Thursday, 15 December 2011

On Whaling

Well, here we go again, Japan off to my backyard to cull a bunch of mammals all in the name of cultural right.


Lets actually have a look at this cultural right. Japan never ventured south of the equator until after the end of the Second World War. They lost, and got hungry, so they headed down south for a cheap source of protein.

Hmm, since 1945? So for Japan, that counts for culture?

Look, I fish. I love fishing (and yes, I know whales aren't fish but are mammals). But I acknowledge that we all take resources from the sea. But this is my sea, my backyard, not yours. We take care of it, and we are doing our best to reinvigorate it.

I have no problem with Japan swinging around their own islands, nailing every last thing with a fin in order to feed their starving population. Feel free, and when all the fish are gone and you're hungry give us a call, sure we can send you some, at a price.

I do get a bit pissed off when they come to my backyard, and start nailing the fins that we have been working so hard to preserve though. While, at the same time, preserving their whales around Wakayama etc. for "whale watching tours".

Huh? So you can happily kill off whales in another jurisdiction, but keep the few you have left in your own for the tourists?

There is a tree, on an island in the south of Japan. The island is called Yakushima. The tree is called the "Jomonsugi" (UNESCO rated by the way). It is a cedar tree meant to be literally 1000's of years old, and is a declared national treasure of Japan. I wonder how the Japanese would feel if I sailed up and chopped it down, turned it into weatherboards for my house, because my "culture" had a right to cedar weatherboards. Fair enough? I mean, we have had cedar weatherboards in NZ for more than 60 years, right?

Sorry Japan, but in this case you have no moral or cultural right to come into my backyard, pull out all the vegetables from my garden that I have painstakingly nurtured over the last 30 years, and claim it is your cultural "right" to harvest them.

Shame, shame, shame.

Learn another language, please!

Like many many Kiwis, I have spent a large % of my adult life overseas. And having done so, I can say that on the whole us flightless ones are well regarded and well respected. Good manners, a good work ethic, and a good level of general knowledge stand us in good sted wherever we travel.

But there is one thing that we really, really suck at. And that is dealing in other languages. Now I will state my vested interests here; I have a well blended wider family (te reo Pakeha, Maori, Japanese and German are all spoken in our whanau) and I run a translation business.

But on the whole, we don't do this well in NZ. Really, fellow Kiwis, can we really continue in this state of willful monolingualism in the 21st century?

Why is second language learning treated as such an "option" in our schools? Why do parents pay more attention to their kids geography test scores than their (insert language name) language scores?

Perhaps the greatest revelation that hit me, on learning a new language in my 20's, is that it is not just a language you learn, but a completely new base logic. A new way of looking at the world, a new way of approaching issues and of problem solving. Because language and culture are just reverse sides of the same coin, learning a new language (in depth, not just how to say "How are you, hope you have a nice day") gives you a whole new mental toolset, and a new understanding of how life actually works for people in different parts of the world.

This is perhaps the most important thing for NZ as a whole to be able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. To be able to understand another way of thinking. To be able to "think outside of the box" by blending two different base cultural constructs and creating something new. Learning a new language gives you those tools.

And now, I guess will be the most controversial statement. I think te reo Maori should be the first second language every NZer should learn, right from day one of pre-school. And I can hear the bleaters saying "It has no economic value", "Why learn a language only spoken in NZ?", "English skills are bad enough as it is, another language will just reduce the kids English level" etc. etc.

Well I can think of lots of reasons.

1. It is unique. Just like Pakeha English (think of bach, crib, taiho, mate, bro etc. we have our own unique lexicon, a lot of it actually drawn from Maori). Tell me, mums and dads, do you want your kids growing up speaking like Americans? No, I didn't think so, you want them to maintain their Kiwi cultural identity. Well, Maori language and culture IS a big part of that, lets reinforce it.

2. For te reo Maori to survive, it has to move from the language of the marae to the language of the street. It should be used in every dairy, gas station and bank in the country, as a daily language. But it can't do that if it is only spoken by Maori people. It has to be all of us.

3. Pakeha NZ has an obligation to ensure that survival (why? Because Pakeha NZ tried to wipe it out!). How can we do that? By learning and speaking the language as part of our daily lives. My best Pommy mate always welcomes me with a healthy "Kiaora e hoa!". Why can't we all do that?

4. When my kids went to the te reo Maori unit at Richmond Road Primary, the scores on the English language tests from the kids in the Maori unit were actually better than the scores of the English only unit kids. Learning another language does not preclude or impede improving your ability in your first language, it actually improves your ability in your first language.

5. I have been in business negotiations overseas where, at the critical moment, it would have been ideal if I and my partners could communicate in a language that no one else in the room could understand. Just a "kei te pai" or a "kaore" would have sufficed, if they could have spoken Maori! Maori is that unique language; it should be the language we all share uniquely.

6. If we really want to be true partners, Maori and Pakeha, then it is about respect. If a Maori person can engage in conversation with me in English, then surely, out of simple respect, I shouldn't I make the effort to be able to reciprocate in te reo Maori? We pride ourselves on our egalitarian culture (although it has taken a hit over the last decade or so), yet it really is still one of our true strengths. Maybe, just maybe, if as many Pakeha learn te reo Maori as Maori learn English, then we can start talking to each other, rather than past each other.

That is not to say it precludes learning a third, fourth or more languages. I meet so many Dutch that manage 3 languages quite comfortably. Likewise I have Chinese clients who can speak Thai and Japanese as well as English. I once sat on a train in Japan with an Italian, a French, a Korean, a Japanese and me. We had the most wonderful poly-lingual conversation, each translating for the others as needs be.

