Like the dollars on MP’s travel expense accounts this year has almost vanished.

Like the dollars on MP’s travel expense accounts this year has almost vanished. The spectacular and the lamentable – it’s time for a quick flick back through the best and the worst of 2009. An inside out prize-giving if you like:

First up is the prize for the most spectacular bank robbery of the year – you have to hand it to Leo Gao and Kara Hurring. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think they managed to walk away with about 6 million that the bank deposited into their account and then write about it on Facebook without actually getting caught. In their impotent rage Westpac went and fired the worker on the bottom of the rung who made the mistake with the decimal point. The first mistake incidentally, in 30 years or so in her working history. The lamentable employer award is taken out therefore by Westpac.

The second prize for most spectacular bank robbery (although it did turn out to be a failed attempt) would have to go to Westpac and BNZ – of doing New Zealanders out of 971 million and 560 million dollars respectively. By effectively paying only 6% corporate tax in complicated deals that only tax oracles can understand the banks almost carried out the most brilliant robbery of all. Listening to National Radio announcing that Inland Revenue had won the Westpac case it was the first (and no doubt last) time I found myself uttering the words “Go IRD!” At last. They’re going for the big boys. The fact that the banks nonchalantly shrugged and said they’d ‘take it in their stride’ left me wondering why, if they were so obviously wallowing in dough, was it so hard for them to lower the interest rates just a little for struggling home owners. No wonder Westpac hasn’t gone all out to find Leo and Kara – 6 million is seriously small potatoes by comparison.

Congratulations to Richard Worth (remember him?) for the Lametable Lothario award. For his efforts in the worst publicly conducted affair in New Zealand’s history. Thankfully – his preferred manner of showing interest in women by turning up nude in their hotel rooms of an evening has not been taken up by sensible working men around the country and Mr. Worth has quietly disappeared.

Spectacular community award goes to Kyle Chapman leader of the national front. At the beginning of this year he wanted to establish a community of skinheads in the Canterbury Plains – where they could give refuge to old white guys from the States fleeing the horror of having a president with a brain. In their ‘Land base’ the skinheads would live and love each other while growing veggies, wearing camo gear and fighting the evils of cultural diversity. Go Kyle.

Lamentable marketing campaign would have to go to the guys who came up with the Hanover finance ads. It seems that old farm barn could survive lightening, storms and old guys in hats leaning confidently against its seemingly solid walls. It had withstood the tests of time. Just not Eric Watson’s and Mark Hotchin’s shopping trolley spree. Once every nail, sheet of corrugated iron and piece of number eight wire had been stripped and converted into flash cars and big houses – the barn just toppled right over.

Spectacular survival against all odds awards goes to the New Zealand dotterel. The best discovery of the year has to be the sight of baby dotterels scurrying successfully between the planes at Whangarei airport. Clever little blighters they’ve worked out that a) people or dogs can’t wander all over the airport b) any vermin is stringently controlled and c) planes are noisy but not vindictive or hungry. The little battlers are holding their own and all power to them.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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All I want for Christmas is world peace

All I want for Christmas is world peace. No seriously. This may be helped slightly if the west stopped backing illegitimate regimes in places like Afghanistan – but that looks unlikely in the near future so I may have to ask Santa for something else.
There are a few things I’d like to see less of next year and one of them would have to be Rodney Hide. From dancing queen to being rescued while in a swimming race recently Rodney can’t seem to keep out of the headlines or the lycra. I would like to formally request Santa to take Rodney to go and help him with the other elves until at least this time next year. No, his girlfriend can’t go with him and no Santa is not paying for the trip.

One thing I’d like to see more of is MPs in Northland. Really. Like the Haast Eagle, real live MPs fade to non-existence once the election is over. We hear them on the radio – we see them on the news but how do we know they really exist at all? How do they know that we do?

Another thing I’d like to see in the New Year is for the new stadium to be used as a multi purpose venue. Yes I know we’ve been told that it will be but there will always be those negative people who will say that ratepayers will have forked out millions for two brief 80 minute sessions of international rucking after which we all roll over and have a collective metaphorical cigarette while we work out how we’re going to pay for it all. This sort of attitude only shows a lack of imagination.

I think we’ve been offered a challenge; to find as many different purposes for the stadium as we possibly can. An international Morris Dancers convention would be festive. A food and wine festival that actually showcased all that Northland has to offer the culinary world – look what such events have done for places like Hokitika, Whitianga and Malbourough – it’s about time Northland had a decent one. A soccer championship would also be appreciated – soccer being the fastest growing sport in New Zealand, not known for its incidence of head or spinal injuries and increasingly popular with young girls – Northland now has some top coaches from Chile and Brazil – the stadium would be the perfect venue for them. Kapahaka groups, mobility scooter races - the possibilities are endless. It’s up to us to prove that this council’s promise that the stadium would be used for much more than a couple of games of rugby was a genuine one.

I’d also like to see the kids who painted the mural at the community day in Onerahi at the beginning of this year be given art scholarships paid for by the council workers who painted over their work when they decided it wasn’t to their taste or in the public’s interest to keep their artwork there. I hope that this act of publicly sponsored vandalism didn’t disillusion the youngsters and send them back to tagging.

But most of all I’d like Santa to put a ban on the use of photo shop for all women’s magazines. By digitally nicking and tucking every ageing celebrity and even nubile starlets the trashy magazines that I secretly read are enough to send me online to sell my kidneys in order to get something exotic injected or surgically removed. Don’t the editors realise that everyone knows that Demi Moore is not 15 anymore?

Now that it is officially swim suit season, comparing yourself with the physical unnatural beauty of photoshop lovelies is about as pleasurable as poking a stick in your eye – especially when I consider that if I were to ever make it to one of these magazines that there wouldn’t be any of me that wouldn’t need a serious photo-shop overhaul before I could make it to print. Nope. I’m even beyond digital enhancement – I think I’ll just stick to asking for world peace.

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I’ve been thinking of a thrifty chic Christmas

I’ve been thinking of a thrifty chic Christmas. You know the kind – the one that costs two bucks and still looks like it’s come straight out of a magazine. And while I’m working on how exactly this will be achieved, it’s got me remembering my Nan. Every Christmas she would look on our stash of toys and lollies and papers and marvel at our capacity for excess. She’d tell us she’d once got an orange (an orange!) in her santa sack and had been ecstatic as fruit had been a rare treat. She was 13 when she saw her first banana and an adult before she’d tasted a pineapple. As we scoffed our perky nanas and chocolate santas we concluded that she was bonkers and obviously hadn’t tried hard enough to have a good Christmas because we knew that there had always been refrigerated transport and you could eat or buy anything from anywhere in the world whenever you liked. Especially in a depression. Easy. With Nan, thriftiness was a very close tie with Godliness and definitely trumped cleanliness when push came to shove.

I was in high school before I realised that tin foil wasn’t a precious metal as I had always assumed by the way we were never allowed to throw it out but faithfully return it after picnics to her stash in her kitchen drawers. She took being canny to almost cult level. Her mock white bait fritters (made from grated potato) were actually scrumptious but her recycled tea bag scheme on the washing line was a family scandal. Strangely though, despite her reluctance to spend a cent more than she had to I remember Christmases at her house as being incredibly abundant. She had an enormous vege and fruit garden to raid and acres of pantry space filled with over-flowing biscuit tins. Her Christmas cake was justifiably famous and in order to maintain her alpha baker status in the town, she would routinely give all the women who asked for the recipe a fake doctored one to ensure that theirs would never turn out as good as hers. Domestic Science Sabotage!

So…in the footsteps of Nan and having done a quick and highly unscientific survey of friends and family on their handy tips for a recession- proof Christmas I’ve come up with the top 4 money savers:

  1. Discover the bohemian chic of a second hand Christmas. Old silver lamps, vintage tin toys -it’s not budget it’s classy recycling. It’s taken me years to work out that the store where the mad Latin routinely buys his designer French jeans or Norwegian leather boots from is not an exotic importers named ‘Salvaaseeon Armani’. Nor is he being maintained by some well- heeled mistress with a much better cash flow than moi. It is in fact the Sally Army Store.
  2. Quell all expectations from the outset. Tell your kids you’re not giving presents this year but are instead donating a goat to an African village because those kids need it a lot more than they do. Then suggest that you may also be interested in sending the toys and video games that they already have to Samoa for Christmas. Then when they do get that orange in the santa sack they’ll be rapt.
  3. If you’re the cook for Christmas day suggest a ‘Survivor’ theme Christmas dinner. Send all family members to the beach armed with buckets and spear guns. Tell them Christmas dinner must be hunted and killed first. Put your feet up, savour the Pinot and wait and see what comes home to Mama. Note: Tell the kids the neighbours bunnies don’t count.
  4. When the kids go troppo at the sound of Greensleeves, explain that Mr. Whippy only plays the music to tell all the little children that he’s sorry that the ice-cream has all run out for today. Works till the age of 7 apparently.

