Monday, April 26, 2010

Listen To The Cree

Great Barrier Island New Zealand

The recently elected New Zealand Government is going ahead with a number of initiatives which I really don't like, but let me concentrate on one of their dumbest ideas.

One of the most idiotic ideas that anyone has proposed for years has been announced.
There is a proposal to take land off the schedule four list. Land on the schedule four list is land that is crown land within our National Parks. In tandem with this proposal is to fund a multimillion dollar investigation into a cost benefit analysis of MINING land within New Zealands National Parks. The areas being investigated are on Great Barrier Island, The Coromandel Peninsula and areas within our national parks in the South Island of NZ. Of course this will do nothing for New Zealands clean green image and many are saying that damaging our image will damage our tourism industry and 'Brand NZ' (whatever that money making dipstick factoid means) - Of course they are going to have a fight on their hands over this one.

The rationale for mining by this mammon worshipping government is that the benefits will increase the net worth of everyone and help us catch up economically with Australia which relies pretty much on being an open cast mine for much of its wealth - and if we have to rip the guts out of our National Parks to be like them - well, so be it. It makes me want to weep.

But! will mining our National Parks actually achieve this economic goal?
I recently read an article by Professor Bryan Gould, Vice-Chancellor, University of Waikato, New Zealand. He pointed out that countries that come across vast wealth may not in the long run reap the benefits that they envisioned unless they are very aware of some of the economic impacts this wealth has on an economy. He talked about an impact that happened in the UK and in Europe which is termed the 'Dutch Disease'.........

........The de-industrialization of a nation's economy that occurs when the discovery of a natural resource raises the value of that nation's currency, making manufactured goods less competitive with other nations, increasing imports and decreasing exports. The term originated in Holland after the discovery of North Sea gas. It is well documented that this happened in Britain which closed a lot of its manufacturing base because of the effect of oil riches on the British currency.

Apparently because of this effect the only country to benefit from North Sea oil in the long run has been the Norwegians who were able to 'ring fence' the riches from the oil and invest it on Norways behalf and keep that money from influencing Norway's currency. Britain and other European countries apparently have endured this Dutch Disease effect to the extent of having a nil gain overall economically. But surely these Norwegian riches were only able to be gathered because the mining company was owned by Norway? The move here is to open mining up to mulitnational companies with 95% of the profits going to overseas investors. Where is the wealth for New Zealand in all of this? - the jobs and infrastructure that come with this mining despoilation of our environment will only be transitory.

But putting aside economic arguments aren't there greater values at stake here? Values that are mistaken for intangible values when in fact they are very tangible - Values of the spirit. Values to do with our humanity. Values which honour our natural world, a world on which we all ultimately depend as a species for our very survival ?

I read something on a poster a few weeks ago that sums up in a more succinct way what I am trying to say here. It is an old Cree Indian Prophecy:

"Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


" We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of his freedoms - to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way".

- Victor E Frankl - 'Mans Search For Meaning.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Coin That Pays For Ecstasy......."

A highly intelligent and insightful friend sent me an email with this quote at the end.
"The coin that pays for ecstasy is always stamped despair. One cannot love empathetically until one wanders there."
- Jane Krainin - Dictated right before she died of ALS
I asked my friend what she thought this quote meant and she replied -
How can we know joy without an understanding of pain and sorrow?
I think Krainin was saying that what we experience teaches us to understand and love others from a position of empathy for their feelings of pain, and of joy, and that there is a cost attached to that understanding. I had a friend once who survived ALS (only 5% of people who get it do), and she was very philosophical about her condition. She was in a wheelchair, but lived alone, a remarkable woman, who once said to me that she had learned so much about life, and God, and people that she wouldn't exchange that chair for anything. She ultimately died of cancer, but not before she helped a lot of people with ALS.What do you think?
What do I think? - Well a few weeks ago I was walking along one of Northlands beautiful and pristine beaches and saw this signpost in the sand. A signpost with no message. I think that Jane Krainins quote and my friends explanation should be written on the signpost for all to see and read.
Thank you my friend, because your insight goes some way to helping me with that old raw theological callus which C S Lewis tried to deal with in a book titled - "The Problem of Pain." Your explanation has increased the displacement of some of the partial answers I have struggled to find. Thank you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Crucial Test

