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.

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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: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/gallery/dumbestgeneration/ 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: http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/arts-entertainment/things-cannot-be-dumbed-down-any-further-warn-experts-20140115825990)

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.

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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.

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

http://vimeo.com/57204058

PS: If you want to see the football playing sheep go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIbbiBlRBFE

Dark Side of the Moon

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For a she’ll be right mate nation, bursting with light and life, how did New Zealanders become so attached to the dark side?

We pride ourselves on being able to do anything, to bat above our weight, knock the bastard off and then shrug off such great achievements as nothing much.

We climbed to the top of the mountain and basked in the sunshine. That was really something and we’ve had lots of moments of standing in the sunshine since, at least until we turned to black. It’s our national colour and schadenfreude our default mind-set. It’s the downside of living in Godzone.

I know it’s hard to find enlightenment, inspiration and guidance, especially from politicians – that beige brigade of faceless, silent names who sit in Parliament, bray and bellow occasionally to justify their pay but are now shaken and stirred to get out and win your vote so they can sit some more.

When I hear lads, laddettes and luddites defining the list of dos and don’ts that make a kiwi dinkum I really am in the dark wondering who we are, what we’re all about and if we have any values.

WhoIdentifiesAsKiwi14 (1)It’s my problem. I need a lightbulb moment because I don’t get how all the surveys show Kiwis as a happy bunch – a bit shy but like really friendly and easy going – and yet our culture is back to back black.

I celebrate with open arms the arrival of new migrants who did not leave their cultures, languages, nationalities, food and creeds at the airport as Winston Peters, he of the double breasted dark suit and finger wagging black wit, instructed or woe betide.

Rather than an apocalypse of the four horsemen Winston, I’m betting that our newest citizens inject energy, light and learning to New Zealand. We may soon have a soccer team worth crowing about, an even better cricket team and win Gold in badminton and table tennis. Best of all we’ll live in a rich and diverse society with new ways of looking at and seeing the world.

But, as one of God’s frozen people from pioneering Presbyterian stock, I cannot hug an Asian a day as our first woman prime minster once over enthusiastically decreed when she was no longer in a position of power and influence but hunting for new positions of power and influence. I have been hugging an Asian a day for decades. He’s my husband. He’s one of us!

I am a native English speaker, have rounded vowels, more aye that oy so now am unsuited to radio and use full sentences and syntax.

I am desperately interested in global current affairs that go beyond who’s bonking whom and I was born here. That is not a requirement for citizenship which is quite easy to attain when you have the dough and hire a PR to buy friends for you in high places and who can speak for you because you don’t speak English.

6a00d83451d75d69e20167627bb94f970b-800wiHowever, remember as the new boy on the block, even if you now own the entire block, it is a no no for any Chinese to buy dairy farms.

There’s no law against it and absolutely no racism or xenophobia about foreigners buying natural assets outright if you are not Chinese.

You just have to understand that two Wongs do not make it right but it would be alright for Mr Wright.

I am not some wretched nouvel existentialist who has just discovered Camus or Nietzsche. I am not searching for the doorway at Delphi where the Oracle inscribed ‘Know Thyself’ while under the influence of some mind-altering hallucinogenic.

Nor am I a despondent tall poppy who thinks I know better, and because I have done my OE via Earls Court, and my liver has survived the rights of passage pilgrimage of the top spots of Europe drinking, bull running and tomato throwing festivals by kombi van (purchased in Earls Court), I have carte blanche to be broody and whinge and obnoxiously forward in counting all the ways that New Zealand fails the litmus test of being up with the rest of the world.

It doesn’t suit my nature to constantly knock, belittle and begrudge others. I’m not interested in joining harbingers of doom, gloom and the ‘yes but’ nay sayers. And I know I don’t want to emulate the national identity our artists, writers, musicians and political and sports commentators promote of New Zealand as the land of the long, black cloud – with gorgeous scenery and bungees to spruik up the heaven on earth environment so tourists will like us.

I’m rather desperate to escape that. I am going to embrace, even celebrate, the diversity of my perversity with not a black thought, black head or black dog in sight. I am going to be little Miss Sunshine.

download (3)True confession: rugby is not my religion. I do not sink into depression when the ABs lose a test. I am not worried about Dan’s groin strain though Richie’s foot was of concern. My child did not wear baby black jerseys, suck an All Blacks’ dummy nor learn to kick a ball as a toddler as the legend goes. Sports channels are not part of my Sky package. The Arts, History and Rialto channels are.