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The best apology of the year award ...

The best apology of the year award just has to go to Mr. Harawira – you have to hand it to him he has got flair. In the same kind of way a grenade might have I guess. Rodney Hide’s apology was about as exciting as watching a puppy wet himself whereas Mr. Harawira’s had everyone, most especially Mr. Goff running for cover.

An apology that goes along the lines of ‘yes – I may have been slightly exuberant in my choice of pronouns but what I really regret is that the leader of the opposition wasn’t shot when he agreed to the Foreshore deal’ is pure Hone and I have to admit I found it hilarious. I would love to be able to give an apology like that one day. I know. If it were the national front saying the same kind of thing against another race I would have read the sentiments entirely differently and be wading in boots and all – but the thing is, I just can’t get that excited about it. In the miniscule town where I grew up – if you wanted to play social sport you had to join the kapahaka group and spend an hour doing some cultural studies before a game of netball. It was the mid eighties and some of the speakers at those groups were fairly radical. A lot of it sounded a lot like Mr. Harawira’s email – being about 14 at the time most of it sailed in one ear and straight out the other - which in a way has pretty much been our recent history – one group shouting and the other humming loudly lost in the bliss of being the status quo. On the one occasion I was actually feeling uncomfortable about being there I remember putting up my hand and saying ‘aah… I’m pakeha… and umm… I’m actually only here for the netball and lollies.’ I wasn’t trying to be funny. It was just part of the wallpaper of growing up in that place in those times. It’s not like Hone was saying anything different from what he has been saying for the last 20 years – he would have imbibed that rhetoric with his mother’s milk and his particular way of expressing himself has always just been the rough cutting edge of a larger more studied and more measured movement. It’s not after all, as Tariana Turia so gently and elegantly put it ‘that there is not a history there.’

Watching Hone’s war canoe paddle out in full steam is always going to be a great show – especially when he started tossing that enormous red race herring over the side when someone suggested he should have shown up for work instead of taking the missus for a spin in the City of Lerv. It was even sadder to watch the media scramble after that red herring and how quickly it became a conversation of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ which is always the death of any real conversation at all. And it was just a red herring, the real issue being; MP’s travel perks and the use or abuse thereof. I’d like to be able to tell my bosses that I hadn’t turned up to work today because my ancestors were killed in Auschwitz or had their land confiscated in Scotland. Fat chance.

Last week’s media furore over Hone Hawira’s outburst exposed a sensitive nerve in New Zealand’s psyche without doing anything to address either the ride we’re all being taken for when MP’s take their girlfriends beach hopping at our expense or the issue of the increasing poverty gap in New Zealand where young Maori are often at the bottom of the economic and educational heap.

None of my newly immigrated friends took any interest in the media mud-wrestling over Hone’s comments. If you’ve been to any graduation ceremonies recently you might see why. Look at all the honours degrees in engineering, medicine, sciences, architecture and design. Listen for the names and you’ll see that while Maori/Pakeha relations are still not able to get it together to address the problems we face, the newest arrivals are slowly and steadily working at simply getting ahead.

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Christmas has the ability to send me screaming...

Christmas, like weddings, has the ability to leave me rocking quietly in the corner singing nursery rhymes to myself. It seems so soothing compared to the psychotic ranting of tunes such as ‘Here comes Santa Clause!” or the cloying sweetness of Mummy’s adultery as she kisses Santa Clause, that are drilled at us at this time of year in every shop. In all the mayhem of work, kids, new projects, relationship maintenance (like car maintenance I seem better at the roadside breakdown than the daily upkeep) paying tax and trying to find something exciting to do with the egg, bits of tomatoes and the tube of wasabi that is left in the fridge at 5:30pm – I somehow forgot about Christmas.

Then it happened. The girls at pak n save started appearing with Christmas tree earrings. I screamed and ran.

That wasn’t all. The girls in Whitcoulls had Christmassy headbands and the Santa Clauses on the wrapping paper were leering at me.

How could this happen so fast? Christmas – like most military campaigns must be organised and survived – preferably with no homicides and Mum not in the psych unit muttering about how the chestnut stuffing didn’t come out right. I’m not prepared and nothing is done! Kids need a present that will let them know you noticed something about them in the last 6 months and that the universe is basically on their side but not so much stuff that they go nuts and then drown in a sea of paper without even thanking anyone.

There are random Uncles that need to be avoided or another cunning plan to put Aunt Myrtle off making her 70’s gelatine ice Christmas pudding without telling her that it actually tastes like pigs trotters with raisins thereby taking away the one gift that she was convinced she had to give the world. There’s family politics with no speaker of the House to referee and then there’s the whole food deal thrown in on top. And in a recession.

Somehow Christmas – which is supposed to be a time of rest and inner refurbishment was looking more like a trans-tasman crossing in a bathtub.

Just as I tried to suppress my inner Grinch and reach deep… deep inside to find some unscroogelike sense of a Christmas spirit the shop assistant went and broke this Grinchy camel’s back. About to finish the transaction – allowing the possibility of a tantalisingly close escape to the tinsel free fresh air outside she said cheerily – with her reindeer headband bobbing delicately in the headlights of my incredulous stare “ Would you like any of our Christmas Specials!!!! on our Christmas Specials!!! table for $15?” The Christmas Specials Table!!! was a hodge podge collection of stuff that had nothing to do with Christmas and may as well have had a large sign on it which read “ Here is lots of crap that we can’t sell but hope you will be hypnotised into buying by the reindeer headbands our staff are wearing.” Strangely I could hear the theme song of the deer hunter and I was personally glad and indeed relieved that I was unarmed – because the day could have turned out very differently for all of us.

Christmas should not make one homicidal I thought driving home – it’s a time of miracles and hope and…financial hangovers and familial warfare said the inner Grinch. But lo, what is that on yonder horizon? (ok… down my driveway?) Is it not a modern Christmas miracle? The neighbours have between them mown my lawn and my Mum has left a Christmas cake in my deep freeze. ‘Un – iced’ she says… which is probably wise seeing as the last time she left me to ice a Christmas cake – I found the icing and the Santa and the reindeer… and then my brother’s old tin soldiers and a bottle of red cochineal and the cake became…well… Santa’s last stand at the North Pole – a Yuletide military operative in Afghanistan that had ended badly, in icing.

Thanks guys – you’ve restored that festive feeling!

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Pope Brian and the Empress of Everything

Pope Brian. It has a nice ring to it.

When I declare myself Empress of Everything – which should be a piece of cake seeing how easy it is to become a bishop these days I shall declare Brian my main man and he shall go forth and conquer vast continents – set up shop (or church) and systematically rape and plunder on my behalf and send me back the loot. He has that pioneering spirit and if it weren’t so last millennium I’d give the idea some serious thought. Although I suspect he might be rather high maintenance – by the time the populace of his conquered domains had offered the pre requisite ‘surprise’ gift giving to his Popeness there might not be enough loot left over for moi – which obviously is the whole point of the exercise. And that cargo cult mentality can get so draining – even for an empress.

