Scotland’s Future

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Is this multi-cultural enough to reflect the Scottish people?

The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies invited Michael Russell, the Scottish Parliament’s Minister for Education and Life-long Learning, to address a lecture in Dunedin while he was in New Zealand for a conference on education.  He arrived with a copy of the Scottish block-buster Scotland’s Future and demonstrated how he has been flourishing it around Scotland like a revivalist preacher.  A solid creed.

Dunedin put on a welcome for the Scottish minister, wind and rain that meant my shoes have been wet all day.  The lecture was a little slow in starting.  Bigger than usual representation of young migrant Scots in the audience too.  They had their say when it came to question time.

The trickiest question the minister quoted was, Would Edward Snowden be given asylum in an independent Scotland.  As he has already been elected rector of Edinburgh University for 2014 there’s already a job opening for him.

The question on the table for the lecture remains the same as the referendum, 200 days away: Should Scotland be an independent country?

What I noted of his argument was from his portfolio.  The Scottish Parliament has a ministry committed to youth employment.  Education should not leave the learner poor.  Even if the autonomous parliament has oversight restraints remain on education opportunities that is controlled from Westminster.  Don’t lean on a nation as thrawn as the Scots and tell them what they cannot do!  There are 10 million hands in Scotland.

The No-campaign is mired in the history of Scottish politics  It has not taken up the third option: to argue for the possibility of a new union of the five nations of Britain: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London.  The Unionists need to present new ideas.

Sailing to an Island

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…the stories circulate like smoke…
A long time since…
…go here…

I attended a talk on the Poetry of Irish and Scottish Islands.  Dr Lucy Collins from the University College Dublin gave us samples from three generations of poetry.

An Island Man, by Jack B. Yeats (1907)

I learnt a new word: archipelagic.  Us islanders are not isolated.  We are joined, by the sea.

In the urban setting the isolation and solitude of island life becomes the mark of authenticity of a culture, returning to its origin.  The island is a place of peace in contrast to the city as a place of conflict.  The non-industrial states articulate an independent national culture, or a culture of the people within the British Union, a negotiation between a supra-cultural literature and the literature from the periphery.

One seems to wash off the dust of cities, the dust of belief.

I live at the edge of the universe, like every one else.

When the people move there, the island moves with them.

And when the Island is not nice:

They lashed him to old timbers
that would barely float
with weights at the feet so
only his face was out of water.
Over his mouth and eyes
they tied two live mackeral
with twine, and pushed him
out from the rocks.
They stood, then,
smoking cigarettes
and watching the sky,
waiting for a gannet
to read that flex of silver
from a hundred feet up,
close its wings
and plummet-dive

Law of the Island, Robin Robertson

Space Physics Research in Otago and Antarctica

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Archway One holds about 180 people, and just about every seat was full to hear Craig Rodger give his inaugural professorial lecture.  I moved a seat over toward the centre of the theatre twice as people kept on coming in.  The lecturer was a big bouncy man who could amplify his voice to the back of the theatre without needing to resort to a microphone.  I jumped in my seat a couple of times.  In a suit and tie and professorial gown he was quickly sweating a lot.

In 1958 the Americans sent their first satellite into space.  It was big enough that it carried a geiger counter.  They would follow its beep around the earth.  To their surprise they discovered it beeped continuously.  The earth was surrounded by radiation belts.  Who would’ve thunk it!  The radition belts form a dynamic dough-nut shape that envelopes the earth from pole to pole.

The solar wind is formed from super-heated gas exploding off the surface of the sun.  When these eructations hit the earth then killer electrons play merry havoc with satellites.  They penetrate the shielding of satellites and zap the electronics.  One weather satellite went zombie after launch and broadcast its frequencies to all others in its orbit for five months until its batteries flat-lined and it could be re-booted.  That’s US$3 million worth of software going around the world in one satellite alone.  The geosynchronous orbit of satellites lie within the outer limits of the radiation belt.