I like many things and if rugby is your thing, you are welcome to it.

I do not think Sir Russell Coutts a black heart for winning the America’s Cup – five times in all. He was simply the best. He had the best technology, used it to the best advantage and had the best team who did not give up or choke but beat the odds and won.

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A Black Day

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Not a Black Day

We choked and lost. But we did our best – unfortunately it was second best – and we’ll be remembered in the annals of sporting history as the team that seized defeat from the jaws of certain victory.

It wasn’t our fault of course. We were overcome by a big boy with big toys even though millions of dollars from private and tax payer sponsors got TNZ to the starting line.

Doing well with bugger all is entrenched in our psyche. We treasure our Number 8 wire quick fix with what’s closest at hand mentality. Mate, that was admirable in pioneering days but we need to grow up.

Gov14_05Rail052a(h280)

Improvisation does not cut it anymore. We need genuine innovation if we are to see the light of day.

New Zealand has a big black mark against it with one of the lowest rates of patent registrations in the OECD. We spend only a little more than 1.0% of gross GDP on research and development and our economy is skewed so dangerously to primary commodity exports that when the milk price slumps so do we.

If we want to get back to black and increase employment and productivity we have to have products and services that are commercial, scalable and replicable – not just admirable. And we’re clever enough to rise to that challenge.

“Everyone’s good at something, and in our country, it’s rugby and being glum,” wrote blogger and columnist Rose Hoare. That’s tragic but you can see it for yourself in our art and “dark forbidding” painters like Colin McCahon, Tony Fomison, Ralph Hotere and Philip Clairmont.

I don’t revere or for that matter revile Colin McCahon’s paintings. Dad went to primary school with him and said he was a “queer boy”. I thought he meant he was the “God Boy” – that kid who stuck his feet in a steaming cow pat to warm them up on the way to school. It was the best bit of the whole story by Ian Cross.

ColinMcCahon

McCahon’s works leave me cold and uninspired. I can’t see The Promised Land in his paintings and I just can’t believe that any other country in the world would endlessly celebrate an artist who frankly was so depressing, dark and bleak.

Our films and our literature are also perversely dark.

You can tell a New Zealand film because it always rains and has a sad ending – except for Sione’s Wedding which I really liked.  Can we move on from this enervating cinema of unease please with comedies that make the hero a victim and dramas that are riddled with expletive dialogue and excessive violence to bring to life the dark underbelly of our society.

And then there’s our novelists. Oh happy day! I wish! I think Maurice Gee novels should be sold with a warning to slit your wrists before you start reading. You’ll wish you had by the end of one of his depressing liturgies of a woeful family going from bad to worse to end with the little lost boy left to die in an abandoned fridge.

I couldn’t finish Keri Hulme’s Bone People. Must be my thing about whole sentences and grammar and punctuation. I suggest she takes the publisher’s advance and sticks to white-baiting.

luminaries_front__24777__23200.1364428630.1280.1280-194x300As for The Luminaries that was 800 pages of my life I won’t get back.

I was delighted to find I was not alone. I met a stranger in the street. She too did not enjoy this weighty, over structured, tell all tome. We embraced and are friends for life. We’ll also stick up for the males aged over 45 branded by Eleanor Catton as bullies for not liking her book and invite the London Evening Standard reviewer to be guest speaker at our select and exclusive book club.

 

“You know what it’s like when you find a book you really can’t put down? One that seems so urgent to stay with you carry on reading when you should be sleeping or working or remembering your Tube stop? A book that seems more compelling than life itself? Such a great feeling!” he wrote. “Well, Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning 832-pager, The Luminaries, is the opposite — in my experience, anyway.”

There’s also a whole genre of ‘black’ music that has made a killing out of depression, pessimism and sadness. The Dunedin sound is the very antithesis of Ten Guitars and the Maori show bands and strikes no chord with the uplifting and soulful poetry of American black blues, swing and jazz.

download (1)Now we have Lorde and her tortured performances.  She’s a true fashion icon from her mane of black hair, black nails and lips to her black dresses – a tribute to Paint it Black (which was written for a funeral and adopted by the New Zealand Rugby Union as the anthem for a disastrous World Cup outing).

Chanel really knew how to channel black.

We have Zambesi and Nom D, the all blacks of fashion, latterly smudging the palette with concrete, swamp and overcast.

