Queen of the Selfie and Sensible Corsetry

Every period of history has had its own standards of what it defines as beautiful, and every contemporary society has its own distinctive concept of the ideal physical attributes we should aspire to, if skin deep is as deep as you go.

In the 19th Century being beautiful meant wearing a corset – causing breathing and digestive problems and crushing organs.

Now  we try to diet and exercise ourselves into the fashionable – read thinnest – shape, often with even more serious consequences. Or we follow  Kim Kardashian’s advice for instant voluptuousness with her pneumatic corset.

Why anyone would want to follow Kim Kardashian’s advice, let alone look like Kim Kardashian is beyond me. Kim Kardashian doesn’t know what Kim Kardashian looks like.

Humans have been willing to endure grievous sacrifices and indignities to conform to society’s ideal of beauty.

In Africa and Asia, the women of certain tribes still wear strangulating metal coils that deform their neck and shoulders and black and brown people who want to be white using the most dreadful lead-laced powders.


Posh works out

In China, where foot binding was in vogue, there remain elderly women crippled by the procedure.

We have Victoria Beckham with her bunions from crushing her tootsies into sky-high heels and Sarah Jessica Parker paying for her shoe obsession as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City with the unwanted take-home prize of a new bone growth in her foot.

 The obsession with youth and beauty rather than truth and beauty invites risk taking.

Why would people want to inject their faces with botulism toxins, smear sheep placentas or bird poop over their faces? What is the appeal of taking a bath in poo? Why would you lie in a coffin called a sunbed and go orange, staple your tummy so you can’t eat without leaking but have the figure of a 10-year-old with skin skirts flapping to your knees?

And why play God with stem cell treatments sold on line or by pyramid sellers, let fish nibble your feet, go for ‘thigh gap’ chemo and let surgeons recreate a new you in an image of a person you don’t know from head to toe, bosoms to bottom, batwing arms to cat eyes and teeth so white they look like stars and probably will come out one night.

Comedienne and acerbic fashion commentator Joan Rivers, who died of apparent natural causes following a cardiac arrest during outpatient surgery, was as famous for her potty, punchy, self-deprecating mouth as for her love affair with cosmetic surgery procedures – 739 – and counting.


“I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware,” she once said and described her addiction to beauty surgery like being a member of a coffee club. “Every time I do something new I get a 10th one free.”

Recent statistics from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons show demand for anti-ageing and cosmetic procedures is soaring with boob jobs still the most popular, followed by heavy demand for facial rejuvenation treatments, in particular, eyelid surgery and brow and face lifts. Fat transfer procedures are also more popular than liposuction ops – must be the Kim Kardashian effect again – and men are also wanting to look better with male brow lifts really rising, along with a lot of waxing.

The good news – and please listen Nicole Kidman and newsreaders – is that “frozen face” botox usage is on the way out and non-invasive treatments like laser resurfacing and peels that freshen the face are on their way in.

There’s also a growing choice for non-surgical facelift procedures with ranges of serums, skin peels, fat zappers, fillers and a harvest of sheep after birth to rejuvenate the over plucked, tucked and tired skin of the cosmetic surgery junkies like Melanie Griffith, Donatella Versace, the Bride of Wildenstein, Paul McCartney, Bruce Jenner and other melting moments.



And of course the makeup brush, a massive chest of cosmetics, falsies and fillers and the contourist is a real friend for the chisel cheeked, pouting mouth, spider-eyed look – oh it’s a Kim Kardashian moment again! What a fashionista and worthy woman of the year there!

Offering her best advice for women approaching older age, Sue Kreitzman, 73, one of the stars of the Fabulous Fashionistas documentary that celebrates the beauty, guts and energy of six wonderful women who are neither ugly nor nearly dead says: “Be the best you can be. That does not mean Botox and plastic surgery – Bah! Think about others. Do what you are passionate about. Don’t make money your first goal (although money is by no means unimportant). We are very lucky; although things are never perfect, we have freedoms and opportunities that many others can only dream of. Make the most of them.”

Apparently eating is also in, provided it is nutritious, raw and resembles horse chaff or otherwise is high fat with minimum vegetables unless it is fibrous kale juice. Look out for the headlines when Nicole Kidman or Jennifer Anniston or a starlet are reported to have been sighted with a disfiguring if slight bulge – if it’s not a baby – they must have had hundreds by now – then it could be a mouthful of food sitting there waiting for the digestive juices to reactivate or the enema to work.

Feminist and Hollywood celebrity killjoy, Naomi Wolf, writes in the Beauty Myth: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

fatty and skinnyJPGTrue and brutal Naomi, but the fashion for 00000 sizing and the amazing shrinking woman is not going to die away.

We are obsessed with skinny and it’s a life and death issue. Why would emaciated airheads like Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and other billboard and television talking toothpicks be held up as role models to young girls who will become the next generation of the fat phobic, stung for life by being called “fat”, the first and meanest insult thrown at her by another girl?


But then fat women, who are coming out, also suffer if they are not the right kind of fat to fit with popular culture and clichés of Barbie-like waist-to-hip ratios, bouncy boobs, generous bottoms and of course no tummy overhang or multiple chins.

Beyoncé or Rihanna may be the ideal of a beautiful black woman and deemed to be super affirming and progressive because their feminine and sexy hourglass figures are a size 12 and not a 6. Get real!

There are some lessons for life for all of us from the six Fabulous Fashionistas in the documentary by award-winning director Sue Bourne. She introduces us to six extraordinary women with an average age of 80, who are not letting growing old get in the way of looking fabulous while having fun doing it. Jean Woods, Sue Kreitzman, Bridget Sojourner, Daphne Selfe, Gillian Lynne and Baroness Trumpington, all natural, intelligent beauties sans botox or plastic surgery, are redefining aging in style.