These charged electrons hitting the atmosphere die.  They are absorbed into the atmosphere.  Getting satellites into the right place and the right direction to measure the loss is just too impossible.  However we can measure precipation by reading broadcast radio waves.  These are provided free of charge by military stations around the world.  These are people who need to know that the world is still there, and sometimes what the baseball scores are.  There are science sites in the polar regions that are reading this stuff and doing the number-crunching.  There are no military secrets to discover from it.  Most of it is heavily encrypted.

Intense particle percipitation affects temperature change.  It creates odd elements (odd hydrogen and nitrogen I think, HOx and NOx).  Is this making a difference to the ozone layer in the polar sky, like pacman?  There is a paper coming out on this in an eminent journal.  Watch out for it.

A Conversation with John Sentamu

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The Centre for Theology and Public Issues hosted the Anglican Archbishop of York for a chat, along with Archbishop Philip Richardson, the Archbishop of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. 

The conversation started early, 4.30 pm.  I left work and arrived in time for the introduction.  Sentamu proved to be an educated and sharp speaker.  He worked in the Ugandan law-system and eventually had to flee the country to escape the Amin administration.  He entered the priesthood in the Church of England and rose to his current position.  If we could not understand his accent then he advised us pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of interpretation.

On the subject of a living wage: The rises in the minimum wage has not kept up with rises in the top wages in Britain.  While I did not note the figure it was something like a three to four times increase in difference if it had kept up with what it is now.  Every increase in the minimum wage has been grudging.  A living wage is a stipend.  The Churches know about stipends.  They are what ministers of religion are paid to support them in their work for mission.  A living wage is a reminder that in the world to come we will be living in mansions.

On sexuality: St Paul would tell us off for dividing into parties over sexuality.  No party within the body of Christ can save us.  Our identity is baptised in Jesus Christ.  No division between gay or straight, inclusive or exclusive can save us.  The archbishop is no advocate for gay marriage; he reads the Bible as saying marriage is between a man and a woman.  He doesn’t divide himself from people who are in same-sex relationships.  He remains an advocate for unity in the church.  The gay person is not the son of perdition.

On the church: the church in the western world is dying.  It is tired but it is living.  It still can be the body of Christ.  Does it live for the unity of Christ, for the faithfulness of the gospel, for our common witness?  The church of the South may have the numbers.  It has to prove its own community.

The thief on the cross beside Jesus was the first person to enter the kingdom of god.  The first to enter paradise was essentially a terrorist (my description of his quote).

John Sentamu seems to be most famous for during a TV interview he removed his clerical collar, produced a pair of scissors and cut it up to demonstrate visually the impact of tyrants on African people.  The danger of the tyrant is that he has destroyed the identity of the people.

Footsteps of Gold-Dust

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Yvonne Wilkie presented her address on the mission activity of the Presbyterian Church among the New Zealand Chinese to the Presbyterian Research Network.  Yvonne is the retired Archivist and now a researcher at large.  Her retirement project is a history of the Synod of Otago and Southland.

I did not take many notes from her talk.  Two thoughts occured to me:

  1. Dunedin was once as expansive as Auckland is now.  It was the time of the gold-rush in Otago.  The settlement increased from 2 000 people to a population of 15 000.  The Old Identities initially recoiled from the New Iniquities.  Obviously they bounced back to offer pastoral care to new immigrants, take advantage of the profits coming into the city, and ultimately become a counter-cultural group within the city as history spun a plot twist on them.  Even back then the Chamber of Commerce were flailing to make Dunedin a city of investment.
  2. White New Zealand was xenophobic to the migration of Chinese to New Zealand, using an exorbitant poll-tax and limits on numbers to restrict them coming to New Zealand.  Those working with the Chinese in New Zealand reported it as un-Christian legislation.  It was not until after the Second World War that these restrictions were finally lifted.  This limited the ability to create a strong multi-generational Chinese community in New Zealand, both assimilated to place and unique to that place.

Doing Good – Doing Evil

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The annual Dan and Gwen Taylor Lecture hosted by the Department of Philosophy was given by Philip Pettit on the theme Doing Good and Doing Evil.  I arrived early and wondered if I was in the wrong lecture theatre as the room filled up with an audience mostly made of young men.  A way different audience to other lectures I have attended.  I did not realise.