Apparently Zambesi captures an intellectual, brooding, angsty, moody aesthetic with its no frills black ‘statements’. What do you think? I am thinking really really hard to wear deconstructionism when you want to walk, talk or sit.

4158968 I think Kiwi fashionistas are much more black and white.

Black is really practical and sensible (just like our clumpy shoes). Unlike white, black doesn’t show dirt and you can wear it for every occasion, day in and day out, from dawn to dusk, ad infinitum.

It’s no wonder that visitors to New Zealand think we are in mourning when they meet the locals dressed head to toe in funeral black, or fifty shades of grey, with a joyless demeanour to match.

Lighten up guys. Don’t fret about fitting in. Stop trying to find the dark side of the moon – there isn’t one.

We’re a gay rainbow nation now and the world loves us for it.

Man Up or Put Up

ghandi

New Zealand Labour Party leader, David Cunliffe has apologised for being a man.

In an address to a Woman’s Refuge symposium into family violence, the mandarin of the opposition benches mangled the message. He’s good at this, manifestly so, even when the message is good. Sometimes he manages to miss out whole parts of his party’s main message and has to apologise. And sometimes his delivery is so mannered that he becomes an unwitting apologist for a ham actor, but this is a first, even for him.

“I don’t often say it,” he started.  Man-o-pause. “But I’m sorry.” Man-o-pause. “I’m sorry for being a man.” Jesus wept! See for yourself. Go to: http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/women-s-refuge-hails-cunliffe-apology-gutsy-6018734/video?vid=6018959.

You're a man, you am, youam

You’re a man, yes you am

David, if I may be familiar for just a minute, get over it. You are a man, yes you am, yes you am, yes you am. You had something important to say and you said it. Manfully.

With all the gravitas and veritas of a preacher in touch with his feminine side, he told men, the main perpetrators of New Zealand’s shameful record of violence against women and children, “to wake up, stand up, man up and stop the bullshit”.

Here Cunliffe was, sorry as he was for being a man, pledging to invest an extra $60 million on frontline prevention, education and justice reforms to help combat family and sexual violence. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of family violence in the developed world, with almost 60 percent of reported violence family-related and police responding to a callout on average every seven minutes.

His pronouncement was met with a ripple of applause and to be fair, positive acclaim from his captive audience. And okay ribald delight from the wider public, interest piqued by his sorry performance and maybe even the subject matter, although we are almost inured to the increasingly familiar cases of violent atrocities meted out without discrimination for gender, age, wellbeing or consequence.

“Insulting” and “silly” was how Prime Minister John Key reacted to the “I’m sorry for being a man” apology, leaving his colleagues, the lustrous-lipped, man-o-war trussed and jacketed Judith “Crusher” Collins and “I’ve been there so I know and we’re doing it anyway”, Paula Bennett to dispense with the substance of Cunliffe’s proposal and any meaningful discussion.

“The problem isn’t being a man, the problem is if you’re an abusive man,” John Key said. “Is he really sincere about that statement? Tomorrow afternoon is he going to go down to the local rugby club and say ‘I’m sorry for being a man’? I don’t think so.”

Now while John Key is no doubt relaxed about this he does have a point. Why stop at apologising for being a man? Would Cunliffe have apologised for being Maori? It’s Maori who have the ignominious distinction of being over represented both as the abusers and as the victims of the abuse. Of course he wouldn’t. He’s not Maori. He’s what we used to call a trendy leftie, a chardonnay socialist, and he leans quite right of left really. His party is sorry that he sometimes is less than clear about right and left and what’s wrong with the right and right about the left. Anyway he is very, very, very, very sincere – even more very than US-NZ relations.

Cunliffe is his own worst enemy. His wife says so and she’ll be right and even when he’s right, he’s wrong.

If it’s not the message, it’s the medium. If it’s not the medium it’s his manner. He’s like a manikin pis aiming to please. Show some mana.  Don’t apologise for being a man.  Follow your own advice: “wake up, stand up, man up and stop the bullshit”.

And because you’re a nice guy, not as nice as John Key who can do know wrong, I don’t want to send you away on a wing and a prayer, but with a special song, just for you.

 Guilty

By Randy Newman

Well I’m guilty, yeah I’m guilty,

I’ll be guilty for the rest of my life

How come I never do,
what I’m supposed to do
How come nothing that I try to do ever turns out right

Well you know how it is with me baby,

You know I just can’t stand myself

It takes a whole lot of medicine,
for me to pretend to be somebody else