Saturday, May 27, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #78

From the edition of Saturday 27 May. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Losing value
Oh, woe are we, country going to the dogs or perhaps Chinese. 
First they wanted to change the flag to a black sheet with a fish skeleton on it, now they want to drop the penguin from our fiver. 
I suppose a black and white panda called Nat-Nat or Lab-Lab (depending on who gets in at the next election) would be better than nothing. 
Without a penguin I expect the face value will be $4.50 and when they delete “New Zealand” it will slip down to $3.99. 
I have a 5/- note from Gibraltar and have longed for a $3.99 note. I might be in luck. 
Laurie Polglase
 Hamilton 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wintec Press Club: Jacinda Ardern edition

The Wintec Press Club lunch is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year for the benefit of the journalism students. The guest list features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me. The MC is Steve Braunias.

Most tables have one or two students who get to meet industry veterans. It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students. I try to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The speakers are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included musician Dave Dobbyn (whose band Th’Dudes controversially won the 1976 Battle of the Bands, ahead of me and Jenny Morris); controversial poet Hera Lindsay Bird; and controversial Herald columnist and professional angry person Rachel Stewart.

This luncheon’s speaker, Labour’s deputy leader Jacinda Ardern, was wilfully not controversial.

Media star guests this time included the Herald’s Matt Nippert; TV One’s Te Radar; former Metro columnist Charlotte Grimshaw; current Waikato Times columnist Peter Dornauf (as featured in Waikato Times letters of the week #76 and Waikato Times letter of the week #77) introduced by Braunias as “the cat in the hat”;  Louise Wallace from “reality” TV show The Real Housewives of Auckland; and Herald columnist Lizzy Marvelly, her eyes shining with the light of certainty. Thrillingly, there was also Lawrence Arabia, whose music I like very much. If I had known he would be there I would have brought a CD and asked him to autograph it: one is never too old to be a gushing fan.

Political star guests included James Shaw, Julie Anne Genter and Chloe Swarbrick of the Greens; Willie Jackson formerly of Mana Motuhake, the Alliance, the Maori Party and currently of Labour; Don Brash, formerly of National and Act (he introduced himself; I bonded instantly with his partner who is from Te Puna, near my turangawaewae of Pukehinahina); and various people world-famous in Hamilton local politics. 

Charles Riddell of the Wintec media course told me that this is the only press club in the country left standing. Can this be true? It would explain why so many journalists from around the country attend. It was a bit like the Canon Media Awards, only a lot less drunk.

Lunch was chicken roulade with sesame and hazelnut spiced dukkah, served on sweet carrot puree with a potato and herb rosti with seasonal green vegetables. Dessert was dark chocolate torte with Black Doris plum puree and an almond praline crisp meringue. It was quite nice. Also, wine.

Our host Steve Braunias, a journalism student in 1980, began proceedings with a very long introduction. It was about three times as long as usual. Yes, that long. Sample quotes: “this is the first day of regime change”, “election year”, “the fucking National government”, “Queenstown, Hamilton of the South”.

I was told when I entered the venue that I was not to report what the speaker said. No reason given. On the other hand, I am a Life Member of the Wintec Press Club and have the certificate to prove it. So here goes.

Actually, there wasn’t much to report. Jacinda read her speech from notes: there was nothing about party politics, for which one was grateful; she talked mostly about social media and clickbait on news websites. Which was relevant for the audience, but was a bit dull and unquotable. However, she came alive at question time.

Annemarie Quill (reliably hilarious) from the Bay of Plenty Times – that Tauranga connection again – asked, “Does Andrew Little dull your shine? Do you ever want to push him off a cliff?”
Tony Wall of the Sunday Star-Times asked, “Do you sometimes feel like a winner in a loser party?”

It was all a bit like that. The room liked Jacinda – well, everyone does. (I do – when we met at the May 2012 lunch, she said she was reading my latest book. And she was.) She handled all these friendly but often awkward questions with grace and good humour.

Tim Murphy of Newsroom was live tweeting. Some samples:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daily Telegraph letter of the month

Reprinted in The Week, 13 May:
Up in smoke
Britain’s coal-free days are celebrated – but ironically are down to Drax, Europe’s largest coal-fired power station which, by burning wood, now produces 16% of Britain’s renewable energy. This wood is grown in the US and brought in on ships that produce more pollution than all the diesel cars in London combined.
Kevin Prescott, Littlehampton
West Sussex
It’s not easy being green. So here is Kermit the Frog, with a visitor from Walton-on-Thames:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In memoriam Rosie Scott


Very sad news from Australia – New Zealand-born novelist and literary activist Rosie Scott has died. She was a fine writer, great fun to be with and a force for good in her lucky adopted country. Condolences to Danny, Josie and Bella.