Kiwis, get off yer bum and learn a new language, seriously. Make it Maori in the first case, and them add to it from there. You will be amazed as to how it lights up your awareness of different ways of doing things, different ways of problem solving, and just makes life in general more fulfilling.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

On cups of tea

Have become a bit of a tea afficiano lately. Have replaced at least 50% of my caffeine intake with tea, mainly English Breakfast, with the odd "gumboot" Bushells (actually, their Kenya blend is quite nice, lots of depth and quite grunty).

But what has struck me about tea this week, is how certain politicians want to have their tea, and drink it too.

Messrs Key and Banks happily invite along possibly the biggest media scrum NZ has seen in the last few years to observe the partaking of tea. They have their tea. And then they complain because journalists actually try to report what happened?

Uh huh? Excuse me, but this is not like some paparazzi pointing a directional microphone at someone's bedroom to record private goings on (and really, would you want to find out what Mr Banks got up to in the bedroom? I thought not. Oh that we had a real Berlusconi in NZ politics! I guess the closest we have is a Don Brash, which just goes to show how far we have really fallen behind).

Lets get real. The media were invited to be there! It was a public place! Why would you even think of having a private conversation at an event you set up purely for the media to attend??

I'm sorry, but JK and JB, really, really poor form. And to then involve the Police, (and saying that because of the reduction in crime, Police have a bit of spare time on their hands) is absolutely pathetic.

Message to the media. Next time you get invited to a cup of tea, do the right thing.

Just say no.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The price of asset sales

Have been watching this debate closely over the last year in NZ, and the more I learn, the more absolutely crazy it sounds. Let's review the status to date.
- National first proposed asset sales, because of a "poor rate or return on capital"
- The next reason was "for the purpose of reducing government debt"
- They then realised how unpalatable asset sales were to the general public. So they decided that the proceeds would be invested in an "infrastructure/capital expenditure fund", for the purpose of improving schools/roads/universities etc. etc.

NZ is a young country. Aotearoa is a lot older. NZ should have a brief review of what happened during the last round of wholesale asset liquidations when we transferred assets from Måori to Pakeha. Maybe then Pakeha would learn a little about colonisation, which in reality is just another name for the sale of publicly owned assets into foreign ownership.

Because colonisation is not so much about people moving from one place to another. It is about taking over the means of wealth production, and extracting that wealth and repatriating it to where you want it to go. One million Europeans could have moved to NZ in the 19th century, but if the means of wealth production had of remained in the hands of Måori, Måori (and the rest of us for that matter; who do you trust the health of the Waikato to, a regional council controlled by farming interests, or Tainui? I know who I would back) would have been in a far better situation than they ended up in.

And the reality is that in the early stages of colonisation, Måori were the entrepreneurs. They set up ship supply centers, they exported potatoes to Australia, they planted and managed large flax plantations for the hemp export industry. They saw the opportunities, but most importantly, they owned, and controlled, the means of wealth creation. They used the wealth generated to import technology, education and knowhow, reinvesting that in what we now like to call productivity. 

But what happened? Måori lost the control of the wealth producing assets (at that time physical land). And what we saw was a horrendous spiral; lose control of the assets that produce the most wealth (i.e. the most productive lands, whether they be timberlands, flax plantations or natural harbours). Måori think, "Ok, we still have other assets, we can sell some of them, and use that wealth to invest in new production". But, the real cost of living goes up (in part because before what was previously a luxury is now a necessity, but that is a discussion for another day), and we end up using part (or all) of that asset realisation to fund CURRENT CONSUMPTION, not investing it in growth or productivity. A never ending spiral.

The result? From owning 100% of the productive assets (the land) of Aotearoa, Måori ended up owning less than 3% of NZ in less than 100 years.

Dial forward 150 years. Not really such a long time in the greater scheme of things, is it? My children's great-grandparents are still around, which means my family has a living span of 90 years plus, more than half that 150 years. And what does our erstwhile Government propose? Doing to ALL AOTEAROA/NZ what was done to Måori 150 years ago.

That is the reality. Let's discuss a modern case, the partial sale of SOEs. We all know what happened under the Labour government 1984-1990, and then followed on by the National Government. Wholesale flogging off of assets. I cannot call this anything less than a wholesale loss of confidence in the NZ public service, and the public itself. Why?

If you say an asset is underperforming, so must be sold, you admit that you cannot get a better performance out of it YOURSELF, so you are better off selling and getting the cash now. But this is non-sensical. Anytime an asset is sold, the new owners realise there is a PROFIT there. Who buys a knowingly failed asset? 

Would you but a rental property KNOWING that there is no way you could realise a profit, either through capital gains or increased profitablity?

This is insane. By saying there are buyers out there for SOEs, the Government ADMITS 100% that these assets have the potential to return an acceptable rate of return. If they don't currently, well sorry Government, kick your Board of Directors in the arse and get them earning their salary.

So a government that sells an asset, owned by the people of NZ, that returns a dividend (i.e. generates wealth for NZ as a whole), is saying "We are absolutely useless. We can't get a good rate of return because we can't manage this asset profitably. We will sell it off, take the cash, and then see what a private owner can do, IRRESPECTIVE OF whether that is in the GREATER national interest (more below)."

But, the assets that the Government are proposing to sell are ESSENTIAL to the functioning of NZ as a whole. We all need power, right? NZ needs international travel, right? So we will be faced, without a doubt, in the future with the situation of whereby the private owners have extracted maximum wealth from the asset, driven it into the ground, that me and you fellow citizens, will be forced to step in to bail out a private operation that is essential to the operation of the country. 

Didn't that happen with the Railways? Didn't it happen with Air New Zealand? Do you really want to see it happen with Electricity? 

This is capitalism with a small "c" and a big "P". Whereby the wealth of the nation is siphoned off to the Private sector (normally offshore), while the debt (in the lack of infrastructure investment) is passed off to the citizen (the small "c').