Fashionista new_A2Their advice is simple and savy: avoid beige – it might kill you, adopt inspiring role models, find inspiration in unusual sources, be curious and keep on learning, stay in shape, eat well and enjoy the odd vodka, embrace change and take risks. For their style tips and secrets for a fabulous life go to:

The last word belongs to Joan Rivers speaking about her surgery in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the 2010 documentary about her career. “I became a big advocate of it, then I became the poster girl for it, then I became the joke of it,” she said matter-of-factly.  She died, it is reported, in full makeup, every hair in place, thanks to her daughter who brought in the appropriate artists—as Joan would have wanted.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is God’s gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

Joan Rivers RIP

Sensored: Invasion of the Body Hackers

12efb2e6091e0a24e2cca740ab7b3e45Every morning on the family smartphone App I get a welcome to the day text message, a blessing and a quick fire Q and A in capital letters and emoticons checking on my vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, blood sugars, platelets, respiration rate, ECG pattern, blood oxygen saturation, pulse and bowel movements.

Later in the day I may get a follow up to check on my progress and the pedometer reading. Help!  I’ve only been able to respond that I have a pulse, am breathing, but I feel a bit hot and bothered now because I haven’t been counting foot falls and I must confess to not having a pedometer on my person or even owning one.

And I simply refuse to confirm or deny whether I’ve had a movement. Some things should stay private and I am very Presbyterian in sharing information, particularly of the personal kind.

These questions are not from my doctor and I have no life and death crisis that I am aware of. They come from my sister-in-law, a real estate agent and former telecommunications engineer, who is genuinely concerned and interested in her own and her family’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and likes to keep track of all of it using the dazzling array of tools available.


Welcome to the age of the body hackers, body trackers, life loggers, auto-analysers, the self-quantifiers who self-measure, monitor, data mine and put under sousveillance (get it: surveillance) every aspect of their daily life.

They’re part of the Quantified Self movement. You might recognise them.

They are the people who are not taking selfies and texting their lunch date across the table to tell them that the food in front of them looks good enough to eat only after a photo of the plate has been sent to thousands of FB and Instagram followers whose day will be so much richer for this missive.

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Which fork do I use? The sensorble one silly!

They are the people who have an array of smartphone Apps at hand at all times to tell them if the lunch dish’s caloric and nutritional contents are in line with the daily target.

They’re looking at their wristwatch gizmo to check that they are breathing and ingesting the right amount of oxygen.

thewellconneThey’re wired with an array of body sensors collecting data on all their vital signs and sequencing their DNA.

Their new wireless wearable sports shirt is beeping to warn them that they may be getting overly aroused, or perhaps just sweating, and that they’d better move indoors as the car that backfired down the street has altered the optimum temperature and air quality.

The wave of new technologies make it just so easy to be narcissistic and self-obsessed at the moment, particularly if you are always fully charged, carry long life batteries and avoid power failures.

We’ve created a generation obsessed with themselves, with short attention spans, terrible spelling and sentence construction, overdosed on reality TV and gladiatorial cooking and home renovation shows (and thinking that Top Gear, Embarrassing Bodies and One Born Every Minute is knowledge).

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This is a generation that craves instant gratification, affirmation and has an unquenchable need for admiration. Thanks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, YouTube and whatever.

We use them, we love them and we hate them for feeding our banal selves.

Now of course, the self quantifiers go beyond the pale to really get to know themselves, inside and out, using the sort of data software once exclusive to research labs, the NASA space probe, sports franchises, state spying and intelligence gathering agencies, Inspector Gadget and enormous global companies with enormous R and D budgets.

But what do they do with all this information they gather about themselves?

There are group meetings where self-quantifiers can go to share all this personal data they collect about themselves over a glass of wine or a soya decaf skinny latte. Prufrock Café is probably a perfect venue for get-togethers and it certainly would not be amiss to measure out attendees’ lives in coffee spoons!


Dress code for self quantifier meeting

New members are always welcome and you just need to check Dr Google to find a chapter near you.

Here’s an example of topics for information sharing at a group meet. Let’s kick off with self experimentation, behaviour monitoring, life logging, life caching and life streaming  which provide a scintillating introduction for novices and new members.

Then we can move on to location tracking – we all have personal and wearable GPS sensors – and get into the physical stuff with digitising body info and biometric data. You’ll need to have an app or device with a good colourful spreadsheet that can provide as much detail as possible, data correlations, data analytics and historical data etc. for easy sharing. The final stage is sharing with the group your own psychological self-assessments, a team talk on medical self-diagnostics and a show and tell of your personal genome sequencing.

It seems to me to be rather pointless to sit down to share what is basically gratuitous information about yourself, gathered from novelty equipment and gadgets you’ve bought on line, with other self-quantifiers since they too are self-interested, have bought their own novelty equipment and gadgets on line and ergo are not really interested in you.

Do they talk to themselves? Or is there some hope that the endless bounds of apparently useless information collected every day may be put to a greater good and make us all better people?


I can only say for myself that there’s a very real chance that we’re losing perspective and being diverted by the ability to capture for all eternity moments in a life that are absolutely of no consequence and add nothing to the sum total of human knowledge.

If you are so busy taking pictures of your life and measuring, monitoring, analysing, logging and sharing every minuscule detail of your existence, behaving more like a pre-programmed robot than a living human being, how do you actually create genuine, lifelong experiences, intimacies, passions, memories, relationships that matter – and make eye contact? Your life will count for nothing.

In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you take, but how many moments can take your breath away.