"Never trust a man, who when left alone in a room with a tea cosy doesn't try it on."
Billy Connolly

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cycling In Holland

Many of the dear readers of this eclectic blog will remember that last year I did some cycle touring in The Netherlands, a country that is now dear to my heart. I often Google about Holland as I continue to expand my knowledge of this extremely interesting country and its people. Most of the text that you read below is from a internet site about cycling in Holland. It explains why cycling is so popular there - but does not mention one of the most decisive reasons - which I have added at the end. The site show a video giving an example of how common cycling is in Holland. Apparantely, it was -2 degrees when this video was taken. In the winter months cycle rates can fall to as low as 95% of all children arriving by bike.
When you look at the infrastructure of cycling in Holland you can see why cycling is so popular.
Cycle paths are wide, well maintained and numerous. Cyclists get preference at many lights and paths often go underneath. There is plentiful cycle parking. For example, a secondary school in Assen has 725 students and 850 cycle parking spaces. (just imagine the space for 850 cars)Motorists expect cyclists and road planners design city centres with pedestrians and cyclists in mind
Cycling Statistics
In the Netherlands 27% of all trips are made by bike, compared to
UK 1.3%
US 0.9%
The average distance cycled per person is
Netherland 2.5 km,
UK 0.2Km,
US 0.1Km
Women’s Share of Cycling
Netherland 55% of all cycle distance travelled by women
UK 29%
US 25%
Australia 21%
Cyclists Injured per 10 million Km
US 35
UK 6
Netherlands 1.4
Why Is Cycling So Popular in Netherlands?:
Extensive systems of separate cycling facilities:
• Well-maintained, fully integrated paths, lanes and special bicycle streets in cities and surroundingregions
• Fully coordinated system of colour-coded directional signs for bicyclists• Off-street short-cuts, such as mid-block connections and passages through dead-ends for cars
Intersection modifications and priority traffic signals:
• Advance green lights for cyclists at most intersections
• Advanced cyclist waiting positions (ahead of cars) fed by special bike lanes facilitate safer andquicker crossings and turns
• Cyclist short-cuts to make right-hand turns before intersections and exemption from red trafficsignals at T-intersections, thus increasing cyclist speed and safety
• Bike paths turn into brightly coloured bike lanes when crossing intersections
• Traffic signals are synchronized at cyclist speeds assuring consecutive green lights for cyclists(green wave)
• Bollards with flashing lights along bike routes signal cyclists the right speed to reach the next intersection at a green light
Traffic calming
• Traffic calming of all residential neighbourhoods via speed limit (30 km/hr) and physical infrastructure deterrents for cars
• Bicycle streets, narrow roads where bikes have absolute priority over cars
• ‘Home Zones’ with 7 km/hr speed limit, where cars must yield to pedestrians and cyclists using the road
Bike parking
• Large supply of good bike parking throughout the city
• Improved lighting and security of bike parking facilities often featuring guards, video-surveillanceand priority parking for womenCoordination with public transport
• Extensive bike parking at all metro, suburban and regional train stations
• ‘Call a Bike’ programmes: bikes can be rented by cell phone at transit stops, paid for by the minuteand left at any busy intersection in the city
• Bike rentals at most train stations
• Deluxe bike parking garages at some train stations, with video-surveillance, special lighting, music, repair services and bike rentalsTraffic education and training
• Comprehensive cycling training courses for virtually all school children with test by traffic police • Special cycling training test tracks for children
• Stringent training of motorists to respect pedestrians and cyclists and avoid hitting them
Traffic laws
• Special legal protection for children and elderly cyclists
• Motorists assumed by law to be responsible for almost all crashes with cyclists• Strict enforcement of cyclist rights by police and courts.
But the one thing they forgot to tell is that one of the main reasons why cycling is so popular in The Netherlands and so easy to do is because:


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Vision of a Child

"Don't touch very secret latest plans Space Ship Book PETER SMITH (Standard) 4 Browns Bay." - This is a book that was created over 55 years ago by my late brother Peter. Peter always said that it was he who invented the landing procedures for space ships by using the main rocket engine to facilitate a smooth landing - and that he had the plans to prove it. Come on this short little visual journey with me and I show you that he was a visionary not just concerning the landing of the 'Eagle' on the moon in 1969.

