The flag referendum

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I often sat in the old Intercity Bus Terminal in Dunedin.  I would be waiting for a bus to come in from Invercargill, or waiting for the bus that would take me there.  I don’t travel much otherwise.  Sitting on the benches I would gaze on the bunting that had not been taken down since the last Rugby World Cup.  It was a diversion to run through the flags on display in the bunting and identify them.  I couldn’t tell you the order now.  I figured out most countries.  Either they were obvious by their flag, or if I could deduce the identity of the flag by remember what rugby-playing nations were participating.

What intrigued me was that New Zealand was represented by both the New Zealand flag and by the New Zealand Rugby Union Silver Fern flag.  I speculated on the All Blacks being a different team to New Zealand, perhaps they come from Alblacia (near Albania perhaps?), or All-Blackistan (a former Soviet republic).  The Irish also played under a composite flag which I guessed included players from the four counties of their rugby union, rather than play under the competing flags of their politically divided island, the Irish Republican Tricoleur and the Union Jack.  They were the only team not represented by a national flag.

If All Black Land is a different country to New Zealand then I view the flag referendum with more ambivalence.  The whole thing looks like a hatchet job.  The prime minister’s office has decided to re-brand us with a new flag that scrubs off the Union Jack, another step on the process of our new corporate nation.  The prime minister favours a silver fern flag.  We still want a flag that looks like the old one.  There is the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee and the options in the flag referendum fit that description.  The first referendum will be ‘which option do you like?’ and the second referendum ‘do you favour the new flag or the old one?’  My opinion is not to vote in the first referendum, and vote ‘keep the old flag’ in the second.

I confess I think the koru flag, popularly called the Hypnoflag is a solid, identifiable flag, and of the four I favour it.  It’s trailing fourth in popularity and I think it is not a goer.  It will unfurl over New Zealand when R’lyeh rises from the ocean depths to cast its shadow over the country.

I would drag myself out to vote for Red Peak.  It’s a simple design, four colours, three triangles of black, red and blue separated by a white division.  It has immediate symbolism, The black is the night, the world of potential, Te Po in Maori, the blue is the day sky, the world of realisation, the world of light, the created universe (Te Ao Marama?), the red the dawn light, the white forms the gateway, Te Maihi.  It’s simple, it works.  Left out of the four front runners, it’s the underdog.

The petition to include it shows support.  However the Prime Minister has said that he wants cross-party support to include it, and the leading opposition party which not endorse that support unless the second referendum, the yes/no question, comes first.  I admire the prime minister’s political sense in how he has played his hand in giving his opposition a Hobson’s choice, even if I don’t approve.  It’s very canny.  He has given his critics the options of backing down or paralysing an option with popular support.  Well played, sir; very underhand of him.

If the fifth flag is left out then it remains a curiosity of what could have been, a rallying flag for dissent.


New Zealand Literature 1910

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Barbara RyanAnother open lecture from the Centre of the Book.  I didn’t look closely at the synopsis and thought it might be an overview of what New Zealanders were reading in the decade on the eve of World War One.  I called that one wrongly.  Instead Professor Barbara Ryan of the University of Singapore, a migrant American, talked about looking for quotes from the forgotten American humourist David Harum.

David Harum was the pseudonym for Edward Westscott.  He wrote one book about working in the horse trade, but died before it was published and then became so popular that everyone was quoting it.  Its appeal was that it recorded a broad vernacular language without being offensive or provocative.  Being recognised posthumously probably didn’t harm his reputation either.  New Zealanders picked up on this popularity as well.  References to him appear in the newspapers of the website Papers Past for New Zealand.  Ryan cited the quote (I’m paraphrasing here): “A dog needs a requisite number of fleas.  It keeps him from thinking about the status of being a dog”.David Harum O

The Manawatu Times picked up on Harum as an example of story-telling for New Zealanders to emulate in an editorial of 1909.  Professor Ryan argues that what the Manawatu Times was advocating was the emergent of a New Zealand voice and accent, the demos from the natio, to use her language, the people from the nation.  When I spoke to her afterwards I suggested that this was interesting because the newspapers at the time were reporting annual elocution competitions like national events.  We see two conflicting impulses, the emergence of national dialect alongside the prestige language of empire.

I find myself returning to Arnold Wall’s 1938 preface to New Zealand English, his guide to correct pronunciation:

On a previous occasion, when commenting on the pronunciation of English in New Zealand, the author said: “I would not have it thought that I lay too much stress on this detail of ‘good speech’ as a part of the make-up of the New Zealander. I am fully aware of its comparative unimportance. I remember how, at the outbreak of the war in 1914, seeing that young students whose speech left much to be desired yet died gloriously on Gallipoli, I told myself that I must never criticize New Zealand speech unkindly, and in making the above statement I have borne this resolution in mind.”

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.

Living in a Warmer World with Jim Salinger, Auckland Climate Scientist

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Jim Salinger, not only talks about Auckland’s Climate Science.  He talks about the rest of New Zealand’s Climate Science, including Dunedin, where I heard him tonight at the College of Education Auditorium.  The rest of the world got mentioned as well.

Climate change means the westerly winds will increase in New Zealand.

Terroir is going to change.  Warmer temperature ranges will make wines from Bordeaux and Champagne more acidic.  New South Wales, West Australia, southern Spain, Italy and Greece are going to drop out of the wine-growing zone.  England and South Ireland will enter it.  Perhaps I could taste my first Southlander Red.

As groundwater is drained from the Canterbury aquifer it will be replaced.  Unfortunately the immediate supply is the Pacific Ocean.  The soil of the Canterbury Plains risks becoming more saline.

In dryer areas our livestock may have to be changed from Bos Taurus to Bos Indicus which is more tolerant to heat.  This will have be bred as a meat animal.  There will be a risk of new livestock diseases.  Reducing methane and nitrate emissions *burp* *belch*  (not *fart*) will have to be looked into.

Cold water fish species are already moving into polar and deeper waters.  Fishing will follow them there.  Other fish species will move to take advantage of the warmer waters.

It’s up to us now.  The difference is an increase of 2 degrees of temperature to 4 degrees of temperature in the next hundred years, accompanied up seas rising by 10 metres.  A sensible capitalism means everything we make is intended to be re-used.

“What you do may be insignificant.  It is significant that you do it.” — Gandhi.

Letter to America

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Dear America,

I hope you are well.

I understand that some of you are feeling put out by your recent election to the point that some of us have seen messages or tweets saying ‘That’s it!  I’m leaving America for Xland where they are a real Christian Country with a Christian President.’  Usually these are picked up by liberal critics who point out that the countries suggested are not as overtly Christian as America.  I have seen Canada and Australia mentioned.  Also that these countries have Prime Ministers rather than Presidents, so what do you know?

Might I add, don’t even think of coming to New Zealand if that is your justification.  Our prime minister comes from an irreligious family of Jewish descent.  No Christianity there at all!  I consider myself religious by choice, and while I like my national leadership to respect my worldview among all worldviews and philosophies that New Zealanders may share in, I don’t want leadership that mistakes their own opinions or voices in their heads for advice from the Eternal.  That way leads to a messy resolution.

I consider our current prime minister to be on the right of our politics.  As I am a liberal voter I would be happy to see him out of power.  I understand by your standards he is socialist on par with Obama.  Indeed he admires your president and will take any opportunity to be seen with him.  This only goes to show that in the perspective of English-speaking world, and other European-descended nations your politics is rather skewered.  Perhaps it would be best if you stayed at home.

Have a nice day, and let us all work for the best for our world.  Can I say that?

Best wishes,


We Don’t Do God: Faith and Politics in Secular New Zealand

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The Centre for Theology and Public Issues did this as their forum today.  Yet again, my notes:

Two models of secularism were suggested: Procedural Secularism, keeping out institutional religion and sectarianism; Programmatic Secularism, keeping out religion from the public domain.

New Zealanders tend to be pragmatic.  It’s better to be agnostic than atheist.  Don’t make a stand.  Anti-intellectualism and anti-religiosity go hand in hand.

The loudest voices are the ones not getting heard by government, but they’re easy for the media to find.

There is no dishonesty for any candidate in the public domain what ideology that motivates them.

Sustainable Growth: a Myth?

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We had a symposium at Opoho Church tonight; 3 speakers and a congregation of 60 interested people. Being part of the organising group I was pleased with the reception. I hope we do it again.

Some thoughts:

  • We buy from the marketplace rather than being self-producing. This is a generational thing. It is not necessarily global
  • We, New Zealand, grow food to cater for First World markets. Despite the talk of our primary producers, we are not producing for the underfed
  • Question consumption and its efficiency
  • Environmental Engineering is a euphemism for Waste Management. Waste Management is a growing business & it is unsustainable
  • The past is becoming less reliable for predicting the future
  • Sustainability is such an interesting subject it drew out 60 people out on a night when they could have been watching Doctor Who! (Video players were working overtime tonight!)
  • New Zealand will initially benefit from production in climate change as other parts of the world will become unproductive
  • Who’s doing the energy audit?
  • Take care of the next 50 years. That’s our generation and our children’s generation. Longer projections of historic change beyond that are unpredictable
  • Don’t think about sustainable growth; think about resilient growth in a post-national community. Despite what the maps say nations haven’t been here forever
  • Good night.