Here is the Australian Society of Authors obituary:
17.05.17
We were saddened to learn that Rosie Scott passed away on 4th May as she has been so important to the organisation, having served on our board and executive for ten years, during which time she was elected Chair. In 2005, she was appointed to a permanent honorary position on the ASA Council.
Author and activist, Rosie was a greatly respected and admired member of the ASA community. While she was Chair she helped instigate and then continued to champion our mentoring program, working as a professional mentor for over a decade. In her position on the Council, she was also part of the committee that selected the first 200 books for Copyright Agency's Reading Australia venture.
Her first published work was a 1984 volume of poetry Flesh and Blood, followed by the play Say Thank You to the Lady, for which she won the prestigious Bruce Mason Award in 1986 in New Zealand. In 1988 she published her first novel, Glory Days, which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards and published internationally in Australia, Germany, UK and the US. Rosie went on to publish five more novels, a short story collection and a collection of essays.
In 2013 Rosie co-edited an anthology on asylum seekers with Tom Keneally, A Country Too Far. She later started the group We’re Better than This, a movement dedicated to fighting against the detention of refugee children.
On Australia Day in 2016, she was awarded Member (AM) in the General Division of The Order of Australia Honour, not only for her service to literature, but also for her work in human rights and inter-cultural understanding. Later that year she was also the recipient of the NSW Premier’s Special Award for her “significant service to literature as an author”.
As if this weren't achievement enough, Rosie also completed a Diploma in Counselling and a Doctorate at the University of Western Sydney, taught creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney and continued to mentor and inspire young and novice writers.
Current ASA CEO Juliet Rogers said, “Rosie will long be remembered and honoured within the ASA family, not only for her celebrated career as a writer of standing in both New Zealand and Australia, but also for her passionate activism, caring advocacy and thoughtful mentorship to so many. Rosie left her mark on this organisation and our thriving mentorship program is just one manifestation of this. We were very fortunate to have had more than a decade of her leadership, care and support and we will miss her. We send much love to her family at this difficult time."
Close friend and ASA colleague Robert Pullan remembers Rosie:
“When she limped out of her last ASA board meeting everyone clapped, not because Rosie was leaving — hobbling after a hip reconstruction — but because she was as always the real thing, going because she had to, going because she had reached the end of a small sentence — the ASA one — in the immense Rosie narrative.
“On the wide wooden verandah in the country retreat we shared for a few magical years in Buladelah, overlooking grassed hills that stretched into morning cloud, Rosie radiated a calm that eluded some of us in the collective, including me. She was our still centre, smiling in greeting as the city latecomers emerged in the evening from the three-hour drive from Sydney.
“‘I go through with all my characters in a pretty visceral and intuitive way,’ she wrote in Movie Dreams, saying her struggle to acquire a male character’s voice was ‘easily the most painful and difficult process I have ever gone through writing a novel’.
“None of us knows ourselves entirely. How could we, with the multitudes we contain? But conversation with Rosie always contained the possibility of change and always left out hierarchical errors of reasoning that sometimes stunted fellow humanists. If she was tormented by the question whether writing changes things, I never heard her say it. She believed in political action. And in her work on behalf of refugees she pushed against evil in its most menacing visage in Australia and the contemporary world. Her loss leaves a space we cannot fill but — I can hear Rosie saying it — we must get on with it.”
Rosie’s family would like to extend an invitation to all those who knew Rosie at the ASA, to her memorial service which will be held this Sunday (21st May 2017) at 2 pm at the  Marrickville Town Hall.
 And here is Rob O’Neill’s interview with Rosie from the August 1996 issue of Quote Unquote, in which she comes out against malice and in favour of sex and exuberance. So Rosie.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sand in the machine

The Economist reports that sand is in demand:
Indias “sand mafia” is doing a roaring trade. The Times of India estimates that the illicit market for sand is worth around 150bn rupees ($2.3bn) a year; at one site in Tamil Nadu alone, 50,000 lorryloads are mined every day and smuggled to nearby states. Gangs around the country frequently turn to violence as they vie to continue cashing in on a building boom.
Much of the modern global economy depends on sand. Most of it pours into the construction industry, where it is used to make concrete and asphalt. A smaller quantity of fine-grade sand is used to produce glass and electronics, and, particularly in America, to extract oil from shale in the fracking industry. No wonder, then, that sand and gravel are the most extracted materials in the world. A 2014 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates they account for up to 85% by weight of everything mined globally each year. [. . . ]
Sand may appear plentiful, but is in fact becoming scarce. Not all types are useful: desert sand is too fine for most commercial purposes. Reserves also need to be located near construction sites; as transport costs are high compared with the price, it is usually uneconomical to transport sand a long distance. That, though, does not stop countries with limited domestic resources (and deep pockets). Singapore and Qatar are big importers; the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai was built using Australian imports.
I have stayed in the Armani hotel (someone else was paying, obviously) at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and been to the outdoor observation platform on Level 148, 555 metres up: I would not have been so confident had I known it was a hotel built on Australian sand.

So here are Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra in 1968 from their timeless album Nancy and Lee: