Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I got up very early this morning and went out to the letterbox to get the newpaper. As I turned to go back inside I saw this moon - hence the photograph.

I have two little books of Haiku. What strikes me about the Haiku I read in them is the great frequency in which the moon appears - this from a country (Japan) that has the rising sun on its national flag.

Haiku need to be read in a particular way - ".....For the Haiku does not make a complete poem in our usual sense; it is a lightly - sketched picture the reader is expected to fill in from his own memories. Often there are two pictures, and the reader is expected to respond with heightened awareness of the mystical relationship between non - related subjects."




Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Nor'wester In The Cemetery - William A Sutton 1950

This painting by the Canterbury (New Zealand) artist Bill Sutton has become an iconic New Zealand image. The cemetery is a montage of a number of cemeteries around Christchurch.
I remember growing up with this image and remember it especially when I was a Teachers Training College student doing Art as a major in my third year. This painting was in the permanent collection of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery and I made many trips there during those years.
The painting is very large and very compelling to anyone who has grown up in Canterbury and knows the strength and power of a Canterbury Nor'wester - It is a hot and furious wind, full of passion and drive. It's a wind that you either have to embrace head on or go and hide from. It's a wind that takes no prisoners. To lean into this wind with arms outstretched is to ask Mr Issac Newton some very hard questions indeed. Nor'westers have a unique gravity of purpose all of their own.
The Canterbury Nor'wester is part of a larger metrological three act drama.
It begins with what is called 'The Nor’west Arch' which is a band of high clouds which form an arch in the sky from one horizon to the next.
Next comes the wind. Wet laden air from the Tasman Sea drops its moisture on the west side of the Southern Alps in torrents before screaming across the Canterbury Plains with a ferocity that can almost set your hair alight - ah, to sail a small yacht successfully in such a wind is to feel like a Viking or an old Cape Horner. Who would condemn a small boy from shouting, screaming and whooping down the sailing wind on a day like this? Who indeed would hear him?
The finale is when the sideral fire of the hot nor'wester creates its opposite - The hot dry furnace wind, the hot dry plains create a gigantic vortex of hot rising air which sucks in from the south a southerly buster of cold air which arrives with its own set of atmospheric fireworks. Trundling up from the south comes a huge mass of grey clouds, often with towering anvil like features that reach the moon. Then with a sudden Blitzkrieg this southern monster is unleashed - the temperature plummets, anything not tied down that was spared by the nor'wester now becomes airborne and the wind and the rain envelope the land with such a ferocity you can hear old Noah chuckling.
Many a time I watched all this through a rain lashed window with eyes shining because I knew; I knew it meant a backyard hugely flooded. It meant raincoats and gumboots and small homemade model boats sailing, and participation in the gumboot challenge i.e. - See how long you can keep the insides of your gumboots from being flooded - (world record about one and a half minutes).
Here is what prompted this post about the Canterbury Nor'wester. It's a poem by Brian Turner:

Affecting without affectation, like the sere hills
then the early evening sky where Sirius dominates
for a time, then is joined by lesser lights,

stars indistinct as those seen through the canopies
of trees shaking in the wind. There's this wish
to feel part of something wholly explicable

and irreplaceable, something enduring
and wholesome that suppresses the urge to fight....
or is there? Ah, the cosmic questions

that keep on coming like shooting stars
and will, until, and then what? All I can say
is that for me nothing hurts more

than leaving and nothing less than coming home,
when a nor'wester's gusting in the pines
like operatic laughter, and the roadside grasses

are laced with the blue and orange and pink
of bugloss, poppies and yarrow, all of them
swishing, dancing, bending, as they do, as we do.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Thoreau Would Have Approved



To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable; and
wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think
quietly, talk gently, act frankly... to
listen to stars and buds, to babes and
sages, with open heart; await occasions,
hurry never... this is my symphony.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cold Duck And Subjective Experience

There was an alcoholic beverage that for a brief period was very popular amongst High School and University students in New Zealand during the late 1960s, early 1970s. It was a sweet sparkling wine with the inexplicable name of “Cold Duck”. It was initially popular for one reason only – It was very cheap. It became very unpopular very quickly with many people when it was found that not only was Cold Duck cheap, but it was nasty as well. Some unkind people compared the taste to the dregs from a wine tasting spit bucket.

