Out of the mouth of comic children! With appropriate acknowledgement to the commercial copyright owners of the cartoon strip ‘Peanuts’, Linus’ response to Charlie Brown’s question: “Did you have a good Christmas?’ was: “Do you mean did I get a lot of presents? Or do you mean did I give a lot of presents? Are you referring to the weather or the Christmas dinner we had? Do you mean was my Christmas good in a spiritual sense? Do you mean was my Christmas good in that I saw new meaning on old things? Or do you mean……. “. Charlie Brown sighed. Christmas has become such a complicated day.
We spend the day ensuring as many of us as possible can eat as much as possible as though this was still Dickensian London when impoverished orphans starved to death on the mid-winter streets during Christmas. But the irony is that today it is obesity, not starvation, that is the chronic cause of illness and premature death in our society. In the western world, a day of fasting would be far more appropriate than a day of feasting.
Anyoldhoo, now that the day of compulsory gorging and gift-giving is over, it’s down to some serious personal shopping. Boxing Day Sales! From near and far the pilgrims made their way to the great temple of shopping. I have to say I saw more joy in that excited throng of families in the mall than I ever used to see on the faces of the joyless, subservient old buggers who drone ‘joyful and triumphant” at Church. I’m not saying that the mall is the right place to find true spiritual joy, just sayin’ what I’m seein’ is all.
But now another Christmas week draws to an end and today, New Year’s Eve, as the last day of the Christian calendar year, is the time for reviewing, rethinking and resolving. The global hand-wringing in 2015 peaked in the December Climate Change Summit in Paris and concluded with the joyful and triumphant resolution presented by French President Francois Hollande promising climate peace for our time. Echoes of Neville Chamberlain.
Never trust a politician’s promise, particularly when he is the Grand Pooh-Bah politician acting as the host who has to justify one of the biggest junkets of the modern junket era. 196 nations, 100 heads of state with, according to Time Magazine, a supporting cast of around 40,000 attendees, including 3,000 journalists, all enjoying an extravagant two-week long, pre-Christmas bureau-bash in Paris.
And a plan to control the climate was the glorious outcome of this King Canute Summit. Imagine promising to control the climate! Nature has its own timetable and nature will always do what it wants, however many summits we hold. Our geologists are able to trace back its climate patterns 4-500,000 years and we know that the earth’s temperature, and consequential volume of ice, rises and falls in predictable cycles. Nature sends its water where it wants, when it wants. It defrosts its fridge when it wants to. I wonder how many hand-wringing microbes, living on planet my-fridge, organise summits whenever I turn the icebox off because I can no longer squeeze a 1kg packet of peas into it? To earth, man is a tourist not a tenant. The best we can do is to try to make ourselves as comfortable as possible for the very brief time that we are nature’s guest.
There will always be natural disasters, that is the nature of nature. But 2015 did not bring any exceptional natural disasters, historically speaking. Global warming is our current great natural boogie man. The Indian/Pakistani heat wave this year resulted in an estimated 5,000 deaths or 0.33% of the 1.5 billion people living in that region. Certainly much fewer than met their death at man’s hand, or absence of a hand. That number, fortunately, is well down on the 56,000 Russian deaths from the 2010 heat wave and the 70,000 Europeans from the 2003 heat wave. Trending down nicely as the statisticians would conclude. On the storms and flooding side of the global-warming problem, no cyclone in 2015 got anywhere close to the top 1o list with the #10 deadliest tropical cyclone being in Bengal in 1874 with 80,000 deaths. Certainly 2015 had no super cyclones like Bangladesh in 1970, Calcutta in the year 1737 and India in 1839 all with 300,000+ deaths. The worst tropical cyclone in 2015 was Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific with a death toll in Vanuatu of 16. So, weather-wise, 2015 was a relatively benign year.
Geologically it was also a relatively calm year. The Nepal earthquake in April this year was a big one and killed 9,000 people, but, historically speaking, that figure was well short of the 40,000 deaths required to get it into the top 50 list of deadliest earthquakes. And there were no tsunamis to challenge the Chilean one in 1868 that sits at #10 of the deadliest tsunamis with a death toll of 25,674. In terms of total natural disasters since 1900, the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone is #10 with 138,866 deaths, the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India was #8 at a total of 280,000 and even those crises were dwarfed by the 1931 China floods with a death toll estimated between one and four million people.
And then we have the viral threats. The Ebola virus in Sierra Leone was the most serious viral outbreak in 2015 which resulted in 11,000 deaths. Again, historically, this was well down on the 2009 Avian flu with 18,000 deaths and neither of these could compare to the 1918 Spanish Flu that had a toll of an estimated 25 million deaths.
Every single disaster is, of course, a human tragedy but, historically and globally speaking, nature let our species off reasonably lightly in 2015. The personification of nature and acknowledgement of its supreme power over humans is known as paganism. Paganism has been dismissed as primitive and heretical since the advent of Christianity.
Christianity has only been around for one percent of the two hundred thousand years humans have been on the planet and 2,000 Christmas days for 2 billion Christians doesn’t seem to have made us any an more tolerant and peaceful species than in the days of paganism. The Syrian civil war is estimated to have cost 200,000+ lives in nearly five years, averaging nearly 50,000 per year and still going in 2015. Iraq in 2015 was reported at around 15,000 violent deaths continuing the trend from the days of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.
In Nigeria, the extremist religious group Boko Haram is estimated to have killed 1,000 villagers this year and over 6,000 in 2014, also abducting 276 schoolgirls. Since 2009 they are estimated to have killed 20,000 and displaced over 2 million people from their villages. In October IS terrorists killed 128 in Ankara, Turkey. In November the Paris IS terrorist attack killed 130 people. But it was only this Paris attack that created any outrage in the Christian world.
In New Zealand we have to say we had a pretty ‘Famous Five” year by comparison (Africa’s miles away from here). Yes we have our climate-change hand-wringers photo-bombing every available opportunity but, until we see Beijing-like images in the streets of Wellington, they are only going to get token traction here. The political opposition tried to amp up a sex scandal over ponytailgate, but that just provided fodder for the American chat show hosts to get a few laughs at our expense. In truth New Zealand is a Hobbiton and the big issue for us this year seemed to be the constitutional crisis of wondering whether we might like to redesign our flag.
I admit that I did spend a lot of the year thinking about it. Doodling new flag designs, submitting designs, unkindly critiquing other’s designs, deciding I did not like any enough to vote for any of them and even descended into a little procedural cynicism which is unbecoming of me. But the end of the year is, I think, an appropriate time to settle it all in my mind. I need to resolve this flag issue before the New Year.
Essentially, looking at the two options, it is a choice between a fern on black and a union jack. The rest of the two optional flags are identical. The Union Jack is there because of our historical allegiance to dear old mother England. But here’s the thing. England wanted Australia solely as a place to dump their unwanteds and so relieve the social pressure of unemployed peasants in England. After a few decades they reluctantly adopted NZ as the bastard little sibling of Australia. Our trade connections with Australia were growing and the wheels of commerce needed a little bureaucratic grease, so after a lot of lobbying by various Governors of New South Wales, Britain, in 1840, agreed with the Maori tribes on a colonisation deal. Victoria was, at the time, enthusiastically pleasuring herself with her cousin Albert, and was in a jolly good mood. But after only thirteen years of trying to deal with all the land disputes following a very dodgy deal by the British property speculators who owned “The New Zealand Company”, she gave us back our independence. ‘Sort it out yourselves,’ Vicky said, ‘the royal we are over it’. But then, a further thirty years later, they saw that we actually had quite a decent butcher shop over here and with frozen meat shipping coming on stream we became a useful supplier of lamb and butter to Britain. And so it was “We have our own farm and butchery you know? A couple of islands down in the antipodes. Another slab of lamb, what?”
But then in the 1970’s they decided it was in their best interests that they shop locally for their meat and butter and we were dumped, quite unceremoniously. We had sacrificed our young men in the Boer War for Britain. In World War 1 our soldiers were slaughtered for the British military lunacy at Anzac Cove. And in WWII we again sacrificed our young men in the trenches of Europe and the deserts of Egypt to help save Britain from the invasion of the Germans, following the treachery of the Italians and the feeble capitulation of the arrogantly ungrateful French. And only thirty years after that, the Brits tell us to stick our farm produce where the British sun sets. They are European, they say, and proud of it. They will do all their shopping in the farmers’ markets of their new friends France, Germany and Italy now, thank you very much. Then, insult to injury, when the French government committed an act of terrorism and murder in the Auckland harbour in 1985 against us, a loyal ally of Britain, a member of the Commonwealth, a nation subject to the rule of the Queen of Great Britain, what was the official British response? Probably just something like “c’est la vie” chuckled over a delightful French brandy in the club.
And now, far from being welcomed as allies, as old friends, valiant and loyal comrades in arms, New Zealanders stand in the “aliens’ queue at Heathrow Customs. Including old vets from the second world war. And still we stitch their flag inside ours as a symbol of our loyalty and pledge the lives of our soldiers to the defence of Britain and the Queen..
Well, in a word (or two) ‘sod them.’ Do they think there will never be another war in Europe? Dream on. And when Putin comes knocking on No. 10 Downing with the pointy end of a tank, don’t ‘friend-request’ us to help get rid of him. Putin is now a quite a good customer of ours actually. Russia enjoys about a billion and a quarter dollars worth of our butter and cheese annually.
The flag is a representation of our constitution. The symbol of what we will fight and die for. Currently the constitutional symbol of our unity is the Queen of Britain. We represent this in our flag with the union jack. But her Royal Highness is now in her 90th year and so the timing of this debate must take into account the imminent transfer of the throne of Great Britain to her eldest son. If we leave our constitutional symbol as it is, then we are adopting the succeeding King of England as our constitutional head of state. I wonder if, really, even he wants that job? He just seems a little tired and disinterested in the world outside his garden. Keeping the union jack on our flag sends the message that we are still a nation of disillusioned expats holding the colonial fort.
Many talk of the diversity of New Zealand today as though that is something to be proud of. But diversity is disunity; and disunity is weakness. We should no longer be a collection of separate ethnicities with the British descendants as the elite. Morris dancing at the farmers’ market, Scottish pipe bands on anniversary day parades. Still forelock-tugging over a Queens medal or a birthday card from her royalness. We segregate immigrants from other nations by refusing them admission into the British expat club. Such clinging to our British culture should be totally discouraged. We should be leaving all that behind. For we are now New Zealanders, Kiwis, a new and improved blend of human culture; and our homeland is the land of the silver fern.
So my New Year resolution is to let 2015 be the last year I passively accept another flag living in our flag like a parasitical security blanket. Let us unite as a new nation, with our own unique identity. Let us recognise that we are an independent member of the Oceania group of nations; South Pacs and proud of it. I am sure we can find someone in New Zealand to put their hand up for our Presidency. (Resolution subject to change when normal service returns).