Sure, they’ll give me their houses, sons and a short brutish life of unending labour but in the end I’ll still have to come up with the beads and blankets. Just like Brian will. There’s a lot of talk of abundance and entitlement in Tamakiland - any person coming from a developing country may be forgiven for wondering where greed and the story about the fat guy and the eye of the needle comes in, although I have just heard that Bishop Brian is building a religious theme park in west Auckland with a giant upside down needle buried in the earth so that he’ll be able to get his 4 wheel drive and fishing boat right through it. Kidding. Brian, please don’t put a Christian fatwa on my head. I’m really not getting in your face – I might find that difficult what with the Tsunami-like hairdo and all those body guards. Going into exile can be so tedious but I would have to if you do that silly haka and hair gel thing you boys do outside my door day and night. And while we’re on the subject of intimidating; Boys, (and it does seem to be all boys) how hard is it to point to a car park on a Sunday morning? You do not need an earpiece and a walkie talkie. One could almost be forgiven for thinking many of your new Spiritual Sons had swapped one gangland culture for another. Instead, as punishment for my heresy you can explain to me the error of my ways on the next $40,000 cruise you take. I promise to take notes. Other religions don’t seem to suffer from the obsession with loot that you TV Christian evangelists seem to. Buddhists don’t fixate on ‘getting more things’ – they will tell you life sucks, you’ll suffer – get used to it, go give your stuff to poor people. Harsh – yet fairly accurate. The nuns who despairingly guided me through my Hare Krishna years and ate half a mouldy apple for lunch, weren’t real big on ‘abundance’ either. They spent their lives in service to God by being in service to the whole of our grubby, seething, endlessly needy humanity. I made fun of them then, but had a huge begrudging respect for those feisty upholders of social justice. Asking an ex-prison warden who the toughest person on Paremoremo’s notorious D block was in his 25 years experience, he answered, surprisingly, ‘a 5 foot zero nun who ran their social services’. Those old girls really walked the talk.

With Bishop Brian, I see only talk and way too much hair product. I don’t see a lot of real sowing or serving. Other than the serving of self variety. I hear him preaching the gospel of capitalism.
The logic goes ‘if you follow us and live right, (our way), and don’t have any gay friends you too will have a two door garage and a fishing boat just like self-made Bishop Brian. Can’t wait. The problem is – when life happens like Brian loses his millions in a property scam or his wife runs off with some guy called Lorenzo she met on the cruise ship or his sons turn out gay– would he ipso facto have lost his spiritual mojo or mandate? If Brian got poor – would Jesus (or his followers for that matter) still love him?

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I want my own TV reality show

I want my own TV reality show. The problem is, other than sending the six year old into space in a tin foil hot air balloon to get some media coverage I’m not sure how I’ll do it. She’s too old for the faux salaciousness of something like ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’ and too young to want to marry a millionaire – and I’m not sure I really need a psychopathic son in law to complete the family picture. That didn’t work out so well for the last girl that tried to marry the rich guy, when the producers left out the bit about him being completely bonkers and also prone to killing people.

Still, it’s a growing trend to live vicariously through our children and so last year to hope that they grow up to be the best than they can be rather than – well just to grow up on TV. Because TV makes everything real – it validates us in a way that real life in all its B side incompleteness just can’t compete with. I’m thinking ….maybe a cooking show will do it. It’s not like there are enough of those around. I could send a … (what’s the collective noun for hippies? A school of fish, a kindle of kittens…), a commune of hippies to get a job at the local meat works and make them cook something tasty out of tripe. There’d be a love affair amongst the off cuts and at least one would go nuts for the ratings. I could be the deranged host – I learnt to swear in real kitchens so that won’t be a problem and I could toss lots of fresh herbs randomly at things to satisfy the Jamie Oliver fans. I could take the girl out of school and get her to cook hedgehogs in clay and reply politely to the notices from the SPCA. It’d be educational. I’d just get the Latin to cook a traditional Argentine barbeque with all his mates – the first time he did that I came home from work and thought I’d walked onto the film set of some vegetarian porn movie – half a cow was roasting on my back yard and the calculations per guest were half a kilo of meat for women and a kilo for each bloke. Now that’s entertainment.

At the end of each show I could say “Three beautiful hippies stand before me but only one will go on to be New Zealand’s next Alison Holst”. I could look deep in their eyes and ask them if ‘they really want it’ – the chequered frock and slightly queenie hairdo and a winning way with scotch eggs that is, then stand back while they claw their way to fame by being evil and duplicitous to all their new housemates. Then once we have done a complete character assassination on each person with a board of my most trusted friends – we’d send them packing and laugh at them behind their backs while they can go home to their newly developed neuroses. Yup, reality TV has so much to teach small kids and adults alike.

I’m going to go with the adventure cooking beauty pageant queen idea. Dress the six year old in a pink cowboy suit with a tiara – tie her to a chair with a thousand helium balloons with all the ingredients to cook the hedgehog in clay wherever she alights. That surely has never been done before. There was a Brazilian priest awhile ago who tried the chair and balloon thing and he was last seen floating somewhere over the Atlantic and hasn’t been heard from since. We’d be a world first.

The problem with the Balloon Boy Dad is that he didn’t take the idea far enough. If he’d been really committed he would have let his kid get in the balloon. Anything goes in reality TV land. Even compromising the lives of small children. Just show me where to sign.

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Blokes Rejoice

Blokes rejoice. Finally it’s taken a Frenchman to point out what most of us really deep down know to be a fundamental truth. Births just go better without blokes. Michel Odent a leading childbirth specialist and veteran of over 50 years of baby catching summed it up by saying that having the fathers round at the time of delivery can lead to marriage break ups and mental illness. Well I could have told him that – but it’s great to have the expert back up.

I doubt there will be many males challenging him on this one because basically – if you give them a few beers and ask them what they really think you’ll find that most are well… just not that into it. Actually – if you ask most women what they think about childbirth you’ll find that many of us are really not that into it either. My birth plan involved a complex diagram of the Whangarei hospital with an intricate tunnel system leading to a getaway car outside and a series of cartoons of me escaping my biology and therefore my destiny. The midwife must have found this obvious state of denial tedious and suggested that seeing as the belly was likely to be coming with me I should possibly think about planning the birth as opposed to silly ways of avoiding it.

In South America it’s all that much simpler. Men are banned outright from the maternity ward for their tendency to deck anyone who goes anywhere near their women’s private bits which is often unhelpful for the obstetrician especially if he is male. They also shout a lot – which is just annoying for everyone. A point I should have considered when I insisted the Latin join the ranks of thousands of kiwi blokes and be my birth partner (like it was a privilege), instead of buying a case load of cigars and sending him packing with a bunch of blokes – which would have been the sensible choice. What were we thinking letting blokes into a delivery suite in the first place? It’s not like we haven’t survived ‘man flu’ – that is where we get a sniffle and they are convinced they have pneumonic fever just to outdo us. Deep down I knew the whole birth deal had a fairly high chance of going pear shaped after the first antenatal class which, foolishly, I made the Latin attend. Unfortunately this involved a very serious woman handing out a doll to all the blokes so that they could experience the constant pressure of having to breast feed and hold a heavy baby all day. She had only just finished telling them that they were all to treat the doll as if it were their own real baby for the duration of the class, when the Latin went and threw it head first in the nearest rubbish bin/toybox and wondered (out loud but luckily in Spanish) if all kiwi men were poofters and why were they all sitting round holding dolls. I was just hoping that no one was going to call CYFS and put us on their ‘to watch’ list. The second meeting involved pain relief massage which involved all the women being on all fours with the men kneeling behind us. Destined humiliation. There are a few things that are difficult at 8 and a half months pregnant. One of them is trying to knee your birth partner in the bollocks to get him to behave himself for 5 minutes while attempting to take a massage relief session seriously. The shame of being expelled from an antenatal class in a town you’ve spent 5 minutes in with all hopes of making any social connections dashed is only just diminishing 6 years later.

Later, during the tedium of birth I had time to reflect, as the Latin paced and ranted that he felt like decking someone - anyone, and that if he ever considered having another child I was to chop off his willy and feed it to the dog - and the midwife was trying to encourage me to translate everything he said so that we could all share in this amazing and life enriching experience; that perhaps those South American midwives had got it right the first time. When it comes to birth – it might just be better if all the blokes just buggered off. I’m sure they’ll be the first to agree.

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I hope aliens arent watching us

I hope aliens aren’t watching us. Because if they are – earth is about ready to be invaded. After NASA’s effort on Friday the aliens will have figured they won’t need to bother with mass extermination or enslavement that we’ll just get rid of ourselves fairly soon leaving earth free for the taking. After all… what kind of a species puts all it’s best brains and ridiculous amounts of money into driving a very fast vehicle into a slow moving object? On purpose? And on the very day that we honour our holy priest of peace – John Lennon by naming a moon crater after him.

