An Evening With Doug Johnstone

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It was a dreich Dunedin evening.  Very typical, although surprising after a dry year.  I’m no reader of Tartan Noir, or crime fiction at all.  However an invitation from Irish and Scottish Studies was enough for me to go.  I note our resident Scottish professor, Liam MacIlvanney pronounced the author’s name with a long ‘oo’ sound, Doog Johnstone, not Dug Johnstone as Doug is commonly pronounced.  It must be a Scottish thing.

His latest book crosses crime fiction into unknown territory, doing the school run after one of the parents goes missing.  It’s about people who have to be at-home parents because the recession means two incomes have to survive on one.  Everyday life becomes part of the mystery.  The domestic parent has to become a the gumshoe.  What would it be like the other way, where the detective also has to raise a family and hold it together?

Johnstone also knows the difference between creating empathy for an arsehole, and not sympathy.  His narrator does things that might shock a reader.  This story could be stretch some readers.  Mainstream literature bordering on New Weird Fiction perhaps?

The author has to be obsessed with a subject.  This may suggest why I haven’t tried to write.  No motive, as much as I would love to write.

He finished with a couple of his own songs accompanied on guitar.  I liked them.  They’re on the internet but I haven’t found the link.  If he was selling CDs as well as books I would have been tempted by the CD, especially if it had songs like Björk from the wreckage and The End of the Set.

Doug Johnstone , the jacket also made it to New Zealand too.

Enough! Challenges to a Post-Growth Economy

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An enthusiastic audience came out to hear former Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons present the Quaker Lecture, a lecture to the Annual Meeting of Quakers which is being hosted by local Quaker groups around the country.  Jeanette Fitzsimons was born in Dunedin, and even once appeared on the cover of the Outlook, the old Presbyterian magazine.

Her lecture was available as a booklet for $5.  I decided that making notes and reporting them here would fit into the spirit of the lecture.  No doubt a copy can be obtained through the Quaker Website.

Continued growth is not sustainable.  The earth is full.  Wednesday 21 August marked World Overshoot Day for 2013.  That means  we have used up the resources that the world supplies for 2013.  Any further resources we use we borrow from the future.  And I haven’t started on my Christmas shopping yet!

The Club of Rome predicted that an end to growth leading to a collapse of society back in 1971.  We have delayed it, but the prediction is on track.  How do we manage a post-growth economy?  How do we manage ourselves living in Ecotopia?  How do we create a sustainable well-being when growth has not made us happier people?

Sustainable growth is not possible based on interest-bearing debt.  Economic culture is having to change its language.

The richest economy cannot provide decent healthcare for all its citizens.  Let’s not go down that path.

  • Less stuff and more time.
  • Less work but shared equally.
  • Less travel and strengthen local communities.

As an aside Fitzsimons noted she had needed to buy a new charger for her laptop.  A packaged charger cost her $160; an unpackaged charger cost her $90.  We are paying $70 difference for a box and plastic wrapping we are going to throw away!

Working hours would have to reduce and be separated from income.

If there is no growth debt is stealing from future generations.

Banks must be restricted to loaning only what is deposited.  Currently mortgages are funded out of imaginary currency.

Our cultural values and sense of identity hold back a sustainable economy: I shop therefore I am.  Emotions guide our logic.  Once you have food, shelter, means of transport and secured education for the next generation what more do you need?  Margaret Thatcher worked out that once you change the heart and soul of the nation then economic change will follow.  It’s time to back off her vision of the future.

How do society’s values change?

  • Take back advertising money.  I understand it’s not taxed.
  • Change the conversation to talk about quality of life: let’s talk about the arts, sports, our low crime rate, public health, the environment.  A lot of these things we do well.

Economists are starting to get it.  A generation are waking up to a power shift.  We are the 99% and the 1% control half our nation’s wealth.  It’s time to put a check on corporate greed and corruption.  The answers are not in technology, the answers are in our minds and in our thinking.


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A talk by Dr Christoph Bartneck of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITLABNZ) in Christchurch, held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  It was well attended by people interested in technology, their kids, and a toy robot supplied by Dr Bartneck.

The robot was fascinating to the children.  It was programmed to understand Japanese and could converse.  I don’t think that conversation has reached a Turing Test stage.  It would be interesting to see.  Dr Bartneck admitted that conversation would be a goal that he would like to see.  The robot had the advantage over the kids that its talk function could be dialled down.

So where are robots at?  They still have to get the understanding of social space.  When is standing next to you too close and socially alarming.  Robots still have to be programmed for that receptivity.  Advances in tactile senses also have to be made.

Anthropomorphism: the idea of perfectly human robots disturb us.  It crosses over into uncanny territory, like the unnatural behaviour of mannequins.  We cannot not communicate and need the signals that assure us of humanity.

We like our robots to be toy-like.  They are unthreatening.  Perhaps we would be less disturbed by toy robot in the room than accidently leaving Skype running (and watching us).

The last image was of toy robots with glowing pink eyes performing the haka.  Keep practicing, guys!

A Post-Christendom Theology of Democracy by Jonathan Chaplin

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In the contest between principles of modern democracy and doctrines of faith, democracy and the rule of secular law must always win.

Janet Daley, 2008

Why should it matter?  Secularists have a fear of theocracy — religion with authority over the will of the people.  At the same time democracy is under attack by the challenge of global markets and transnational institutions.  Active political participation is in decline.  We fear debate.  Popularist common sense will not tolerate dissention.

The motivation of religious faith has produced malevolent groups: the Lord’s Resistance Army, and communalist chauvinism in Hinduism and Islam.  It has also produced people like Malala Yousufzai.  Q. What is the most terrifying thing to a fundamentalist?  A. A girl with a book!

What is Democracy?  Chaplin defines it as a popular election of political rulers, protective of liberty and rights, situated in and limited by robust constitutional order.  It can also violate justice.  The Irish Famine happened after the liberalisation of Britain by the People’s Charter.  As did the expansion of the British Empire under democratic leadership and the suppression  of the first nations of North America, Australia and New Zealand.  In South America it happened under Spanish democrats.

In Christian thinking, and other theistic worldviews, political authority cames from god.  Should there be an active role for the people?  People form human communities.  From the people, after Him.  The divine right of the people was formulated before the divine right of kings.  Justice should come above rulers and people.

Any government that negates these fundamental principles forfeits its god-given right to rule

Declaration of the Church Leaders of Zimbabwe

According to Reinhold Niebuhr we have a capacity for justice and an inclination to injustice.

A natural consequence of human dignity is unquestionably their right to take an active part in government

Pacem in Terris

All human beings have an equal potential to pursue justice.  The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers means we are equal in the eyes of god, equal to understand the word of god, and equal to participate and advance the commonwealth of god.  Popular will is subjected to a higher authority, a wider framework of principles.

God has a preferential option for constitutional democracy.  A participatory representation, constitutional democracy in which popular consent is an essential ingredient; in which both government and people are held accountable to transcendent norms of justice and common good, the co-responsibility of citizens and government.

Three principles:

  • justice, not just us: a Post-Christendom Theology of Democracy includes peoples of all faiths and peoples of no faith.
  • learn to speak Christian in public, without embarrassment or constraint.
  • parity, not privilege: don’t Christianise the constitution.  Work from the bottom up, not top down.

When questioned on a definition of Christendom, Chaplin described it as a state of privilege for the Church, recognised by the government.

Four years ago, I heard a Muslim address the Peace Lecture of the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group.  He spoke about translating Non-violence into Arabic as a positive value and used the phrase, Jihad al-Madina, which I would understand in Christian terms as ‘Civic Discipleship’.  I think with a Post-Christendom Theology of Democracy we are a step closer with creating an identity for Civic Discipleship.

The Return of Religion to Contemporary Art by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin

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Spiritual: invisible or immaterial dimension of life and thought

Religious: referring to the World Traditions

Do religions share religious art?  I wondered about indigenous art.  The proverbial plastic tiki came to mind.  One questioner cited the recent story of Nike pulling a line of exercise wear they had designed on Samoan men’s tattooing practices.  The main objections appear to have been Samoan cultural experts had not been consulted; and if they had they would have pointed out that a honoured practice was being used as convenience clothing for women.

Geistig: spiritual, mental, emotional.  Wassily Kandinsky talked about the geistig in art and it is generally translated as ‘spiritual’.

Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin examined mainstream artists in the institute of art.  She began with Andy Warhol who was raised in a Byzantine Catholic Family and remained observant all his life.  Does his repeated images show the influence of the iconostasis?  His work is reverent while others outside of religious belief is angry.  Sometimes the artist without faith can do the better job, because they are not constrained by belief and practice and reveal new insight.

Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ was examined again.  Twice in two weeks.  What is it with this work?  It remains offensive to religious believers who want to deface it.  Thus religious believers contribute to the humiliation of the Christ.  The crucifix is baptised in urine like cloth being prepared by the fuller.  This image of execution is shown in a beautiful golden light which is also part of god’s degradation and immersion into the world.

I wondered about Chris Ofili’s Upper Room series where Christ and his disciples are portrayed as macaque monkeys at the point of raising their cups.  Do these images with their richness of colour create a new mythology and symbolism?  Interesting.  The one who has dipped in the same bowl as me will betray me.  Christ’s betrayer becomes Anyone and Everyone.

The artist creates a bigger story, looking for order.  The narrative remains in the mind, no matter how hard you didn’t believe!

Public Square

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Andrew Bradstock hosted this.  He seems to be still around Dunedin even though he has given his farewell address.  The panel consisted of Jolyon White from the Christchurch Diocese; Bryce Edwards, political lecturer and commentator; Greg Fleming from the Maxim Institute; and Laura Black from the Methodist Mission.

Does anyone ever tuck their shirt in nowadays?

The Surveillance State

If there is a change of government at the next election there will be a review of recent legislation.  There is nothing new in the surveillance state.  It is ten years since Echelon / Five Eyes became public knowledge, thanks in part for investigative journalism by Nicky Hagar.  The legislation is passed by the slimmest of majorities.  Our democracy does not seek consensus.   Himmler told us that ‘Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear’, so what do our surveillance organisations have to fear?


Dunedin suffers for lacking entry-level job opportunities.  Its business is dominated by the University, the public sector and the tourist industry.  We need to get beyond low-wage industry jobs.  Our two-speed economy means slower cities like ours are left behind.


The government parties are cautious in intervening to provide housing.  New Zealand does not have a housing crisis; Auckland has a housing crisis.  The Christchurch Earthquakes means that Christchurch has a housing crisis.  That is temporary.  The market economy in Christchurch means that low-cost accommodation is slow to replace after the earthquake.  We need better rental stock.

Too many people want to live in Auckland, a third of the country’s population.  It’s time to look for job creation outside Auckland and bring the regions up to speed.


Are these the last bastions of Christendom?  An opportunity for faith communities to be part of the establishment again?  Elitist space for concerts and choirs instead of a community space with showers for the homeless?  Faith-based organisations, including charities, are compromised by government funding.  Think about values.

Interfaith Engagement for Peace — A Muslim Perspective by Dr Ingrid Mattson

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Dr Ingrid Mattson was this year’s speaker for the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group Annual Peace Lecture.  The speaker alternates between Christian, Jewish and Muslim.  Dr Mattson was invited to speak as a Muslim speaker.  The lecture was well attended with representatives of several faith communities present.

She began with a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, Prevent harm through action.  Create an environment without fear; don’t practice false witness against other communities of faith — courtesy to the stranger is a shared Abrahamic virtue; don’t waste resources on interfaith conflict.

Common witness and familiarity with each other’s worship places should work to create affection between peoples of faith.  Our mutual affection should create an alternative to a society where public display is reserved for symbols of consumerism.  (Fast food loves you!)  Welcome the peoples of scripture, Muslims, Christians, Jews and Sabaeans, they will stand before the throne of grace on the last day.

All people of faith who come to New Zealand as migrants are united that they are settlers in these islands, tauiwi.  It is a Muslim belief that it is impossible to benefit from stolen land.  The Muslim who comes to New Zealand is required to work for justice for the tangata whenua.  It led me to ponder where indigeneity fits into Christianity.  We are citizens, tangata whenua, in the kingdom of god.

A break was taken during the lecture to allow Muslims in the audience to observe sunset prayer.  Sadly this meant they had to leave the lecture theatre for other rooms so their observance took place in private and away from other members of the audience.  I respect that this is a requirement for Muslim women.  However I’m sorry that space could not be made in the lecture theatre for prayer.  I found the one previous occasion that I observed Muslims at prayer to be instructive and beneficial in understanding Islam as a religion of peace.  It is part of their witness.

I think it is a matter to time before the Department of Theology and Religious Studies has a Muslim scholar on staff, a chair of Islamic studies.  I am hopeful about this.  I welcome the other.

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