However this wine continued to make an appearance at parties and gatherings at the places I haunted during those years, its cheap and nasty persona vying no doubt with that notion that cheap and nasty can morph into affordable and mellow if you drink enough of it – As they say, “After the fourth glass who can tell what the forsooth it is and who forsoothing cares? ”

Today I purchased a March/April 2010 copy of the magazine Scientific American – Mind. On page 30 I read this:

“In 2008 Hilke Plassman, now associate professor of marketing at INSTEAD Business School near Paris, sneakily switched the price tags on bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. For some it was at $10, for others at $90.
 Would the difference in price be reflected in a difference in taste? It sure would.
 Volunteers rated the $90 bottle considerably more drinkable than the $10 bottle – even though both bottles, unbeknownst to them, contained exactly the same wine. And that wasn’t all. Subsequently, during a functional MRI scan Plassman found that this simple sleight of mind was actually reflected anatomically, in neural activity deep within the brain. Not only did the “cheaper” wine taste cheaper and the “dearer” one, well, dearer, the supposedly more expensive wine generated increased activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that responds to pleasurable experiences.
 Similar results have also been found with experts. In 2001 cognitive psychologist Frederic Brochet ………at the University of Bordeaux in France, took a midrange Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One was labeled as a splendid ‘Grand cru’ the other as a ‘Vin du table’
 Would the wine buffs smell a rat? Not a chance. Despite the fact that, just as in the Plassman study, they were actually being served the same vintage, the experts appraised the different bottles differently. The ‘Grand cru’ was described as “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” whereas the ‘Vin du table’ was evaluated less salubriously – as “weak, short, light, flat, and faulty”

“So what ?” I hear you ask as you quaff your own version of Cold Duck or Grand Cru as you read my splendid and riveting Blogpost.

Well, it raises questions relating to subjectivity and objectivity.
If  one can be persuaded (by the price, dining companions opinions, the wine waiter) that Cold Duck in a bottle with a $200 price tag is really worth that price and that if that worth is registered as delicious deep somewhere within ones brain, it begs the question as to what exactly is the relationship between subjective / objective reality / experience.

It also begs the question as to what might the wine connoisseurs opinion be of Cold Duck served up in a bottle with a serious sounding label such as Layfette Aldonis Vintage 1953.

Of course all of this sparks my entrepreneurial appetite, whets my international trading juices and my number 8 wire ‘Can Do’ Kiwi spirit. I have a plan. I will of course become a multimillionaire – Yes you guessed it – A few million bottles of Cold Duck – a few million empty bottles with expensive sounding labels and a bottling machine – don’t know why I didn’t forsoothing think of this sooner.
In no time at all I will have enough money to purchase the Heineken factory........ now there’s a drink the connoisseurs surely wouldn’t mistake amongst all the wine tasting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Sublime And The Slightly Ridiculous

Molesworth sheep station lies on a rough old secondary road that travels through high hills and mountains between Blenheim and Hamner Springs in a rugged area at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. The road is only open during the summer period for a few months. I explored this area a few months ago with my brother Christopher in his Camper Van. We not only drove through the main area from top to bottom and back again [The area that is accessible to all robust cars and camper vans (too rugged for caravans which are not allowed) ] but also drove a southern section of the road which is only possible by four wheel drive vehicle.
The landscape in this area is stark, rugged, beautiful and silent. The road winds its way through hills that change colour with the light - blues, purples and the mellow glow of golden tussock. The sky is very big and the stars at night look brand spanking new. River flats of waving tussock, braided rivers, hills almost like moonscapes come and go during the day. We stopped from time to time to look and to listen. The deep silence has its very own set of soft percussion instruments - the wind in the tussock, the sound of cicadas in the distance, the noise of a seed pod bursting somewhere. All kept in time to the beat of a relentless sun.
Two things can help to get close to something - time and contact. Driving through an area cocooned in a car is one kind of experience,  we did this, but to get closer to this landscape we parked and camped at one end of the Molesworth Station at a Department of Conservation camping ground and spent a day cycling about 40km of the southern part of the road. The experience was sublime. It's that experience we have all had from time to time if we are wise. Its simply to go into an area of wilderness and take the time to look, listen and feel the scale of it all. This scale puts all sorts of things into perspective. I guess without wanting to get too carried away I would say that it was a sublime spiritual experience.
Of course while God (whatever the hell that word means) is making her presence known in impeccable ways. The humans in the landscape are doing what comes best - being slightly ridiculous - let me explain:

It would dovetail really well with my previous blog posting to tell you that ridiculous things happen to me in threes, but I would be telling a porky if I did. No, for me the number is always legion. But for reasons of symmetry and to guard my sensitive ego I shall only tell you about three of them.

One of the main attractions for me in doing this trip was that I would be able to bike through parts of it. I learnt a lot about the merits of cycling in The Netherlands - and the main point is that you really, really do interact in a much more exciting and personal way with the environment when you are truely close to it.
 - Its the difference between winning your way to windward through spindrift towards a safe harbour on a beautiful little yacht called 'Crackling Rosie' as opposed to motoring there in an ugly fat launch called 'Fatmans Gin Palace' spewing diesel fumes everywhere - - So when it came time to put the quick release wheels back on the bikes and saddle up I was disappointed to find that a nut off the back axle was missing. The wheels had been stored in a cardboard box (with a large hole in the bottom) and had been loaded in and out of the back of the camper in various camp sites all the way from Auckland. To say that I was disappointed is well a bit of a porky - I was furious, and got angry - well angry as in throwing a mild tantrum, Ok, Ok, a fairly large tantrum, but being a sensitive new age guy I  stopped as soon as Chris started to take a photograph of me.
I was pretty sure that for me the cycling was over before I had even begun. I couldn't see where we were going to get such a strange little nut with such a curious little thread. BUT find one we did - we took one of four nuts and bolts that held the carrier on the back and before you could say "Nick knack paddy whack adult tantrums are so immature and make you look and sound like a really sad bastard" my bike was ready to go. NOW here is the interesting bit. A couple of days later when we were parked up at a former place in a previous camping ground the axle nut with its little black plastic end was found by my brother, "Hey, he shouted, come and take a look at this! " - I held it in my fingers in disbelief - a nut, returned to a nut - how appropriate I thought.

The second and third interesting things happened to me at the southern Molesworth station camping ground. After a long day cycling I went down to the Clarence river for a much needed wash. I took with me a bottle of green Palmolive Dish Washing Liquid as we had both forgotten to bring any shampoo with us. I thought that if this stuff gets dirty dishes squeaky clean then it will do the same for my hair. I stripped naked and plunged into the icy snow fed Clarence river. It was invigorating and refreshing after having spent the day cycling in 30 degree heat - The Palmolive liquid didn't turn my hair green, in fact it worked a treat, and as I was plunging myself under and telling myself what a fine, intelligent and oh so adaptable fellow I was............

(Dish washing liquid! pah! when I am cycling the Gobi Desert I shall scrub myself with sand ! I am such a hardy and redoubtable character)

..............I felt something bite me very very hard on my right foot ---- Don't try and imagine this, protect yourself, pass over this bit quickly --- a slightly overweight white man runs stark naked, stumbling over slippery boulders, leaving a comet trail of white fluffy dish washing suds behind him... out of the river... a pretty sight? not at all, but I wish someone had had a camera, the photo would have looked really, really good alongside any of Lady Gagas' photos.
As I reached the river bank I turned and saw a large black eel swimming away. It had bitten me very hard and when I looked down at my foot it was bleeding. Later on I showed the wound to the DOC Ranger at the camping ground and he said, "Yes, thats an eel bite, see the pattern of the rows of teeth, lucky it didn't bite a chunk out of you."
That night I had a dream. I was on a large stage. The music was raging. Fireworks were going off in every direction. I was dancing with Lady Gaga, who I could see was outraged that my dancing was upstaging her. She was in a blue leotard - I was naked, limping and holding a nut in my hand.