This rocket is obviously landing as it has its tripod landing undercarriage deployed. The main rocket is being used to slow the rockets landing - yes, I hear you whisper the words 'empirical evidence' under your breathe and yes, NASA owes him big time. US dollars to the Smith Family Trust headed by Moi, will do just fine.

"Bottom can turn around to any angle" - are the visionary words written at the top of this design page. Yes, exactly! you are thinking "British Navy Harrier Jump Jet" aren't you. And indeed the Harrier vertical take off jet uses the principal of altering the direction of the engines thrust to take off and land vertically. - Again - case proven. RAF - British Pounds Stirling are quite bankable in New Zealand, so bite you stiff upper lip and cough up.

Yes, exactly! I know what you are thinking! Yes, and yes again!- this is "Proto Enterprise" it is from this original concept that the Starship 'Enterprise' was created for the long running television series 'StarTrek' All that the producers and directors have done to this image is shift the large dish from the middle to the front of the spaceship.
Again, substantial royalties are due. Of course a slight royalty reduction of 1% could be obtained by offering me top billing movie roles - Perhaps "Mamma Mia Two" or a starring lead with Brad Pitt and Pierce Brosnahan in minor support roles.

Look familiar? A childrens toy called a "Transformer" ? Welcome to Litigation City all you toy companies. But wait! there is something else - if you look closely you will see in the body of the robot there are food storage rooms - Exactly - A visionary prediction of the merging of the biological and mechanical - you are looking at Protobiologicaltechnoroboticus him/herself.

Shape seem familiar? Yes bingo! you are right, its not the shape of a WW2 Uboat, its the shape of a modern nuclear submarine - Navies of the world, open up your wallets.

It took me a while to work this one out, but with the help of a linguist I was able to translate from the original Martian into English the words "Martian Saucer". Does this provide A posteriori evidence that Peter had contact with beings from another world? Hmmm, well maybe, but my lips are sealed to all low bidders.
This is evidence of the scope of Peters visionary imagination. Within his book I found this bubble gum wrapper firmly glued. Being a commercial product it has obviously been produced by an adult graphic artist. But what can we make of its vision? - could this be a metaphor for subsequent email?? Nah!!! - its visionless graphic gobbledegook! By comparison, such awkward, clunky ideas highlight how well Peter had come to grips with the true nature of his cosmic vision.
Yes, your are right, this is something you have never seen before. It is a "Martian Flying Crab" - This idea goes far into the future of space exploration. It is an idea whose day will come far into our dreaming futures.
Someday on the cusp of great intergalatic events we might all be truely thankful to have by our sides one or more Martian Flying Crabs.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Precious Signatures

About fifteen years ago a friend of mine was killed in a car accident. I saw her leave school on a Friday and she was hit by a drunken driver that evening as she drove into town to pick up her son. She was a much loved teacher and a dear friend and colleague. Bonds are formed with the people you work with. It wasn't a bond where we tripped the light fantastic together, rather it was the bond that is formed from honest work and the trench warfare of the politics of teaching. She was like a sister and a comrade in arms - many a time we rammed home powder and shot together into the idealistic barrels of our shotguns and fired both barrels in unison.

A few months after her death I came across a brown manila folder of hers. Inside the folder was a recently completed Reading Recovery analysis report on a child. I turned the page over and saw the impression of her writing on the blank side. Her signature was at the bottom of the page. At the end of her signature there was a small blob of ink from the ball point pen. It looked so fresh to me that it seemed as though she had written it that morning.
It wasn't a poignant moment. I didn't cry, I had done my grieving previously - it was more of a sharp realisation that our grip on life is tenuous and as thin as the thickness of the piece of paper that I held in my hand - somehow the immediacy of her signature had been the catalyst in bringing about that realisation.