They will have decided that we’re either all rabid or of a primitive culture that values random acts of vandalism. Surely there is a more peaceful and less invasive way of looking for water than ramming the equivalent of 20 zillion hydro bombs or whatever it was into the side of your nearest neighbour. Don’t NASA have spades? Our intergalactic neighbours are hardly going to be shaking out the ‘welcome’ mat if water was there anyway… I mean who would want us as their neighbour?

All the crowing headlines of the NASA moon bombing being a success defy all reason – I bet the very same people who issued the press release would have the first 15 year old found tagging their back yard fence thrown in the nearest jail despite themselves being guilty of graffiti on an intergalactic scale. I’m thinking McDonalds will be planting a big ‘M’ up there very soon once they’ve signed a deal with NASA over crater naming rights. And there’s the thing… who owns the rights to the moon? Who decided it was NASA’s to play with in the first place? Maybe there is a sect of moon worshippers in Bhutan who wish for it to remain intact – I don’t remember there being any UN conference on whether or not other nations might be annoyed that NASA was going round blowing up bits of our solar system.

What would happen if in those little bits of dust were found specks of gold or bits of uranium? Apparently one asteroid alone can contain trillions of dollars worth of resources. Who owns the mining rights in space? I know NASA was only looking for water in order for us all to go and grow organic veges there but wouldn’t it be interesting if lots of valuable resources just happened to show up too? Antartica – the last frontier for international colonization has had treaties governing mining issues and preservation of the environment for over a hundred years – surely the moon should be covered too. Actually – it is. We have a few space treaties but the fifth agreement passed by the UN ‘Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies’ was passed in 1979. This states that ‘the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind and that the use of the moon shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries irrespective of their degree of economic development.’ Obviously the US objected. The ‘common heritage’ bit kind of got in the way of huge dividends. In the UCLA Journal of Law and Technology it is suggested that there needs to be an international regulatory board to grant licenses to mine in space to get round that common heritage clause. That’d work. Sam Dinkin on his website ‘The Space Review’ shows in one deft sentence exactly how; “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty… we can bootstrap a private property regime by only granting a single US entity the right to exploit a certain tract on Mars. We will be expanding an American way of doing business into space.” Yay. Well – I guess it worked in Iraq with the security firms. It’s certainly worth a go.

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Farewell 3 Great Souls

We’ve lost some truly great souls over the last few months. Howard Morrison had his final curtain call and his send off became a national event. His talent as a singer was in some way eclipsed by his greater ability to cross cultural boundaries, bringing people and cultures together through his art; his funeral testimony to that. It was the first time I’ve heard a pakeha newsreader on TV one speak for so long in Maori on prime time without sounding like they’d just spent the last half hour practising and then had to madly race through it without having any idea what it meant. We seemed to be watching the first baby steps towards a genuine biculturalism.

In August, Alistair Campbell, arguably one of New Zealand’s finest poets died. Somehow it was comforting to know that the author of such great poems as ‘Wild Honey’, or, more recently ‘It’s love isn’t it?’, was still alive somewhere in New Zealand. I’d like to think that he and Baxter had a few on his arrival at wherever good poets go but also hope that his work, like Baxter’s, doesn’t get relegated to the odd NCEA exam or New Zealand anthology but instead, like the great Spanish speaking poets became part of our larger cultural heritage.
Mr. Campbell also knew a thing or two about living with different cultures. A boy from the islands, he came to Dunedin in the 1950’s to a boarding school having lost his mother at only eight. Antarctic or Himalayan survival stories fail to impress in the same way that the emotional survival story of the young Alistair does. He must have been the only Pacific Islander there, in a frigidly pakeha 1950’s world. Yet his work is infused with warmth and humanity and while he mastered the stringently academic English of his environment – his poems still manage to carry with them the na├»ve charm and lilt of the islands.

On Monday night the world lost another great soul – one perhaps who is not so well known here in New Zealand but who is being mourned all over South America and in many places in Europe. How a woman from such a poor dusty forgotten place as Tucuman in Argentina managed to record her work with everyone from Nana Mouskouri to Shakira and all the Spanish greats in between – who sold out Carnegie Hall in 2004 when she was already in her 70s and who managed to get the world’s very richest people singing poor peoples’ songs is testimony to her talent. Mercedes Sosa had a spectacular voice. I went to her come-back concert in Argentina in 1998 and watched her throw away her microphone when the sound system broke down. Instead of waiting for the technicians she carried on without it and, already ageing and in poor health her voice still filled the entire auditorium. From the cheap seats at the back her voice resonated around us until the entire audience was singing with her. She had the ability to cross cultural and class barriers and move people with the simple beauty of her art.

There are two excellent reasons to learn Spanish – one is Pablo’ Neruda’s poetry, the other would definitely be Mercedes Sosa’s songs. Exiled from Argentina in the 70’s after she was arrested on stage during a concert at a time when many artists were killed for protesting against the military regime of the times, she could have become one of the more than 30,000 ‘disappeared’. Instead, from the living death of exile her renditions of songs like ‘Como le pido a dios’(I only ask of God) and ‘Como la cigarra’ (Like the Cicada) became left wing hymns for whole nations in what must have seemed like a never ending struggle against oppression. They also became personal rallying calls long after the civil wars had finished, helping get people through their own hard times. ‘Gracias a la Vida’ her song thanking life itself for all the good simple pleasures is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever sung. Gracias Negra – I truly loved your work.

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Hannah Montana Must Die

The school holidays bring fear and delusion in equal measures. The fear of that moment you know is coming when play dough will no longer do it for them and delusion that I will somehow transform into one of those mothers that are… born. Not made. Those enviable paragons of parenting who can whip up a Megasaurous sculpture in a trice and then get their kids to write a script for it and create a quick special effects video to play back in the afternoon. The kind who manage to teach their kids all about universal compassion while making a batch of pikelets or get all the neighbours kids around to create a ukulele benefit concert. The kind that actually have a rainy day activities book and know how to use it. So far it hasn’t happened but I’m kidding myself that the deranged haranguing about tidying up the bedroom is just my way of building up to spending a quality day with my daughter creating our own special version of a Tibetan sand mandala.

The standards seem set so high for kids’ entertainment in the holidays. A rainy day activity used to be going down to the creek to see if any cows were floating upside down in it. For reasons obscure to me now this was endlessly fascinating and fun, perhaps because parents weren’t a feature of our random ramblings. It didn’t occur to anyone that kids should be entertained. Carefully instructed to avoid killing ourselves by drowning or making fires in hay barns, we dutifully and very happily buggered off for the day.

How did the whole school holiday deal get to be such high maintenance? This time I’ve set my sights lower – I have only one small but arduous mission these school holidays and I am by no means certain of a victory. In every mall, $2 shop, book stand and clothing outlet my nemesis awaits me. She smiles in that LA orthodontistly enhanced way knowing that eventually I’ll cave. I see her image on bedspreads, undies, pencil cases – band aids. But I’m staunch. I know that Hannah Montana must die. Or at least the marketing frenzy around her merchandising needs to quietly fade. No matter how much the adoring small person wants her… I will not feed the machine.

Hannah Montanna
Aimed at the very vulnerable pre-teens Hannah Montana’s marketing people know that you can pretty much sell anything to people who still believe in the tooth fairy. From tooth brushes to g-strings, dog’s clothes to ceiling fans (seriously!) Hannah Montana’s tweenie rockstar image is on them all – and small girls just love it. She’s nice, she sings and interestingly – in much the same way as we loved our school holidays for the lack of adult input, Hannah Montana’s TV world is almost entirely parent free – maybe that’s the attraction for the small person. While the Latin has likened my TV censorship to something the Taliban would aspire to, I didn’t have Hannah on my list of most unwanted. Until that is, I heard the six year old humming along to one of Hannah’s tunes which went: “Grab a little Gucci bag, and some Prada shoes, here take my credit card… they’re all here to wait on you… D and G on every wall… that’s ok… just buy them all.” No wonder some American economists are crediting a 15 year old girl with heading off the recession with her movie release.

Quite what relevance the Hannah Montana ‘package’ has to young girls growing up in Northland or for that matter what message she sends to young boys about what being a girl means is beyond me. But there is help. Drowning in a sea of merchandise having googled ‘Hannah Montana’ I typed in; ‘I hate Hannah Montana!” and accidentally pressed ‘search’. I am far from alone. There are support groups, counselling and Montana merchandise rehab. Viva la Resistance!

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I still walk away!!

The universe is sending me signs – once I may have thought that this meant I had stepped over the boundaries of reality and was deep in magical thinking territory – just a stones throw from nutsville, I now know that it’s just the Law of Attraction (LOA!) working.

The Universe sent me an email last week (even the universe has upgraded – it used to deal in seers, angels and crones) to go to a life enhancing seminar. It told me I was a money magnet and could attract anything I wanted to me. I wondered if a toy boy and obscene wealth were inappropriate things to be willing into my orbit at this point in my life.

I decided not and went along. I have a murky history with new age stuff. I once spent an evening trying to get a friend out of a new age cult where they stroked auras and changed their names to will into their lives the qualities they wished to attract. Apparently they could sense bad vibrations on me – well, ‘Chastity’ could. She said I needed to cleanse the room which I did, all the while thinking she was wearing an awfully short skirt and rather a lot of make up to be willing much that was chaste into her life. She gave me a bell and a ribbon to cleanse with. It was like Bad Jelly got the role of Tinkerbell in the school play – I swished ribbons and tinkled bells while giving my mate the vilest looks I could muster without actually getting myself kicked out and ever since have been slightly allergic to the word ‘vibrations’. Which is a pity, because the Law of Attraction operates on the idea that the vibrations we emit is what we attract back into our lives.

Vibrations equals emotions, so Chris Prime told us, and if we put good vibrations out into the world we get good stuff back – bad vibrations – you guessed it we get only a life of interminable excrement. At this point I was hoping there was no one in the audience whose partner had died or who had a child with cancer – grief tends to do a great job of guilt tripping anyway without suggesting that somehow they attracted all the bad juju into their lives. Although, in a funny way that’s comforting too because if you convince yourself you were somehow responsible for an unfortunate event then by behaving in certain prescribed ways you can avoid it ever happening again. It’s why all great fascist states indulge in victim blaming – it makes the populace so much easier to control, or that much more tempted to buy into an expensive ‘empowerment course’ – for example. Apparently it is only doubt that stops us from achieving anything.

Whether or not the Law of Attraction will provide a passing hot air balloon if I decided to fly from the Harbour Bridge is a factor of my doubt but in my case the Laws of physics would undoubtedly get in the way first. Suggesting to terminally ill people that they are somehow responsible for their illness seems unkind if not entirely irresponsible to me. But if you really believe in the Laws of Attraction you will know that there is no such thing as incurable disease. It is only doubt that prevents us from healing ourselves. I got that from their website. Except the part where life itself is, by its nature, … incurable. We all die. Which is how I came to the sudden and terrible realisation of what my daily mantra actually is. And it’s not: “I love having millions in the bank” as Chris suggested.

Somehow I have taken into my heart the lovely Chinese man on the 30 Seconds TV advert as my new age spiritual leader and I find myself looking at difficult situations and people and thinking “I walk away!” When I come back later and find the situation or the person still incurably unbearable I find myself thinking “See? Still dying! I still walk away!”

I may not win the Polyanna Positive Person award – but it works for me.
Thanks Chris, but… I still walk away!

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Taking the Michael

Good old Barnaby Dixson. His academic career has just reached a cerebral climax and after years of difficult and intensive research he has had his eureka moment. And this is it: Men really can multi task. They can pretend to have a conversation with a woman while checking out her breasts and hip to waist ration in a nano-second.

Well; Duuh! C’mon Barnaby – the sole reason that mechanics adorn the walls of their workshops with unadorned boobs is because they know that breasts put blokes into a hypnotic trance for long enough to swipe the eftpos for 500 bucks when all that has been done are the spark plugs. Hardly the sort of stuff that wins Nobels.
barnaby dixson
Two things strike me as odd about this research:
1) wouldn’t the results have been more valid if the female subjects had been clothed? It’s pretty hard not to look at breasts when they’re jiggling all over the place.
And 2) who in the world funds this stuff? Apart from you and me that is.

I’m still waiting in feverish anticipation for the publication of Annamarie Jagose’s report on her study on the sex life of Aucklanders.
Remember her? This is an excerpt from Annamarie regarding the three year project only part of which was funded by a $150,000 grant from the Marsden Fund:
“My current research project is “Orgasmology,” a cultural history of the unique compactions of cultural meaning that have accrued to orgasm as well as the wide repertory of narratives that have taken orgasm as their figural vehicle across the twentieth century. In 2004, I was awarded a Vice-Chancellor's Strategic Research Development Award (2005-2006) to advance this research. Also as part of this work, I am currently a member of a collaborative University of Auckland team on a project; “Acts and Identities: Toward a New Cultural History of Sex.”

The report from that study will be out in a few months. I only hope someone can read it.

I had the dubious inorgasmic pleasure of being Annamarie’s student in the early nineties. I couldn’t understand a thing she said but in those times it was very unwise to say so – in the same way it would have been for young peasants in Maoist China to say that their leaders may have been talking utter bollocks. I vaguely remember writing an essay on phallogocentricism as an exercise in taking the Michael out of the language that we were bludgeoned with in those lectures. Convinced I would fail the essay, as I had absolutely no idea what the question meant and even I couldn’t understand what I had written, I would then be able to request that I be taught in a way more accessible for a westie farm girl. Appallingly – I got an A. I hadn’t so much cut through the non-speak as vindicated it. And I swear it wasn’t because I was looking at her breasts. It couldn’t have been because unlike the men in the first publicly funded study – I can’t multi task to save my life. The last time I tried it I lost my mobile phone. And found it 3 hours later – in the fridge.

Which is why I loved the findings from the Stanford University study last week that debunked the myth that woman are great multi-taskers. I have long suspected that this myth was created by blokes so that they could make the woman in their lives juggle 5 things at once while they reserved the luxury to do one thing exceptionally well. Leaving time to go and crack open a beer and watch the hapless multi-tasker go beserk when all the wheels inevitably come off at which point they lend some superior masculine advice.

When it comes to multi-tasking we are all equally useless - the knowledge of which may eventually make Barnaby Dixson’s study slightly more useful.
Girls: give a bloke a 5 second boob break - and then attempt conversation.
Remember – they can’t multi-task either.

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That thin green line

There’s something so comforting about the familiar – women go back to partners that beat them to within an inch of their lives because… it’s what they know and there’s a certain comfort in that, however self-defeating and dangerous. I feel the same way about Gerry Brownlee’s announcement that Department of Conservation land should be on the block as part of our latest get rich quick plan.

A blessed relief to get back to true National party politics after all this time, roll out the topographical maps and start talking… mineral resources. All that tinkering with allowing developers to cut down a few trees was a distracting sideshow so it’s reassuring to get back to business. And what a lot of business there is to be had. Billions of it according to some reports, on our seabed alone. Foreshore? For sure bro, it’s yours – if you can afford to buy it. That’s what’s so great about government owned assets – everybody gets a slice of the pie, providing you get invited to sit round the table when it’s getting carved up of course.

Sure there are a few pesky national parks in the way and some wowser is sure to whinge about a squished snail or fairy tern. Haven’t they heard about evolution? Surely if you’re stupid enough to have been born a slow moving invertebrate or make your nest where quad bikes rove then it’s your own fault if you disappear from the face of the earth. And Gerry is right – there are some excellent examples of mining companies co-existing with environmental responsibility. He used two of them in his address to the inaugural coal seam gas industry briefing in June this year where he discussed the tricky art of getting DoC people to give mining people easier access to conservation land. I would have thought people in the department of conservation would have been less than ecstatic at the thought of being the mining companies’ bum boys but according to Gerry they’re working hand in hand with Crown minerals to get the process underway.

Perhaps it was just the terminology that was the problem – when Gerry talks about gaining access to natural resources he is not talking about New Zealanders being able to appreciate the fecundity of our forests and wildlife by being able to walk and camp amongst it. Rather, he means – mining companies should be able to prospect where they please regardless of what or who might be living on top. Maybe they were agreeing to two completely different things, historically we’re pretty good at that. Gerry talked about Newmont’s Martha mine being a shining example of sustainability and I have to admit that after visiting their website I was convinced. Of course hard science was not a key factor in this conclusion but a mind boggling display of graphs and unintelligible squiggles, especially on their exit strategy for, well, 2007 had all the hypnotic effect of a Tibetan Mandela. The colours were pretty but I didn’t understand a thing. I’m sure Newmont have the people of Waihi and their environment at heart. Really. Although the shine may have worn off slightly for those people who lost their homes down a ruddy great hole eight years ago when a section of Waihi township subsided. That’s got nothing to do with the mine though. I know. Their PR people told me. As for using the example of Solid Energy agreeing to move an endangered snail population out of the way of a mining operation; that was …inspirational. Lets mine all over Northland! Move the entire kiwi population to somewhere with lots of native trees… like… Grey Lynn. That’d work. People love kiwis there – we could keep them in captivity until the native forests of Ponsonby grew back and then release the kiwi with white balloons and poetry readings by small children. That would leave us free to dig up all the stuff that’s sitting there under the useless wasteland of trees and retarded fauna and we could finally get back to the business of keeping up with the Joneses over the ditch. Without worrying about that thin green line that just keeps getting in the way.

Related Link:
Kiwis can speak out on mining

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Landlords Suck

Is it my imagination or are landlords unusually creepy?

Over a 15 year period of renting houses I came across some spectacularly bad examples of the species. There was the one who showed an unwitting couple through the house, while I was having a shower. He let himself in without knocking but popped into the bathroom to tell me to ‘relax and take my time as the couple wanted to see the downstairs first’. Nice. I wasn’t able to answer immediately as I was busy re-starting my heart - which he took as compliance. Caught with too many investment properties on his hands – the bank foreclosed and we, cash-strapped students were just part of the clueless stock take. We lost our bond which represented about 10% of our total annual income and he, not being a citizen, buggered off to wherever he’d come from. There were the ones who partitioned single rooms and rented out airless cupboards and the one who, seeing me 8 months pregnant said he was increasing the rent by 25% and didn’t think I’d have much to say about it seeing as ‘I wouldn’t be going anywhere soon in my state.’ Really nice.

I suppose I find landlords slightly disturbing in that they represent a return to a feudal past and the relics of an old class system that many of our fore-parents were fleeing but we seem hell-bent over the last few decades in trying to re-create.

There is an underlying tone of social superiority in many landlords of residential properties, regardless of how delusional it might be, that is intrinsically irritating. I came across this recently when a house nearby sold. I asked the buyer if she was moving in, thinking I was talking to my new neighbour whereby she choked in mock shock and said ‘I don’t think so – this is really only for a rental.’ Apart from the laughable snobbery of the comment it embodies a whole investment philosophy that is damaging in so many ways to the idea of forming any kind of cohesive society. It’s the gated community philosophy, a form of civil colonialism whereby you go out into the world and make money renting properties you wouldn’t live in, to people who can’t afford to buy them and keep the rent just high enough to make sure they never will. This road to wealth is so entrenched in the New Zealand psyche that there have even been companies named after it; “Wealth. Buy Property!” It was Wakefield in the early 1800’s who first decided that a colony would be much nicer for, well, people like him, if there was a group of landless labourers like Maori and a constant flow of new immigrants to do the work for them. Land, he said, should be of a ‘sufficient and high enough price’ to prevent these labourers from becoming landowners and going and wrecking the whole shebang by working for themselves. The rare few who managed to scrape together the capital to buy their own property could stand as the shining example to which workers could aspire, making it unlikely that they would ever complain – or revolt.

Which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that there is so much antipathy towards Russel Norman’s suggestion of introducing a capital gains tax on properties other than the family home. Logically it makes perfect sense – but psychologically we’ve all been sold the idea that we can win the lotto simply by buying residential properties and going into the people farming business. One day. And so we seem quite prepared to look at hiking GST which would undoubtedly hit low income families where it hurts – in the supermarket aisles, rather than forego the great kiwi dream. Where we might look to countries like Denmark where social cohesion and a generally happy populace are benchmarks for success, we’ve hitched a ride on the monopoly money investment property train on the caboose next to Iceland. The last time I checked they’d had to go to the Russian mafia to bail them out. And those bad boys are probably the worst landlords of all.

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I love my kid because...

It’s that time of year when those with small kids wonder if terrorists, in conjunction with drug companies have come up with a cunning plan to take over the world by ingeniously turning the small people into weapons of mass biological destruction. As they sneeze, drip and grizzle their way through a day when you should really be at work, there is always the excitement of a trip to the letter box to pick up the overdue bills and postcards from friends having fabulous times in exotic places, friends one notes sardonically, who were obviously more vigilant with the contraceptives.

Normal Mums, like the ones in nappy ads who spend their days in floral prints swinging their disease free offspring around them in a delirium of hormonally inspired happiness wouldn’t have to do what I’m about to tell you. Every minute is spent in archetypal mothering bliss.

For the rest of us, especially in winter, we need some reminding. Which is how I spent a morning, in between mopping mucous, writing The List.

It starts : I love my kid because…

  1. She’s listening even when you’re convinced otherwise. After a day of shouting at her not to draw all over herself and to find a piece of paper, in town the next day she marches up to a Black Power member with a full facial tattoo – plants her hands on her hips and says “My Mum says you’re not allowed to draw all over your face – find a piece of paper next time ok?”
  2. She reminds me not to make excuses. Having just been pulled over by a policewoman for a speeding infringement and mentally preparing to talk my way out of it, I wind down the window just as the small person pipes up “So… are you a boy or a girl?” And you know that you should just ask for the ticket before things can get any worse.
  3. She actually knows that the world revolves around her. It’s nice to be by someone who is the centre of the universe: ‘The moon! The moon! It’s following us!’ she says.
  4. She reminds me that charity really does start at home as she practices her new reading skills ‘Hungry and Homeless’ on the cardboard in front of a dishevelled looking boy on the street. I find that it is easy and non-confronting to support a family in Nicaragua but quite embarrassing to be sent home by a small person to make a ham sandwich for a boy living down the road. I draw the line at inviting him home to share her room.
  5. Her unwavering belief in the goodness of everybody puts my sceptical nature to shame. When asked what she would do if a stranger drove up and offered her a sweet if she’d hop in the car, she said… ‘Mmm I’d ask him if the lolly has any milk in it.” She’s allergic to dairy.
  6. After a fight she shouts at me ‘I hope Santa brings you a poo and a prickle for Christmas!’ and that actually is the worst thing she can imagine happening to anybody.
  7. Her unfailing ability to look on the bright side is the perfect refute to any Eeyorish tendencies. Coming out of A and E with two arms in plaster, sucking on the mandatory lemonade ice-block (which judging by her enjoyment of it is almost worth breaking two arms for) she looks at me, shrugs and says “It doesn’t mind Mum, at least I’m not an octopus!”

But most of all, I love her because, after a fight about clothes – from memory it was me not letting her wear her togs and a tutu to town in July, she told me “One day when you’re old, I will push you through town in a wheelchair with a yucky dress and lipstick on and everyone will laugh!” And I thought two things: A) She’s actually thought this through and B) She will be the one making the decision to put me in the retirement home, I should be nice to her while I can.

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Hone the Hitching MP

I like the idea of Hone Harawira the hitching MP. His idea of cutting travel costs round Tai Tokerau by hitch-hiking is one I hope lots of MP’s will be taking up. He’s been doing it for years he says and finds it a great leveller to be left in the dust when someone whizzes past in their flash car – something you’re unlikely to get sitting in the back of a chauffeur driven limo. There may be a few MP’s who might find it difficult to hitch round the country though and some that are particularly hard to picture standing at the side of the road. How long would it take Jenny Shipley to get a ride? Who would pick up Lockwood? And what would Paula Bennet offer the driver in the ‘70’s rule book of hitching? Gas, Grass or.. you get the picture.

Apparently Hone thinks John Key would have no trouble hitching his way round Tai Tokerau but wouldn’t have advised Don Brash to do the same. What advice could anyone give Melissa Lee on the motorway exit from South Auckland? But Hone’s right. There are very few times we get to meet MPs in a relaxed personal way without all the politicking. We may catch a glimpse of them powering through a vegetable market as John Key did here in Whangarei just before the election and then he’s gone and we’re left standing in the wake of his security guys. It’s difficult to get a sense of a politician as a person before we have to vote for them to represent our viewpoint in the public sphere. A few Prime Ministers ago (before they got guys who used to own Telecom and can buy and sell famous football teams to lead them), Thailand had a tradition whereby the Prime Minister would get up at 5am with the monks and sweep the streets for an hour before starting his prime ministerial duties. For Buddhists, sweeping has a deeper spiritual significance of metaphorically sweeping away the material ‘dust’ that clouds better spiritual judgement – a physical expression of a deeper metaphysical way of being in the world. And it was a great leveller – a reminder that we are all, despite any apparent transitory difference in status – just very small street sweepers in the great cosmic wheel.

Perhaps initiating a New Zealand tradition of hitching MP’s would offer the same insights. People, locked together in a small metal pod racing along a highway are free to talk and shift views in a way that would never happen in the ordinary world. About 20 years ago now I was hitching home from the Cape with an Australian friend and we got picked up on a dusty gravel road having lost all hope that there was anyone even alive in that part of the world. We or rather our driver started talking about the Treaty – something I knew nothing about. With all the confidence of the young and ignorant I entered into a rant about forgetting the past and moving on with the future. He jokingly said that he would train an underground army and take the land back anyway. I wished him luck finding camouflage gear in his size and hoped they came in stretchy bits over the puku area. He found this cheeky but funny and took us out to dinner. Which was great because we were hungry and had no money. Embarrased, we said we’d just share something, so he ordered a whole chicken with all the trimmings, put it on one plate and gave us two side plates. While he amicably talked on everything from the Treaty to catching tuna- both of which he seemed to know a lot about, I made a mental note to read up on both when I got home. Having already driven in a less than salubrious car for more than 6 hours he proceeded to drive a further hour out of his way so that he could drop us off at my parents’ house as he felt it inappropriate to leave two 20 year olds on the motorway at 3 in the morning. He got out of the car and kissed us both goodbye. “I’m sure I know you from somewhere” I said. “You can just call me Matiu” he said. “Matiu who?” I insisted. “Matiu Rata” he said.

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Blow up the Post Offices

“If this was India, you would all be running in the streets and blowing up the post offices.”

This is still one of my favourite lines from a teacher. An Indian professor of political science, commenting on our reaction (or rather lack of it) to a fundamental change in the way New Zealand operated as a state. From memory, that was the year Lockwood Smith promised he would resign if we ever had to start paying for tertiary education and Ruth Richardson seemed keen to take up where Roger Douglas had left off. You have to get the sing song accent, head waggling and the look of utter dismay to get the full effect – but I still find this line irresistibly hilarious and often use it while watching the 6 o’clock news.

Quite why the Indian postal service had to bear the brunt of political dissatisfaction still escapes me or what ‘running in the streets’ might hope to achieve for that matter but the fact remains that he was so right. He surveyed our complacency and what he obviously took to be borderline criminal political apathy and obviously wanted to shake us. We must have looked as full of youthful cutting edge political activism as your average bath sponge. And nothing much has changed.

As the MP’s travel and allowance perks have been revealed there has been a base note of quiet grumbling in the media but there’s been the same absence of any spontaneous running in the streets in protest. The average kiwi as a rule, is running so hard trying to pay the mortgage that there is little time for any blowing up of post offices or to worry where exactly all those tax dollars might be going.

When Roger the Dodger formed the ‘Association of Consumers and Taxpayers’ otherwise known as the Act party I don’t recall fleecing the taxpayer for every dollar you can get while being in office to be one of the policies. “I’m entitled” says Roger. Well, yes, obviously, but some are far more entitled than other public servants like nurses or primary school teachers. And we’re not talking a trip to Taupo either. We spent twice the average wage this year on Rodger and his wife to fund his duties as… well, a Poppa. But when exactly is a perk a heart-felt ‘thank you’ and when does it become old fashioned graft? Taito Philip Field after years in parliament obviously found the lines blurred a little and to be honest I almost felt sorry for him being the first MP to be convicted of corruption. If you’ve spent a lifetime soaking up a culture of tax-payer rip offs it must be sobering to find that there are consequences when the perks of the job are no longer technically legal.

As for Lockwood Smith’s assertion that ‘this place (meaning Parliament) chews up and spits out relationships and families’ – here’s the thing: so does the real world. Business people work long hours and commute, other people who serve the community, from school principals to doctors, work huge hours and their families just have to cope. In the ‘welcome to NZ’ pack, applicants are told the divorce rate is really high for new immigrants and to consider their decision carefully. It’s called life in the modern world. While a good MP will work hard and travel a lot in office that is what you sign up for when you put your hand up for the job, and taking away some of the more ridiculous perks like being paid to live in your own house might mean that only the right people sign on for the right reasons. This new found transparency does not go far enough – if we’re paying for it I’d like to know what we’re getting – like, for example, who paid to fly all those MPs to Lockwood’s wedding. As for any ideas of rewarding long service – I’m sure there are secondary school teachers in South Auckland who would applaud the idea after 30 years at the chalk face. I know Roger will listen. Failing that they could enrol in their local community education course; Explosives 101.

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Investor XXXX plus

If you’re going to make your money by being a person of easy virtue then you may as well make a decent living out of it. By lowering all the standards for immigration under the Investor Plus category our current immigration minister Jonathon Coleman has hitched a fetching red light outside our nation’s front door and put a big sign up saying ‘Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!’ We don’t mind who you are just show us your money honey. At least the immigration department will check good health and character at the door. For those of you who have had nothing to do with New Zealand’s immigration department and are therefore not on the floor laughing at that last comment; the only way that you can believe a clear police record or business references is when you accept them from people who don’t have any money. Only hard working immigrants who have no other option have to come up with the genuine article – everybody else just pays cash.

I once spent a year as an illegal alien in South America as a consequence of a diehard refusal to pay a bribe to the local immigration officers on the grounds that I had all my papers in order and I was legally working there. I wandered in shifts of yellowing paper, holding a full-house of documents standing in lines that sometimes went twice round the block being ritually humiliated by guys in uniforms whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to slouch and eat pizza. My case officer then ‘lost’ everything and I was told I’d have to start the process from scratch. (If you are thinking ‘yeah… only in South America’ the exact same thing happened in New Zealand when my partner applied for residency here.) Eventually, my boss in Buenos Aires got bored with my moral stand and the effect it was having on my productivity and went and bought a clean NZ and Argentine police record – or something that would be accepted as such, a doctor who would vouch for my vitality, paid the appropriate official and had my working visa within an afternoon – all without me even being there.

At least under the previous government the threshold for being allowed in the country – almost no questions asked, was 20 million. Now it’s 10 and while it may be true that Russian billionaires are feeling the pinch and cutting back on the Lamborghinis this year, there are around 4 million millionaires in the Asia Pacific alone with Latin America quickly catching up. Great! They can all invest in adding value to New Zealand’s resources and we’ll all benefit. Except – if I were an ageing millionaire and I wandered across a country with no capital gains tax and I could be an instant citizen, I know exactly what I’d do. It wouldn’t involve the hassle of employing too many people either.

We are systematically hard on the working poor whom we allow into New Zealand. We now require skilled workers like nurses and early child hood workers to have the same level of English that only a few years ago we required of psychologists and surgeons. And so we end up losing them to Australia or the States where there are lower English requirements and better pay. Yet many of these people are exactly the kind of hard working families that grow an economy and contribute to the community over the long term. Thinking that we are going to fix a slow economy by inviting rich people to stay with us for a couple of months in the year on the condition that they keep their money here for a paltry 3 years seems slightly shallow and more than a little desperate. In sourcing new immigrants it shouldn’t just be about the cash. When it comes to wallets… like a lot of other things… bigger isn’t necessarily better. Unless of course it really is just all about the money – in which case I guess you should just sell yourself off to the highest bidder.

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Narcissists And Other Wankers

Narcissist. We used to have another name for guys who showed the same behaviour that Clayton Wetherston did to his various girlfriends before he ended up killing the last one.

Something simple along the lines of a ‘supremely selfish auto-eroticist’.

You know the one. The kind of bloke that competes with his girlfriend instead of just being nice to her and an expert in steadfastly going about making her feel really bad about herself in order that he might feel a little better. I wonder why a young beautiful intelligent girl like Sophie … was attracted to him in the first place and why she ever bothered to stick around. Except – I know. We all know. Young women – irrespective of how ‘bright’ they are, often make really dim decisions about blokes unless they get really lucky or live a very sheltered life.