An asymetry exists between doing good and doing evil.  Doing robust good is demanding.  It is costly to give love, honesty, respect, intentional good (altruism? an anti-libertarianism?).  Due care has to be given to all possible worlds, whether being Earnest or knowing Jack.  All possible worlds cover the possibilities by which situations for doing good might by influenced to the point that they become unrecognisable : physical, mental, moral, spiritual, criminal.

Rich evil imposes cost of harm on others across a range of possibility.  The agent becomes the fallen hero: Milton’s Satan; Shakespeare’s Iago; Himmler.  Is the agent of rich evil a Nietzchean figure?  The energy outlay is considerable.  Most evil is a thin self-interested evil.

The just person is a person who takes all the care a person can do that every action may be just; an unjust person neglects action due to an apparent benefit to themself, the failure to do virtue, to do rich good.

Intent is knowledge, an end-goal.  The action to do good is intential and rich; the  action to do harm happens out of non-intentional action, a thin evil.  When we break a rule we fail to conform to the rules.  (This is potentially good as well as evil.)

I wonder what this model of doing good – doing evil makes of story-telling of popular media where we have seen such anti-heroes as a ‘good’ serial killer and a chemist teacher who makes drugs.

Peace and War

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I participated in a series of Wednesday Worship at Opoho Church last week.  I chose the above title as my theme.  My reflection is included below:

2014 is a year of two anniversaries. It is 200 years since Christianity arrived in New Zealand. It is 100 years since the beginning of the Great War. It is the second anniversary that I want to talk about tonight. Working at the Presbyterian Archives I have been researching into what the Presbyterian Church was writing about on the eve of the conflict a hundred years ago.

It surprised me to think that back then ANZAC would have been an unfamiliar term to most Australians and New Zealanders. This year is the centenary of the last year ANZAC Day was not observed, either in the act of landing on the coast of Gallipoli and invading which happened in 1915, or its commemoration after that year.

In January the editor of the Outlook, the weekly publication of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand wrote: The main menace of the times in which we live is the decay of authority, and the added fact that in the endeavour to prop up a decaying authority by force the force-authority has bred a force-resistance which in its turn is breeding a spirit of anarchy. The thing was inevitable; and has been foreseen by the thoughtful from afar off. It is the outcome of a vain attempt to rule the world and so organise society without the vital influence of religion at its back; and the hope of the Church consists in the dawning realisation on the part of social reformers everywhere that a real religion is, and must be, the main spring in all permanent reform. The root reason of our existing social problems and religious difficulties is unbelief leading to suspicion and distrust.

The editorial was most likely written by Arthur Grinling who was editor after the social-reforming minister Rutherford Waddell and shared his interests. The article continues with extensive quotes from British speakers about disarmament and Irish Home Rule.

In an edition in February the Outlook talked about the great impression that Mr Alfred Noyes was making in America. The reading of his poem ‘The Wine Press’, that we used in part in the beginning of worship was reported to have aroused a great wave of feeling against the horrors of war in a New York club. This was among the New York set. The poem was not reprinted for local readers. I suspect that it had not accompanied the press release that would have been used for the news source. There is no guess of what local readers would have thought of it.

I don’t think that the Outlook’s readers were great pacificists or advocates for disarmament no matter the progressive policy of the editor. They were British citizens living in New Zealand. The Empire was bringing peace, civilization and religion to the far corners of the world. Looking through the following months of the magazine the topics that engaged them were Bible and Religion in State Schools, the Church Schools, Missionary Work, the Chapman Alexander Mission in Edinburgh, the Kikuyu Controversy and Chaplains for Trentham Camp. Their attention was focused on the work of the Church, not on the world.