I was reminded of all the above that I have written when yesterday I came across another signature within another story - let me explain:

In 1945 my Uncle Pat and another Government deer culler were drowned in the Haast river in South Westland New Zealand. He was the third of five brothers, my father being the fourth. He was a strong, handsome and very popular young man in his early twenties. As often happens the family never quite got over the death and not a lot was spoken about it by my father.
Recently on a trip to the Molesworth station in the South Island of New Zealand (see previous blog post) my brother Christopher and I got to talking about it. We both had different bits of conflicting information regarding which river the drowning took place in. When we met up later with our older brother Tony, he had the name of yet another river.
To try to sort it out, in the last couple of days I have been Googling and looking for information. Yesterday I came up with something that stopped me in my tracks. It was an assessment document completed for the Historic Places Trust concerning an old deer stalkers and road constructors workers hut close to the Haast River on the West Coast of the South Island.

The document has a number of photographs attached which are not only of historic interest, but of great personal interest to me and my family.
The photograph that stopped me in my tracks is the one shown above. In this photograph is the name of our Uncle Patrick written by his own hand on a rafter of the hut. This is what it says:

Patrick R Smith
450 Avonside Drive

Govt Deer Shooter

Off on the right hand side someone has written Drowned Burke.
A footnote in the text refers to the drowning as happening in the Haast / Burke - which I take to be the junction of another river.

When I rang my brother Christopher to tell him this he pulled out an old set of maps of various areas in the South Island that have been printed on cotton fabric, which used to belong to our Uncle Patrick and said excitedly "The signature written on the top of this map is exactly the same as the one in the photograph".
So the name of the river has been solved. Also a new information lead has opened up. Another footnote in the document refers to a book written by someone called Galbreath who mentions the drownings - so there is another lead for me to follow up regarding this tragic piece of family history.

When I look at that signature of my uncles that is now 65 years old, it reaches out to me with the same sort of fresh immediacy as the signature of my old teaching colleague. I feel a curious sense of continuity, of an abiding pattern within the shape of things. In a strange way this deep echo from a time before I was even born gives me a sense that all will be well.

When I make a pilgrimage to that hut, and look at that signature sometime soon, no doubt I will experience a new set of feelings as I look at that name and remember my uncle Patrick, my father, his immediate family and my old teaching friend.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

An Accidental Introduction To Video

I can't believe I actually shot this video. I have only just found it downloaded with a whole lot of other photos in a folder on my computer. This video was taken by accident on the Cook Strait Ferry as we headed to the South Island and the Molesworth Station. The camera I have is new and I hadn't until recently used the video function. I do remember fiddling around wondering why the camera wouldn't click and holding the camera up trying to get a good shot of the yacht and mucking around with the dials - hence the shot of the water in the middle of the video. I am still somewhat at a loss to explain how in the circumstances the video image is so stable.

Today I spent some time trying out the video feature - And now, since I shall be posting home made videos on this Blog I might rename my BlogSpot - maybe call it something racy like the Roxy or the Lido, charge an entrance fee; sell ice creams, candyfloss, jaffas, etc at half time :-) ...... Half time at the movies!!!!!!!!!!! Boy I really am showing my age.

In fact there was a time when the picture theatre experience included a half time and took this format:

1 - All stand for the playing of "God save the Queen" (A youthful Queen shown riding a horse during the trooping of the colour at Buckingham Palace) - (counter cultural, anti-establishment types always sat for this).
2 - Travel features, Cartoons, Human interest stories, Newsreels shown.
3- Half time - The lights would come on for about 10 minutes. Children in white cotton coats would sell ice creams street vendor style from large boxes with glass sides. These were hung around their necks on a large strap.
4 - The main feature was shown.

* During the main feature, boredom, anarchy and /or lack of a proper upbringing was displayed by emptying packets of Jaffas, Snifters or other suitable sweets/lollies down the sloping wooden picture theatre floor - the percussive effect was always eclipsed by approving laughter.

Which in a roundabout way doesn't take us back to what I was talking about - Video.
But watch this space anyway. :>)