--- None of thats true of course, I made the dream up - but it adds a nice end symmetry to the story don't you think  :-)

Friday, March 12, 2010

One Plus One Plus One Equals Three

This blog post has come about because I used an introductory line - 'There is an old adage that states: "Things usually come in threes" '  as I began to write a blog post about a recent trip to the South Island with my brother [Next blogpost folks]. I googled the adage and found the results so interesting that I am using what I found as a blog posting in its own right.


3 Billy Goats Gruff
3 Coins in a Fountain
3 French Hens (song)
3 Days of the Condor
3 Alden look-a-likes if I had been born an identical triplet
3 Bones in the Human Ear
3 Miles in a League
3 Old King Cole's Fiddlers
3 Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, Anne)
3 Goals in a Hat Trick (hockey)
3 Little Pigs
3 Bears in Goldilocks
3 Sheets to the Wind
3 Times a Lady
3 Minute Egg
3 Piece Suit
3 Feet in a Yard
3 Books in Lord of the Rings
3 Ring Circus
3 Ships of Christopher Columbus
3 Sheets to the Wind
3 Books in a Trilogy
3 Witches in Macbeth
3 Heads on the Dog Cerberus
3 is the number of  times you need to tell Alden stuff to make it really sink into his thick head
3 Little Kittens They Lost Their Mittens
3 Wheels on a Tricycle
3 Stooges
3 Blind Mice
3 Wise Men
3 Legged Race
3 Ring Circus
3 Wheeler
3 Point Landing
3 Strikes & You're Out
3 Cornered Hat
3 Is A Crowd
3 Dimensional
3 Faces of Eve
3 Mile Island
3 Musketeers
3 R's
3rd time's a charm
3 Bee Gees
3 Branches of US Federal govt (RIP)
3 Sides of a triangle
3 Capitals of South Africa
3 legs on Aldens trousers when he wants to do a rendition of Rolf Harris's song "I'm Jake the Peg with An Extra leg, diddle, diddle, diddle dum" ( Its ANZAC cultural inhouse knowledge)
3 Races in the Triple Crown (horse racing)
3 Angles in a Triangle
3 Cousins of Donald Duck: Huey, Dewey and Louie
3 Dog Night
3 Ring Circus
3 Alous (Matty, Jesus and Felipe)
3 Kennedys (John, Robert and Teddy)
3 Trimesters in a Pregnancy
3 Flavors in Neapolitan Ice Cream
3 Bean Salad
3 To Get Ready (and four to go)
3 Stars in Orion’s belt
3 Parts To An Atom: protons, neutrons, and electrons.
3 Caloric Sources: Carbohydrates, Fats, Proteins
3 Quarks in a Baryon.
3 Primary hues in white light red, green, and blue.
3 is the number of classes of yachts Alden has owned, cruised and raced extensively - a 7 foot P Class, a 13 foot OK dinghy and a 30 foot Keeler - not a 3 hulled trimaran amongst them.
3 Parts to the Personality: Id. Ego, super-ego
3 Earth Divisions: Core, Mantle, Crust.
3 Rock Formations: Igneous- Metamorphic- Sedimentary.
3 Times A Lady
3 Bags Full in Baa Baa Black Sheep
3 Barleycorns in an Inch
3 Hands on a Clock (with the Seconds Hand)
3 Is a Crowd
3 King Lear's Daughters (Regan, Goneril and Cordelia)
3 is usually the number of wheels left on Aldens jacked up car as he changes a punctured tyre (he's no fool)
3 Colors in the Flag
3 Legged Race
3 Men and a Baby (movie)
3 Minute Egg
3 Card Monte
3 Great Pyramids at Giza
3 on a Match
3 legged race
3 Point Basket
3 Miles in a League
3 Men in a Tub Rub a Dub Dub
3 Holes in a Bowling Ball
3 Balls on a Pawn Brokers Sign
3 Colours in a Set of Traffic Lights
3 Lines in a Haiku Poem
3 Life lines in Who Wants to be a Millionaire
3 Leaves on a Shamrock
3 Minutes in a Boxing Round
3 Scruples in a Dram
3 Teaspoons in a Tablespoon
3 Valves on a Trumpet
3 Shakes of a Tail
3 Megajoules in a Kilowatt Hour
3 Laws of Motion
3 Legs on a Milking Stool
3 Monastic Vows (Poverty, Chastity and Obedience)
3 Points for a Field Goal in (American) Football
3 Penny Opera
3 Ring Circus
3 Wise Men, Casper, Melchior, Balthasar
3 Tenors (Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti)
3 Gorgons (Medusa, Stheno and Euryale)

3 Greek Fates Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos
3 Roman Graces: Aglaia, Euphrosyne, Thalia.
3 Parts to a Chimera: Lion Head, Goat Body, SnakeTail
3 Roman Furies Alecto, Megaera, Tisiphone
3 Greek Harpies: Aello, Ocypete, and Celaeno.
3 Times Peter denied Christ.
3 Body Types: Endomorph, Mesomorph, Ectomorph
3 Ring Notebooks
3 is the number of car engines Alden has managed to stuff in his lifetime so far - Triumph Toledo (clunk, clunk, clunk, stop, completely fucked, happy car wrecker dealer) - Mazda 626 (overheated, warped the head, needed head planed, expensive, bugger) - Honda Accord (broken cam belt, bent all the OHC valve thingies - new engine and I drive off to Peter Paul and Mary singing "when will they ever learn, when will they eeeeeevvvvverrrrr learn)
3 Notes in a Triad (chord)
3 Bases in a Codon
3 Domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucaryota
3 Germ layers: Endoderm, Mesoderm, Ectoderm
3 Species of Homo: Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens
Cu*m Laude, Magna Cu*m Laude, and Suma Cu*m Laude
Frankencense, Gold and Myrrh
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Hegel’s Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis
The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
Of the People, By the People, For the People
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
Veni, Vidi, Vici
Faith, Hope and Charity
Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Paper, Rock, Scissors
3 is the number of prongs I had on my eel spear when I was a young whipper snapper eeling in the creek behind my house at good old Pages Road - hold the thought about eels, a blog is coming your way soon.
Peter Paul and Mary
Winken, Blinken, and Nod
Snap, Crack, and Pop
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Small, Medium and Large
Alvin, Simon and Theodore (chipmunks)
Ready, Aim, Fire
On Your mark, Get Set, Go
Alden Raymond Smith
* And here's three cheers to you if you have managed to read through the list to the end without falling asleep :-)


Monday, March 8, 2010

Where Is The Real World?

Enchantment - Dorit Braun

I have been reading a book by the American founder of the Humanistic Psychology movement and father of client - centred therapy, Carl Rogers. This post is based on a chapter in his book - A WAY  OF BEING.

I am sure you have seen this cliche scene in a movie - someone suddenly sits bolt upright in bed with a wild eyed look in their eyes. Its always either a moment of terror or a Eureka moment. Well that scene is a metaphor for a sudden mental realisation that dawned on me. Let me explain:

A dear friend of mine commented on a blog I had written on this Blogspot. He took apart my convoluted logic regarding my subject of 'Common Sense'. He slayed my incisive repartee, my stupendous intelligence (always modestly alluded to by me of course), my huge instinctive,  inspired logic which in a very spare 4 million words I had outlined a momentous epochial idea that I felt would surely change the course of human history and win me a Nobel Prize - and he contradicted my thesis with just nine words.

He said: "Common sense tells us that the world is flat".

He is Wright of course: And when we put to one side our "Common Sense" and re-examine some of the perceptions given to us by our five senses we are left with the question: Where or what exactly constitutes reality?

The fact is "common sense" can give us a false idea about many things. As I lie in the cockpit of my small yacht in some safe anchorage and stare up at the high wheeling sideral light of the stars for hours at a time and watch the Milky Way slowly rotate around me I could let 'common sense' tell me that the whole cosmos has me at its centre. Yet the fact is we are all on board spaceship earth that is hurtling through space at 108,000 kilometers (67,000 miles) an hour.

If my ego and sensibilities have been rocked by not being at the very centre of the universe, 'common sense' tries again and tells me that as I lie on deck viewing the stars surely I can be sure of the reality that the deck beneath me is solid and unmoving except for the gentle sleepy rocking of a happy yacht in a safe harbour. Wrong again! The deck of the yacht is indeed at the Macro level stable and solid, but its underlying reality at the Micro level is extraordinarily different, i.e:

A yachts deck is made of atoms. The extraodinary fact about the atom is that not only is the atoms core (which is made up of protons and neutrons) in constant motion but the electrons that surround an atoms core are a great distance from that core - If we made a scale model of an atom with the nucleus of the atom (protons and neutrons) the size of say a small soccer ball - the orbit of the first electron in this scale model would be nearly 11 miles (17.5 km) from the nucleus - the atom is almost 99.9%  free space. Does common sense come to my aid in developing a complete picture of the true nature of reality? I don't think so.

If we shift to the interpersonal world  looking for some reassurance that our common sense deductions regarding those around us can be relied on we are again in for some more surprises.
Carl Rogers states: "But at least in the interpersonal world, I know my family and friends; this knowledge is surely a solid basis on which I can act. But then my memories trip me up. One needs only the simple occasion of a softly facilitated encounter group, where permission is given to express oneself, to discover how shaky our interpersonal knowledge is. Individuals have discovered in their closest friends and family members great realms of hidden feelings. There are previously unknown fears, feelings of inadequacy, suppressed rages and resentments, bizarre sexual desires and fantasies, hidden pools of hopes and dreams, of joys and dreads, of creative urges and unbidden loves. This reality, too, seems unsure, and full of unknowns."

If we shift again to the individual self and tell ourselves, "well at least I know who I am" again we come up against some perplexing questions. What is this "I" that resides within us all? Descartes stated that "I think therefore I am" i.e identifying the "I" with thinking - but the Buhddists talk of their experience when the thinking is stilled until it is no more - the "I" still remains. What is the reality of the "I" - the behaviourists will tell us that we are nothing but the sum of stimulus inputs and conditioned responses, while others will point to the experiences of dreams, visions, hallucinatory experience, meditation experiences, near death experience, separate realities, out of body experiences and various other states of altered conciousness which beg questions about what consitutes the 'real world' or at least question our knowledge of where the boundaries lie.

What is commonly agreed (or imposed)  to be "reality" as a tribe / community /  society / culture  can have grave consequences for those that might disagree with the common "world view" - Copernicus and Galileo are the classic examples of those who looked deeper into the nature of things and upon expressing  a different point of view were declared heretics for their trouble. The history of much of human culture is a history of the torture and killing of those who deviate from the group, tribe or cultural perception of what constiutes the agreed religious or philosophical reality and certainty.

Carl Rodgers conclusion regarding all of this is to say:  "I, and many others, have come to a new realization. It is this: The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I percieve and experience it at this moment. The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you percieve and experience it at this moment. And the only certainty is that those percieved realities are different. There are as many "real worlds" as there are people!...."

My conclusion is that these ideas and questions regarding the nature of reality mean that I must try and not rush to judgements regarding ideas - wait, watch, dig deeper if possible - I must try and suspend my judgement regarding attitudes and opinions that may differ from my own - Be open to new experiences and hold off the human need to catergorise, pigeonhole, analyse and confirm. Enjoy the wheeling stars, the wind in my hair and in my sail, enjoy the human experiences of friendship and love, and if unable to fully explain what it all means, then be happy with no explanation for the moment, defer any judgements, be happy in the moment with the  partial answers - and until some inspiration from deep within me awakens some sort of understanding and /or answer, just call the things, ideas and dreams that are bigger than myself by the names they have always been called - wonder, mystery, magic, numinousness, enchantment and love.