If I could meet myself aged 20 and the gaggle of ‘bright’ friends at that same age I know I’d want to go quietly out the back and bang my head against the wall regarding the men in our lives. Most of the choices we made back then were blinding in their stupidity if I were really honest. It just seems to go with the territory. Surely young women shouldn’t have to pay for those dumb choices with their lives – yet they often do. Sophie may have done something earth shatteringly appalling like… say her boyfriend had a small willy but I’m sure she didn’t say it 216 times behind a locked door while his mother listened.

In my grand plan to have arranged marriages entrenched in New Zealand law by the time my daughter is 18, I know that if I did a photo line up of nice guys with good jobs and threw a rogue in amongst them – someone who deals drugs for a living or who is a walking train wreck… chances are she’d go for the dog. Then she’d stay with him to prove that she can either a) change him b) turn herself inside out to please him or c) that she was right all along and that underneath all that drunkenness and cruelty he’s a really nice guy. Or maybe her generation will be much brighter than mine was.

Except - Clayton Wetherston supposedly was the nice guy with the good job. Something about the dynamic of the academically successful professor and his talented girlfriend has caught the country in a kind of compulsive obsession but there are plenty of other cases that seem to slip under the waves of stories of violence, never to be heard again. Mairina Dunn may not have had the glittering academic career but we will never know what kind of a woman she would have become because she was beaten to death by a dominating boyfriend at the age of 17. Her mother, Queenie Dunn made the brave decision to have an open casket funeral to show young women the consequences of staying one second too long with a violent man. Nathan Fenton had all the hallmarks of aggression but how do you help young women weed out the nice guys from the nutters especially when they could be dressed as your university tutor? For the little it’s worth – you could tell them this:

Just because he has a great job, a flash car and lots of money does not mean he is necessarily any nicer to be with than the heavy gang member on the run from the police. My Pop always said you judge a man by the way he treats the women in his life not by the car he drives. And he was a mechanic. The older I get, I realise; the righter he was.

If he ever makes you feel nervous, you just feel bad when he’s around or he wants to track your every move – then there’s only one thing to do. Flee. Flee my pretty. Flee.

Sticking with violent or possessive men is not so much an unpleasant walk on the wild side – more like a fast track to passing over to the other side.

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Dear Leader Wayne Brown

I love it when the big boys get petulant. Wayne Brown; Mayor of the Far North, went all hissy and then packed one because apparently Mr. Key doesn’t love him as much as our far more interesting Pacific neighbours. Last week the Prime Minister had Toke Talagi – the leader from Niue, saying that if he couldn’t have his pocket money RIGHT NOW no questions asked, he would go and ask the Chinese Premier for it. Calling in China to be your best playmate in the Pacific at the moment is like the teenage girl telling her Dad that it’s fine if he doesn’t want to give her money… she’ll just go and get some from the local drug lord. Key’s response was surprisingly ballsy to be fair… it was the equivalent of continuing to read the newspaper while the teenager stomps out and then nonchalantly calling ‘don’t come to me crying when you’ve been sold into slavery or you’re working in a P factory for your trouble.’

If it’s not bad enough dealing with stroppy foreign leaders saying they’ll get their new big brother, China, to back them up in the Pacific playground, Mr. Key has now got the Far North Mayor chucking all his toys out of his cot and doing exactly the same thing.

In Wayne’s world, he finds it supremely unfair that Niue has managed to gain about $7000 per head of population in aid. “Imagine what that would do for our roading network!” What he forgot to mention was that Niue has only got about 1,400 people left on it and it has a population growth of -2.4%. Why? Because they’re all coming to New Zealand. And not just from Niue either there are a lot of other islands in the Pacific so we may have to get used to squeezing up and sharing a little if global warming turns out to be more than just a theory. The aid that Niue will receive adds up to a measly mil – hey – our own council signed away a third of that in the time it takes Wayne to spit a dummy, for a group of boys pushing each other round a paddock with spiky boots on. When you’ve got family overseas – helping them become financially independent where they are is a much cheaper option than footing the bill once they’re on your doorstep.

Wayne is master of a wide dominion – much larger he asserts, than the land area of the many islands of the Pacific. Counting land mass and leaving out the messy blue bits is a bit silly in somewhere like Kiribati and I’m no geographer but the Pacific Ocean is a pretty large place and arguably strategically more important internationally than the tip of our fair land. There are also more people living there – about 13 million of them who, unlike the good people of the Far North have no one at all championing their causes. Wayne has concluded that going cap in hand to the Chinese for roads in Kaeo is ‘not a bad idea’ seeing as he has been visited by Chinese people who do love him. Like the Chinese ambassadors who made an official trip to the Far North District Council and the Governor of Lianing Province who officially hosted Wayne there. According to the Far North mayor, the governor of Lianing represents an impressive 42 million ‘subjects’ which makes him a potentially better option than NZ’s central government for getting what you want.

Geez Wayne, getting willing ‘subjects’ in the Far North may be tricky but it’s worth a go.

So here’s my suggestion: Ask the Guv’ for a few hundred million and build a giant canal at Hikurangi. The Chinese are great at canals and roads – and it is all about the roads right? New Zealand will cede the Far North as an independent dominion run by Wayne and administered from Beijing. The Dear Leader (otherwise known as Wayne) could make submissions to himself on how to run his territory on behalf of his loyal and loving subjects (nothing wrong there – not like it hasn’t been done before) and Wayne would maintain ‘unitary authority status’ over his 7500 beautifully tar sealed square kilometres. And then, his work done, he could invite Toke Talagi over for a beer and a catch up.

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Climate change

Climate change.

Wait! Don’t run screaming! If you’re in business or you’ve got a kid and wonder what kind of a place the world might be over the next 100 years you’ve got to have a go at working it all out.

What’s a girl to do? She asks her big business mates, making more than the GDP of small African states by digging up stuff and selling it – they tell her it’s all a big media beat up by the Fundamentalists or Eco-Nazis and this doom mongering is getting in the way of their mining endeavours.

As I enjoy all the benefits of the modern world and I have been lucky enough to have been born on a high volcanic island and not a small low lying atoll they suggest I lie back and think of carbon credits. And so I drive my car to the $2 shop to buy my child more plastic stuff that she neither wants or needs to take my mind off it. Until I remember some of these mates are already trying to buy the rights to dig more stuff up in land that is currently 6 metres under ice. Obviously they know things that I don’t, and then I remember I do know people with houses not only on small atolls but also in Byron Bay – well I did, before they fell into the sea.

So I go and ask my Fundy friends. From them I learn that global warming has already been foretold that we are now in the end days and that it’s just the precursor to the full scale burn up of Armageddon. They suggest I stop worrying about saving the world and just get myself saved and, by the way, their particular flavour of fundamentalism has got family passes to heaven and discounts on all the rides.

This is depressing because I like this world and their heaven sounds like God, Disney and Fonterra got together and made a theme park and I’m not sure I want to go there. Not feeling the rapture, I drive to the beach to collect pipis – before their shells dissolve due to increased acidity in the sea. There I meet some greenies catching and releasing pipis (they’re all vegans now) who tell me that my big business and Christian fundy friends are all eco-terrorists locked in a conspiracy to turn New Zealand into one big dairy farm and that we should raze the cities, wear clothes made from discarded seagull feathers and eat flaxseed and by the way, they’ve confiscated my car and now I have to walk home.

Nobody is making much sense so I decide to go and spend an evening sitting round the fire with Uncle G.

Gareth Morgan would make a great uncle because he is rich and interesting rather than the usual combination of rich, and boring.

Uncle G has done what any other government, multi-national or lobby group has systematically failed to do on what could conceivably be the biggest question to face humanity in the last 5000 years. He’s used his money, not to push his own barrow but to head hunt the best science brains and then referee the ensuing intellectual boxing match.

So what did I learn? Is the Co2 in the atmosphere going up? Yup. Are we doing it? Looks like it – it seems the atmosphere is now testament to our predilection for burning up fossil fuels. Does this mean the temperatures are going to keep going up? Don’t know. Wait and See seems a dodgy verdict but that’s as good as it gets.

What will happen if the Amazon forest disappears? Uncle G will turn it into a dairy farm (the one he currently owns in that area in Brazil gives a 16% return). Should I go fishing while I think about this? No point. Uncle G has already got all the fish, 241 groper I think he said – but he’s a fisherman – who can believe him?

The camps on climate change may still be poles apart but credit where it’s due.
I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do about any of this but Uncle G. has got me thinking – and that’s a lot better than just getting battered by the prevailing dogma of the day.

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