And so it could have gone on, to the outbreak of war. I haven’t looked through to see if it did. One of the amazing articles I have found on the outbreak of the war was in the Break of Day, the children’s missionary magazine in September 1914. It was written by Rev. James Aitken of Mosgiel Church. Unlike adults in the church you can’t talk down to children, the issues of the day must be addressed, which probably why we listen with attention to children’s talks. He begins, “My Dear Boys and Girls, – I hardly know how to write to you this month; my heart is heavy over this awful war. Isn’t it a terrible thing that has happened? To think that the two strongest nations in the world, the most civilised and Christian nations in the world, are fighting each other just like so many savages! I am sure you are all grieved about it, too, and are hoping and praying that it will not last long.”

And what about our enemies? Yes, we must pray for them too. It is a dreadful business that the German people have forced us to fight them. You know that the Germans are our cousins. If you went into a German school you would see boys and girls just like yourselves, only there would be more fair-haired, blue-eyed ones among them, that would be all the difference. They would have the same names, William and John and Mary and Margaret, pronounced ever so little differently. You would find that they read the same Bible, and loved the same Jesus, and prayed to the same God and sang lots of the same hymns as you. We shall do our very best to win in this great struggle; but we shall look forward to being good friends with our cousins again when it is all over.”

I think we see history after it has happened. It becomes set into history books, cut and dried and inevitable. As we live through moments of history, as we are doing now, then there are always other options available to us. Some of them overwhelm us and we can find ourselves living in the Days of Noah, or the Coming of the Son of Man. We can be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, proclaiming the gospel or working for justice, until the flood sweeps us and our world away. We are given a choice each moment, and we can work and pray for a better world.



Independent Publishing in New Zealand

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It must be autumn.  The open lecture season has picked up again.  I nearly missed this one.  Fortunately I saw it on the daily bulletin at the Castle.  It was late notice and I added it to my diary as that evening’s diversion.  I’m grateful.

The lecture was presented by Robbie Burton, the co-owner of Craig Potton Publishing.  Craig Potton Publishing is an independent business based in Nelson.  It has been operating for over twenty years because the photographer Craig Potton wanted care on how his photos were published.  A family member has been giving me a diary published by this business for the last couple of years for Christmas.  They are quite battered by the end of the year.  My current one has already been baptised in the rain this week.  Craig Potton Publishing produces about twenty titles a year.  It has a staff of fifteen people, of which one and a half people work on publishing, design and talking-to-authors.  The rest are involved in sales and shipping.  These are people who care about their business.  They still want to get paid.  Poverty for the sake of art isn’t romantic.

Reliable date collecting on the sale of books in New Zealand is no longer kept since the leading book selling chain Whitcoulls pulled out.  There is a world-wide decline in book-sales.  Craig Potton Publishing has seen a NZ$400 000 decline in the sale of tourist photo books.  Marketing involves some guess-work.

The big hit in the local market is to on-line trading.  Amazon is taking about $50 million dollars out of New Zealand, Fishpond about $10 million.  It’s hurting multi-national publishers in New Zealand like Random Penguin Penguin Random House New Zealand.  They can make $140 million in New Zealand by books like 50 Shades of Gray.  The pressure is on them to be less committed to discovering and promoting local titles.  It’s easier for them to shift their distribution for New Zealand to Australia.  They remain a reality in book sales in New Zealand.

Victoria University Press struck it lucky by selling 60 000 copies of The Luminaries in 2013.

If Amazon wants dominance in any market it is willing to take losses.  It has pressured the multi-nationals to put major titles into e-books and hock them off at minimal prices.  This has not been good for book titles or authors.  It seems to me that centralised command economies has become a feature of late capitalism as it was of soviet communism.  It didn’t work out good for them either.

E-books has reached a level in the American and British markets which has taken over a third of the book-reading market.  There is no incentive for independent publishers to move into this market.  There is no revinue for putting New Zealand titles into electronic media.  If we continue into the rise of the digital natives in the next generation the sources of our literature is uncertain.

The last comment I noted came out of the question time: A strong library service is essential for a strong book-reading culture.  This made sense to me.  Libraries have always introduced me to the books I want to read and own.  They have been, not so much the gate-keepers of my reading, as guides to the world of imagination.

Note to self: Keep an eye on the Centre for the Book’s blog.  There are up-coming events to keep an eye out for, and friends to meet there.